Scotlands History

Alexander III (1241-1286)

Alexander III ruled Scotland from 1249 to 1286. Alexander III was on good terms with England, which helped to secure a period of relative peace and prosperity. Monasteries and abbeys grew and flourished, and trade with the continent brought much needed supplies and bolstered the economy. 

On 2 October 1263 the army of Alexander III met a Norwegian force led by king Håkon Håkonsson at the Battle of Largs.

Kintyre, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man had been under the control of the Norwegian kings since around 1100. The Scots tried unsuccessfully to buy the islands and finally tried to take the Isle of Skye by force.

King Håkon Håkonsson sailed with a massive army to face the Scots. He joined with the kings of Man and the Hebrides. Their combined forces may have numbered more than 12,000 men aboard over 120 boats.

The Norwegian fleet was caught in a storm - five longships were forced onto the shore. When King Håkon’s men landed on the mainland they were met by the Scots under Alexander III. The Norwegians retreated to the beach until a shipload of reinforcements arrived. The Scots withdrew to higher ground - firing arrows and throwing stones.

The Battle of Largs ended with no clear winner but King Håkon was forced to retreat as winter was coming and his forces were running short of supplies. He died in Orkney in December 1263 and King Alexander was able to invade the Hebrides the following year.

The Treaty of Perth was signed in 1266 and Alexander III bought control of the Hebrides and Man. The Norwegians kept Orkney.

In 1281 King Alexander III’s daughter - Princess Margaret of Scotland - married King Eric II of Norway. She gave birth to a daughter; Margaret, the Maid of Norway.

Alexander III died at Kinghorn in 1286.

  • A red seal showing a king on a throne holding a sceptre

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Listen to 'Ex te lux oritur', an anonymous piece written to celebrate the marriage of Princess Margaret of Scotland and King Eric of Norway in 1281. Here it is played on harp, gemshorn, rebec (a very early form of violin) and temple bells.