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John Balliol, or John, 5th Baron de Balliol, lived from about 1205 to 25 October 1268. He was a leading Anglo-Scottish noble, husband of Devorgilla, Lady of Galloway, father of one Scottish King, John Balliol, and the grandfather of another, Edward Balliol. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Balliol was born in about 1205. He was the son of Hugh de Balliol, 4th Baron de Balliol and Lord of Barnard Castle, and Cecilia de Fontaines, daughter of Aleure, Lord of Fontaines and Longpré-les-Corps-Saints. The family estates were based around Barnard Castle near Durham in England.
In 1233 John, by now about 18, married the 13 year old Devorgilla, Lady of Galloway, daughter of the powerful Scottish magnate Alan, Lord of Galloway and a descendant on her mother's side of King David I. Devorgilla subsequently inherited part of the Lord of Galloway's wealth and estates in what is now Dumfries and Galloway. From about 1250 John Balliol was appointed by King Henry III of England as one of the joint protectors of the nine year old Alexander III, King of Scotland. Presumably John's role was to ensure the young King of Scots did not pursue policies damaging to English interests. From 1258 to 1265 John Balliol served as an advisor to Henry III.
In 1263 John Balliol became embroiled in a land dispute with Walter Kirkham, the Bishop of Durham. Balliol was adjudged to be in the wrong, and had to make penance, part of which took the form of founding a College for the poor at Oxford University. Lady Devorgilla's own fortune was considerably greater than that of her husband, and after his death in 1268 it fell to her to put Balliol College on a more secure footing. This she did in 1282, making a permanent endowment to the college and establishing a Code of Statutes that remains in place today.
On 10 April 1273, Lady Devorgilla signed a charter establishing a new Cistercian abbey at New Abbey, 6 miles south of Dumfries in memory of her late husband.Lady Devorgilla's love for him extended to carrying his embalmed heart around with her in an ivory box with enamelled silver trimmings. After her death in 1290 she was buried in the sanctuary of the abbey church she had founded, and on her instructions the casket containing her husband's heart was buried beside her. In tribute to her love for her husband, the monks of the abbey she had founded chose thereafter to call it Dulce Cor or Sweetheart Abbey.
John and Devorgilla had nine children, four sons and five daughters. Their fourth son, another John Balliol, survived his three older brothers to inherit his father's titles in 1268. In 1292 the younger John Balliol became King John of Scotland. His own son, Edward Balliol, would become the disputed King of Scotland in 1332.