Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 3, Chapter 26 - Reigns of Malcolm IV; William the Lion; Alexander; Battle of Largs

Having set up the Church of Rome in Scotland, David I. went to his grave, leaving that Church to do her work in the downfall of his house and the partial ruin of the country. The first of these issues came sooner than David could perhaps have anticipated. The career of the Anglo-Celtic family that now governed Scotland was drawing to its close. It opened with the arrival of Margaret of England in 1068, and it ended when Alexander III., falling over the cliffs a little eastward of the spot where Margaret had first set foot on the Scottish earth, ended his life and reign. A short narrative will suffice to close the history of this branch of the royal house.

David I. was succeeded by his grandson Malcolm IV. (1153), a youth of twelve years. His education was such as to fit him for the cowl rather than the throne. He is better known as Malcolm the Maiden, a name which he owed to his girlish features and effeminate disposition. In all the qualities which were most needed for his position and his age he was signally lacking, and hardly had he begun his reign till the shadows of calamity were seen to gather. Scotland was suffering from a cruel famine which presented day by day an augmented death-roll. On the western border of the kingdom, Summerled, the powerful Thane of Argyll, had raised the standard of rebellion, and his adherents were being recruited from the discontented and the profligate. The country, so tranquil under the former sceptre, and which David was believed to have established on firm foundations, became in a brief space convulsed by factions, and perplexed by the fear of still greater evils which seemed impending.

The quarter whence the young King had most to dread was England. The throne of that country was filled by an astute, resolute, and most ambitious man, Henry II., whose name is unpleasantly associated with the assassination of Thomas a Becket, and the subjection of Ireland to the Papacy. Henry II. was the son of the Empress Maud, and the cousin of Malcolm IV. now on the throne of Scotland, but the ties of relationship and even the obligation of treaties were of small account in Henry’s estimation when they stood in the way of his ambition. When kneeling before David at Carlisle to receive the honour of knighthood at his hand, Henry swore that he would never disturb the Scottish King nor his posterity in the possession of their English principalities. David was now in his grave, his throne was filled by a youth of tender years and of shallow parts, and the unscrupulous Henry, forgetful of his oath, and bent on aggrandisement, demanded of Malcolm the surrender of his estates in England. Henry would have enforced his demand with the sword, but even he felt that the proceeding would be too scandalous and unjust to be openly attempted, and he resolved to employ the hidden arts of policy, of which he was an adept, to gain his purpose. He requested the Scotch King to meet him at Chester, and confer with him about the affair. Malcolm weakly complied. The result, as might have been foreseen, was that the raw youth was cajoled by his astute cousin into doing homage for his English principalities. Nor was this the end of the affair. His own disgrace and the nation’s humiliation were made complete by his being soon thereafter despoiled of the principalities of Cumbria and Northumberland. The indignation of the Scots was so great that Malcolm IV. Had nearly lost his throne into the bargain, and the latter years of his life passed amid insurrections and troubles.

