Scotland's Story, Ch. 6 -Somerled, William the Lion, Largs, Alexander III and intervention of Edward I

Story of Scotland Chapter Six: Somerled, Alexander II and II, The Lion up to Wallace

by Robert M Gunn© 1996-2012
All Rights Reserved, by all international copyright law exclusively to the author and ©Skye-Net, RM Gunn

Chapter Six

The Story of Scotland's History, Chapter 6:


This chapter: William the Lion, Alexander II, Largs, treaty of perth, Alexander III Edward I in Scotland.

Reigns after David I.

Malcolm IV 'The Maiden' 1153 - 1165

When David I died in 1153, both of his sons had already died, so the Scottish throne passed to his grandson, Malcolm, son of Earl Henry. Malcolm succeeded his grandfather David I, and shared David's Anglo-Norman tastes. Malcolm IV, also known as "The Maiden" (because he was and remained unmarried) had a relatively short life. He was coronated at age eleven and was died at 23. Although he never married, much to the annoyance of his mother, Ada De Warenne, it is possible that he fathered a bastard son.

It was a turbulent and precarious reign. There were rebellions in Moray and Alloway. Malcolm IV was surrounded by Norman advisors and this, in itself, caused many uprisings. It took several attempts before Malcolm could quell the revolts -- with Norman help. But the bad feelings continued. In 1157, English King Henry II Plantagenet succeeded in getting lands back in Northumbria by threat of force. Malcolm IV gave in and gave back the land with no opposition.

Like his predecessor, Malcolm was deeply involved in church affairs. He founded the Abbey of Coupar Angus with monks from Melrose, and endowed the monks of Dunfermline with land in South Queensferry. In matters of state, he had to deal with revolts in Galloway (which was subjected), Argyll and Moray. Fergus of Galloway proved to be particularly intractable and it took Malcolm three separate expeditions to subdue him. Curiously, Fergus then became a canon at Holyrood. The revolt in Argyll was led by Somerled, the father of what would soon be called, the Lord of the Isles, for now, Lord of Argyll. By 1160 these revolts had quelled, and the many of the rebels were executed.

Somerled, King of the Isles (c.1113-c.1164)

Somerled was born around 1113 in Morven, Argyleshire. He was the son of Gillebride Mac Gille Adomnan and a Viking woman. Although there is some contention on his ancestry, his father was apparently either of the Royal line of Dalriada, Gall Gael (which is Pict). Somerled's name means 'summer wanderer', a name used by his contemporaries to describe the Vikings. For Somerled, it was a name that prophecized his life - and the combination of bloodlines, at least in Somerled's case, proved itself powerful, as he later forged a permanent spot for himself in the history of the Isles and Scotland.

Highland Galley Under Sail - St Clement's Church, Harris
[Highland Galley] The title Lord of the Isles, often erroneously applied to Somerled (John of Islay was the first Lord of the Isles or Rí Innse Gall) is today a title of Scottish nobility with historical roots that go back beyond the Kingdom of Scotland. It emerged from a series of mixed Viking/Gaelic (the GallGael) rulers of the west coast and islands of Scotland in the Middle Ages, who wielded sea-power with fleets of galleys. Although they were, at times, nominal vassals of the King of Norway, High King of Ireland, or the King of Scotland, the island chiefs remained largely and practically independent for many centuries. Their territory included the Hebrides, (Skye and Ross from 1438), Knoydart, Ardnamurchan, and the Kintyre peninsula. At their height they were the greatest landowners and most powerful Lords in Britain and its Isles (excluding Ireland) after the Kings of England and Scotland

Sometime in Somerled's early youth, the Lochlans and the Fingalls (Clans or tribes) expelled Somerled's family from their home. They took refuge in Ireland, where Gillebride managed to persuade the Colla (an Irish tribe) to assist him in the recovery of his possessions or holdings. A large force of approximately 500 men accompanied the family home. The mission was a failure, however, and his father either died in the battle or soon afterwards.

According to legend, Somerled lived for a while in the caves of his homeland, fishing and hunting for his survival. Slowly he grew into manhood and became, according to the accounts;

"A well tempered man, in body shapely, of a fair and piercing eye, of middle stature and quick discernment."

During this period of his life several things happened in quick succession which made Somerled a man of stature.

In one story, Somerled put himself at the head of the inhabitants of Morven and attacked the Norwegians. He was successful, and recovered his family's lands at the same time. He then was master of Morven, Lochaber and northern Argyle. Soon after this he conquered the southern portions and pronounced himself Thane or Regulus of Argyle. This happened at about the same time as David the First's war with the Norwegians, which took place in 1135, so Somerled may have received these lands in a grant from the King.

Longships used by Gallgaels
His newfound power greatly increased his standing, but it also drew the attention of his neighbors, the Vikings in the Isles (the Isle of Skye, the Isle of Man and that general area). Somerled, however, still did not have the force required to defeat Olaf the Red, the Viking King of the Isles. Instead he chose to woo his enemy for the hand of his daughter, Ragnhild. Eventually he succeeded (some say by trickery) in obtaining Olaf's daughter's hand and the two were married in approximately 1140.

