Viking threat thwarted at Largs

DURING the 11th century, Viking raiders seized many of the islands surrounding the Scottish mainland, where they settled alongside the Gaels. The Scots ceded dominion of the Outer and Inner Hebrides to Hakon Hakonson, King of Norway in a treaty, but the Gaels still regarded the isles as their own.

Hakon relaxed his grip on the Western Isles by appointing local lords to rule them, prompting the Scots to raid the coasts. Olaf the Black, King of the Isle of Man, another vassal of Norway, appealed to Hakon for aid against the forces of King Alexander III of Scotland.

Hakon sailed from Norway in the summer of 1263 with a massive fleet of approximately 200 longships, gathering men along the way and raiding Scotland's western coast until confronting Alexander's men at Largs, Aryshire.

In some versions of the battle, Alexander opened negotiations with the Viking leader to deliberately stall his enemy. In any event, Hakon kept his ships at sea for too long. In the autumn of 1263 heavy gales caught the longships in the Firth of Clyde and forced many of them onto the beach. The Norwegians went ashore to reclaim their boats and were met by Scots soldiers stationed at Largs who forced them back to sea. They retreated to Orkney where their King later died, it is said, of a broken heart as he compared his deeds with those of his ancestors from the Norse sagas.

Although different historical accounts claim victory for both sides, the battle turned the political tide in favour of the Scots. After the death of King Hakon in Kirkwall, his successor, King Magnus Barelegs, signed the Treaty of Perth in 1266, surrendering sovereignty of the isles except Orkney and Shetland to King Alexander III. The battle itself is commemorated in the ancient ballad of Hardyknute and by the villagers of Largs every year during their Viking Festival.