The Battle of Largs #OnThisDay

On the 2nd of October 1263 the Battle of Largs took place which was to be a turning point in the history of Scotland. This great battle between the Kingdoms of Norway and Scotland was a decisive victory for the Scots.

 Scotland achieved the end of 500 years of Norse Viking depredations and invasions despite being tremendously outnumbered, without a one-sided military victory in the ensuing battle. The victory caused the complete retreat of Norwegian forces from western Scotland and the realm entered a period of prosperity for almost 40 years

Battle of Largs
Battle of Largs by William Hole

On the16th of December in 1263 the Norwegian king, Haakon the Old, died in the Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall, Orkney.

He had used Kirkwall as a base for his attempt to maintain Norse rule over the Western Isles. After the crushing defeat at the Battle of Largs on October 2 1263, Haakon’s battered fleet returned to Kirkwall where the King, dispirited and fatigued, fell ill and died in the early hours of the morning of the 16th. Scot Clans

Orkneyinga Saga

The fleets which now consisted of more than a hundred vessels, for the most part large and all well equipped, was divided into two squadrons, one of which, consisting of fifty ships, plundered the coasts of Kintyre and Mull, rejoining King Hakon at Gigha. A detached squadron now plundered Bute, and the fleet cast anchor in Arran Sound, from which King Hakon sent Gilbert, Bishop of Hamar, and Heniy, Bishop of Orkney, with three other envoys, to treat for peace with the Scottish King. The negotiations failed, and soon after the fleet was disabled by a storm, and the power of the Norwegian King utterly broken in the battle of Largs. King Hakon, gathering together the shattered remnants of his fleet and army, retired slowly northwards, meeting with no impediment imtil they arrived off Durness, in Sutherlandshire, when the wind fell calm, and the fleet steered into the sound, where seven men of a boat’s crew, who had been sent ashore for water, were killed by the Scots. In passing through the Pentland Firth one vessel went down with all on board in the  Swelkie, a dangerous whirlpool in certain states of the tide, and another was carried by the current helplessly through the Firth, and made straight for Norway. King Hakon laid up his fleet in Midland Harbour and Scapa Bay. He then rode to Kirkwall, and lay down to die. He was lodged in the bishop’s palace, and after having been confined to his bed for some days, he recovered so much that he attended mass in the bishop’s chapel, and walked to the cathedral to visit the shrine of St Magnus. But there came a relapse, and he was again laid prostrata He caused the Bible and Latin books to be read to him to beguile the tedium of the sick bed, until he was no longer able to bear the fatigue of reflecting on what he heard ; and then he desired that Norwegian books should be read to him night and day — first the Sagas of the Saints, and then the Chronicles of the Kings, from Halfdan the Black through all the succession of the Bangs of Norway.

Then he set his affairs in order, caused his silver plate to be weighed out to pay his troops, and received the sacrament. He died at midnight on Saturday, 15th December 1263. On Sunday the corpse, clothed in the richest garments, with a garland on the head, was laid in state in the upper hall of the palace. The king’s chamberlains stood round it with tapers, and all day long the people came to view the remains of their king. The nobles kept watch over the bier through the night ; and on Monday the royal remains were borne to St. Magnus’ Cathedral, where they lay in state all that night. On Tuesday they were temporarily interred in the choir of the church, near the steps leading to the shrine of St. Magnus. Before his death the king had given directions that his body should be carried east to Norway, and buried beside the remains of his father and his relatives in Bergen. In the month of March the corpse was exhumed and conveyed to Scapa, where it was placed on board the great ship in which he had sailed on the unfortunate expedition to Largs, and taken to Bergen, where it was interred in the choir of Christ’s Church.

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