Alexander III died in a tragic accident on the 19th of March, 1286.
The third Alexander to be King of Scots was the only son of the second Alexander and his second wife, Mary de Coucy, and the great-great grandson of the first Alexander. He became King of Scots on the death of Alexander II, when he was only eight and as a King, he was really great. Alexander's period of minority was marked by conflict between rival Scottish factions keen to exert power in his name. Most notable of these were Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith, and Alan Durward, the Justiciar. What a surprise! This situation was all too common in Scotland, affecting countless Kings who attained the throne whilst still a minor. The rivalry for control of the young King even extended to his being kidnapped at one point, by Mentieth. To make matters worse for wee Sandy, Henry III of England was lurking around, hoping to take advantage of his neighbour’s tricky circumstances.
Give the young King his due credit. On Christmas Day, 1251, when he was just ten, wee Alecky was knighted by said Henry at York. The following day, in a smart move, he married ‘enery’s eldest daughter, the Princess Margaret. After that, and despite his lack of years, Alexander continually managed to evade Henry’s efforts, and his son, Edward’s, to make him swear homage for his Kingdom of Scotland. These efforts were becoming tiresome, as every English King since William Rufus attempted to pull that old trick. Not only did Alexander III tell Henry III where to get off, he had the ‘cojones’ to thumb his nose at Edward Longshanks; something his successor, John Balliol, signally failed to do. When Edward demanded Alexander swear homage, the Scottish King sent Robert Bruce on his behalf, but to swear homage only for the lands Alexander held of Edward in England. You should read Marion Campbell’s excellent biography, ‘Alexander III, King of Scots’, for the detail on the story of the elder Bruce swearing homage on Alexander’s behalf, at Westminster in 1278. As the famous proxy statement goes, “Nobody but God himself has the right to homage for my realm of Scotland, and I hold it of nobody but God himself.”
‘Alaxandair mac Alaxandair’ was born on the 11th of September, 1241 (N.S.). His coronation took place on the 13th of July, 1249, on the Moot Hill at Scone Abbey, in the traditional manner. The evidence for the tradition exists from the coronation of Lulach, but it’s surely not something invented purely for ‘Tairbith’ (‘the Unfortunate’), otherwise known as ‘Fatuus’ (‘the Simple-minded’ or ‘the Foolish’) some centuries before. He wouldn’t have deserved special treatment, nor got it. Alexander was addressed by the ‘seanchaidh rígh’ who recited Alexander’s genealogy and proclaimed him ‘Ard Rígh na h-Alba’ – High King of Scots – as Malcolm II, Earl of Fife, from ancient privilege, placed the crown upon his head.
When he ‘came of age’ at 21, Alexander took some matters into his own hands and set out to regain control of the Western Isles from the Norwegian King Håkon IV. This culminated in the so called Battle of Largs, in September, 1263. Not much of a battle, it began when some of Håkon’s ships were sunk and some driven ashore in a fierce storm. The Norsemen forced ashore were involved in skirmishes with Alexander’s men, however, largely demoralized, because of the damage to their ships, they weren’t in much of a mood for a fight. The battle was indecisive, but the end result was Håkon sailing off; beaten, but not defeated. Later on, in 1266, under the Treaty of Perth, Håkon's successor ceded the Isle of Man and the Western Isles to Scotland in return for the payment of 4000 Merks (roughly 6000 Scottish Pounds). Norway kept Orkney and Shetland – for the time being. Later, in 1284, in a move that was to shape much of Scotland’s history for the next several centuries, Alexander invested the title of Lord of the Isles in the head of the Macdonald family, Angus Macdonald. From then on, the Macdonald lords operated largely as if they were kings in their own right. They supported Robert the Bruce, but frequently opposed subsequent Kings of Scots.
Alexander’s wife, Margaret of England, died in 1274, and, because there was no male heir, Alexander had need of marrying again. In fact, by the time of his second marriage, in 1285, in addition to his wife, Alexander was careless enough to have lost all three of his children. Actually, they died. David, the youngest, was first to die, in 1281, Margaret, the eldest, died in 1283, and the great Scots hope, Alexander, Prince of Scotland, died in 1284. All he had left as potential heir was his granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway. So it was that Alexander contracted to marry Yolande, Comtesse de Montfort, daughter of Robert IV, Comte de Dreux. She was French, in case you hadn’t guessed, and by all accounts quite attractive. She was also much younger than Alexander, being twenty-two years his junior. The marriage was celebrated on the 15th of October, 1285, at Jedburgh Abbey. Five months later, tragedy struck.
On the night of the 18-19th March, 1286, King Alexander III, then still an active and virile forty-four, decided to return to Kinghorn Castle on horseback. He was no doubt keen to get back to his marital bed for a bit of siring. Nevertheless, he was advised not to make the journey over to Fife, because it was after dark and the weather was very bad. Nothing loath, he rode off anyway. On the way, he became separated from his escorts in the fog and whatever happened next, nobody really knows. In any case, that morning (the 19th) he was found dead, with a broken neck, at the foot of a very steep rocky embankment. The common belief is that his horse stumbled and threw him, pitching him to his untimely and accidental death.
By all accounts, like many a Scots Royal, Alexander was gey fond of the opposite sex and didn’t hold back during his ten years of so of widower-hood, even if he had at all during his period of marriage, which is unlikely. He is reported to have sneaked around, in disguise, visiting a variety of “nuns or matrons, virgins or widows” as he saw fit. A public service; you understand. However, he did seem to have been reigned in by his pretty Yolande, otherwise, there’s not much of an explanation for his urgency in getting back to Kinghorn that fatal night. Alexander III was buried in Dunfermline Abbey and his death brought an end to what has been described as a rare ‘golden age’ in Scottish History. It also resulted in the crisis of succession that led directly to the Wars of Independence with Edward Longshanks and England.