Last week, the illness and death of Henry II brought to William the Lion the prospect of a new attitude towards Scotland from south of the border – what would it be? The man who wriggled his buttocks lightly but firmly into the English throne would indeed see the relationship with Scotland in a very different way. He was one that, as the historian J C Holt once remarked, might think of northern England with very much the same priority as the foothills of the Pyrenees. He’s also a king who would be viewed as a hero by most of Christendom, and certainly by a 10 year old boy in Leicestershire it the 1970s. Give it up, everyone, for Richard…the…Lion…heart!
Richard, famously, was all about the Holy land and the crusades, and would famously have sold anything he could get his hands on to help him get there. The quote used is always about selling London if he could find a buyer, and I wonder why we use that – because Richard did in fact sell Scotland for 10,000 marks. At Canterbury on 2nd December 1189, Richard agreed to return Roxborough and Berwick to the Scottish crown and to cancel the Treaty of Falaise. William may well have been so happy that a little wee came out. The Scottish kings no longer had to place their hands in those of another and give homage for Scotland.
Now, you might think that William would have learned after 15 years of humiliation that this was a win, and that from now on he might like to avoid the Northumbria issue and remember Falstaff’s wise words when he blustered that discretion was the better part of valour as it were. Well you would be wrong to so think. Now true enough William would stay resolutely loyal to Richard, but as soon as he was able he brought the issue up – only to be resoundingly rejected by Richard in 1194. In 1195 William fell dangerously ill and suggested to his realm that his daughter Margaret might become Queen, and married to Richard’s nephew Otto – oh and, by the way, Otto could bring Northumbria, Cumbria and Westmoreland with him. This was drowned in a welter of fury from the Scottish lords who refused the concept of a queen ruling over them, but William and Richard came close to agreeing to the marriage at least, had Ermengarde not once more become pregnant. Which persuaded William to wait. This was a man in the grip of a serious obsession.
After Ermengarde arrived in Scotland with her dowry, Edinburgh had become once more the centre of the royal court, rather than the royal places around the River Tay further north, in the same way as it had been under David with his southern ways. The administration grew around William and his court – a growing staff of professional clerks under a Chancellor, and writs and charters began to appear following the English model. The process of feudal colonisation continued, with over 41 acts of enfeoffment; and the process was spreading north of the Forth – 29 of them that we know about, between the Tay and Aberdeen, and usually to men of Anglo Norman descent. The number of sheriffs grew – you’ll hopefully remember that sheriffs are managers of groups of royal estates rather than the English model. The increase from 17 to 23 probably reflects the growth in royal authority to north and west; a sheriff appears in Moray in the 1170s and even in Galloway in the 1190s. Cash revenue rather than payments in kind also begin to grow, and although most of the coins used were English, in 1195 William introduced his own design, a move which would have had a significant impact on the prestige he had begun to reclaim in 1187. And finally he extended the operation of the king’s justice – in 1197, he specifically reserved murder, rape, plunder and arson as crown pleas, reserved for the king’s courts, with justiciars travelling to hear cases at courts convened by Sheriffs. Justiciars could also hear civil pleas. As we discussed under David, royal justice gave Scottish kings the opportunity to both increase their prestige and extend the range of their effective rule, the only reliable source of a final arbitrator. This spread of law also helped to slowly integrate many peoples under one source of leadership.
It’s all interesting that away from the obsession of the relationship with England, William’s reign achieves rather more than he is sometimes given credit for. In his relationship with England he comes across as a loyal but rather dull, conventional, uninteresting man, a bit like a moth beating his head against the window trying to gain a light he can never reach. The domestic events and records he leaves doesn’t exactly set the heart racing, but there’s a steady record of progress and solid achievement. It at least raised William to the ultimate accolade, worthy but dull. His steady extension of royal government and justice is much less intrusive than it was south of the border. William was painfully aware that he had to retain the loyalty of both the new nobility and the older Gaelic families, to smooth the resentments that had led to Gaelic support for the MacWilliam and MacHeth risings. And in his councillors William also maintained a balance; native ecclesiastics acted as ministers and bishops; Patrick of Dunbar and Duncan of Fife, both important Gaelic earls, were consistently part of the king’s inner circle.
