History of the Vikings
so incensed the hot-tempered viking that Svein at once attacked him, and it was only after a year of fighting, hiding, and bargaining, that peace was at last restored. Svein's next adventure was a viking expedition to the Sudreys, and south as far as the Scilly Isles, where he took much plunder from Port St. Mary. In those days it was Svein's custom to winter at his home in Gairsay, where he kept about eighty men at his call, and he worked his company exceedingly hard in the early spring at the tilling and sowing of the land. When this was done he took his men off on a spring-viking expedition, generally to the Sudreys and Ireland, returning home after midsummer. Then he stayed in Orkney until the harvest was gathered, and after it was safely stored he set off again on what he called his autumn-viking.
It was in 1171, after Ragnvald was dead and when Harald was sole earl, that Svein made his last and most memorable expedition. With Harald's son in his company and a fleet of seven long-ships the old pirate sailed off on his autumn cruise, steered first for the Sudreys and then for Ireland, where he joined his forces to those of Asgall Torquilsson, sometime king of Dublin, who had been driven from his realm by Diarmait MacMurchad, king of Leinster. This prince held the town of Dublin with the aid of an army largely composed of Norman soldiers from Wales, where he had sought help during a period of banishment from Ireland, and it was to help Asgall recover his lost kingdom and so re-open the great Irish trading-station to the viking merchants that old Svein had come to Ireland. Together Orkney adventurers and Asgall's army attacked the town, but though at first they were successful, even to the extent of being able to demand a ransom and the formal submission of the defenders, yet there followed speedily an uprising within the town so that Svein was ambushed in the streets and killed. (1)
During the reign of Earl Harald the Nordreys came into collision with the kingdom of the Sudreys and Man. In 1198 King William of Scotland, hearing that Harald had taken to himself Caithness without the Scottish king's authority, quarrelled with the Orkney earl and enlisted the support of Ragnvald, king of the Isles, son of Godred II and at this time a most powerful chieftain. Ragnvald set out at once with a large force to subdue Caithness, for this province the Scottish king now promised to him should he be successful in ousting Harald; but though
1. In the Irish annals he is named as Eoin (Sean) mear (mad John) of Orkney; it is only told that he was killed in the siege of Dublin.
he did for a while obtain the mastery of the north-eastern corner of Scotland, Harald crossed over from the Orkneys as soon as Ragnvald had retired and proceeded to wreak his vengeance upon those who had submitted to the king of the Isles. Then King William himself invaded Caithness, and Harald, even though he had a force of 6,000 men, dared not risk a battle with the mighty host of Scotland so that the struggle concluded with the Caithness men being compelled to pay William a heavy fine and to acknowledge him as their overlord. Yet Harald was still permitted to retain the title of their earl.
Nor was this humiliation on the mainland the only reverse that Harald sustained, for towards the end of his long life, after the vain Oyskeggene rebellion (1193) against King Sverre when many Orkneymen and Shetlanders fought in the army of the insurgents, he lost the Shetlands, hitherto included in the Orkney earldom, to the king of Norway. This was effected by the Treaty of Bergen in 1195 which not only transferred the control of the Shetlands and made them share a lagman with the Faroes, but also materially increased the powers and privileges of the Norwegian Crown in the Orkneys. He died in 1206, aged 73, having reigned, after Ragnvald Kali's death, for forty-eight years as sole earl.
The great Ragnvald of the Isles was assassinated in 1229, and Olaf the Black, his brother, who succeeded him, dutifully went to Norway to pay the customary tribute and to ackknowledge King Haakon Haakonsson as his overlord. But Haakon had become dissatisfied at the loss of revenue from the islands formerly in the western kingdom but now possessed by the descendants of Somerled, and so had despatched one Haakon Ospak to govern the Sudreys and recover, if he could, the islands held by the rebels. This newcomer and Olaf, on his return from Norway, very sensibly joined forces; but Ospak was killed in an attack upon Rothesay in Bute and the rival Somerledian kingdom remained for the time unshaken and independent. King Harald (1237-1248), his son, succeeded Olaf, and he, like his father, acknowledged the Norwegian overlordship, though this was not before some pressure was exerted upon him. For the new king of the Isles was a person of considerable importance and much-honoured outside his realm; Henry III, king of England, knighted him in 1247, and in 1248 he was given in marriage the daughter of the king of Norway. But this was the year of his death, for on the return from the wedding Harald and his Norwegian bride were both drowned in a storm off the Shetlands.
Harald's relations with the king of Scotland had been friendly, but already Alexander II had begun to think it was time to put an end to the Norse supremacy on the western and northern fringe of his kingdom; for the Norse power seemed to be on the increase inasmuch as Haakon had now won the partial allegiance of the grandsons of Somerled, Eogan and Dugald, himself conferring upon them the title of king and thus bringing almost the whole of the ancient kingdom of the Isles under his personal authority. Alexander's first move was an attempt to acquire the islands of the west from Norway by purchase, but when Haakon most proudly and indignantly refused to sell the heritage of his fathers and when Eogan, in the face of Alexander's entreaties and threats, persisted in his loyalty to the Norwegian king, Alexander thereupon took up arms. He planned an attack upon Eogan's kingdom of Mull and led his army into Argyll; but he fell sick and died (1249) on Kerrera, the island opposite Oban, and for a while the Scottish attempt to rewin the Sudreys was abandoned. Negotiations with the king of Norway were renewed in 1261 by the young Alexander III, but again Haakon declined to cede the islands to Scotland. In the following year Dugald reported to Norway that his island of Skye had been attacked by the Scots, so that it was soon plain to all that Alexander purposed to achieve his father's ambition of annexing the western islands; Haakon thereupon decided to make a great demonstration of Norwegian strength by himself sailing to the kingdom of the Isles to assert his supremacy and to overthrow the king of Scotland in a decisive engagement.
Haakon with his great fleet sailed first to Shetland and thence to the Orkneys, and there in July of 1263 he received the submission of the men of Caithness whom he forced to pay him a fine. Then in August he rounded Cape Wrath and made Lewes, and thence south-east into the sound of Skye where the new king of the Isles, Magnus, third son of Black Olaf, joined him. Further south, off Mull, the flotilla was also augmented by the fleet of King Dugald, but the other Somerledian king, Eogan, would not throw in his lot with the Norsemen, preferring to stand aloof from the struggle on the grounds that he owed allegiance to both the rival suzerains of the Isles and that the bond between himself and the Scottish court was no less strong than that whereby he was pledged to Haakon. Yet from Ireland there came an offer of help, for the Ostmen of the once Norse towns had realized the importance of the impending struggle
and begged that the mighty king of Norway in return for a detachment of their fighting men would afterwards come to their aid and free them from the oppression of the English that was now threatening to crush them out of existence. So Haakon sent ambassadors to Ireland to report upon this proffered aid and the condition of the Norse colonies.
By the time the fleet arrived at Kerrera it was at full strength, numbering in all some 160 sail and carrying not many less than 20,000 men, this without Irish reinforcements. It was to be expected that the approach of this huge force would cause serious alarm in Scotland, but money had been raised for the increase of garrisons in the castles situated in the heart of the country and for repairing the fortifications of the towns they guarded; the chief concentration of the Scottish armies was upon the Firth of Clyde in the neighbourhood of Ayr, for this was the coastline that was most of all likely to be attacked.
And, indeed, Haakon's first move showed plainly that this was veritably the danger-point, for he proceeded to lay under him all Kintyre and Bute, and that accomplished, he sailed with the whole fleet round the Mull of Kintyre to Arran where he anchored on the 8th of September in Lamlash harbour opposite the mainland coast. At this stage there began parleys and proposals for peace between Haakon and Alexander, but as the Scottish king, even though he was now prepared to make large concessions, entirely refused to admit Haakon as overlord of Arran and Bute, the long drawn out negotiations came to nothing, and after Haakon and his fleet had moved further into the Clyde mouth to the Cumbrae Islands opposite Largs there was an end of all truces.
It was already autumn and the need for immediate action was pressing. So Haakon divided his fleet and sent sixty ships under Magnus up Loch Long and overland to Loch Lomond whence they most successfully ravaged parts of Stirlingshire; but the king of Norway himself lay at his headquarters off the Cumbraes and prepared his force for the coming contest with the Scottish army that was now assembling at Largs and Ayr. After a week or two had passed there came disaster upon the Norse, this being a violent storm that raged on the night of the 1st of October and wrecked ten boats of the Loch Long fleet, while in Haakon's own squadrons many boats broke from their moorings. When daylight came it was found that three of these had been driven ashore on the mainland coast by Largs.
Some Scottish outposts began to shoot when the discomfited
crews scrambled on to land, and Haakon, though the heavy seas almost prevented him from coming to their aid, managed to put ashore a small force that succeeded in driving off the Scots. But getting back to the ships was still difficult, so the Norwegians passed the night on shore and were still there on the next day (3rd October) when a much larger contingent of the Scottish army approached, this including 500 cavalry with mail-clad horse and a body of infantry. There were probably about 800 or 900 Norsemen in all on land and of these some 200 were posted on a hillock, but the rest were miserably stationed on the beach itself. The Scottish attack at once swept the Norsemen from the hillock and soon they were retreating in pell-mell confusion down to the sea. Thereat panic seized the little army on the beach and there was a rush for the dinghies and escape, but the crowded boats capsized in the heavy seas, horrible disasters showing those still on the beach that safety could be won only by fighting. So there was a courageous rally. The wild seas prevented Haakon, who was aboard, from landing proper reinforcements, but nevertheless a few brave warriors from the ships succeeded in joining their comrades ashore and the end of this remarkable skirmish was that the Norsemen, thus heartened, advanced against the Scots and drove them from the field. This done, the gallant remnant of Haakon's land-force rowed out in small boats to their ships and safety. The Scottish army withdrew and next day Haakon was able to bury his dead at the old kirk of Largs; on the following day he was joined by the fleet under Magnus, and after burning the ships run aground at Largs, the whole flotilla weighed anchor and returned to Lamlash on Arran.
There he received an invitation from the Irish Ostmen to winter in Ireland at their expense, they still hoping for his help against the English; but his Norwegians had now been many months from home, and though Haakon himself was eager for the Irish adventure he complied, after some debate, with the wishes of his people and announced the forthcoming break-up of the great armada. Accordingly the island-princes returned to their domains, and Haakon, now grand overlord of all the Isles (for the Scots had in no wise crushed this flotilla that had come to establish the Norse suzerainty), even conferred Bute and Arran, dearly prized of the Scottish king, upon chieftains who had served him. Then with the Norwegians he returned to Orkney where he purposed to winter with twenty of his ships; but shortly