A history of the Vikings part four

THE BATTLE OF LARGS OCTOBER 1263

In the concluding part of Jim Henderson’s history of the Vikings, we hear how both the Scots and Norwegian fleets congregated, with a huge group of Viking longships gathering in Loch an Eilean (Lamlash Bay) before the fated battle which began on 2nd October 1263, just slightly further north up the coast.

King Magnus 111 of Man, who controlled most of the West from Man to Lewis, reported Alexander’s attempts to regain control of the Islands and sought assistance from King Haakon 1V of Norway.

The news of Alexander’s actions alarmed Haakon 1V who assembled a large Leidang fleet of longboats which left Bergen in July 1263 heading for Orkney and the West of Scotland, linking up with Ewan, a Scottish Chief, and Magnus 111.

En route, they set off to plunder and renew supplies for the men and joined Angus of Islay and King Dugal meeting up with Magnus 111 of Man at the south of Kintyre. By this time the fleet in excess of 150 vessels with a force of around 8,000 men, headed for the safe anchorage of Loch an Eilean (Lamlash Bay) on Arran in mid September.

At this time there was no village of Lamlash, just a few crofts and a Clachan in the area now known as Cordon. The sheltered bay with Innes Shroin (Holy Isle) was almost full of Viking longships, the largest being commanded by Haakon 1V, which contained 37 rows of benches for the rowers. There was a gold plated dragon at the bow and round each side of the vessel were rows of shields, which glinted in the sunshine.

Talks were held with envoys of the Scottish King Alexander 111 who was only 22 years of age, but these failed mainly because Alexander kept stalling. He was aware of the impending Autumn Equinox and the effect it might have.

Haakon 1V became impatient and his men were becoming bored with inaction so he directed 40 of the longships North to plunder Loch Long and into the area of Loch Lomond. He was also becoming concerned about the possibility of poor weather conditions. The remainder of the fleet set sail in reasonable conditions in late September to be closer to the Scottish mainland, arriving on the evening of 1st October between Cumbrae and Largs.

Unfortunately for the Vikings the Autumn Equinox was beginning.
By dawn next day some of the fleet were dragging their anchors, including a merchant bark, which was driven ashore just South of the Largs area to be set upon by a group of Scots, intent on raiding the bark of its cargo and fighting off the Viking crew.
The strong wind began to ease and Haakon1V sent ashore reinforcements to secure the stranded vessels, causing the Scots to retreat.

On the 3rd of October Haakon 1V and approximately 1500 men went ashore to be met by Alexander’s army. The conflict lasted for most of the day, but the Vikings were outnumbered and suffered many casualties. A skirmish rather than a battle ensued, with the Scots driving the Vikings back aboard their vessels. The weather conditions had also been a factor in favouring the Scots army, as a number of Haakon’s forces were engaged in saving their longships.

The Vikings, in their haste to board the vessels, driven by the Scots, overloaded some of the vessels, which capsized in the stormy seas, giving the Vikings even more problems to contend with.

An engraving depicting scenes from the Battle of Largs, between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland

The surviving Vikings returned to the safety of Loch an Eilean, where they re-grouped and tended to the wounded while reflecting on their humiliating unsuccessful fight with Alexander and his army. Setting sail to return home via the Hebrides and Orkney, Haakon 1V became unwell and died in the Bishop’s Palace in Kirkwall on the 16th December.

The circumstances surrounding the Battle of Largs ended the Viking rule of the Western Isles. After King Haakon’s death, his heir Magnus the law-mender, withdrew all Vikings from the West of Scotland, but maintained their interest in Orkney and Shetland.

Alexander 111 of Scotland signed the treaty of Perth in 1265 regaining control of the Hebrides. He died at the age of 45 in tragic circumstances. Despite strong advice not to travel in the stormy conditions, his desire to be with his Queen for her birthday clouded his judgement and he was thrown from his horse on his way back to Fife, fatally breaking his neck.

During their time in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, the Vikings left a legacy, which has remained, never forgotten to this day including many of the Viking place names on Arran such as:

Breivik – Broad Bay- (Brodick), Sandvic – Sandy Bay (Sannox)
Fladdy – flat Island (Pladda)
Cleats, Merkland, Feorline, Ormidale, Chalmadale, Scorrodale, Dunfion, Largybeg and Margnaheglish to name a few.

Re-written from previous research by Jim Henderson 24th January 2020. Featured image shows the Battle of Largs monument, known as the Pencil.

With many thanks to Jim for his fascinating series on the Vikings!