For the next fourteen years Somerled and Ragnhild lived in relative peace and started raising a family. Raginald gave him three sons, Dugall, Reginald, and Angus. These sons, joined his son (Gillecallum)by a previous marriage.

In 1154, Olaf (Olave in some stories) was murdered by his nephews who quickly took control of the northern half of the Kingdom of the Isles. Olaf's son, Godfred (or Godfrey), Son of Olaf, King of Man, heard of the events and returned from Norway, quickly regaining possession of the entire Kingdom. But Godfrey was a tyrant, and the Islemen soon revolted against his leadership. Some of the chieftans of the Isles appealed to Somerled for help. He joined them and defeated Godfrey, in the process taking the southern half of the Kingdom for himself. About two years later Godfrey and Somerled again went to war, this time Somerled was using new longships with a rudder and Godfrey was defeated in a large sea battle again. Somerled became the undisputed King of the Isles in 1156.

The result of this was a division which effectively shattered the stranglehold the "Hy Ivarr" (the Norse descendants of Ivar) whose bases lay mostly in Ireland and in some of the Scottish Isles. Godfrey and his descendants, as a result of this battle, retained the islands of Man, Skye & Lewis, whilst Somerled received Islay, Mull and perhaps North and South Uist as well, indeed, Islay would become the base for the "Lordship of the Isles."

It is interesting to note that to this day the flag of the Island of Lewis retains a Nordic cross flag in its upper left corner. The Norse "Chronicles of Man" stated that the downfall of the "Hy Ivarr" in the Isles came about when the Sons of Somerled took possession thereof.

Not everything Somerled tried to do was about war, however. Amongst the other things Somerled tried, was to try (unsuccessfully) to re-establish the once-prestigious reputation of the sacred island of Iona as a place of Christian Pilgrimage, the island itself having previously been sacked by the Norse. He was unsuccessful in his bid to instal Flaherty O'Brolchan from Ireland as an abbot there.

[Scoto-Norse, the GallGael] At about the same time, Somerled was also campaigning in Scotland to a small degree and this in combination with his new title as King of the Isles drew the attention of its King. King Malcolm IV of Scotland was concerned over Somerled's growing power and dispatched an army to Argyle. In 1160, after a battle the two Kings reached an understanding and there was again peace. A charter exists from this time describing a grant of lands to one "Berowald the Fleming" in the district of Moray. This was written on Christmas day 1160 at Perth, and, almost as a footnote it goes on to mention that this was after the agreement arranged between the Malcolm IV (the Righ) and Somerled.

This peace was short lived however, as in late 1163, after being continually insulted by Malcolm and his ministers, Somerled led his own GallGael ('foreigner Gael', alluding to their mixed Norse/Gael heritage) army against Scotland.

The King of the Isles sailed up the Clyde with 164 galleys and 15,000 troops to Greenock. He landed at the Bay of St. Lawrence and marched on Renfrew. There are two popular stories about what occurred in Scotland. In one version, a bribed nephew murdered Somerled and the army of the Isles dispersed and went home. In the other version of the story, battle was joined between the Scots and the men of the Isles and Somerled was killed. His son Gillecallum, his heir, also died during the battle. Now without a leader, the army from the Isles dispersed and went home. Whatever the actual events, Somerled died in Scotland in very early 1164. Malcolm IV himself died one year later in 1165.

Somerled is often erroneously credited with breaking the power of the Vikings in the Isles as his descendants remained Kings of the Isles for centuries after his death. However, Somerled was not fighting the Vikings, but the Norwegians. Ironically, he himself is a descendant of Vikings and Scots mixed.

One of Somerled's grandsons, a Donald, is also considered the ancestor of the Clan Donald, for his sons were the first to carry the name MacDonald.

Someled had three remaining sones, Angus, Dugald and Ranald. We do not know much about Angus, but there is some suggestion that he may have gone into the clergy, for he is named as a benefactors of Durham Cathedral (of all places) in 1175. Dugald would become the progenitor of the Clan Dougall (MacDougall's). Years later, under John of Lorne the MacDougalls would throw their support to the Comyn family and the English, swearing to oppose Robert The Bruce on land and on sea. They would later lose some of their lands for this decision.

The other son Ranald is even more famous. He is known as having the same title as his father, Somerled, "King of the Isles", and producing two sons, Donald and Ruari. Donald was the progenitor of the great clan Donald (MacDonald) and Ruari of Clan Ruari (MacRuari).

As for Malcolm IV, although he died young, Malcolm showed good diplomatic skill with England (if not with Somerled) and the throne passed without war to William.

William the Lion of Scotland
[William the Lion]

William, King of Scotland, was surnamed "The Lion" due to the rampant (standing on hind legs) red lion on a yellow field, which he had as his standard. It would go on to become Scotland's Royal Standard and is easily recognisable even today. The nickname did not happen in his lifetime, but from his Lion rampant symbol, and the writing of John Fordun, who wrote of William that he was the "Lion of Justice". After that, he was forever known as William the Lion.

