Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Alexander III, King of Scots

Alexander III, King of Scots, was married on the 26th of December, 1251.

Wee Sandy Alexander was just ten years old when he got married, the day after he was knighted by Henry III of England at York. He was married to ’enery’s eldest daughter, the Princess Margaret, herself a mere eleven years of age. Funnily enough, both the bride and groom had been born in September, albeit just over three weeks short of a year apart. If you follow astrology, he was Virgo and she was Libra. You may surmise that they both remained virgins for quite some time, despite the liberal nature of their union. Whether the marriage was a smart move of wee Alecky’s or of his ‘Regents’ is another matter. Probably, Henry had most of the say in the event and as father of the bride, he paid for the lavish ceremony in York Minster and the medieval banquet that followed. However, there was no declaration of a national holiday, either in Scotland or in England.

Despite gifting his daughter to the Scottish King, after the marriage Henry Plantagenet demanded that the young Alexander pay homage. Give wee Alex his due, he refused and despite his lack of years, Alexander continually managed to evade Henry’s efforts, and later, those of his son, Edward I, to make him swear homage to the King of England for his Kingdom of Scotland. Those efforts had become so very tiresome as every English King since William Rufus had attempted to pull that old trick. In an excellent biography of Alexander III, Marion Campbell provides excellent detail on the story of Robert Bruce, grandfather of the future King, swearing homage on Alexander’s behalf, at Westminster, in 1278, but only for the lands Alexander held of Edward I in England. The famous line goes “Nobody but God himself has the right to homage for my realm of Scotland, and I hold it of nobody but God himself”.

Margaret was the daughter of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Provence, and she was born at Windsor Castle. When she married, she became Queen consort to Alexander III, the ‘Glorious’, King of Scots. She provided Alexander with three children, but she died young, at the age of thirty-five, at Cupar Castle, on the 26th of February, 1275. She was buried at Dunfermline Abbey, in Fife. Margaret provided Alexander with three kids and Scotland with two male heirs, but those too died young. Their first child was also a Margaret, the Princess of Scotland, who later married Erik II of Norway and died in childbirth on the 9th of April, 1283. Next to be born was Alexander’s first son and namesake, who would’ve been Alexander IV, but he died at the age of twenty-one-and-a-week on the 28th of January, 1283; a bad year for Royal weans. His younger brother, David of Scotland, had also died ahead of his time as well as ahead of his elder sibling, in June, 1281. The two Princes were buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Thus, all three of Alexander’s children pre-deceased their father and King.

The death of all three of Alexander’s children within a few years made the question of the succession one of pressing importance to Scotland. The need for a male heir led to his getting married for the second time, which he did, to Yolande de Dreux, on the 14th of October (or as Wikipedia has it on two related pages, either the 1st of November or the 15th of October), 1285. Curiously enough, Alexander was twenty-two years older than his twenty-two years old bride. Yolande was the Countess of Montfort in her own right when she became Queen consort of the Kingdom of Scotland. She had a decent pedigree and was distantly related to her new husband, since both shared the same ancestors in the French noble houses of Coucy and Dreux. As a bit of insurance in terms of the succession, in the meantime, in 1284, Alexander had induced the Estates in Scotland to recognise his granddaughter Margaret, the ‘Maid of Norway’, as his heir-presumptive.

Alexander had some fun in the ten years between his two marriages as reported in the ‘Lanercost Chronicle’. He surely didn’t spend his decade as a widower on his lonesome. The ‘Chronicle’ recounts his fortitude when it came to fornication thus; “…he used never to forbear on account of season nor storm, nor for perils of flood or rocky cliffs, but would visit none too creditably nuns or matrons, virgins or widows as the fancy seized him, sometimes in disguise”. He no doubt also enjoyed his matrimonial attempts at procreation with the pretty Yolande, once she had arrived on the scene and it seems it was the Lion Rampant that was the cause of his own premature death.

Alexander seemingly died in a fall from his horse whilst riding in the dark on his way to visit his new Queen Consort at Kinghorn in Fife, in the early hours of the 19th of March, 1286. He was on the way from an evening at Edinburgh Castle, having presided at a meeting of his Royal advisors and perhaps having indulged in a wee bit of celebration. Perhaps he also got a wee bit over excited at the thought of getting back to Fife, despite his advisors advice not to make the journey, because of poor weather conditions. However it happened, Alexander became separated from his guides and, it is assumed, his horse lost its footing in the dark and Alexander lost his life. The forty-four years old King was found the following morning, like a stranger on the shore, with a broken neck. There was no autopsy as those things hadn’t been invented, but maybe one would’ve found an excess of alcohol in his blood, who knows. Some chronicle texts state that Alexander fell off a cliff, but there is no cliff at the site where his body was found. There is a very steep, rocky embankment, though, which would have been fatal in the dark.

As a postscript to the story, it appears that by the time of Alexander’s death, Yolande was believed to be pregnant and so her unborn child was the heir to the throne. Guardians were quickly elected at a Parliament held at Scone (it might’ve been at Perth or even Kinross) in April and everyone waited to see what Yolande would deliver. In fact, she didn’t produce an heir. Most likely she had a miscarriage, however, in one account, the Guardians gathered at Clackmannan on Saint Catherine’s Day, the 25th of November, 1286, to witness a birth and the child was stillborn. Other accounts suggest Yolande had a phantom pregnancy. An unsympathetic English account states that she was simply faking her condition as her own form of insurance. In any event, she wasn’t barren as she remarried Arthur II, the Duke of Brittany and the two of them had at least six children. However, when the ‘Maid of Norway’ died at sea on her way to take up the Throne, Scotland’s future looked decidedly bleak and barren.

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