Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alexander II

600942Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01 — Alexander II1885Aeneas James George Mackay

ALEXANDER II (1198–1249), king of Scotland, son of William the Lion and Ermengarde, daughter of Richard, viscount of Beaumont, was born at Haddington on 24 Aug. 1198, to the joy of the people, who had seen the kingdom for twelve years after the king's marriage without a male heir. The nobles swore fealty to him at Musselburgh when he was three years old, a custom of the age designed to give stability to the hereditary succession. By the treaty of Norham, 1209, a threatened war between England and Scotland was averted, upon the conditions that the English castle at Tweedmouth should not be rebuilt, and Margaret and Isabella, the daughters of King William, married to Henry and Richard, the infant sons of the English King John, with a considerable dower, to be paid in two years. Homage was also to be rendered to John by Alexander for the lands which his father held, and which were resigned in his favour into the hands of the English king. This was done at Alnwick in the same year, and three years later, in London, Alexander was knighted by John. At a great council in 1211, the barons and the burghs of Scotland granted the requisite aid for the stipulated dowry, but the marriages were never accomplished. The elder princess became, in the reign of Henry III, the wife of Hubert de Burgh, earl of Kent, and the younger of Roger, son of Hugh Bigod, earl of Norfolk, two of the greatest nobles of England, alliances which mark the connection between the Scottish royal house and the English barons. On the death of William the Lion in 1214, Alexander was crowned at Scone (6 Dec.), just in time to take part in the constitutional struggle which resulted in Magna Charta. Alexander, as might have been anticipated from the disputes between the two kingdoms raised by the question of homage, and his position as an English baron in respect of his English fiefs, was for the barons and against the king. Probably soon after the meeting at Edmundsbury (20 Nov. 1214), an agreement was made between the barons and Alexander by which Carlisle was to be rendered to the Scottish king, along with the county of Northumberland, and, if we may conjecture from what followed, the engagement on the part of the English king's sons to marry the king's sisters was renewed. The precise date of this agreement we cannot determine, for the documents recording the facts were amongst those seized by Edward I in 1291, and now lost. But, in accordance with the arrangement in the articles of the barons and in Magna Charta, it was provided: ‘Nos faciemus Alexandro regi Scottorum de sororibus suis et obsidibus reddendis et libertatibus suis et jure suo secundum formam in qua faciemus aliis baronibus nostris Angliæ, nisi aliter esse debet per cartas quas habemus de Willelmo patre suo quondam rege Scottorum; et hoc erit per judicium parium suorum in curia nostra.’ While Scotland had no original share in the rights guaranteed by the Great Charter, the fact that its monarch was one of the barons in whose favour the charter was granted had a reflex effect. The Scottish kings of the thirteenth century, unlike the English, were not enemies but friends of their barons and people, and under Alexander and his son Scotland enjoyed a measure of individual and national freedom and prosperity such as it had never known before, and did not again know until after the union. In fulfilment of his part of the agreement, Alexander in the winter of 1215 besieged Norham, and Eustace de Vesci in the name of the barons gave him seisin of the county of Northumberland. In the following year John with an army of mercenaries reduced the northern counties of England, and, advancing into Scotland, stormed Berwick and burnt Roxburgh, Haddington, and Dunbar. On his return his mercenaries pillaged Coldingham Abbey, and, before leaving Berwick on 22 Jan., set fire to the town, John with his own hand kindling the flames which burnt the house he had lodged in. ‘Let us bolt,’ he said, ‘the little red fox out of his covert,’ a lively image of the person of Alexander, who might, like William II, have been called Rufus, had he not received from his countrymen the epithet of the Peaceful. Scotland was too wide a covert, and Alexander having kept safe in the Pentlands, as soon as the English king retreated, crossed the western border, wasting the king's lands as far as Carlisle. Some of his Celtic followers burnt HolmCultram Priory, but those who escaped the vengeance of God, by which 1,900 were drowned, according to the Chronicle of Melrose, were punished by Alexander. He did not then take Carlisle, but, returning in August with a larger army, reduced the town without taking the castle; then traversing England he met and did homage at Dover to Louis, the son of Philip Augustus, who had been called to their aid by the English barons. His homeward march would have been intercepted by the destruction of the bridges on the Trent but for the death of John at Newark on 19 Oct. 1216, and he at last succeeded in taking the castle of Carlisle and the fort at Tweedmouth. In the following May Alexander again invaded England, but the defeat of Louis at Lincoln forced him to make peace with the young Henry III, restoring Carlisle, and receiving, on renewal of homage, his hereditary fiefs in England. He was also released from the excommunication which Innocent III had by his legate, Cardinal Gualo, declared against the barons and their allies in the contest with John for the liberties of England. Three years later, at York, the peace between England and Scotland was confirmed by a treaty which stipulated that Alexander was to marry an English princess, Joan the elder, or Isabella the younger, daughter of John, and that Henry should provide suitable husbands for the Scottish princesses Margaret and Isabella. In accordance with these arrangements, Alexander married Joan on 19 June 1221, and Margaret Hubert de Burgh, then the chief minister of the young king. In 1225 Isabella was united to Roger Bigod. The effect of these alliances and the prudent character of Alexander was to preserve peace between England and Scotland. This settlement left him free to enlarge and strengthen his own kingdom by reducing the lawless outlying districts, of which the population was still mainly Celtic, and whose chiefs were only nominally subject to the Scottish crown. Already, in the year of his accession, an attack on Moray under Donald Bane, son of Mac William, and Kenneth Mac Heth, aided by an Irish provincial king, had been quelled by Ferquhard Mac-in-Sagart of Ross, who was rewarded by a knighthood; and the year before his marriage Alexander turned his attention to the reduction of Argyle, which he accomplished in 1222 after a preliminary attempt in the autumn of 1221. Instead of generally forfeiting their estates, he took oaths of fealty from the chiefs who submitted, and gave them the lands of those who did not. The creation of a new sheriffdom out of Argyle (except Lorne, which remained under the immediate rule of its chief, the representative of the elder line of Somerled, Lord of the Isles), and of a new bishopric at Lismore, separated from the diocese of Dunkeld, were the marks of the introduction of royal authority and civil and ecclesiastical order in the mainland of the western highlands, and in the islands of Bute and Arran at the mouth of the Clyde. In 1222 the burning of Adam, bishop of Caitlmess, in revenge for an exorbitant exaction of tithe gave Alexander the opportunity of asserting his power in the east. John, earl of Caithness, suspected of connivance, was forced to give up part of his lands and pay compensation, and the immediate perpetrators were executed. In 1224 Gillescop, a dispossessed chief in the west, and in 1228 another chief of the same common Celtic name in Moray, rose, but the former without difficulty, and the latter in a second campaign, were overcome and put to death. The next events of Alexander's reign brought him into contact with an external enemy, the Norse king Haco, whose possession of the Orkneys and the Sudreys or Hebrides and connection with the kings of the Isle of Man menaced the Scottish coasts. In 1230 Haco associated himself with Olaf of Man and Ospacr, a chief of mixed Celtic and Norse blood, but Ospacr was killed in an attack on Bute and his Norse allies driven back from Cantyre by the inhabitants without the personal intervention of the Scottish king, who kept the Christmas of that year at York with his brother-in-law Henry of England. Next year he spent Christmas in Elgin, and after visiting Montrose came to St. Andrews, where he created Walter, the son of Alan, then steward of Scotland, justiciar. In 1235 Alan, lord of Galloway and constable of Scotland, died, leaving no legitimate son and three daughters, Helen, wife of Roger de Quincey earl of Winchester, Devorguill, wife of John de Baliol of Barnard Castle, and Christian, wife of William des Forts, a son of the Earl of Albemarle; and his death gave rise to one of those cases of doubtful succession which at this time so often led to war. The Galwegians first asked Alexander himself to take possession of the district, or to support the claim of Thomas, a natural son of Alan, and, on his refusal to comply with either request, rose in arms, but with the aid of Ferquhard Mac-in-Sagart, now Earl of Ross, Alexander defeated them. Thomas was forced to fly to Ireland, and Galloway was divided between the three coheiresses.

