FOR many years the islands which lie around
Scotland had been in the power of the Norsemen, these wild sea- kings who
came sailing over from Norway.
made up his mind to drive these Norsemen out of the islands and rule them
himself. For he saw how dangerous it was to allow these fierce strangers to
live so near his own kingdom. They were always ready to help rebels against
the King of Scots, and the Kings of England were always sure of their help
when they wished to fight with Scotland.
Alexander gathered an army of soldiers, and sent them in ships to these
islands. There was much fierce and cruel fighting, but at last all the Norse
nobles, who would not own the King of Scotland as over-lord instead of the
King of Norway, were either killed or driven away.
Those who were driven away, sailed back to Norway, in
hot anger, to beg help from Haco their King.
Haco, when he heard what Alexander had done, was very wrathful, and he
gathered a great army, resolved to avenge his people. He had about one
hundred and sixty ships. They were nearly all large, and they were crowded
with soldiers and strong men of war.
own ship was very splendid. It was built of oak and was beautifully carved
with dragons, and was painted and gilded. From the mast-head floated his
standard, embroidered with a raven with out-spread wings. From this standard
these fierce sea-kings were known as the Ravens.
As this mighty fleet came floating onward it looked
very gay and splendid. Flags fluttered in the breeze, the summer sun shone
on the coats of the knights and made their weapons and armour glitter. Never
before had such a fleet sailed against Scotland.
On they came, right round the north of the island, and
down the west, coast until they sailed up the Firth of Clyde.
When Alexander saw what a number of ships there were,
he knew he could not hope to defeat them unless he had time to gather more
soldiers. So when the ships sailed, up the Firth of Clyde he sent some monks
with bare feet and heads, to ask Haco upon what terms he would make peace.
Haco was glad to think that Alexander wished to make
peace, so he sent some of his chief men to talk to him. The King received
these men kindly, but he kept them waiting for a few days before he returned
an answer to King Haco. And so as time went on, Alexander caused delay after
delay, for he had no intention of making peace. He only wanted to put off
time. He knew that every day was precious. He knew that the longer he put
off fighting, the longer he had in which to gather troops, and as the summer
passed there was always greater and greater chance that storms would arise
and wreck Haco's ships.
Soon the Norsemen had
eaten up all the food which they had brought with them. They had no means of
getting more unless they landed and attacked the Scots. So the captains
urged Haco to battle. By this time, too, the fine weather had gone. The sky
grew grey, and the wind blew cold, and at last one night a fierce storm
arose. The waves dashed high, the wind shrieked and howled, and many of
Haco's ships, driven hither and thither in the darkness, were broken to
pieces upon the rocky shore.
So fierce was
this storm that the Norsemen thought it had been caused by the enchantments
of some witch, and that made them more afraid than they would otherwise have
The Scots were ready, and watching for
some such disaster to happen, and soon bonfires were lit all along the
coast, which carried far inland the news of the wreck of Haco's fleet. So,
as the ships were dashed by the waves upon the shore, armed peasants rushed
down from the heights above, eager to kill and to plunder.
In the morning, Haco resolved to land the rest of his
men, and to fight as best he might. When he did so, he found a great army of
Scots, led by their King, waiting for him.
Among the Scots were some very splendid horsemen, both men and horses clad
in steel, and so fiercely did they charge, that it seemed as if they would
drive the Norsemen into the sea.
Norsemen were strong and brave, and unused to yielding, and although some
fled, many stood their ground. These formed themselves into a ring, and
standing back to back, their long spears made an unbroken, bristling fence,
upon which the Scottish horse threw themselves again and again in vain. Hour
after hour the battle raged around the circle of spears. Step by step, the
Norsemen were forced backward towards the sea, but still the bristling fence
remained unbroken. Great deeds of valour were done on either side, and many
a brave knight fell. And all the time the storm raged, the roar of the
waves, the shriek of the wind, were mingled with the clash and clang of
sword and armour, and the cries of the wounded and the dying.
At last night fell and the fighting ceased. In the
darkness the Norsemen fled to their boats. When morning broke, they looked
with sorrow and despair towards the shore where their brave comrades lay
dead. So many had been drowned during the storm, so many had been killed in
battle, that there were not enough left to fight any more. Haco, therefore,
sent a. message to King Alexander, begging for peace, And for leave to bury
This Alexander granted, and having
gathered their dead, and buried them in great trenches, with piled stones
upon them, the Norsemen sailed away in their battered, half-wrecked ships,
never again to return. But Haco got no farther than the island of Orkney.
There, overcome by grief and shame at his defeat, he died, and never more
saw his native land.
This battle was called
the Battle of Largs, and was fought on the 15th of December 1263 A.D. By it
the pride of the Norsemen was broken. Of all the islands of Scotland. only
Orkney and Shetland remained to them. The Ravens were tamed.