The wars of Scottish Independence began with the death of King Alexander III (1241 – 1286) and his primary heirs. This left his three-year-old granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, as the only clear successor to the throne. At the age of 7, Margaret died in Orkney on her voyage to Scotland in 1290. Both John Balliol and Robert de Brus (also known as Robert the Bruce) claimed the crown through their matrilineal descent from David I (1084 – 1153), brother of Alexander I (1078 – 1124). Many Scottish landholders backed John Balliol as the true successor while the House of Forbes supported Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale.
Even though the Scottish landholders eventually chose Balliol as their monarch, the English King Edward I demanded that the Scots recognize him as Scotland's feudal overlord. Edward insisted that the Scottish magnates provide military service in his war against France. Instead, the Scots formed an alliance with France. Edward responded by invading Scotland in 1296 at Berwick-upon-Tweed and pushed northward to capture Urquhart Castle. The Scots retook the castle one year later and, in 1303, assigned command to John de Forbes, son of Duncan de Forbes and second laird of Forbes. Unfortunately, he failed to hold off another English assault and Edward gave command to Alexander Comyn, 2nd Earl of Buchan, who sided with the English against Robert Bruce.
In February 1304, Guardian of Scotland John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan (Alexander Comyn’s son) and the other Scottish leaders, except for William Wallace, surrendered to Edward. Edward’s nephew, the Earl of Richmond, was placed at the head of subordinate government of Scotland and William Wallace was captured and killed.
Robert Bruce, as Earl of Carrick and 7th Lord of Annandale, held large estates in Scotland and a barony in England. This, coupled with a strong claim to the Scottish throne, made him a formidable challenge to Comyn. In 1306, Bruce was involved in killing Comyn at the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries. Bruce and Comyn may have agreed that one would take the crown in return for the lands of the other. In the church, some sources say that Bruce accused Comyn of betraying him to the English and struck Comyn with a dagger. Bruce’s companions may have then killed Comyn with their swords.
That year, Bruce claimed the throne of Scotland as Robert I and sent his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie to Kildrummy Castle for protection. The castle was controlled by the Earl of Mar, who was related to Bruce through marriage. The Earl was the Forbes mormaer, the Gaelic name for a regional ruler second only to the King of Scots. However, the castle was soon besieged by English forces. Most likely, John de Forbes lost his life during that siege. Fortunately, the garrison’s actions allowed the women to escape.
In 1314, Robert I beat back the forces of Edward II, Edward I’s son, at the Battle of Bannockburn, effectively concluding the first war of Scottish independence. The end of the war was commemorated by the 1328 Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton between Scottish King Robert I and endorsed by the English Parliament. In exchange for £100,000, the English Crown recognized Scotland as independent and Robert the Bruce, and his heirs and successors, as the rightful rulers. The treaty also confirmed the border between Scotland and England as that recognised under the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286). Robert I died in 1329 and left his five-year-old son David II on the throne, with Sir Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, as Guardian of Scotland
The terms of the treaty did sit well with the English and the disenfranchised Scottish nobles. Chief among them was Edward Balliol, eldest son of John Balliol, King of Scots from 1292 to 1296. Backed by Edward III of England, Balliol invaded Scotland in 1332 and crowned himself King of Scots. This started the second was for Scottish independence, which became a civil war.
When Moray died in July 1332, the magnates of Scotland elected Donald, Earl of Mar, as the Guardian of Scotland. John Forbes, the 3rd laird, followed his mormaer, the Earl of Mar, and died in the Battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332. John’s son, the fourth laird of Forbes, was also named John and was likely born posthumously in 1332/33.
In 1333, David II fled to France, leaving his allies to battle with Balliol and Edward III. Philip VI of France declared that "no Anglo-French peace settlement could scant the interest of France's ally Scotland." Ironically, this mutual defense pact, called the “Auld Alliance” was established when Edward Balliol's father John signed a treaty with Philip IV of France against Edward I of England in 1295. After a series of victories in his name, David returned to Scotland in 1341 to resume his reign at the age of 18.
At the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, David was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. For the next ten years, battles raged between David’s Scottish allies and the French on one side and Edward Balliol’s allies and the English on the other. In January 1356, Edward Balliol finally relinquished his claim in the kingdom of Scotland to Edward III in exchange for an annuity of £2000.
In October 1357, the belligerants signed the Treaty of Berwick, in which Scotland agreed to pay 100,000 marks, at the rate of 10,000 marks per year, as a ransom. David II returned to Scotland and the Second War of Scottish Independence ended.