Alexander III (1249-1286)

Alexander III

Alexander III

Alexander III, was born at Roxburgh, the only son of Alexander II by his second wife Marie de Coucy. Alexander’s father died on 6 July 1249 and he became king at the age of eight, inaugurated at Scone on 13 July 1249.

At the marriage of Alexander to Margaret of England in 1251, Henry III seized the opportunity to demand from his son-in-law homage for the Scottish kingdom, but Alexander did not comply.

On attaining his majority at the age of 21 in 1262, 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. He turned homewards, but died in the Orkneys on 15 December 1263. 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.

Alexander had married Princess Margaret of England, a daughter of King Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence, on 26 December, 1251. She died in 1274.

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 19 March 1286. Alexander became separated from his guides and it is assumed that in the dark his horse lost its footing. The 44 year old king was found dead on the shore the following morning. 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 in a still-birth in November of 1286, 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.


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