He was the second son of Henry, Earl of Huntingdon (died 1152), a son of King David I, he became king of Scotland on the death of his brother, Malcolm IV. Unlike the frail and oft described, "weak willed" Malcolm, William was stong, red haired and energetic. In December 1165, William was crowned at Scone.

Shortly after his accesssion to the throne, he spent some time at the English court of Henry II; then quarrelling with Henry in 1168, he arranged an alliance between the two countries, Scotland and France, which would become the basis for the Auld Alliance of over 100 years later. This first alliance would not last, but it laid the foundation for the "Auld Alliance" in 1294. He arranged this treaty with French King Louis VII, the oldest mutual self-defence treaty in Europe, and even assisted Henry's sons in their revolt against their father (Henry II of England) in 1173. In return for this aid, the younger Henry granted Northumberland, a possession which William had sought, in vain, from the English king.

William was a ferocious fighter and military commander, but of questionable ability as a tactician, by English chronicle accounts. He led a band of well armed men, a mix of wild Irish Kerns, Norman-Scots, Gaels and Galloway men. According to the chroniclers the kerns "slaughtered children, ripped open pregnant women, and cut down priests at their atlars." But, this type of description of William's actions were written by frightened and highly propagandized English chroniclers, whose prose was so compelling that later chroniclers and writers would use this same propaganda when they described the behaviour of William Wallace's men. While it cannot be entirely discounted, it would have been incredible for William to let his men so ruthlessly ravage the people he hoped to bring under his rule.

The scarlet rampant lion on its yellow field, soon to be Scotland's own standard, was fixed outside Carlisle Castle as William attacked. But the castle kept the gates shut so William's horsemen raided manors on both sides of Hadrian's Wall, burning and killing with the dedicated ferocity of knightly valour.

In 1174, at Alnwick, William the Lion and a small detachment reached Alnwick Castle which he attempted to beseige. It was not a wise decision. William was outnumbered by the English garrison and even worse, a relief force of English soldiers under Ralf de Glanvil was approaching from the south.

William the Lion
[William the Lion] Exactly what happened next depends, somewhat, on which version you read. One version claims that in a severe mist (common to both versions), William saw a group of knights on horseback approaching, and thinking them to be his men he rode to them. When he got closer, he saw they were instead a body of English cavalry, he was said not to be afraid, but couched his lance and exclaimed "Now we shall see who knows how to be a knight!" according to this version, a spear from the English brought down his horse, and with his feet securely tied beneath the belly of another, this time as a prisoner, he was taken to English King Henry II in Northhampton.

The other version differs only in the manner of his unhorsing. In it, he was skirmishing valiantly in a deep mist when he was unhorsed. Before he could get up from the ground, his own horse rolled on top of him and pinned him down whence the English took him prisoner. The English chroniclers naturally, put the mist down as "divine intervention."

He was sent in chains to Henry II at Northhampton, but Henry, was said to be too busy to deal with the captive king, so William the Lion of Scotland was taken through England to the Kent coast and from there, across the Channel to Henry II's castle at Falaise in Normandy. Henry then sent an army to Scotland and occupied it.

The English king had recently scourged his own body in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. Henry, now feeling purified by this, accepted Williams capture as a gift from God and the dead archbishop (Becket). Reading all this belief in the divine acting in daily life, we have to remember the religious fervor of the times. It was a curious mix; medieval Britain and Europe. All over, men were seeing God and His works in every small detail, and even in battle. At the same time, they were murdering their brothers, cousins and executing enemies by the hundreds. It seems, religious devotion was a fickle thing to these medieval lords.

Henry sent the Scots king to a prison in Falaise and sent an avenging English army to Scotland, where it took the castles of Berwick, Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Edinburgh, wasting or taxing all the country. In bitter exile in Falaise, Normandy, The Lion became a sheep. William was not married and his brother was also a prisoner, the line of Canmore (from Gaelic Cean more), faced extinction, or at least expulsion, if both were imprisoned until death.

Henry II now extracted an oath of allegiance from William, that Henry was his feudal superior (an oath that Edward I and other future English kings would use on Scotland later). This time the English king spelled out exactly what the act of homage meant: William held Scotland only by permission of Henry II. Scottish soldiers were to be evacuated from the castles and garrisons, and replaced by English troops. And the entire expense(s) of the English garrisons, now all over Scotland, were to be paid by the Scots for the English occupation! This oath, taken by William the Lion under duress, was one of the primary reasons Edward I in 1295-6 felt he had feudal overlordship over all of Scotland.

It was a bitter and humilating treaty for Scotland, the Scots had to endure this humiliating subserviance to England and all it entailed for 15 years. It was to be known as the Treaty of Falaise, and was a sour pill for Scotland to swallow. In fact, the payments to the English, for the Scots own land and castles, so severly taxed the population, Scotland nearly reverted to a country of peasants. Already a just a moderate nation, in terms of wealth, compared to their English neighbours, this taxation nearly destroyed Scotland. But, luckily for Scotland, after 15 years of this occupation and taxation, a new king was on the throne of England.

