Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Invasion of Bute: The end of the Vikings?

To Dream of a Highlander takes place on the Isle of Bute, one of the western islands of Scotland in 1230—mid-siege.

The siege is not often written about. The tension between the powerful Norway—who held most of the western islands at the time—had only just started and culminated much later on in the infamous Battle of Largs. In history, this invasion could be considered a mere blip.

But for Walter Steward, the man who built the castle walls and took the island from the Norse originally as a steward of the king, this battle ended dreadfully for him. In defending the castle, he was struck by an arrow and killed.

What is now known as Rothesay castle replaced a wooden castle on the island. In around 1200, William the Lion seized the island from the Norse and Walter began erecting the castle. Alas his defences would prove inadequate when the time came.

King Hakon IV of Norway wanted to assert his rule in the isles and, accompanied by Uspak from the house of Somerled and Olaf of Man, set about hunting down those who were unfaithful for Hakon and the men of the king of Scots who sought power in the isles—such as Walter.

While this fleet spent time seeking out and killing these men, the climax of the expedition did not occur until a year later, in 1230, when they stormed the castle at Bute. It is said that the defenders poured boiling pitch (a substance obtained from tar) and molten led on the attackers but they used shields to protect themselves and cut down the walls. Walter was killed by an arrow and the castle was taken.

However, they could not hold the keep. Alan of Galloway responded by assembling a fleet and upon seeing them, the Norse extracted a ransom of three hundred silver marks and left. This was not the end for Bute. In 1263, Hakon travelled from island to island, demanding allegiance following the king of Scots, Alexander III’s raids of the Norse territory.

This culminated in the Battle of Largs. The Norse were pushed off the mainland but the battle was indecisive, with losses on either side and no clear victor. With the approach of Winter, Hakon vowed to seek revenge in the Spring. Fortunately for Alexander, Hakon never lived to see Spring. His son, Magnus, had little interest in continuing the fight and gave up the Herbrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland for four thousand marks in the Treaty of Perth. This was the beginning of the end of the Norse age.

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