He was helped by the fact that the distinction between Anglo French and Gaelic was beginning to blur. A good example is our Lochlan of Galloway, a man very much of a Gaelic, or at least a Gaelic-Scandinavian tradition. But he takes on much of the culture of the Anglo French; he was often referred to by his French style, as Roland, and he founded a Cistercian monastery, very much in the western tradition. It’s another example for us of the process of acculturalisation. It’s interesting also that in the 12th century, royal documents very consciously referred to the different communities in the kingdom – Scots, English, French, Gallowegians, even men of Moray. But by 1200, those documents referred to the kingdom of Scotland, or of the Scots, referring to the whole of the king’s dominions. It’s a very significant change, and seems to have been a new, conscious policy by William to unite, just as Pict and Gael had come together into Alba.
However, it may have been the reassertion and extension of Royal authority in the north that caused the next upheaval. It is ironic that despite his obsession with Northumbria, the action of rebels forced William into focussing on the north and west, and achieving an extension of royal power, almost by accident as it were – while looking over his shoulder sort of thing.
This time it was Earl Harald Maddadson of the northern Isles and Caithness that was the source of the trouble. He had been thwarted in the 1180s with the defeat of the MacWilliams; he was threatened by the extension of William’s power, and to his distress he had managed to lose control of the Shetland Islands. And so in 1196 he went to war in northern Scotland to protect his overlordship of Caithness and maybe win for himself new territory, invading Moray, to start yet more violence in the north. William seems to have learned the lesson of the 1180s, that rebellion left undealt with would only grow; and this time he responded with consistent and decisive force. It wasn’t a doddle; he needed campaigns over two years in 1196 and 1197, but he was almost entirely successful. Interestingly he turned to the family of old enemy to be his man in the north; he replaced Harald as with one of Somerled’s sons as Earl of Caithness. He took Harald’s son Thorfinn as a hostage against Harald’s good behaviour. It’s a commonly used strategy which to the uninformed eye such as mine seems to have been as common as it was ineffective – sons seemed to be worryingly expendable.
Because you can’t keep a bad man down, and in 1202 Harald was back. NBow you might think that men of God would be excluded from political violence – though no, maybe not, you’ve heard quite enough of the History of England to know that’s true. Anyway it certainly was not the case in Caithness in 1202 when Harald returned. He was married to a family now with a burning resentment and sense of injustice against the Scottish crown – he’s married into the MacHeth family, and his wife’s family was now at his side. Back to the Bishop thing then. Bishops in particular were often seen not just as men of God spreading the word, but as a representation of royal power. And so Harald had Bishop John of Caithness, seized, blinded, and his tongue slit, which is a little gruesome. I mean ouch.
There needed to be a response. No doubt Harald’s son had been enjoying the fruits of being a hostage at William’s court, treated as an honoured member of the family of an ally. Now there was a rather dramatic change in his fortunes. William dragged Harald’s son from his court and had him blinded and castrated. What ever happened to an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth? Inflation in Scotland seems to have landed us with two eyes and a tongue for two eyes and a set of well, whatever.
In the end William and Harald talk rather than fought, and you can only think that poor old Harald’s son might have hoped his Dad would have talked first. The result was that Harald bought back Caithness for £2,000, and explicitly recognised that he held it from the King of Scotland. Despite the fact that Harald was still in control of Caithness, despite the fact that the north had generated rebellion and defiance of the Scottish throne, and despite the fact that William was obsessed not with the north but with Northumbria yet the outcome of his reign was that the idea that the kings of Scotland were rightful rulers of all mainland Scotland up to and including Caithness was now fully established, and would in fact never be seriously challenged again.