Back in Scotland, Fergus, Prince of Galloway had rebelled no less than three times against Malcolm IV, and now in the reign of William the Lion, Fergus's sons rose again, massacring with particular gusto, the Anglo-Norman garrisons which had been stationed in southeast Scotland under the Treaty of Falaise. It was to be a long time before this last Celtic stronghold in the southwest Lowlands was to be pacified.

Further north and west were the dominions of the Lords of the Isles and the Lords of Lorne. They regarded themselves as independent rulers of their own kingdoms. These are the Norse/Scots, with no particular loyalty or obligations to the Royal House of Scotland. Their allegiance was very loosely based to the Kings of Norway, although after Somerled's defeat of Viking forces, they were mostly independent and created their own kingdom: Lords of the Isles. Remember that in the reign of Malcolm IV, William the Lion's predecessor, the Norse-Scot blooded Somerled, King of Morvern, Lochaber, Argyll and the southern Hebrides, and Uncle by marriage to the Norwegian King of the Isles, had shown his contempt for Scottish Kings by sailing up the River Clyde in his ships and sacking Glasgow. They were eventually overcome by Malcolm's High Steward, Walter FitzAlan, and Somerled himself was laid low by an unlucky spear thrust. But to the Norse/Scots, the hearty warrior Gall-Gaels, that was just a setback. They could not have forseen what was to come in future centuries. Some blame the arrogance of the MacDonald's as the reason for their downfall, but that is a bit short-sighted. They had every reason to fear domination by the Scottish monarchy, for the Crown had no love of the Highlander and even less for the Islesmen. The Lowlanders considered them barbarians and the Highland view of the Lowlander was equally strained. Their stubborn claim to the Lordship and to their independence owed much to do with their beloved Celtic language and heritage which, correctly, they feared would be lost if they bowed too much to the English-speaking Scottish Crown.

The new English king, Richard Coer de Lion; Richard Lionheart (more commonly known as Richard the Lionhearted), was much more interested in the fame, battle and glory he might receive from battling the infidels in the Holy Land. So much so, he made overtures to William the Lion. Richard was badly in need of quick funds, to mount a Third Crusade. Richard Lionheart agreed that for 10,000 merks of silver for supplies and transportation to the Holy Land, he would release William the Lion of Scotland from the humiliating Treaty of Falaise, and would also return to William all the Castles the English Crown still held in Scotland. William agreed and even comtemplated purchasing Northumbria from Richard Lionheart, which he was willing to sell for an additional 15,000 merks. But Richard insisted on keeping the castles in Northumbria, and without them, William realised it would be impossible for him to keep a hold on Northumbria and he withdrew the offer to purchase Northumbria - but did repurchase Scotland and all its castles for the high sum agreed upon. In effect, William was forced to purchase his own kingdom in order to get out of prison.

Scotland was nearly bankrupt from 15 years of taxation and William's repurchase of his own land and castles must have been another particularly difficult for not only William, but the people of Scotland. It had been a humiliating experience for him, and for Scotland and its people, the times were bitterly remembered. However, William did so and thus saved Scotland (after nearly losing it), from becoming a North English provence. Scotland became independent once again and the surrendered castles were returned for the agreed price and replaced with Scottish garrisons.

Richard Lionheart set off for the Holy Land on the Third Crusade where he gained much fame, and eventual imprisonment in Austria and his absense during those years from England and English affairs left England in a sorry state with John taking over as the new king of England.

At the age of 53, William the Lion fathered an heir by the illegitimate granddaughter of Henry I whom the English had forced upon him. An indication of their affection towards each other is evidenced by the fact that they had been married 13 years before she bore their son, Alexander.

William tried to get his claim to the northern counties of England, including Northumbria (again), recognised by the new English King John. But when this was unsuccessful, old William tried an invasion of the area again. A skirmish and then a strange war resulted in which William, at the last moment, supposedly due to a yet another 'divine warning' that appeared to him, decided against full invasion.

That is the legend at least. Most likely, he was forestalled by English King John, who crossed the Border himself, demanding a compensation for all damage done by Williams army to the English Border area. There followed an even stranger incident. A set of meetings and conflicts, councils and stakes laid -- passed across gambling tables as if some game were in progress.

Another manor was burnt, an apology made along with a gift from William to John of a hunting falcon. It was a very strange and bizarre Border war where the dependents and vassals were more eager to fight than the principals.

Despite the Scots regaining their independence, Anglo-Scottish relations remained tense during the first decade of the 13th century. In 1209 King John decided to parade English superiority by marching a large army to Norham (near Berwick), in order to exploit the flagging leadership of the ageing Scottish Monarch. As well as promising a large sum of money, the ailing William agreed to his elder daughters marrying English nobles and, when the treaty was renewed in 1212, John apparently gained the hand of William's only surviving legitimate son, and heir, Alexander, for his eldest daughter, Joan.

In the end, two of William's daughters were sent south to the English court so that John might find husbands for them (or so it was claimed), and until he did, John made them pets of his court, kept them well dressed and fed lavish foods such as figs. The war or almost-war, ended in weary alliance with the dowry of 15,000 merks.

