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William the Lion, sometimes styled William I and also known by the nickname Garbh, “the Rough” (c. 1142 – 4 December 4, 1214), reigned as King of Scots from 1165 to 1214. His 48-year-long reign was the second longest in Scottish history.

William was born around 1142, during the reign of his grandfather King David I of Scotland. His parents were the king’s son Henry and Ada de Warenne. William was around 10 years old when his father died in 1152, making his elder brother Malcolm the heir apparent to their grandfather.

William I the Lion, King of Scots

From his father William inherited the Earldom of Northumbria. King David I died the next year, and William became heir presumptive to the new king, Malcolm IV. In 1157, William lost the Earldom of Northumbria to King Henry II of England.


King Malcolm IV did not live for long, and upon his death on December 9, 1165, at age 24, William ascended the throne. The new monarch was crowned on December 24, 1165. In contrast to his deeply religious, frail brother, William was powerfully built, redheaded, and headstrong. He was an effective monarch whose reign was marred by his ill-fated attempts to regain control of his paternal inheritance of Northumbria from the Anglo-Normans.

After his accession to the throne William spent some time at the court of King Henry II, then, quarrelling with Henry, he arranged in 1168 the first definite treaty of alliance between France and Scotland.

William was then a key player in the Revolt of 1173–74 against Henry II, which was led by Henry’s sons with some short-lived assistance from King Louis VII of France.

In 1174, at the Battle of Alnwick, during a raid in support of the revolt, William recklessly charged the English troops himself, shouting, “Now we shall see which of us are good knights!” He was unhorsed and captured by Henry’s troops led by Ranulf de Glanvill and taken in chains to Newcastle, then Northampton, and then transferred to Falaise in Normandy.

Henry II then sent an army to Scotland and occupied it. As ransom and to regain his kingdom, William had to acknowledge Henry as his feudal superior and agree to pay for the cost of the English army’s occupation of Scotland by taxing the Scots.

The cost was equal to 40,000 Scottish marks (£26,000). The church of Scotland was also subjected to that of England. William acknowledged this by signing the Treaty of Falaise, and was then allowed to return to Scotland. In 1175 he swore fealty to Henry II at York Castle.

Due to the terms of the Treaty of Falaise, King Henry II had the right to choose William’s bride. As a result, William married Ermengarde de Beaumont, a great-granddaughter of King Henry I of England, at Woodstock Palace in 1186.

Edinburgh Castle was her dowry. The marriage was not very successful, and it was many years before she bore him an heir, the future King Alexander II of Scotland.