Meanwhile in 1199, Richard had died before the walls of Chalus failing to dodge crossbow bolts, and we arrive at John as King of England. John had a troubled succession, establishing his claims against those of Arthur of Brittany. Any kind of chaos in England was of course a good time for Scotland to make hay, so I am going to leave it to you to guess what William’s first demand was of the new king? Ah Yes, Northumbria and Cumbria, spooky. And in late 1199, it seemed that at last William was prepared to go to war against the Angevins and take them on. He was finally prepared to stick his neck out this far, because he was confident he had the support of France, of Philip Augustus, because Philip wanted support for the claims of Arthur. Here maybe then is the first sign of the Auld Alliance. William gathered an army, and stood to the border – than then just as suddenly, William backed down. Because John and Arthur had come to terms, French support evaporated and was gone. Wisely William sent his army home, and though he met with John at Lincoln once more the dream had slipped from him. None the less he had tasted the sweet nectar of French alliance. He and his successors would remember its taste.
By the 1200’s William was getting on a bit by the standards of the day – in his 60’s and suffering increasingly poor health, punctuated by occasional scares of imminent death. So much so that in 1202 he had made all his lords solemnly swear fealty to his heir, little Alexander. William and Ermengarde now had 3 children. Margaret was born around 1193, Isabella in 1195 and Alexander in 1198.
Despite his age, the fire of William’s obsession burnt as brightly as it had ever done, and in 1209 the temperature of the reasonably warm relationship between William and John suddenly plummeted to zero and below. There seemed now to have been once again a genuine possibility of war, and there is much speculation as a to why William had chosen to threaten war at this point. It seems that William had been dealing with the French, and William and Philip Augustus talked of a marriage alliance. This would indeed have been incendiary; by 1209, the Angevins had become simple Plantagenets – Philip had thrown John out of France. Another potential cause could have been the appearance of a new English fortress in Tweedmouth, on the border – castles were never simply defensive, they inevitably formed a base for offensive.
Both William and John did plenty of sabre rattling; John twice raised an army only to send it home unused. But in July 1209, John approached the north with an army. And once more William was forced to back down. The old verities remained the same – Scottish kings would ever be reluctant to face the larger kingdom of England alone, and Philip seems to have deserted William. And so there’s the rather tragic image of and old and ailing William was forced to drag himself to Norham castle, to face a King John very much in the best negotiating position. It didn’t look good, and it wasn’t great; William was forced to hand over his daughters for John to arrange their marriage, and to pay 15,000 marks in return for peace. It was one more final humiliation for William, and within a few weeks, the two girls were travelling to the English court.
William now no longer had the resources or the energy to cause John trouble. But unfortunately trouble was to come to him. In the western Isles the normal explosive mix of the ambitions of northern Irish lords, Northern Scottish independence and political instability in Mann and the Western Isles, gave another MacWilliam the opportunity to raise rebellion, to once more re-assert the claims of their family to the crown – third time lucky maybe. This time it was Guthred, son of Donald MacWilliam, who was invited into Ross with the support of Aed Meith O’Neill of Ulster. Twice in 1211 William forced himself to campaign in Ross.
Enter, in 1212, Queen Ermengarde, determined that this further threat to the inheritance of her children needed to be definitively crushed – and she arrange conference was arranged at Durham; she would enlist the help of John. It is a conference that gives us a glimpse of Ermengarde in action; she seems to have mediated between multiple groups to get them to put together an alliance to snuff out the territorial ambitions of the O’Neil of Ulster, the dynastic threat of the MacWilliams and northern threat from MacHeth and the Earl of Orkney. A contemporary described her as
‘an extraordinary woman, gifted with a charming and witty eloquence’
And she seems to have charmed and cajoled the parties into an alliance that combined John, William, but also included the son and successor of Lachlan, Alan of Galloway and even the sons of Somerled. Of course Alan of Galloway and the sons of Somerled all had a firm incentive to avoid a new western threat from Ireland. The result was military defeat for Aed Meith O’Neill and Guthred MacWilliam; and little later in the same year Guthred MacWilliam was betrayed by his own men, captured, and presented to the William’s son, Alexander. Guthred was decapitated and his corpse left hanging by the feet. Greed for the crown had brought another Macwilliam nothing but death.
By now, William was clearly approaching the end, and we are told his thoughts turned to his impeding appointment with his maker. Ermengarde and the heir Alexander, the latter now around 15, took over much of the responsibility for royal administration. None the less, William was forced to make one more trip to Moray, to meet with Earl Harald’s son and successor Earl John. It was pretty much all he could manage, and on his return he could get no further than Stirling, where he died aged 71 in December 1214.