In 1209 war became imminent again but a peace was made at Norham and three years later another amicable settlement was reached between the two countries.

Old and senile, William the Lion died at Stirling on 4 December 1214, and was buried at Arbroath.

In spite of necessary dependence on English 'Goodwill', William's reign showed some achievement. He was active in government, showing great energy, he religiously followed the lines laid down by his grandfather, David I. Anglo-French (Norman) settlements and feudalization grew, new burghs were founded, criminal laws updated and clarified, the responsibilities of justices and sheriffs were widened, and trade was expanded. Arbroath abbey was founded (1178), and the bishopric of Argyll established (c.1192) in the same year as papal confirmation of the Scottish Church by pope Celestine III.

His hopes of expanding his kingdom long since abandoned, though he did invest his son Alexander (who would become Alexander II) with his own estates in England. It is somewhat ironic that Scotland's Royal Standard and colours of a red rampant lion on a field of yellow came from this nobly named, seemingly brave, but ineffective warrior at best.

But the defiant beast - that Rampant Lion - was forever left for his people and future kings and queens of Scotland and the inspiration of this beautiful heraldric banner (flag) still inspires to this day. No other symbol identifies Scotland as clearly, as a national, independent power except for the national Flag, the Saltire and the symbolic thistle. But truly, the war flag, the red fighting rampant lion is still awe-inspiring to behold, and the patriotic memories it invokes of Stirling, Bannockburn, Falkirk, Otterburn, Flodden, Prestonpans on up to Culloden all lay in the future. This proud flag is known to all Scots from around the world, and guarantees its popularity and lasting power for many centuries to come.

Alexander II
[Alexander II] In 1214 and was succeeded by his son Alexander II, a capable ruler who put to good use the administrative machinery created by David I. The down side of his reign is the inherited domestic Clan problems and insurrections. There were insurrections in Galloway (again), Argyll, Moray and Caithness in the far north.

Alexander II - 1214-1249

Alexander II was a competent and energetic king who was also known as 'the Peaceful'. He married his first wife, Joan, daughter of King John, in 1221. No heirs were produced from the marriage, however, and it was his second wife, Marie de Coucy, who gave birth to the future Alexander III. Compared to most of his predecessors, and those who would follow, Alexander II was a very successful king in almost all areas. Sometimes his reign is overshadowed by the disaster of the end of his son's reign.

Although Alexander could be described as a collector and codifier of laws. He probably gave encouragement to the Regiam Majestatem which dates from his reign. He also tried to bring the more remote areas of Scotland under his power, much to the dismay of these outlying areas. In 1221 he moved against the north-west subjugating parts of Atholl and Kintyre. He then built a castle at Tarbert.

Caithness was also causing problems where some rebelious Highlanders had burned a Bishop to death. They were more Norse than Scottish Christian. In punishment Alexander ordered that the perpetrators of the crime should have a hand and a foot cut off. But later, a rebellion of 1228-30 attempted to put a MacWilliam on the throne failed and the last surviving member of the family was killed at Forfar. To strengthen his grip on Galloway, in the south, Alexander subdivided the inheritence of the earls. The scheme was enforced by a royal army which was supported by Earl Farquhar of Ross. Castles were then built at Kirkcudbright and Wigtown. Towards the end of his reign more trouble in the north required the building of castles at Dunstaffnage and other places on the coast.

Alexander tried to deal with England with diplomacy rather than war, with one notable exception. In 1215 he sided with the barons against King John in the Barons War. John responded by crossing the border and burning four Scottish towns. It is said he set fire to Berwick himself. Later in the year Alexander was present at the signing of the Magna Carta. It is not known how Alexander felt about this incredible document, but his presence indicates his ability to work with the English king more so than his predecessor. After John died and Henry III (father of Edward I) became King of England, Alexander, with the Pope's intervention, made a peace with England. At a meeting in 1237 at York Alexander agreed to give up claims to Northumbria in return for grants of land in northern England and Cambridgeshire. This was known as the Treay of York. The Anglo-Scottish border was also agreed at this meeting and is still largely the same today.

He died of fever at Kerrera, opposite Oban, in 1249 while on his way to attempt conquest of the Western Isles whose Lords (Lords of the Isles) still chose to give their allegiance to the kings of Norway, if they had to give it to anyone at all.

Alexander III - 1249 - 1286
[Alexander III] Alexander became king at the tender age of eight, and only five days after the death of his father. In something of a change for the good of the kings of Scotland, his minority passed without civil war, although he had the usual rebellions to crush. In large part the peace was with Henry III of England held as Henry had interests in Scotland due to the fact that his daughter Margaret had been married to Alexander while only ten years old. When Henry suggested that Alexander do as his grandfather did, and pay homage for both his lands in England and Scotland, Alexander politely refused. A few years later the request was repeated, with a bit more pressure. It is said that Alexander replied, "to homage for my kingdom of Scotland no one has right except God alone, nor do I hold it except of God alone'. The subject was then dropped - for now.