Young as Malcolm was, and short as was the period during which he occupied the throne, he gave abundant proof that with the blood of his great grandmother Margaret he inherited her profound devotion to the Roman Church. During his reign monasteries and convents rose all over the land. After the numerous foundations of the previous reign one wonders what need there could be for more religious houses. Considering its population, Scotland was already overstocked with such institutions. But Malcolm thought that it never could have enough of convents and monks. Scotland henceforth was to do her religion by proxy. An army of cowled foreigners were to chant litanies and recite paternosters while her own sons were to plough and dig and sweat: an admirable division of labour whereby the country was enabled to be at once a model of industry and a model of religion. One-half its population are told off to ply the spade and the plough, and the other half are set apart to count beads and sing aves. It will not be the fault of Margaret’s descendants if Scotland, in centuries to come, be not the Levitical country of Europe! At every short distance the towers of abbey or monastery met the eye, and the convent chimes saluted the ear. The new houses with which Malcolm the Maiden swelled the list of David’s foundation were Cupar in Angus and Manuel of Linlithgow, both Cistercian establishments. At Saltre, on the confines of Lothian, was an hospital for "pilgrims, travellers, and poor folk," with the privilege of "sanctuary," and marked, as all such refuges of vagabonds were, with chain and cross. The nobles who wished to stand well at court followed the example of the King, knowing what pleasure it would give the "Maiden," who was not just a paragon of the virtue which the name imports, to see such edifices rising to sanctify his realm. Cistercian convents were founded at Eccles and Coldstream by Gospatrick, Earl of March; at St Bathans by Ada, Countess of Dunbar; at Haddington by Ada, Countess of Huntingdon, mother to the King; at Edinburgh, in St. Mary’s Wend; and a Cistercian abbey at Cantyre, founded by Reginald, son to Somerled, Lord of the Isles, who rose in rebellion against Malcolm, but fell in battle. The principal religious house founded in that reign was the Abbey of Paisley. Its foundations were laid in the year 1164 by Walter Fitz-Allan, High steward of Scotland, and ancestor of the Royal House of Stuart. The abbey, which was richly endowed with lands, and rose to be one of the chief religious establishments in Scotland, was colonised by a body of Benedictine monks whose original house was at Cluniac in France, hence termed Clunienses. Malcolm IV. Died in 1165, having reigned twelve years.

He was succeeded by his brother William. He is known as William the Lion, not because of any outstanding magnanimity of soul, or any lion-like feat of valour performed by him, but because he had the humbler distinction of being the first to blazon on the national standard of Scotland the "lion-rampant," in room of the "dragon" which from time immemorial had held this place of honour. Under William it was found impossible to stop, much less turn back, the adverse tide which had set in in the affairs of Scotland. The tendency was still downward. It was natural that William should think of recovering the lands in England which Malcolm had so softly let go, but the attempt only landed the nation in greater losses and deeper disgrace.

William invaded England, and renewed on the wretched borderland the oft repeated tragedy of sack and burning and slaughter. His army lay before Alnwick, a town of ominous interest to the Scots, since Malcolm Canmore had met his fate beneath its walls. The King of England was at that time fighting in France, but the barons of the north, roused by the devastations of the Scots, met at York to confer about the steps to be taken for the defense of the country. Though only four hundred in number, and sheathed in heavy mail, they resolved on a night ride to Alnwick. Starting from Newcastle they arrived in the neighbourhood of Alnwick at daybreak. The morning rose in a thick mist, and the adventurous knights, fearing least they should ride unawares into the heart of the Scottish camp, resolved to halt. Suddenly the mist lifted, and disclosed to their view a small party of horsemen tilting in a meadow beneath them. The English horsemen rushed upon the little party, and seizing the knight who made himself the more conspicuous by his resistance, bore him off into England. We may conceive the surprise of the English barons when they discovered that their captive was no less a personage than William the Lion, King of Scotland. The Church chroniclers say that this piece of good fortune happened to the King of England on the very day that he underwent his famous penance at the shrine of Thomas a Becket. One regrets that a legend that reads so beautifully should be rudely dispelled by the fact that the King of England was at the time in France.

The barons carried their royal captive across to Falaise in Normandy, and delivered him up to their master. Henry was overjoyed, believing that in capturing a king he had captured a kingdom. At all events, he was resolved that Malcolm should pay a kingdom for his ransom. The deed in which Malcolm of Scotland was to own Henry of England as his liege lord, and the Scottish people the subjects of the English crown, was carefully and skillfully drawn. Henry took care that in the document there should not be flaw or loophole through which the splendid prize which he had so long and ardently coveted, and so often schemed to appropriate, and which a fortunate accident had thrown into his hands when he looked not for it, might escape from his grasp. Every formality, phrase, promise, and oath known to the feudal age, and employed to give binding force to its covenants, was present in this deed. William accepted the bond, and swore fealty as his liege-man to the King of England. Nor he alone; his bishops and nobles were partners with him in this surrender of the ancient independence of their country, and the transaction was concluded, and Henry’s hold upon Scotland made complete by the delivery into his hands of the castles of Edinburgh, Stirling, Berwick, Roxburgh, and Jedburgh, which were now garrisoned with his troops. This transaction took place on 10th August 1175.