So, you tell me what you think – an obsession with Northumbria for sure, and forced for a time into a humiliating subservience to England; but by 1212, his relationship with England was one of cooperation, the Treaty of Falaise a thing of the past. He was hardly a great warrior, and yet by his death Scottish royal authority had been extended decisively in both Galloway and Caithness, royal government and justice enhanced, and the divisions between Gaelic and French lords contained and soothed.
It’s not such a bad record, he surely deserves a little more recognition from history.
There was more than one person watching William’s descent towards death. It’s easy with hindsight to just assume that of course William’s only son Alexander would inherit the throne – but we are not quite yet out of the tradition of Gaelic succession. Essentially Alexander and Ermengarde stood round William’s bedside in Stirling on 4th December with their running shoes on, surreptitiously doing the odd stretching exercise to keep their muscles warm and limber. And when the words came ‘Yup, he’s snuffed it’ the rest of the household was left looking at an open door swinging on its hinges in the breeze while Alexander and his mum sprinted for Scone. Well not quite so dramatic, but you know, close. Because on the very next day day Alexander was inaugurated as King Alexander II at Scone, 35 miles away. That’s quite a feat, and a lot of effort. Why the hurry? Well because there was every chance that either David, William’s brother might make a bid on the basis of experience – and that’s happened before; or that the Macwilliams would claim to be the senior house as, technically, they jolly well were. And once again the benefits of paranoia in politics was soon reconfirmed;; because within weeks, Donald Ban MacWilliams had raised the banner of revolt in Ross, there to be joined by, you guessed it, the latest MacHeth – in this case one Kenneth. It’s likely again that support was drawn from Ulster. But this time around, the efforts of Alan of Galloway in 1212 had done their work; support was harder to find and the revolt was probably weaker than it had been on the last 3 occasions – the sand of support for the MacWilliams were running out. Critically, they now appeared in the form of simple external aggressors – the local Gaelic support for them seems to have gone. Or at least, it seems this was the case; since it was the Gaelic Fergus MacTaggert, lord of Applecross in Wester Ross who this time turned aside the MacWilliam threat. By June 1215, Fergus had met the MacWilliams in battle, and defeated them.
The young man that was now King Alexander II was but 16, which is a remarkably young age for the opportunity that was about to present itself. But despite his youth he had some advantages. Firstly, over the last couple of years William had groomed him for his role, involving him in the business of government. And he was surrounded by experienced advisors with a variety of backgrounds. His mother Ermengarde had proved her worth and experience and would particularly help him in his promotion of the church until her death in 1233, especially with the foundation of a Cistercian abbey in Fife.
The men around Alexander came from a variety of backgrounds that reflected again both the diversity and unity of the Scottish kingdom. The Chancellor William de Bois was a cleric, Philip de Valonges was a younger son of a Norman family, Alan of Galloway as we know was of Scandinavian and Gaelic descent. And there were younger men at his side that had shared his youth and would come to prominence later – Walter Comyn for example, a descendant of a Flemish family. It’s worth noting that his father William Comyn in 1212 had become Earl of Buchan, and was the first colonist to gain one of the Scottish Earldoms, through marriage. The list illustrates the success of the monarchy in drawing its strength from all its peoples.
None the less the size of the opportunity that opened up for Alexander almost immediately in 1215 might have daunted a lesser or older man. Because in England, the baronial revolt against John had led to the meadows of Runnymede, and Magna Carta . At first Alexander played a waiting game, committing to neither side; but Scotsmen played a part in both sides of the negotiating table, notably Alan of Galloway on Johns side. It was probably Alan’s presence that meant the inclusion of the first Magna Carta of a clause promising to review the Scottish claims to Northumbria. But when John repudiated Magna Carta and all its works in September 1215, the path for Alexander seemed clear enough – either he accepted the rejection of those rights implicit in John’s repudiation of Magna Carta, or he chose the barons. Alexander chose adventure, and the baronial cause, and the lad summoned Scotland’s army. For their part, the English Barons enthusiastically welcomed Scottish support; and they agreed that Alexander should indeed hold the northern counties – though fair do’s, it would as a vassal of the English crown. It wasn’t quite what David had held, but it would have to do. And with the involvement now of the Dauphin Louis on the barons side, offered the crown of England, maybe he’d be able to annex them completely.
