In 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
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).
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.
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
The battle itself was small-scale, both of the Kings
did not participate.
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
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.
III. thenceforth was called "the Tamer of the Ravens".
Not long after this Hakon's
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.