While Alexander was able in large part to maintain peace with England, his troubles at home were another thing. Back at home, and in the Western Isles (again), Alexander III took up his father's cause and launched raids at the Hebrides (part of the Western Isles). It wasn't long before old King Hakon of Norway decided to retaliate.

In the summer of 1263, King Hakon assembled a great fleet with which he sailed to Scotland. Alexander III, a shrewd man, managed to open negotiations with the Norwegians and Islanders and delayed it until October. This was the season of autumn gales, and as he'd hoped, played havoc with Hakon's fleet as it lay in the Firth of Clyde.

The Battle of Largs (1263)

Earlier, in 1098 Edgar had ceded the Hebrides to Norway even though the Norwegian kings rarely exercised any control over them (that being a haven for the Vikings raiders and settlers).

As mentioned earlier, Somerled did indeed defeat the Viking (Norse) invaders in a large sea-battle (the only sea battle the Vikings ever lost in and around the British Isles), and took his share of the that land the Norse had previously occupied.

A conflict was growing between the Scottish Crown under Alexander III and King Hakon (or Haakon) or Norway. Both kingdoms claimed the Western Isles as their own. Alexander III tried to avoid the warfare by offering to purchase the lands from Norway. This only infuriated King Haakon IV of Norway, and he sailed to attacked. (Area land battle on map, below left).

Haakon, learning of Scottish raids on Skye, assembled a huge fleet (some 200 ships) to sail to Scotland. Alexander III used negotiating skills to his best advantage to stall the coming Norwegian fleet whilst talks went on. He knew that this was also storm season in the area and he counted on that very fact. As if expected, a terrible storm arose and blew the Norwegian ships all over the Hebrides and elsewhere. The Norwegians fought their way ashore at Largs in Ayrshire, but after four days of skirmishes (both on land and sea) - the results were inconclusive. However, when Haakon attempted to regroup near Orkney, his fleet broke up and Haakon himself was stranded on Orkney. He died there two months later in 1263.

Largs can hardly be called a battle in the tradtional sense. It was more of an extended skirmish, with sporadic fighting at sea and on land, and in the end, it was the weather that decided the outcome. Although considered a Scottish victory, the battle itself was more of a wash. However, it did give Scotland the Western Isles that had been on Norse hands.

The Largs Pencil memorial

The Treaty of Perth (1266) was signed giving Alexander the Islands of 'Man and the Isles' for 4000 merks and an annual payment of 100 merks. But it would be a long time before the Norwegians would surrender Orkney and the Shetlands to Scotland.

The remainder of Alexander III's reign was peaceful and prosperous. His marriage to Margaret, daughter of English King Henry III, secured peace with England, while their daughter Margaret married to the King of Norway in 1283, set the seal on the peace treaty of 20 years before, between Norway and Scotland, and established after four centuries of war and strife, a friendly relationship between the two countries which has lasted ever since.

The home trade improved, revenue increased, law and order were fairly well maintained, education within limits prospered. Building was up, both domestic and ecclesiastical, and for the most part life became less dangerous than it had been.

By this time, Alexander was a widower he decided to remarry when he learned of the death of his only heir. He married Yolande, daughter of the Count of Dreux in 1285. But his good fortune was not to last much longer. Fate intervened when the King Alexander III, was riding his horse home one rainy night. Alexander was riding to visit his new queen in the dark at Kinghorn in Fife on 19 March 1286 because her birthday was the next day. He had apparently been thrown from his horse over a cliff and broke his neck. Now, Scotland was leaderless. His distraught courtiers found his dead body the following morning.

With Alexander III's death, went the dream of the relative peace Scotland was enjoying. Alexander III only had one heir left alive - Margaret, the infant princess of Norway. She was called the 'Maid of Norway' and she was but a child.

Proposal for the marriage of Margaret & Edward

Treaty of Birgham - 1286-1290

After Alexander's death in 1286, his wife Yolande announced that she was pregnant. This led to a delay in announcing a new ruler until it was proved if in fact, she was pregnant. Alexander had left no other heirs.

In a litte over 45 days, it was obvious that Yolande was not pregnant after all and this left the 'Maid of Norway', Alexander's only surviving grandchild of his first wife, as heir to the kingdom. Margaret was only three years old and her father was the 16 year old King of Norway, her mother had died shortly after giving birth to her in 1283. Historians have long wondered if Yolande was trying to buy time - or perhaps get pregnant by someone else, in hopes of getting an heir. In the end we have no evidence, but it does seem peculiar she would proclaim to be pregnant only after her husband's death, and then not be. Perhaps the courtiers knew this might invite the English king to intervene and this was something they feared.

In desperation, it was decided that a group of six guardians would control the great families who had a claim to the throne - the Bruces and Balliols among the leading gaurdians.

Edward I of England
[Longshanks] The current English King, Edward I 'Longshanks' was a ruthless, formidable man who wanted to rule Scotland as he now ruled Wales. His forces had defeated the Welsh forces during a brutal campaign in the 1280s, and now was under dominance of England. He wanted to do the same to Scotland. But instead, he arranged for a marriage of his son to Alexander III's granddaughter, the infant Margaret "Maid of Norway".

Two treaties were drawn up, one at Salisbury in December 1289 and the other at Birgham in July 1290. The terms of the treaties included a provision that Margaret was to succeed to the throne under the custody of Edward, she was also to marry Edward's son. Scotland's independence was to be guaranteed, 'separate and divided from England according to its rightful boundaries, free in itself and without subjection'. Unfortunately things did not turn out as the Scots had hoped. Deals with Edward, were deals with trouble. English clerks added reservations to the agreement which undermined Scottish independence.

However, fate dealt another difficult hand to Scotland - the little princess had taken ill on a ship on her way from Norway to England and died, en route to Scotland, in Orkney. The long line of House of Dunkeld was at an end.

Scotland was left with no heir to their throne, and a Norman Bishop of Scotland, one Bishop Fraser, of Norman descent, wrote to Edward I urging him to come to Scotland and choose the next king. He added in his letter that John Balliol was most likely the more amenable choice. Balliol and Robert the Bruce were the two of the thirteen claimants to the throne that had the best claims. Edward I was familiar with both the Balliol and Bruce families, and had misgivings about Robert the Bruce's loyalty. He chose John Balliol, and have many other historians have pointed out, Balliol did have a slightly better claim than Bruce (the Competitor - Robert the Bruce's grandfather).

There were 11 other claimants to the throne of Scotland in addition to Bruce and Balliol. The 13 "competitors" or claimants to the throne after Margaret died were:

John Comyn; John Balliol; Robert Bruce (the Competitor); William de Ross; Nicholas de Soules; Patrick, Earl of Dunbar; John Hastings; Patrick Galithy; Florent V, Count of Holland; Roger de Mandeville; Erik, King of Norway; Robert de Pinkeny; and William de Vesci - all in 1290.

For two years after the 'Maid of Norway' died Scotland did not have a king. Before long Edward was styling himself 'Overlord of the land of Scotland' and insisting that all those who wished to claim the Scottish throne had to recognise him as their feudal superior. He placed Englishmen in Scottish castles and had English forces ready in case of rebellion.

John Balliol ran vast estates in France; Robert the Bruce the Younger, earl of Carrick, owned land in Essex. This conquest of Celtic Scotland had been achieved through court politics, (notably Canmore and David I), intermarriage, and peaceful settlement. In the North, there were still many Scots landownders and clansmen who were of direct Celtic or Celtic/Norse descent, but increasingly the politics of the day was being handled by warlords of Norman or partial Norman blood. Some state that the ensuing Anglo-Scots war was therefore more a power struggle between Anglo-Norman dynasties and not an international war of Scot versus English (or Celt vs Normans), as was more the case in Wales and Ireland. However, this writer sees it as a mixture of both. Clearly in the Lowlands this was true, but the Highlands of Scotland, not to mention the fiercly independent Isles, the Celt and Celtic/Norse people were not ruled by Normans. So the confrontations to come were really a mixture of both schools of thought: Celt versus English, Norman dynasties pitted against one another. The common people of the Highlands, and some of the lower aristocracy in the Lowlands, were Celtic stock and still spoke Gaelic. It was these people, rallying to the cause of their Scots Norman masters, who may have envisaged their battle against the English invader as a national struggle for independence. As it turned out, they were quite correct. Even so, it is important to understand that the army that would eventually face the Anglo-Normans at Stirling Bridge, would be predominantly men of Lowland stock. The Highlanders would come into play more under Bruce, than Wallace.

Initially, only the Balliols and the Bruces put themselves forward, they were both descended from daughters of David I; Balliol was descended from the eldest, Margaret, while Bruce was descended from the second eldest, Isabel. If only primogeniture was taken into account then Balliol had the better claim. Bruce put forward two counter-arguments, however; he was the grandson of David, Earl of Huntingdon, while Balliol was great-grandson and, secondly, Alexander II had recognised the Bruce claim before the birth of Alexander III. The other eleven claims were much weaker by comparison. Only John Comyn may have had a chance aside from Bruce and Balliol.

On the 6th of November 1292 the court arrived at its decision and eleven days later Edward I announced the decision in the Great Hall of Berwick Castle. The 43-year-old John Balliol was to be the next King of Scots.

Balliol pays homage to Edward I

John Balliol - (1292 - 1296)

John Balliol really had very little hope of bringing good government to Scotland. It is said he was a man of great courage, but he did not have the courage to stand up to Edward, at least not in the beginning. With some fortitude and strengh of character, he may have made something of his position. Unfortunately for Scotland John Balliol was not that man. He attempted to carry on some of the social work of Alexander III by inserting more law controls into areas deemed "lawless" but he was able to do little else with the spectre of Edward I looming over him. John Balliol has the dubious honour of being the last Scottish monarch to be crowned on the Stone of Destiny. He was crowned on St Andrew's Day 1292. In the next month, he was summoned to Newcastle to do homage to Edward as part of religious holiday ceremony. He made Balliol answer to complaints of the Scottish people in English courts, not Scottish courts, and theatened him with contempt when Balliol showed his displeasure.