Militarily, Alexander’s situation was better than that of any Scottish King for generations. The revolt was led by the northern Barons, and so half of those pesky castles in the north that had stopped William in 1173 and 4 were already on his side. In October 1215 his army flowed over the border into England; there were some castles that defied him, notably mighty Norham Castle, but many English northern lords came to offer him homage as the new Earl. Although progress was slow, by mid 1216 Berwick and Carlisle were taken, and Alexander was leading his Scottish army through the heart of England to its southern tip at Dover. There he met with Louis, the French pretender to the English Crown at the head of an army, and Louis confirmed Alexander as Earl of Northumbria. It must have been heady, heady stuff for the young man. By October he was marching to his earldom in the north, striking at John’s camp as he passed the king’s forces in the English Midlands – everything lay at his feet, finally his father’s dream would be realised and his obsession laid to rest.
And then curse it all – John went and died. Obviously, this was unfortunate for John, but for the cause of the English Crown it was absolutely the right decision. Baronial opposition collapsed, and recoalesced around the young Henry III in his minority. Suddenly support for Louis looked very unpatriotic and treacherous, and he was quickly and comprehensively dropped. Louis appealed to Dad, but the French king refused to commit the resources required to make his claim stick. In the end, it was the Pope’s intervention with an Interdict laid on Scotland that finally made Alexander also give up and accept that the situation was useless, though it must have been hard to accept that such a golden opportunity had turned to mush. By December 1217 it was officially all over – Alexander had submitted to the young Henry III for his English lands of Huntingdon and Tynedale, and no mentioned of Northumbria was made. It must have been a thoroughly depressing experience.
Now I have done Henry III from an English perspective, thoroughly enjoying the story of the father of the English parliament, Simon de Montfort, and generally finding Henry III to be one of the most ineffectual and weak minded of English kings. But do you know, from a Scottish perspective he doesn’t look half bad, in fact he looks rather impressive and statesman like.
From Alexander’s point of view he’d like to make sure he was established on an equal footing with the English king, rather than being dealt with as a vassal or subordinate. This was not just a matter of the relationship with the English crown; it was also a matter of how the papacy dealt with the Scottish king. In 1192 the old matter of the claims of the ABY to have supremacy over the church in Scotland had been resolved – St Andrews was not made an Archbishopric, but the English church was to have no supremacy, and the Scottish church did indeed report straight to the pope as his ‘special daughter’ as the bull went. Now Alexander would like the church to anoint him as king, as they did the English kings.
Over the length of his relationship with Henry III, until his death in 1249, Alexander gained half a loaf. On the minus side the English continued to fight the idea of the church anointing the Scottish king. On the minus side, the marriages arranged by Henry III for Alexander’s sisters weren’t brilliant. You might remember that John had insisted taking William the Lion’s daughters and arranging their marriages, which was a way of establishing that William was John’s man, even if not in respect of Scotland, but only William’s English lands on Huntingdon and Tynedale. The marriage made for Margaret was to Hubert de Burgh; John’s justiciar and an impressively talented man. But no one cared about that in days medieval, blood was the thing and Hubert was but part of the poxy gentry at best, Poo-eey. When Hubert fell from power, the point was rather reinforced. Isabella was married to a bone fide aristocrat in Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk, but it was not a happy match.
