ALEXANDER III.—THE TAMING OF THE RAVENS
For many years the islands which lie around Scotland
had been in the power of the Norsemen, these wild sea-
kings who came sailing over from Norway.
Now Alexander made up his mind to drive these
Norsemen out of the islands and rule them himself. For
he saw how dangerous it was to allow these fierce
strangers to live so near his own kingdom. They were
always ready to help rebels against the King of Scots, and
the Kings of England were always sure of their help when
they wished to fight with Scotland.
So Alexander gathered an army of soldiers, and sent
them in ships to these islands. There was much fierce
and cruel fighting, but at last all the Norse nobles, who
would not own the King of Scotland as overlord instead
of the King of Norway, were either killed or driven away.
Those who were driven away, sailed back to Norway,
in hot anger, to beg help from Haco their King.
Haco, when he heard what Alexander had done, was
very wrathful, and he gathered a great army, resolved to
avenge his people. He had about one hundred and sixty
ships. They were nearly all large, and they were crowded
with soldiers and strong men of war.
Haco‘s own ship was very splendid. It was built of
oak and was beautifully carved with dragons, and was
painted and gilded. From the mast-head floated his
TAMING OF THE RAVENS 91
standard, embroidered with a raven with outspread
wings. From this standard these fierce sea-kings were
known as the Ravens.
As this mighty fleet came floating onward it looked
very gay and splendid. Flags fluttered in the breeze, the
summer sun shone on the coats of the knights and made
their weapons and armour glitter. Never before had such
a fleet sailed against Scotland.
On they came, right round the north of the island, and
down the west coast until they sailed up the Firth of
When Alexander saw what a number of ships there
were, he knew he could not hope to defeat them unless
he had time to gather more soldiers. So when the ships
sailed up the Firth of Clyde he sent some monks with
bare feet and heads, to ask Haco upon what terms he
would make peace.
Haco was glad to think that Alexander wished to
make peace, so he sent some of his chief men to talk to
him. The King received these men kindly, but he
kept them waiting for a few days before he returned
an answer to King Haco. And so as time went on,
Alexander caused delay after delay, for he had no inten
tion of making peace. He only wanted to put off time.
He knew that every day was precious. He knew that
the longer he put off fighting, the longer he had in
which to gather troops, and as the summer passed there
was always greater and greater chance that storms would
arise and wreck Haco’s ships.
Soon the Norsemen had eaten up all the food which
they had brought with them. They had no means of
getting more unless they landed and attacked the Scots.
So the captains urged Haco to battle. By this time, too,
the fine weather had gone. The sky grew grey, and the
wind blew cold, and at last one night a fierce storm arose.
The waves dashed high, the wind shrieked and howled,
and many of Haco‘s ships, driven hither and thither in the
darkness, were broken to pieces upon the rocky shore.
So fierce was this storm that the Norsemen thought
it had been caused by the enchantments of some witch,
and that made them more afraid than they would other
wise have been.
The Scots were ready, and watching for some such
disaster to happen, and soon bonfires were lit all along the
coast, which carried far inland the news of the wreck of
Haco‘s fleet. So, as the ships were dashed by the waves
upon the shore, armed peasants rushed down from the
heights above, eager to kill and to plunder.
In the morning, Haco resolved to land the rest of his
men, and to fight as best he might. When he did so, he
found a great army of Scots, led by their King, waiting
Among the Scots were some very splendid horsemen,
both men and horses clad in steel, and so fiercely did they
charge, that it seemed as if they would drive the Norse
men into the sea.
But the Norsemen were strong and brave, and unused
to yielding, and although some fled, many stood their
ground. These formed themselves into a ring, and stand
ing back to back, their long spears made an unbroken,
bristling fence, upon which the Scottish horse threw them
selves again and again in vain. Hour after hour the
battle raged around the circle of spears. Step by step,
the Norsemen were forced backward towards the sea,
but still the bristling fence remained unbroken. Great
deeds of valour were done on either side, and many a
brave knight fell. And all the time the storm raged,
the roar of the waves, the shriek of the wind, were
TAMING OF THE RAVENS 98
mingled with the clash and clang of sword and armour,
and the cries of the wounded and the dying.
At last night fell and the fighting ceased. In the
darkness the Norsemen fled to their boats. When morn
ing broke, they looked with sorrow and despair towards
the shore where their brave comrades lay dead. So many
had been drowned during the storm, so many had been
killed in battle, that there were not enough left to fight
any more. Haco, therefore, sent a message to King
Alexander, begging for peace, and for leave to bury the
This Alexander granted, and having gathered their
dead, and buried them in great trenches, with piled stones
upon them, the Norsemen sailed away in their battered,
half-wrecked ships, never again to return. But Haco got
no farther than the island of Orkney. There, overcome
by grief and shame at his defeat, he died, and never more
saw his native land.
This battle was called the Battle of Largs, and was
fought on the 15th of December 1263 a.d. By it the
pride of the Norsemen was broken. Of all the islands of
Scotland only Orkney and Shetland remained to them.
The Ravens were tamed.
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