There is no darker day in the annals of Scotland. The independence of Scotland had often been in extreme peril, but never had it been wholly lost. It had come intact and triumphant through numberless intestine rebellions, and through many foreign invasions; but not a nationality which had vindicated its claim to be independent on so many battlefields, and in the face of superior numbers, passed into vassalage without a blow being struck. William the Lion gave Scotland for his liberty. This was a heavy price to pay for one man, even though that man was a king. It was wont to be said in old time, "Tis sweet to die for one’s country." William the Lion was not of this opinion. His patriotism eschewed all such romantic and dangerous ideas. His creed was a much safe one, even that it is becoming that the kingdom should die for its king. Death for country was a luxury for which he felt no ambition. His blood was too precious to be spilt for such a cause. What good could a living country do a dead king? It would not open the doors of his sepulchre and enable him to exchange the shroud for the royal mantle, or the silence of the grave for the voices of his courtiers; and seeing it could not do this, William judged that it were better that his country should die by surrendering its independence, and that himself should live. But what of the "Lion" which he had blazoned on the national standard? Did he now efface that symbol of courage and freedom from the Scottish flag, seeing it was no longer banner meet to be seen in the hand of a vassal nation? We do not read that he did. There was a two-fold disgrace in the humiliation which William, who was no Lion, put on Scotland. The king at whose feet he laid its independence had himself held the stirrup of his haughty prelate when he mounted his mule; 1 and in no long time thereafter Henry stooped lower still, he offered his bar back to be scourged by the monks at the tomb of that same prelate, Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. So haughty had the Church become, and so low had she sunk monarch. By her supposed supernatural powers she was able to strike the princes of the age with terror, and turn them into cravens.

The political independence of Scotland had been surrendered: now came a demand on its ecclesiastical independence. This shows that the entire subjugation of the country and its annexation as an integral part of England had been resolved upon. The Church of England (1176) required of the Scottish bishops submission to her jurisdiction. For this, however, the Scottish prelates were not prepared. They had sworn political fealty to Henry; they resisted the spiritual claims now made upon them by the metropo9litans of Canterbury and York. The case was appealed to Rome, and the reigning Pope, Alexander III., gave judgment in favour of the Scotch bishops. Nevertheless, the judgment formed a pretext for the coming of a legate into the kingdom, a functionary whose appearance has never boded good to Scotland, nor to any country. Freedom dies around his footsteps, and did the grass under the hoof of the Caliph’s horse.

It was about this time that William the Lion laid the foundations of an abbey destined to become one of the richest and grandest in all Scotland, and which, linking its history with the powerful and bloody house of Beatoun, and through that house with some of the martyr scenes of the Reformation, has gathered round in a cloud of tragic memories—Aberbrothock. Where now its grandeur? No longer does abbot ride forth at its gate on his richly caparisoned mule; no longer does troop of friars sweep past with banners and changes; or vespers come floating out on the evening air; the vast pile reared by William has yielded to time, leaving to our day its majestic ruins to bespeak its former magnificence and extent.

William had not yet completed the rearing of this mighty temple for the Roman worship, which he dedicated to Thomas a Becket, when he found himself at war with the head of the Roman Church. The quarrel grew out of a miserable dispute betwixt Robert of St Andrews and John of Aberdeen, the question being which of the two should fill the See of St Andrews. This case too was appealed to Rome, and the Scottish King and the Pontiff took opposite sides. The merits of the quarrel have not the slightest interest for any one at this day except the advocates of apostolic succession, and we notice it only because of the infliction it drew down on Scotland. To chastise William for presuming to have a mind of his own in the matter, and not yielding instant compliance with the papal wish, the kingdom was smitten with excommunication. Of all the weapons in Rome’s armoury the most terrible perhaps was interdict. It was accompanied by such visible signs and tokens of Divine wrath that the stoutest heart quailed, and fear was on all faces, from the monarch downwards. Terror overspread the land. The vengeance thundered from the Seven Hills was believed to be the vengeance of the Almighty. All the channels of grace were stopped, and all the symbols of salvation withdrawn. The priests forsook the temples; the lights at the altar were extinguished; the church doors were closed; the bells hung silent in the steeples; the voice of bride and of bridegroom ceased; infants could not be baptized, nor could the dead be buried except in ditches, and over then neither dirge nor requiem could be sung. This awful doom projected its shadow into the world beyond, for the gates of Paradise were closed, and crowds of disembodied spirits wandered disconsolate on the gloomy banks of the Styx, waiting till the interdict should be lifted off, and the closed gates be again opened. To kings the interdict was specially formidable. Apart from its ghostly terrors it had for them grave political consequences. This fiery missile thrown into the midst of their population not infrequently kindled insurrection and rebellion in their kingdoms, resulting in the destruction of order and the fall of the throne. We at this day smile at these stage terrors, the men of that day trembled and made haste to make their peace with the Pontiff. It so happened that Pope Alexander III. died at this juncture, and his successor Lucius III. being a more placable man, and moreover, not personally concerned in the quarrel, Scotland had riddance from this torment.

Death, too, befriended the country in the matter of its political vassalage. After fifteen years Henry II. of England departed this life, and left his throne to Richard Coeur de Lion. This monarch was enflamed with the passion of fighting the Saracens and winning glory on the fields of Palestine. But he sorely wanted money to enable him to join the crusades into which the Pope was drawing the princes of the age, to the weakening of their power and the aggrandisement of his own importance. A hundred thousand pounds would be of more service to the "Lion heart" in this strait than the feudal homage of Scotland, and being withal of a romantic and chivalrous turn he offered to relieve the Scottish King and kingdom from their oath of fealty (December 5, 1189) for this sum. The bargain was struck; Scotland had back its independence, the castles held in pledge by England were given up to Scots, and Richard the Lionhearted set off to win an eternal name as the conqueror of infidels and the liberator of the "Holy Sepulchre." Scotland was again free. But it owed no thanks to its monarchy. It might have been in bonds till this day if its emancipation had depended on the spirit, or policy, or sword of William the Lion.

Nothing more delighted the posterity of Queen Margaret than to see the Church multiplying her priests, and adding to the number of her acres. David, one would think, had provided sufficiently for her in both respects, considering the size and population of Scotland. But all the kings of his house seemed to have it for their ambition to increase the religious foundations and multiply the monkish orders. In William’s reign the "Red Friars" were settled at Aberdeen, the Clinics at Lenders, the Cistercians at Glenluce and Inchaffray; a house of canons-regular in Strathearn. In this reign Iona again emerges into view. Ronald Lord of the Isles in 1203, rebuilt his famous monastery on a larger scale, and colonised it with Benedictines. The Culdees had lingered on the spot down till this time. Part of them would doubtless amalgamate with the Benedictine community and the others would die out.2

William’s reign was memorable, moreover, on another account. The ecclesiastical independence of Scotland was now definitely vindicated. This matter had been in debate for more than a century. If the Kings of England coveted the temporal lordship of Scotland, the Church of England was ambitious of being its spiritual superior. Now it was York and now it was Canterbury that intrigued to introduce the thin edge of their supremacy by claiming at right to consecrate the bishops of St Andrews in token that all the Scottish Sees were subject to their jurisdiction, and that the whole Scottish realm was included in their diocese. William saw that the most effectual way of extinguishing the lesser supremacy was to oppose to it a greater. He laid his church at the feet of a higher master than either York or Canterbury, the Roman pontiff namely. He sent a deputation to Rome with the view of obtaining from the Pope a formal declaration that the Scottish Church owed direct and immediate allegiance to the Roman See and to non other. The deputation was successful, and on March 11, 1188, Clement III. issued a bull, in which he affectionately called the Scottish Church his "daughter," and took this youngest born of his family under the protection of his pontifical shield.3 To this decision the English prelates were compelled to bow, and the pretensions of York and Canterbury over the Church in Scotland came to an end. William died in 1214 at the age of seventy-four, having reigned forty-nine years.

He was succeeded by his son, Alexander II., at the age of sixteen. In England, too, the scenes had shifted. Coeur de Lion was dead, and John was on the throne. It was under this pusillanimous prince that Nemesis overtook England for its treatment of Scotland during the reign of William. England had robbed Scotland of its independence, and now we see England stript of her own independence. Scotland had passed out of vassalage, England passes into it. John laid his crown and kingdom at the foot of the Papal chair, swearing to be the lineman of Innocent III., and engaging for himself and his successors to hold the kingdom as the vassals of the Pope. This was bondage more humiliating than any into which Scotland had ever been reduced, seeing it gave to the English people a priest as their master. This transaction brought after I civil war in England, and the nobles of that land, fleeing to the Scottish court from the tyranny of John, drew Alexander II. into the quarrel. He had escape from his imbroglio in no long time, but not to find rest. Uprising began to distract his own kingdom, and there came no day to Alexander without its care. His reign, which lasted from 1114 to 1149, was from beginning to end full of perplexity and toil. But no country at that age fared better, and some there were that fared even worse. It was the epoch of the great pontiff Innocent III. The sky of the papacy was without a cloud. Around the throne of the Pope all seemed stable; but the earth of political society was reeling to and fro, and the hearts of men were failing them from fear of impending change and dissolution.

There is no Scottish reign, not even David’s more thoroughly ecclesiastical in its spirit and policy than that of Alexander II. The Church is see becoming every day more and more the one institution which kings and nobles vie with each other to enrich with wealth. New abbeys and religious houses are rising in various parts of the country, and new orders of novel habit and unfamiliar name are arriving in Scotland to swell its already overgrown army of monks. Now was founded the Cistercian abbey of Culross, as also the Cistercian monastery of Balmerino. There were now erected three houses of the Order of Vallis Caulium, Pluscardin in Moray, Beaulieu near Inverness, and Ardchattan in Lorn. The Cluniac Benedictines were established at Crossraguel in Carrick, the Premonstratensians at Ferne in Ross and the Trinitarians, or Red Friars, at Dunbar. The Begging Friars, recently founded by St Francis Assisi, speedily found their was into Scotland, and took up their abode at Roxburgh and Berwick. The King’s special favourites among the men who wore frock and cowl is said to have been the Dominicans, whom he established at Inverness, Elgin, Aberdeen, Montrose, Perth, Stirling, Ayr, and Berwick. Their founder was St Dominic, to whom with Innocent III. the world is indebted for the "Holy Office." During Alexander’s reign numerous diocesan synods and provincial councils were held, and some important canons enacted which throw light on the condition of Scotland in that age, but which will come better under our notice at a subsequent stage. In 1122 Adam, Bishop of Caithness, lost his life in a quarrel with his parishioners abut his tithes. The King took a terrible vengeance for his murder by hanging four hundred of the inhabitants.4 An insurrection in the Hebrides called Alexander suddenly to the Western Isles. When just on the point of succeeding in his expedition he sickened of fever, and died (July 8, 1249) on the Island of Kerrara. He was buried in the Abbey of Melrose, and his son, a child of eight years, succeeded him on the throne.

The boy was carried to Scone, enthroned on the stone of destiny, and with pomps all the more numerous and imposing, in respect his years were few, he was first knighted and next crowned as Alexander III. There is no other recorded coronation at Scone so brilliant as this, as if the Scots sought relief in these showy ceremonials from the fears with which the infant years of the King oppressed them. The little monarch sat in robe, and crown, and sceptre while the nobles of Scotland came forward one after another and swore fealty to him. Last of all stood forth from the assemblage a tall, venerable-looking highland bard.5 On bended knee, his white hair falling his shoulders, and his silver beard streaming down his breast, he recited with stentorian voice the genealogy of Alexander from the first Scottish monarch downwards. It was meet that all these formalities should be observed in this case. They were crowning the last heir of the house of Fergus, though they knew it not.

The auguries that dashed the splendours amid which the reign of our last Celtic king opened soon began to be realized. The feudal nobles of Scotland were so many kings, their vast territories so many kingdoms, and their numerous retainers so many armies, and as soon as the ceremony had ended they went forth from the coronation chambers at Scone to strive with one another for possession of the King, and with the royal person the government of the realm. The much coveted prize was borne off by Comyn, the powerful Earl of Menteith. There came halycon times for the house of Comyn and their friends, but it faired ill with their rivals, and worst of all with the country. The peasants were withdrawn from the plough to fight the battles of faction, the untilled fields refused their harvests, and famine came to aggravate the miseries of war. The disappointed nobles schemed how they might counterwork the influence of the Comyns, and set free the King from their control. They resolved to marry their young sovereign to the daughter of Henry III. of England, and give the King, as guardian and counsellor, the English monarch. The match was arranged, although Alexander was then only a lad of ten. If Scotland was not guarded on the side of the Comyn faction, new dangers were created in another quarter; for the counsels which King Henry might tender to his son-in-law might not always be for the interest and honour of Scotland. As Alexander grew to manhood, however, he developed a hardy spirit and a sound penetration, which enabled him to hold his own in the game betwixt himself and the King of England. The two Courts met York in 1251, to keep their Christmas and celebrate the marriage. Mathew Paris has left us a description of the festivities, the tournaments, the magnificent dresses, and, in particular, the jewelled robes of the Queen Dowager of Scotland, in which she outshone the ladies of both Courts. On the day after Christmas Alexander was married to Margaret, daughter of Henry III. of England. On this occasion the Scottish King is said to have done homage for his English principalities; but Henry, presuming on the youth of Alexander, asked him to do fealty for Scotland also, whereupon the plucky young monarch replied that the had come to York to receive his bride, not to surrender his kingdom.

Alexander III. inherited the weakness of all who had the blood of Margaret in their veins. With his reign came more abbeys and more friars.6 Of the new foundations—for it were wearisome to chronicle all—we select only one, on account of the touching and romantic incident which led to its erection. It is the Cistercian Abbey of Sweetheart, near Dumfries, founded by Devorgoil, wife of John Baliol. When her husband died in 1269 she made his heart be embalmed, and preserved in a costly shrine, that it might be placed in the same coffin with herself, and interred in the abbey she had founded. Hence its name. It is also known as New Abbey. About the same time two who had been not less tenderly united in their lives were joined in the grave. On June 13, 1250, the remains of Queen Margaret were transferred from the stone coffin in which they had lain for a century and a half, to a shrine profusely adorned with gold and jewels, in the "Lady aisle" of the Abbey of Dunfermline. The body of Malcolm Canmore was exhumed at the same time and placed beside that of his queen. When the relics of Margaret, say the chroniclers, were brought into the abbey, "the whole temple was filled with a most sweet odour."7

Soon the Scottish Knight had other things to think of. It was in the reign of Alexander III. that the Vikings made their last attempt on Scotland, and received their last and decisive repulse. The Norse power had been overthrown on the mainland of Scotland, but it still subsisted in Orkney and Shetland, and in the isles that stud the western sea onward to the Island of Man. Each of these islands was an independent principality, under the rule of a Norse prince, who owned Haco, King of Norway, as his feudal lord. These petty sovereignties were a source of danger, for though contemptible individually, they were formidable when combined, and ever ready to attack on the west when England struck in the south. Alexander II. Made an attempt to be rid of the danger by stamping out the petty sovereignties. This drew down on his successor the heavy arm of the King of Norway, who saw in the suppression of these island principalities the destruction of his power in Scotland. Now appeared one of the most powerful Norse fleets that had ever been seen off the Scottish coast.