After that, though, it gets better, HIII and Alexander III were of similar age. they met in 1221 at York, and the 15,000 Marks William had given John were returned; and Alexander was married to Henry III’s sister. This was a marriage of a status no Scottish king had achieved before – if there are any Scots listening bridling with fury at the idea that marrying an English king was necessarily higher status, then I am sorry, it was accepted as such by contemporaries and by Alexander. In terms of being accepted as an equal it was hard to match. There are two sides to this. On the one hand Henry III had a softness and desire for conciliation that would be disastrous against the French who over the long term were determined to throw the English across the channel out of their remaining possessions in Aquitaine; but would be very successful with the Scots who could find better things to do in the west and north rather than messing about taking on a country probably 4 times their population, and with gems of civilisation such as Loughborough town centre. But Alexander also showed himself his father’s superior by realising that he must stop chasing the siren call of Northumbria; that he would never have a better chance than he’d had in 1216 and 1217, and still he’d not managed it. Better to look to the things that were really important to Scotland.
Not that it was all plain sailing; in the early 1230’s they once again came close to war. But in 1237 the qualities of both men were evident, since in the agreement they arrived at Henry treated Alexander and Scotland as his equal, and Alexander formally renounced the claims to Northumbria; David’s dream was finally dead. In place of the toxic relationship in Malcolm and William’s time, Alexander and Henry bequeathed a relationship based on mutual respect and even support – rather remarkable really. We’ll come later to the Horlicks that Edward I makes of it all.
Alexander bent his impressive political skills and equally notable ruthless single mindedness towards becoming the dominant political power in Scotland. Unsurprisingly, it was Caithness and the north that would provide the greatest challenge; but here Alexander was entirely successful. In 1222, Bishop Adam of Caithness was murdered, hence demonstrating once again that the first thing you did when appointed bishop in the north of Scotland was to make your will and put your affairs in order. The earl John Haraldsson seems to have done nothing to prevent the murder, despite being he Earl of Caithness of course. Alexander recognised this as an affront to his royal authority, and a failure by his vassal. He descended with fire and sword; Earl John was expelled until he submitted and reconfirmed that Caithness was now firmly in the grip of Scottish control. The next stage came in 1231. In this year Earl John was murdered for his Orkney inheritance in 1231 by allies of the Norwegian king – and rather than accept a new Earl, Caithness was firmly now controlled directly by the Scottish crown, and separated from the Earls of Orkney. Ferchar MacTaggart, he would had brought Alexander the head of Light Entertainment, otherwise known as Donal MacWilliam, was promoted as Alexander’s man, becoming Earl of Ross before 1229.
Now, let me take you to Forfar, it is winter, and I might say that if you are of a gentle disposition you should probably turn away for a minute. Forfar is a town ever to be celebrated for its invention of the Bridie, a culinary masterpiece which, along with baked beans and chips, essentially sustained me for 4 years as a student. But we have come to Forfar for more serious and deadly reasons. It’s mid winter, it’s Scotland, and therefore in all probability it is bitingly cold. None the less, in the centre of the town a crowd has gathered. It is silent, watching a group of the king’s men as they carried a small bundle to the stone Market cross. Cried come from the bundle, because it holds a tiny, infant girl. A hard faced soldier held up the child and showed her to the crowd who may have groaned as the girl wailed harder in the cold air. In the words of the Lanercost chronicle
The daughter, who had not long left her mother’s womb, innocent as she was, was put to death in the view off the market place. Her head was struck against the column and her brains dashed out
In 1228, one Gilleasbiurg MacWilliam and his sons had burned the castle at Abertaff on Loch Ness. They’d burned it with the owner inside it, in the finest tradition of the north – we love heritage and traditions here in the UK, but maybe this is one we were right to let go. Anyway, it was yet another MacWilliam rebellion. Alexander himself led a royal; army and campaigned in the north; yet again, a macWilliam revolt was not easily dismissed. But within a year, Alexander had trapped Gillesbiurg, defeated and killed him and his sons. The Macwilliam dynasty was almost finally exhausted – it’s lineage hung by one remaining slender threat – one infant girl. That thread was cut when the innocent infant died at the cross in Forfar, dying for the sins of her father, and her father’s father, and her father’s father’s father. We will finally hear no more of the MacHeth and MacWilliam – the Canmore at last were undisputed masters of Alba and Scotland.
