IT is often argued by the ignorant that Scotland was never really independent until after Bannockburn and the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328.

I am afraid that is just plain wrong, because Scotland was independent, and recognised as such, for most of the preceding five centuries. The best proof of that status came in this week in 1139, when the little-known Second Treaty of Durham was signed between the kings of Scotland and England.

Like so many others who write about the history of Scotland, I am well aware that the exact starting date of the kingdom of Scotland is in doubt, but I am happy to go along with the traditional date of 843AD, when Kenneth MacAlpin assumed the joint throne of the Picts of Fortriu and the Scots of Dalriada. In the generally accepted list of Scottish monarchs, he reigned as Kenneth I.

Early in the 10th century, Constantine or Causantin I did much to consolidate the Scottish kingdom, and by the time “England” came about under the House of Wessex in mid-century, the kingdom of Alba was well established, so much so that King Malcolm II felt able to combine with the Kingdom of Strathclyde to defeat the Northumbrians under Earl Uhtred at Carham in 1018.

Though Canute or Cnut claimed he had the allegiance of the kings of Alba and Strathclyde in the 1020s, he was not interested in ruling Scotland. Indeed, no one in England seriously denied Scottish independence until well into the 11th century, and the man who did the denying was none other than William the Conqueror.

William of Normandy did not want to conquer the Scots, but he was severely provoked when the family of Edgar Aetheling, his only contender for the English throne, took refuge at the court of Scotland’s King Malcolm III, aka Malcolm Canmore, at Dunfermline. His reaction when he learned that Edgar’s sister –Princess and later Saint Margaret – had married Malcolm can only be imagined. Furthermore, Malcolm, who had spent long years in exile in England, had sent troops down into Northumbria, the earldom which controlled the south-east of Scotland, more or less equivalent to the Lothians of today.

In 1072, William came north and most historians accept that the Norman army on horseback and in full armour overwhelmed the relatively puny Scottish forces, forcing Malcolm to

sign the Treaty of Abernethy in which he accepted the Conqueror as his overlord.

Edgar Aetheling was banished from the Scottish court – his sister Margaret took to prayer in her anguish – and Malcolm was given lands in Cumbria. But again, William was not denying that there was a kingdom of Scotland – he just wanted to be its boss.

The Conqueror’s successor, William Rufus, still claimed overlordship and got lucky when Malcolm was foolhardy in invading England and besieging Alnwick Castle, Malcolm and his son Edward both being killed at Alnwick in 1093.

It was another of the sons of Malcolm and Margaret, King David I, who did most to ensure that Scotland remained independent, and he did so by a combination of fighting, politics and powerbroking.

As a youth, David had been exiled to the court of Henry I of England, who had married David’s sister Edith, later known as Matilda. Taking the Scottish throne in 1124, David introduced Anglo-Norman culture and consolidated his kingdom before his intervention in English affairs in 1135.

His mentor Henry I had arranged for his daughter Matilda, David’s niece, to take the English throne on his death, but Stephen of Blois usurped the throne and civil war broke out between his faction and the supporters of the Holy Roman Empress Matilda, who included King David.

David harried the North of England and Stephen came to meet him with a large army. To prevent all-out war, the first Treaty of Durham was signed in 1136, and it is important to note that Stephen’s demands that David do homage were rejected outright by the King of Scots.

David’s son Henry was given lands in England but by 1138 it was clear that Stephen would not be keeping his part of the treaty. David came south in a bid to take the north of England into Scottish hands but was defeated at the Battle of the Standard near Northallerton in Yorkshire.

The following year, the Empress Matilda and Robert, Duke of Gloucester, invaded southern England to start a civil war that is known as the Anarchy.

Despite the defeat at Northallerton, David was able to take another army south in support of Matilda and this time King Stephen had no option but to “buy off” David.

The second Treaty of Durham was signed on April 9, 1139. It gave David’s son Henry control of Northumberland and Cumbria and even parts of Lancashire, but much more importantly, Stephen formally recognised that Scotland was completely independent and had no overlord.

Apart from a brief period during the reign of William the Lion after he was captured in battle by England’s Henry II, it would be 150 years after the Treaty of Durham before Scotland’s independence was challenged by Edward I of England, the man we

know as Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots.