Battle of Largs - 1263


Battle of Largs (detail), 1263.JPGIn October 1263, a sizeable fleet of longships surveyed the Scandinavian dominions of King Haakon IV of Norway off the west coast of Scotland. Bad weather forced some of the ships onto the beach at Largs where a skirmish with Scottish forces fighting in the name of Alexander III occurred. Although to call the confrontation a battle is a considerable exaggeration, the consequences of the event were far reaching.


On his return to Norway, Haakon took ill at Kirkwall (in the Orkney Islands - also Scandinavian territory) and died. The following year, the independent King of Man broke his allegiance to Norway and recognised Alexander III as his superior.


In 1266, Haakon's successor, Magnus, signed the Treaty of Perth which surrendered sovereignty of the Western Isles off Scotland to the Scottish crown. Of their once great territories, only the Orkney and Shetland Isles remained under the control of the Scandinavians (and their hold there was soon under threat from a series of Scottish bishops).


Sir William de Douglas had 2 sons who fought at the Battle of Largs against the Norse in 1263.



For  centuries the  Western Isles had been disputed territory. But at last the years of Norse  invasion and  encroachment were coming to an end. Soon after his  accession to the Scottish throne in 1249 William the Lion's  grandson Alexander III. lauched a series of raids against the Norse-held Hebrides carried out by Ferchar Macintaggart, son of the Red Priest of Applecross, aided by Kermac MacMaghan (? Matheson). His raids on Skye were so severe that Olaf the Black, King of Man and the Isles called on his superior King Hakon Hakonson of Norway for relief.


In retaliation King Hakon Hakonson of Norway in person set sail for Scotland in  the summer of 1263 with the greatest fleet ever seen. He had left  Bergen in early July and sailed first to Shetland and then to Orkney. It was an unhurried progress, for there were matters of state to  attend to in both island groups, and the King celebrated the Norwegian festival of St. Olaf's Day in Orkney on 29 July. Twelve Days later having failed to recruit the Orcadian force for which he had hoped, Hakon and the Norwegian fleet left for the Western Isles.


There they were joined by reinforcements both from the Isles, and from the Isle of Man, the barons of the isles and almost all the princes of the house of Somerled taking part, sailing past Lewis and the sound of Raasay and then anchoring in Caol Akin (literally: Haco's Strait) and on their way south Hakon was able to send detachments to harass Kintyre and Bute. The main fleet sailed on to Lamlash Bay in Arran, and another detachment was sent to attack the island settlements in Loch Lomond. The raven banners of the norse ships proudly flew in the wind ravaging the west coast and finally meeting their fate at Largs.


Hakon and some other survivors managed to escape to the galleys. By cleverly opening negotiations with the enemy, the Scottish King managed to  delay an encounter until October  of thay year, when, as he had  hoped might happen, a sudden autumn gale caught  the Norse fleet where it lay at anchor in the Firth of Clyde and played havoc with it. Having with difficulty fought their way ashore at Largs on the Firth of Clyde, the Norwegians were now defeated on land as well as at sea and withdrew in confusion. Several of Hakon's  ships, including a richly laden cargo-ship, were blown aground on the mainland at Largs.

The battle itself was small-scale, both of the Kings did not participate.


Hakon himself with a handful of men reached Wester Fjord (Loch Bracadale) and seized the region for food leaving the population to starve. Thence they sailed to the Orkneyar. Hakon died in the Bishop's Palace at Kirkwall on 16 December 1263. It is said that he had the norse sagas read out to him and was so ashamed of his failure that he died of a broken heart.  His body lay in state in the great hall before it was buried in St. Magnus  Cathedral. Later in  spring, when the weather allowed sea crossing, his body was taken to Norway for final interment. 


Alexander III.  thenceforth was called "the Tamer of the Ravens".


Not long after this Hakon's son Magnus signed a treaty of peace under which the Inner and Outer Hebrides became part of Scotland, though Orkney and Shetland were to continue in Norwegian hands another two hundred years.


In  practice the  Hebrides and large areas of the adjoining mainland, however, remained for  many years  to come autonomous principalities, ruled over by  the MacDougalls of Lorne and the  MacDonalds of Islay, who  paid  no more  heed to their Scottish than they formerly had to their Norwegian overlords.




This page was last updated on 12 October 2021

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Errors and Omissions

The Forum

What's new?

We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


2 Minute Survey

To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

Help with costs

Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!