ALEXANDER II. was only seventeen years old when his
father William the Lion died. But he was crowned at once, and young though
he was, he proved to be a good and wise King.
During this reign the quarrelling over the border
lands between England and Scotland still went on. Alexander was very anxious
to recover his power over Northumbria, and soon after he came to the throne
he marched into England to help the barons who were fighting against their
own King John.
John was very angry when he
heard that the King of Scotland was helping his rebellious barons, and he
marched northward at the head of a wild and terrible army. The names of some
of the leaders of this army show what fierce men they were. They were called
Buch the Murderer, Godeschal the Iron-hearted, Manleon the Bloody.
These cruel warriors marched through all the country,
killing people, burning houses, and laying waste the land. Every morning
they set fire to the town in which they had spent the night, King John
himself showing the example and setting light, with his own hand, to the
house in which he had slept.
host came to within a few miles of Edinburgh, John vowing that he would
'unearth the young fox,' as he called King Alexander. But there he found the
Scottish army ready to fight him. John dared not fight, for his soldiers
were almost starving. All the country round was a desert. In it John could
find no food for his army, so he turned and went home again.
Then in revenge Alexander marched once more into
England, and not until John died, and his son ruled instead, was there peace
between the two countries.
married the sister of the new English King, and the peace was so secure for
a time, that once, when the English King had to go to France, he asked
Alexander to take care of the north of England, while he was gone. And
Alexander like a true knight, accepted the trust, and kept faith with the
Having made peace with England,
Alexander had time to look after his own country and people. This was no
easy task. The people were wild and passionate, and so fiercely did they
quarrel among themselves that at times they were in danger of dragging the
whole country into war.
Once a tournament
took place near a town called Haddington. Knights came from all sides to
take part in it. Among them was a great and powerful lord called Walter
Bisset. Through all Scotland he was known to be a skilful fighter. He rode
proudly into the lists, his armour gleaming and his helmet plumes waving in
the breeze. He was sure of winning the prize.
But there was there a young lord called the Earl of
Athole. He hated Walter Bisset, and he had made up his mind to conquer him.
So when the heralds sounded the trumpets, as a sign for the tournament to
begin, the Earl, singling out Walter Bisset, lowered his lance and rushed
upon him with all his might. But Walter Bisset was a strong man and knew
well how to use his weapons. He sat firmly upon his horse, returning blow
for blow. The fight grew fierce, their lances were shivered to atoms, their
swords flashed and rang. Then suddenly putting out all his strength the Earl
dealt a mighty blow. In a moment \Valter lay upon the ground, and his horse
galloped riderless away.
Walter rose unhurt,
but with anger in his heart, and swearing vengeance upon the Earl, he
sullenly left the lists.
A few days later the
young Earl was killed, and his house was set on fire and burned to the
As soon as the Earl's friends heard
of what had happened, they made sure that it was Walter Bisset who had done
the deed. So he was seized and brought before the King. In vain Walter tried
to clear himself. No one would believe him. lie was condemned, as a
punishment for his wickedness, to have all his land taken from him. He was
also ordered to go upon a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, there to remain for
the rest of his life, praying for the soul of the murdered Earl.
But instead of going to the Holy Land, Walter went to
the court of the King of England. He told the King that he was innocent, and
he complained that the King of Scotland had no right to punish him, even had
he been guilty, without leave from his over-lord the King of England.
Of course the King of England was not the King of
Scotland's over-lord, but the King of England was only too glad to make
believe once more that he was. So he sent messengers to Alexander asking how
he dared act in so great a matter without leave.
'Tell your master,' replied Alexander proudly, 'that I never have held, nor
never will hold, the smallest part of my kingdom of Scotland as vassal of
the King of England. I owe no obedience to him.'
When Henry received this answer he resolved to make war
on Scotland. He gathered a great army; Alexander also gathered an army, and
they marched to meet each other.
But there was no
fighting. Even in England many people loved Alexander. The English nobles
did not wish to fight against him, and at the last moment peace was
arranged. This peace lasted until the death of Alexander in 1249 A.D.