The fall of Hubert de Burgh and the succession of Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, to the chief place in the councils of the English king, changed the attitude of the two courts. Renewed claims of homage for Scotland on the part of Henry, backed by the pope, Gregory IX, were met by counter claims on the part of Alexander to the northern counties of England, but a peaceable solution was effected by Otho, the legate, at York, in 1237. Alexander, in lieu of all claims, received lands of the yearly value of 200l., for which he did homage, and the demand of homage for the kingdom was not pressed. His wife accompanied her brother, Henry III of England, on his return home, and died without issue near London in 1238. In little more than a year, 15 May 1239, Alexander married a second wife, Mary, daughter of Ingelram de Couci, in Picardy, one of the feudal families which vied and allied themselves with kings. Of this marriage was born on 4 Sept. 1241 Alexander III, who was betrothed to Margaret, daughter of Henry III, in the following year. In 1244 a serious rupture broke out between Alexander and Henry, no longer united by marriage, which was prompted by Walter Bisset, an exile from Scotland, in consequence of a blood-feud caused by his slaughter of Patrick of Galloway, earl of Athole. The causes of the quarrel were the alleged intention of Alexander to ally himself with the French king, the erection of castles by Walter Comyn and others which threatened the English border, and the reception of English exiles. The armies of the two kingdoms in great force confronted each other at Newcastle, but the efforts of Richard, earl of Cornwall, and the Archbishop of York averted a contest, and a treaty was made at Newcastle on 14 August by which Alexander bound himself to enter into no alliance with the enemies of England nor to invade it unless unjustly dealt with. There is reason to believe that the engagement was mutual, but the Scottish counterpart of the treaty was amongst the documents seized by Edward I, and only the English has been preserved.