Edward with Balliol paying homage
[Eward I, Balliol kneeling] Edward I made Balliol swear fealty to him and made an agreement that Scotland would supply men and money and arms to England for its upcoming war with France. Balliol was humiliated, he went about trying to convince Scottish Nobles that he didn't sell out to the English, but few believed him. He was given the name "Toom Tabard" meaning empty coat. Many believe this refers to the humiliating ritual Edward put Balliol through, but most likely it was a term similar to "lame duck" as applied to some powerless American Presidents. Balliol was as useless as an "empty coat." In any event, Balliol was now desperate to show to his fellow Scots that he wasn't weak willed. Out of desperation and humiliation, Balliol secretly concluded a treaty with Philip the Fair in October 1295 (the same man who would be responsible for dismantling and killing the Templar knights along with pope Clement in 1312-4), and assembled an army at Selkirk in March 1296. This was the Treaty that came to be known as the Auld Alliance, between Scotland and France. It would last, in theory, until 1560 when the Treaty of Edinburgh ended most of it.

During this time the Bruce's were acting to gain power in some manner and ignored Balliol. This only made this worse for the pitiful king. Balliol's breaking point came when Edward insisted that he provide military service against Philip IV of France. Of course, Edward was not going to stand for this, he invaded, sacked Berwick and massacred some of its citizens.

Although involved in a war in France and Wales, king Edward rode north with an army of English Knights and Welsh archers. Incidentally, it may be thought remarkable that the Welsh should form such a major part of Edward's army so soon after their own defeat at his hands. But the defeat was against the Welsh Celtic nobility. The ordinary Welshman was happy to fight for money and food, on any side, due to famine. For many of the Celtic nobility, however, Wales had ceased to be their homeland and several Welsh nobles served abroad as mercenaries. The French chronicler Froissart, for instance, mentions Owain of Wales who offered his services to the French King during the Hundred Years War.

The English army arrived outside the town of Berwick at the end of March 1296 to find the citizens and castle prepared for a long siege. So confident were the inhabitants of Berwick that they jeered at the English army over the battlements. But the experienced English troops, wild with rage, and at the urging of their king, captured the town nearby in a bloody matter of minutes. They then spent the rest of the day slaughtering its citizens: men, women and children, all under the direct orders of Edward I, "Hammer of the Scots". It is said that so many townspeople were killed, that the stains of their blood could be seen on the town walls, like a watermark, for decades afterwards. Seeing the horrifying result of further resistance to Edward, the castle opened its gates and surrendered that evening.

But Edwards bloodlust was not assauged yet. With Berwick in his hands, he sent his most senior lieutenant, John de Warrenne, to take Dunbar. De Warrenne's detachment consisted of the best cavalry, numbers of Welsh bowmen, and a good force of infantry raised in the northern levies. On arriving at Dunbar, 29 April 1296, de Warrenne found this castle also prepared for a siege, and the main Scottish army outside its walls at a place called Spottsmuir. It was commanded by John "Red" Comyn, Earl of Buchan. De Warrenne ignored the castle and offered battle to the main body of Scottish troops. The Scots, not lacking in courage but ill disciplined, broke ranks and hurled themselves at the English troops, only to be showered by thousands of Welsh arrows.

Broken and confused, they were trampled into the ground by de Warrenne's cavalry, who rode among the Scots slaughtering even the few remaining survivors with sword, lance, axe and mace. De Warrenne totally routed the Scottish army killing over 10,000 men, many of whom were injured and lying helpless on the field.

The result was a total English victory and the loss of Scottish men, women, children and Scottish pride. Aside from the dead, John "Red" Comyn, three other Scottish Earls and more than a hundred of Comyn's most important followers were captured. Edward followed his victory at Dunbar with a triumphant march through Scotland, taking his army further than any previous ruler of Britain since the Romans.

Edward I "Hammer of the Scots", put the Earl of Surrey (John de Warrenne) and Hugh de Cressingham (High Justicar), in charge of Scotand and returned home to England. His remarks to one of his aides as they rode south to England was a rude comment of Scotland..."It does a man good, to rid himself of a turd".

At Brechin Edward subjected John to the humiliation of having his royal regalia stripped from him. While Edward continued his journey norhwards he sent John to Hereford and then to the Tower of London. He was eventually released in 1299 and he left for his French estates where he died in 1313, blind and largely forgotten. To future generations he has been known as 'Toom Tabard', and while this may be harsh he was certainly one of Scotland's weakest kings.

Edward rode home confident that Scotland was now subdued. He was very wrong. The atrocities he and his army committed in Berwick would fuel the fires of rebellion in Scotland. And when a little known man, named William Wallace, came to the forefront of Scottish patriotism -- he made history. William Wallace is the greatest Scottish patriot Scotland has ever had, and he came when the Scots needed him most. Next...

Next, in chapter 7 of "The Story of Scotland's History": William Wallace, Part 1.

  • Chapter 7 William Wallace, part 1, William Wallace Emerges.

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