Alexander III

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Alexander III (Medieval Gaelic: Alaxandair mac Alaxandair; Modern Gaelic: Alasdair mac Alasdair) (4 September 1241 – 19 March 1286) was King of Scots from 1249 to his suden death in 1296, which led to a succession crisis and the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Early Life

Alexander III represented by a statue in St. Giles, Edinburgh

Alexander was born at Roxburgh, the only son of Alexander II (1241-1286) by his second wife Marie de Coucy. Alexander III was also the grandson of William the Lion. Alexander's father died on 8 July 1249 and he became king at the age of seven, inaugurated at Scone on 13 July 1249.

The years of his minority featured an embittered struggle for the control of affairs between two rival parties, the one led by Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith, the other by Alan Durward, Justiciar of Scotia. The former dominated the early years of Alexander's reign. While still a child Alexander was seized by the pro-English Durward family in 1257<ref>Ian Donnachie and George Hewitt, The Birlinn Companion to Scottish History, 6</ref> after his refusal to give homage to Henry III of England.

Western Isles

On attaining his majority at the age of 21 in 1262, Alexander declared his intention of resuming the projects on the Western Isles which the death of his father thirteen years before had cut short. He laid a formal claim before the Norwegian king Haakon. Haakon rejected the claim, and in the following year responded with a formidable invasion. Sailing around the west coast of Scotland he halted off the Isle of Arran, and negotiations commenced. Alexander artfully prolonged the talks until the autumn storms should begin. At length Haakon, weary of delay, attacked, only to encounter a terrific storm which greatly damaged his ships.

The Battle of Largs (October 1263) proved indecisive, but even so, Haakon's position was hopeless. Baffled, he turned homewards, but died in Orkney on 15 December 1263. The Isles now lay at Alexander's feet, and in 1266 Haakon's successor concluded the Treaty of Perth by which he ceded the Isle of Man and the Western Isles to Scotland in return for a monetary payment. Norway retained only Orkney and Shetland in the area.

In 1284, Alexander invested the title of Lord of the Isles in the head of Clan Donald, Aonghas Mór, and over the next two centuries the Macdonald lords operated as if they were kings in their own right, frequently opposing the Scottish monarch.

Succession

Alexander's reign ended in dynastic disaster.<ref>Hunt, Donnachie, Companion, 7</ref>He was predeceased by his two sons from his marriage to his first wife, Margaret, daughter of Henry III of England, as well as by his daughter, also Margaret, who had married Eric II of Norway.<ref>Hunt, Donnachie, Companion, 7</ref>

Towards the end of Alexander's reign, the death of all three of his children within a few years made the question of the succession one of pressing importance. In 1284 he induced the Estates to recognize as his heir-presumptive his granddaughter Margaret, the "Maid of Norway". The need for a male heir led him to contract a second marriage to Yolande de Dreux on 1 November 1285.

But the sudden death of the king dashed all such hopes. Alexander died in a fall from his horse in the dark while riding to visit the queen at Kinghorn in Fife on 18 March 1286 because it was her birthday the next day.He had spent the evening at Edinburgh Castle celebrating his second marriage and overseeing a meeting with royal advisors. He was advised by them not to make the journey over to Fife because of weather conditions, but travelled anyway. Alexander became separated from his guides and it is assumed that in the dark his horse lost its footing.

Death

The 44-year old king was found dead on the shore the following morning with a broken neck. Some texts have said that he fell off a cliff. Although there is no cliff at the site where his body was found there is a very steep rocky embankment - which would have been fatal in the dark. After Alexander's death, his strong realm was plunged into a period of darkness that would eventually lead to war with England. He was buried in Dunfermline Abbey.

As Alexander left no surviving children, the heir to the throne was his unborn child by Queen Yolande. When Yolande's pregnancy ended, probably with a miscarriage, Alexander's granddaughter Margaret became the heir. Margaret died, still uncrowned, on her way to Scotland in 1290. The inauguration of John Balliol as king on 30 November 1292 ended the six years of interregnum when the Guardians of Scotland governed the land.

References

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