In the middle of August, 1263, a Norse armada, of an hundred and sixty sail, their banners blazoned with the old symbols of terror, the spread raven, and their decks crowded with warriors in chain-armour—terrors of a more substantial kind—swept round the Mull of Canter, seized on the islands of Aaran and Bute, and finally came to anchor off Largs. Haco, King of Norway, commanded in person, and we expect the veteran warrior to strike before the Scottish army has had time to muster. But no: the invader saw no defenders on shore, and thought that he might take his time to seize the victory that was already his. Meanwhile the Northmen indulged their characteristic love of plundering, gathering booty, but losing priceless hours. One of their predatory expeditions was of an altogether unique and extraordinary kind. Sending sixty of their ships up Loch Long, and dragging their transports across the narrow neck of land betwixt Archer and Tarbat, they launched them on Loch Lomond. This was the first and last time that war-ship was seen on these inland waters. The Norse tempest swept along the lake, ravaging its islands, sacking the mansions on its shores, slaughtering the inhabitants, and converting a scene of romantic beauty into one of rueful desolation. Having accomplished this exploit the Norsemen returned to their ships.

The King of Norway, as if spell lay on him remained inactive. Although familiar with battles, Haco suffered himself to be outwitted by his youthful antagonist, the King of the Scots, who, in this instance, showed himself the superior strategist. Alexander sent on board the Norwegian fleet an embassy of bare-footed friars to negotiate terms of peace. The friars came and went, and though peace was not arranged, nor perhaps desired, time was gained. While the friars were negotiating, Haco’s position was becoming every moment more perilous. In front of him the Scotch army was mustering in greater numbers, though it concealed itself behind the hills on shore: and in his rear the autumnal storms of the Atlantic were traveling with all speed towards the scene of action, on which they were to play a more important part than man. It was now the end of September, and the shortening days and the lowering skies told Haco that he must give battle, or go back to his own country.

On 1st October, at midnight, a storm set in from the southwest. The winds rose, bringing with them torrents of hail and rain: and the mountain billows tolling in upon the land made sport with Haco’s ships, tossing them , with their load of armed warriors and their raven-blazoned banners, to the skies this moment, to dash them on the rocky beach the next. So did the storm deal with one portion of the Norwegian fleet; another portion if it drove before it up the Clyde. Here the confusion and destruction were not less great than on the shore of Largs. Drifting before the winds was a mass of war galleys, crushing every moment into each other in the pitchy darkness, some going down with their crews, and others cast as stranded hulks on the banks of the river.

The night had been full of terrors, but the morning was more terrible still, for its light disclosed the horrors of the night. Haco, as he gazed from the deck of his still remaining ships, saw what a blow had befallen upon him. He felt that the stroke had been dealt, not by the Scots, but by mightier forces which were warring against him, the powers, even of air and ocean, whose fury had been let loose upon him. To add to his perplexity, the storm showed no signs of abating. The look seaward dismayed him, bold veteran as he was, for there was the tempest still heaping up its black clouds, and still rolling onward its mighty surges. It would be work enough for the day, Haco thought, to battle with the waves; to-morrow, if his ships should hold, and the storm were abated, he would transport his army on shore, and do battle with the Scots.

Haco imagined that the dark powers of witchcraft had been summoned to oppose him. The spell of some witch had raised this violent storm in favour of the Scots. He would conjure the elements to rest by holier arts. Landing on the island of Cumbrae, and extemporising a rude altar, he made his priests say mass. It was in vain. The winds still howled, and the Atlantic billows continued to make sport with his shattered ships.