In the later 1220s and early 1230’s therefore, Alexander was able to settle his business in the north. Ferchar had become Earl of Ross. William Comyn had become Earl of Buchan through marriage. Now Alexander granted the great lordship of Badenoch to his son, Walter Comyn, the lordship dominated the southern entrance to Moray. William Murray, a descendant of a Flemish family, became Earl of a new earldom, of Sutherland north of Ross, while Gilbert Murray his cousin became Bishop of Caithness. Now the north was in the hands of magnates who definitively recognised the overlordship of the king of Scots.
In the western Isles another period conflict was driven by the ambitions of Alan of Galloway, constable of Scotland and yet still trying at the same time to build a seaborne kingdom of Galloway and Ulster, an ambition born of the 1212 agreement with John. Alan allied with the king of Isle of Man, an alliance which one can only hope they called the Brotherhood of Man, and fought against the Lacey’s for control of Ulster in the north of Ireland, and against the Macsorleys in the Western isles of Scotland, the MacSorleys being the anglicised version of the name for the sons of Somerled. The Haakon Saga in particular built Alan up as a powerful adversary for its own hero, a king of Norway who we will come to in a minute, describing Alan of Galloway as
The greatest warrior…he plundered about the Hebrides and made great warfare widely throughout the western lands
As it happens, though Alan, was not to be the winner of the wars of 1226 to 1231; he was not to fulfil the ambitions of a Gallowegian empire of the Irish sea. He could not prevent the Laceys winning back their possession in Ulster. And it was a new player in the region who came out of the conflict in 1231 as the real winner. This was a king of Norway called Haakon IV. We will hear more of Haakon, his reign was to be almost a golden age for Norway. He spent the early years of his reign supressing civil war in Norway, and by 1230 had built a network of friendship, including Henry III; and he felt strong enough to intervene and re-establish his rights in the Western Isles in a way that no Norwegian king had done since Magnus Barelegs in 1098. In a brilliant and daring campaign, he re-established control in the northern Isles, Orkney and Shetland, sailed down the western seaboard sacking Bute, Kintyre and Lewis and established his own king in the Isle of Man. Haakon and Norway’s reputation and lordship was now once more firmly re-established.
To all of this, after a brief campaign in 1221, Alexander II was a spectator only. But the death of the disappointed Alan of Galloway in 1234 brought Alexander a great opportunity to extend the effective rule of the kingdom of Scots once more. Alan had only daughters; and an illegitimate son called Thomas. Now as far was Alexander and his magnates were concerned, this was the perfect opportunity to finish a process that had already started. Alan had been a loyal part of Alexander’s council; and he had been a fully paid up member also of the cultural changes of the Canmore dynasty, founding monasteries and bringing Galloway closer to the Anglo Scottish world. But none the less one more, final, and predictably violent push was needed to complete the process. So Alexander married Alan’s daughters to Anglo Scottish lords, and proceeded thereby to break up Galloway into 3 parts, under the lordship of the kingdom of Scots of course – there was to be no independent Galloway. He established a royal castle at Kirkcudbright, and a sheriffdom at Wigtoun.
Possibly predictably, the Gallowegians were not quite ready for this; and they instead supported the claims of Thomas, Alan’s illegitimate son to be lord of Galloway and keep her independent; and seeing a chance to reverse the wars of the last 20 years, the Laceys and Irish chiefs in Ulster supported his claims. The result was a series of campaigns by Alexander. In 1235 and 1236, Thomas was defeated and would spend 60 years in prison as a result. The two Irish chiefs who supported him less fortunate. They were taken to the market place in Edinburgh to be executed by being were pulled apart by horses. Diplomacy was needed also – Alexander was able to square away Henry III’s interest in the region through the treaty of 1237 where he signed away his claims to the northern Counties of England, as we have already discussed, and in return Henry accepted this extension of Scottish control. Further campaigns were needed in 1247 to support the families of Alan’s daughters, but by the end of Alexander’s reign, the independence of Galloway was definitively at an end.
This seems like a reasonable place to stop. Alexander II has already achieved much – peace and control in the north, an accommodation and indeed the start of 80 years of peace with England, the integration of Galloway into Scotland. Next time, the 13th May, we’ll look at the rest of his reign, and of his successor Alexander III, the golden age of the Scottish medieval realm – for its political classes at least – and thence arrive at the end of the Canmore dynasty.