An important character from Scotland’s past ended up in the South Yorkshire town of Doncaster. Chase reporter ANTONY CLAY weighs up the evidence as to whether the deposed monarch is buried there.
DID you know that a king may be buried in Doncaster? And a Scottish king at that.
Rather than having a grand monument to remind us of his life, the former monarch could lay at rest under a former post office.
After a tempestuous existence and a brief chance to rule north of the border, the king’s star fell somewhat and he came to a largely forgotten end in what is today the Doncaster suburb of Wheatley.
Edward Bailliol achieved power in Scotland at a time of uproar and unrest for the country’s monarchy – but eventually had to flee south when it all went wrong.
His remains are said by some to lie under what was Doncaster’s former main post office on Priory Place.
But is the story true or do the real facts get in the way of a good yarn?
The tale begins towards the end of the 13th Century when Edward’s father, John Bailliol, was king of Scotland from 1292 to 1296, shoehorned into the top job by noblemen including Edward I of England.
He got the throne because there was no obvious Scottish leader following the death of Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway, who was on the throne as queen-designate from 1286 until 1290. On her demise the line of succession was unclear opening up a raft of 13 competitors for the role, a hotbed for future unrest.
King Edward I tried to subjugate Scotland at every turn, John Bailliol was eventually deposed and Scottish nobles signed an agreement with France, sparking fury in England. This kicked off the Scottish Wars of Independence.
In 1296, John Bailliol abdicated and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Eventually, he was sent to his estates in France and retired into obscurity. Scotland had no monarch until Robert the Bruce in 1306.
Enter Edward, John Bailliol’s eldest son.
When Scottish king Robert I died, his successor, son David II, was still a child resulting in a power vacuum.
Edward, with Royal blood coursing through his veins, felt this was the time to press his claim.
Backed by English king Edward III, Edward Bailliol defeated the Scottish regent, the Earl of Mar, in the Battle of Dupplin Moor in Perthshire.
He was crowned at the traditional seat of Scottish power in Scone in September 1332. But that was not the end of his troubles. Far from it.
Three months later he was forced to flee, allegedly half naked, to England after nobles loyal to David II attacked.
The English put Edward Bailliol back onto the Scottish throne again in 1333 but he had to flee Scotland again a year later. Edward III tried to beat the Scots in battle again in 1335 and 1336, being victorious and ploughing through the country on a bloody rampage.
But the tide turned against Edward III and Edward Bailliol – who was known as the Scottish Pretender – yet again. Edward Bailliol gained some land in 1346 as he yet again tried to take the crown but in January 1356 he finally gave up his claim to the Scottish throne, getting an English pension instead.
He faded out of the limelight and met his end in Wheatley in 1364. He had no children.
Edward was born in 1280 to John Balliol and his wife Isabella de Warenne at Cavers in Roxburghshire in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Cavers is still a small parish of around 1,000 inhabitants today. Edward lived in Picardy on family-owned lands after his father’s death in 1313. Perhaps if he’d stayed there his life might have been much easier.
St Andrew’s University historian Michael Brown said in a newspaper article a few years ago that Edward spent his retirement in the Doncaster area but is also remembered for poaching deer in Knaresborough.
He described Edward as being “rough around the edges”, which was probably an essential trait for a medieval monarch in a tough world of politics and intrigue.
Some who have studied Edward Bailliol’s illustrious life believe there is strong evidence that he lies beneath Doncaster’s former main post office which was erected on a large burial mound for top people when the area was the base for a Carmelite friary at the time of his death.
There are no burial records for where Edward actually lies but underneath the post office is a prime candidate although Doncaster Minster and Conisbrough Castle are other potential options.
But the post office burial theory is given short shrift by Doncaster Council’s chief archivist Dr Charles Kelham.
He said: “The post office story was pure speculation. It was based on the notion that prominent people generally get buried somewhere prestigious. Balliol may have been an irrelevance by the time of his death, but you’d expect his tomb to be in a religious house or a cathedral and not just the local parish church.”
Dr Kelham said that the story about the burial under the post office emerged in 2013 suggesting that Bailliol could have been buried at Doncaster’s Carmelite Priory, which was the most significant religious house in the town and a popular pilgrimage destination, owing to the celebrated shrine of Our Lady of Doncaster. Part of the site of the Priory was later occupied by the town post office and it became a local belief that the former king might be underneath it.
Dr Kelham said: “For what it’s worth, my guess would be that his tomb was at Beauvale Priory in Nottinghamshire, a house of Carthusians founded in 1343. Balliol had been quite a generous benefactor of the priory and, on the principle that one should follow the money, the idea that Balliol could have been laid to rest in the chancel of the priory church doesn’t seem to me to be entirely ludicrous. If you’re paying, in effect, for a dozen monks to say masses to get your soul out of purgatory as soon as possible, you might as well be in among them.”
Peter Robinson, assistant manager of human history and building management at Cusworth Hall, said that the press story about the burial was “somewhat sensationalist” and appeared at the time of the Scottish Devolution debate.
But he offered an alternative view on where Edward Bailliol’s body may rest. He said: “There is a solid history to Edward Balliol being in Doncaster. However there is no solid evidence to suggest that he is buried anywhere in Doncaster. It is plausible but unlikely and it is much more likely that his body would have been transported to his ancestral burial site at Sweetheart Abbey near Dumfries (more properly known as the Abbey of Dulce Cor).
“It is possible that Edward’s body resided for a short time at Wheatley Hall, if it had a chapel, or perhaps in one of the churches or monasteries at Doncaster, before being taken to an ancestral burial plot. The truth is we just don’t know. All we can say with certainty is that he died in Doncaster, having been resident at Wheatley Hall for quite some time, following his deposition.”
The only certainty is that we will probably never know where the body of Edward Bailliol lies but the thought that a part of Doncaster could be taken up by the remains of a Scottish monarch is a romantic and intriguing one.
Even if it isn’t true at all.