The coming of the Norwegian armament was known; in fact, the invaders themselves had notified their approach by the ravages they inflicted on the country as they moved southward, and Alexander’s preparations, pushed on with vigour, were now complete. The Scotch army consisted of a numerous corps on foot, and a fine body of cavalry, numbering fifteen hundred horsemen, mostly knights and barons, clad in armour from head to heel, and mounted on Spanish horses. The foot soldiers, armed with spears and bows, were led by Alexander, High steward of Scotland, great grandfather of Robert II., the first of the Stewart line. The second day opened with the storm only slightly moderated, but Haco felt that battle must be faced, for provisions were running short, and every hour was inflicting fresh disasters on the fleet. He sent on shore nine hundred fierce and gallant warriors. As they advanced through the surf in their transports, they sighted the enemy’s cavalry ranged on the heights above the village of Largs, their forms standing boldly out against the red storm clouds. A crowd of armed peasants helped to swell their apparent numbers. Flanking them were the men-at-arms on foot, their spears and steel helmets, touched by the rising sun, flashing like fire through the drifting clouds.

One division of the Norwegian army advanced up the height to attack, another body took up their position on the beach. Soon the two armies were in conflict. The Scots, under the High Steward of Scotland, behaved with signal gallantry and drove back the Norwegian van. The battle now moved down to the shore, and the entire Norwegian force came into action. King Haco, who was on the scene, set off in his transport to the fleet, to bring reinforcements to his men. At that critical moment the storm rising in greater fury, not only made it impossible to send succours to the army on shore, but so shattered the ships as to effect the all but total destruction of Haco’s fleet. Meanwhile the battle went on, the struggling mass moved to and fro on the shore with ceaseless terrible din, which even the roar of the winds and the thunder of the surf could not drown, the commingled noise of the shouting of captains, the ringing strokes of a thousand swords on steel armour, and the groans and shrieks of dying warriors. The Scots outnumbered the Norwegians, and the latter, seeing themselves in danger of being enclosed and cut in pieces, formed hastily into a compact body bristling all over with steel spears. The Scotch cavalry attacked but could not break this ironclad mass, and hew their way into the Norwegian circle.

Toward evening, the tempest lulling a little, reinforcements arrived from the ships. The Norwegians, rousing themselves to their utmost pitch of fury, attacked the Scots, and dislodged such of them as still occupied the heights. But there was not time to recover the fortunes of the day: the fate of the expedition was sealed. The field was covered with Norwegian dead: of the morning’s host only a worn and dispirited remnant remained: under cover of the darkness they betook them to their transports, and making their way through a tremendous surf, escaped to their fleet.

Scotland had seen the last of the Dane. In a shattered ship, the remnant of his once magnificent Armada, Haco set sail for Norway, which he was never to reach. He fell sick from fatigue and grief, and died in Orkney. Henceforward the Hebrides were subject to the Scottish sceptre, and the fabric begun in the union of the Picts and Scots was now crowned. Moreover, preparation was made for the "War of Independence." The reduction of the western isles was an indispensable condition of success in that coming conflict. With a multitude of hostile kinglets on its flank, Scotland could never have made good its nationality against a powerful antagonist like England. The battle of Largs brought a signal deliverance to the nation, and is one of the epochs of Scottish history.

But the cloud departed not from the House of Margaret. Alexander’s plans, wise and politic, to settle the crown in his family, all came to nothing. A train of calamities, following in quick succession, desolated his house. His Queen died. She was followed to the tomb by his second son, still a boy. His first born, Alexander, the Prince of Scotland, who would have sat upon the throne after him, next sank into the grave. Then came tidings from Norway that his daughter, wife to King Eric, was dead, leaving an only child, Margaret, the "Maid of Norway." Alexander in the prime of manhood found himself a widower, and childless. He now married Ioleta, the daughter of Count de Dreux, in the hope of retrieving the fortunes of his house; but a great calamity was near. He was returning from Edinburgh, and as he rode along the shore near Kinghorn in the dark, 16th March 1286, his horse stumbled, rolled over the cliff, and Alexander was killed. The universal grief for the King’s death was quickly followed by consternation and dismay, not less universal, at the dark night which had descended on Scotland.



This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus