Monday, 5 December, 2022

Battle of Largs

On this day in Scottish History

On 2nd October 1263, the Battle of Largs was fought between a Scottish army commanded by Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward of Scotland, and a Norse-Hebridean force led by Haakon IV of Norway. It was the only major military engagement of the Scottish-Norwegian War of 1262-1266.

In 1261 King Alexander III of Scotland sent an ultimatum to King Haakon IV of Norway stating that if the Norse-controlled Hebrides and western seaboard of Scotland were not sold to Scotland then he would take them by force. The ultimatum was rejected and in 1262 Alexander ordered William, Earl of Ross to attack and capture the Isle of Skye, beginning the Scottish-Norwegian War (1262-1266).

The following year Haakon responded by assembling a large warfleet and set sail for the Firth of Clyde, via Orkney and the Hebrides where he gathered additional forces.

Then king Hakon gave it out as to his expedition that he meant to sail west across the sea with all his host to Scotland to avenge that strife which the Scots had made on his realm – Saga of Hakon

Haakon’s fleet arrived off the Isle of Arran in September 1263 and negotiations with the Scots began. Talks soon broke down and Haakon sent a detachment of ships up Loch Long to Arrochar. From there they were then taken overland to Tarbet and into Loch Lomond to begin raiding Lennox, while his main force moved up the Clyde to anchor off the Cumbraes.

The Scottish army had mustered at Ayr and began moving north, shadowing Haakon’s movements out on the Clyde. The Scots were under the command of Alexander Stewart of Dundonald, 4th High Steward of Scotland.

On the night of the 30th September, a storm blew a number of Hakkon’s ships ashore at Largs. The crews of these ships came under attack from a small party of Scots and Haakon sent more ships over to assist, resulting in a number of skirmishes. On the 2nd October the main Scottish army arrived, driving the Norse back to their ships. On the 3rd October, Haakon and his fleet departed.

Haakon intended to continue his campaign the following year. He wintered on Orkney, however, in December he took ill and died at Kirkwall. His successor, Magnus VI, abandoned his claims on the Hebrides and the western seaboard. In 1266, Scotland and Norway signed the Treaty of Perth. In the treaty, Norway recognised Scottish sovereignty over the disputed territories in return for an annual payment. Norwegian control over the Orkney and Shetland Isles would continue until 1472, when they officially became part of Scotland.

Further Reading:

The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland’s Western Seaboard c.1100-c.1336, (2008), R. Andrew MacDonald, Birlinn Books – Buy From Amazon

The Wars of Scotland: 1214-1371, (2004), Micheal Brown, Edinburgh University Press – Buy from Amazon

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of ScottishHistory.org. Neil is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. He can be found on Twitter: @NeilRitchie86.

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