From a time that predates the great Scottish King Robert the Bruce or even the exploits of Scottish Hero William Wallace there lived a great king of Scotland, Alexander III. A ruler who reigned over a great time of peace and prosperity in Scotland but who’s tragic death plunged the country into a great period of upheaval.
Son of Alexander II, and a direct descendant of the first king of the Scots, Kenneth mac Alpin, Alexander was born at Roxburgh in 1241. His father died when he was only eight and the young boy found himself on the throne of Scotland as a child King. In medieval times being such a young ruler was an incredibly dangerous position to be in, however Alexander was fortunate. as an infant a marriage had been arranged between himself and Margaret, daughter of King Henry III of England. Two years after his coronation they were married and the bonds between the two nations became strong.
With such strong marital ties there was little conflict with Scotland’s traditional enemy and instead Alexander could concentrate in other areas, in particular Scotland’s claim on the Western Isles. The islands had been controlled by Norway since the Norse invasions and after some cunningly timed raids on the isles by the Scots King Haakon of Norway set sail with an invasion force of 200 ships and 15,000 men. Alexander’s timing in delaying the invasion through stalled negotiations meant that when the force finally arrived in the western isles they were hit by Autumn storms. Many ships were lost and the remainder were defeated at the battle of Largs in 1263.
Haakon died returning from the battle and in 1266 Haakon’s successor concluded the Treaty of Perth which gave the Isle of Man and the Western Isles to Scotland in return for payment. Norway retained only Orkney and Shetland.
Queen Margaret had born him three children between 1260 and 1272 but in 1274 she died. Tragically all three children died within three years of each other and Alexander was left both widowed and without an heir. Realising that to die without a recognised heir would spell tragedy for Scotland he quickly arranged that his granddaughter Margaret, the “Maid of Norway” be recognised as heir. Nevertheless the pressure to produce a male heir led him into another marriage to Yolande de Dreux on November 1, 1285.
In March 1286 Alexander was taking care of some business in Edinburgh. It was a dark and stormy night when he decided to make the journey back to Kinghorn in Fife where his young wife was awaiting him The famous Seer Thomas the Rhymer gave dire predictions against the journey and even an old man who met them as their boat landed at Inverkeithing tried to convince the King to stay the night. Alas the allure of his new bride was too strong and he pressed on. As he approached Kinghorn he galloped ahead of his company and almost within sight of his destination Alexander’s horse stumbled on the cliff edge and he fell to his death.
Alexander’s body was found the next morning, his neck broken.
Alexander’s plan for his succession failed when the 3 year old Margaret, “Maid of Norway” died on the voyage to Scotland to claim her kingdom and the country was plunged into a period of great unrest.
Had Alexander lived Scottish history would be very different, While the latter part of the 13th Century and early 14th Century was one of Scotland’s darkest periods it also gave rise of course to great heroes such as Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Without these great men our national identity may have been very different, alas due to one man in a hurry to get home to his wife we’ll never know.