On the 15th of May, 1239, Alexander II married his second wife, Marie de Coucy.
After the accession of Henry III of England, a rapprochement between England and Scotland followed. Diplomacy and reconciliation between the two countries was further strengthened by the marriage of Alexander II to Joan of England, sister to Henry III, on the 21st of June, 1221, at York Minster. Alexander was twenty-three, Joan just eleven. They had no children prior to Joan’s death, in Essex, on the 4th of March, 1238, and in the following year, Alexander remarried. His second wife was Marie de Coucy, daughter of Enguerrand III, Baron de Coucy in Picardy. Marie became Queen consort of the Kingdom of Scotland upon her marriage, which took place on the 15th of May, 1239, at Roxburgh. The royal couple produced one son, the future Alexander III, born in 1241.
Alexander’s second marriage brought a new alliance, between the Scots and the Coucy lordship, and for the rest of the 13th Century, they exchanged soldiers and money. Incidentally, two years after Alexander died, in 1249, Mary returned to Picardy, where sometime before 1257, she became the second wife of Jean de Brienne, Grand Butler of France. Marie de Coucy, who made a habit of becoming a second wife, died in 1285.
Alexander II was the King of ‘three treaties’ – the Treaty of Kingston, the Treaty of York and the Treaty of Newcastle – all made with the English King, Henry III, the son of King John; he of the Magna Carta. Alexander himself was the only son of William the Lion, King of Scots, and Ermengarde of Beaumont, and he was born in Haddington, East Lothian, on the 24th of August, 1198. On the 4th of March, 1212, aged just thirteen, he was knighted by King John of England at Clerkenwell Priory. Alexander then became King of Scots at the age of sixteen, on the 4th of December, 1214. He was proclaimed King on the 6th of December, 1214, at Scone Abbey, in the traditional manner.
Despite his youth at the time of his accession to the throne, Alexander II made a strong early impression. In 1215, he quelled a rebellion by the persistently revolting mac Williams and mac Heths in Moray and Angus. On Alexander’s orders, the mac Williams were totally wiped out in a brutal reprisal, which was gruesome enough, even by the standards of the time. The last surviving member of the mac William family didn’t survive for long. A wee bairn, the poor lassie had her brains bashed out against the Mercat Cross in Forfar, just in case she grew up and gave birth to rebellious offspring. Alexander thereafter courted powerful allies in the north of the country and attempted to bring these territories, which had been in the hands of Norse and Gaelic rulers for centuries, under his influence. His other notable achievements included the subjection of the hitherto semi-independent district of Argyll, in 1216, and the crushing of a revolt in Galloway, in 1235.
Alexander made an equally vigorous start to his reign in his dealings with England and has the honour of being the only Scottish King to take his invasion force all the way to the south coast of England. In 1215, whilst still a teenager, Alexander threw the weight of Scotland behind the rebellion of the English barons against John I. Hoping to secure the territories of Northumbria as his prize, Alexander and his army invaded England. That enraged King John who, referring to Alexander’s red hair, sought to smoke out “the little fox cub from his den” by burning Berwick, in 1216. Later that summer, a French invasion force under Prince Louis of France, a claimant to the English throne, landed in Kent. Alexander’s invading Army marched south, where he met Louis at Canterbury, was granted the land of ‘Loonois’ (probably Northumberland) and with that concession from the French Prince, went back to Scotland, pausing only to besiege Barnard Castle again.
The death of John I in October, 1216, saw the English Barons change their allegiances, preferring John’s Plantagenet son to any French popinjay. The French were defeated at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217 and the Papal Legate, Gualo, excommunicated Alexander for his support of the French. Alexander’s plans for expansion into England were abandoned and he was left with nothing more than a renewed grant of his Earldom of Huntingdon. A peace then ensued between Henry III, Prince Louis and Alexander, which was formally settled on the 12th of September, 1217, by the Treaty of Kingston. Diplomacy between the English and Scots was further advanced by Alexander’s marriage to Henry’s sister. That treaty was to last for twenty years until a time, shortly after Alexander crushed the aforementioned revolt in Galloway, when the bold Henry III issued the Scots King with a claim for homage, based on a renewal of the Treaty of Falaise. With an oath that has not been recorded by history, Alexander promptly issued a counter claim to the northern English counties of Northumbria and Cumbria.
The ensuing dispute, which didn’t lead to any real hostilities, was settled by the Treaty of York on the 25th of September, 1237. That landmark treaty defined the boundary of the two kingdoms as running between the Solway Firth in the west and the mouth of the River Tweed in the east. With the exception of an area around Berwick upon Tweed, which was to remain the subject of dispute for another two centuries until it was seized by England, in 1482, the treaty fixed for the first time the border we see today. Under the Treaty of York, Alexander II made a fundamental compromise in which he rescinded Scottish claims to the English counties of Northumbria and Cumbria – claims dating back several generations – in return for £200’s worth of land in those counties.
Later, in 1244, the threat of invasion by Henry, on the back of a dispute involving the Comyns, interrupted the friendly relations between the two countries. However, the disinclination of the English Barons for war compelled Henry to make peace. The reconciliation was concluded that same year by the Treaty of Newcastle in which a marriage alliance between Alexander’s son and Henry’s daughter was arranged. In the late 1240s, Alexander II turned his attention to regaining control of the Hebrides. His attempts to break the allegiance of Ewen, the son of Duncan, Lord of Argyll, to the Norwegian King, Haakon, brought the issue of who governed the marginal areas of the Scottish kingdom to a head. Having long since been controlled by Norse rulers, Alexander had made numerous attempts to purchase the islands. However, in 1249, when efforts at negotiation and purchase had failed, he mounted a military campaign and sailed forth in a fleet to take the isles by force.
On the way to deal with Ewen, Alexander suffered from a fever and died in the bay of the Isle of Kerrera, on the 6th of July, 1249. Alexander’s legacy would be that, for the first time, Scotland as a territorial kingdom had been officially defined and recognised. He was buried at Melrose Abbey and his ambitions for expanding his realm in the north and west passed on to his son, Alexander III.