Relieved from anxiety on the side of England, Alexander now undertook the more congenial task of strengthening his own kingdom. In 1247 he put down a rising in Galloway and restored the authority of Roger de Quincey, and in 1248 he determined on attempting a cherished project to wrest the Hebrides from Norway, which he had unsuccessfully attempted to do by negotiation and purchase. Ewen, the son of Duncan, lord of Argyle, having refused to acknowledge Alexander as sovereign of the islands for which he had done homage to Haco, Alexander gathered a fleet to compel him, but as he passed Kerrera, the island in the bay of Oban, he was seized with fever and died there on 8 July, in the 51st year of his age and 35th of his reign. He was buried at his own request at Melrose, a church he had befriended, having founded, along with his mother Ermengarde, an abbey for its monks at Balmerino in Fife. Fordun quotes a poem in his memory, in which he is described as

Ecclesiæ clipeus, pax plebis, dux miserorum,

a panegyric Fordun himself confirms. An English contemporary chronicler, Matthew Paris, is not less emphatic, calling him ‘a good, upright, pious, and liberal-minded man,  ustly beloved by all the English as well as his own people.’ His protection of the church probably refers to the right of holding provincial councils under a conservator, which, in spite of the opposition of the see of York and the English king, was granted by Pope Honorius in 1225, but Alexander failed to obtain from the same pope and his successor Gregory IX the coveted honour of coronation at the hands of a legate of the Holy See, a circumstance which may account for his unwillingness to allow the legate Otho to enter Scotland. His foundations were chiefly in favour of the Dominican and Franciscan friars. Monasteries of the former were established at Edinburgh, Berwick, Ayr, Perth, Aberdeen, Elgin, Stirling, and Inverness, and of the latter at Berwick and Roxburgh. The richer Cistercians obtained only Balmerino, and their reformed rule of Vallis Caulium Pluscardine in Moray. Possibly to this favour to the mendicant friars he owed the title of ‘dux miserorum,’ but it may refer also to the laws preserved in the scanty collection of his statutes by which he substituted trial by an assize or jury for the ordeal, recognised the protection of the girth or sanctuary, and regulated trial by battle with special provision for those who could not fight—the clergy and widows. The name of Peaceful can have been given him only in respect of his relations to England, for he was a warlike monarch strenuously enforcing the feudal levy, able, according to Matthew Paris, to raise 100,000 foot and 1,000 horsemen, and successfully resisting by force of arms all risings within or on the borders of Scotland. His character must be read in his deeds, for the chroniclers contribute little otherwise to enable us to individualise it. In the maintenance of order in Caithness, Moray, Galloway, the subjection of the mainland of Argyle, the alliance with the Celtic ruler of Ross, the attempted but unsuccessful annexation of the Hebrides, the wise policy which under some provocation preserved peace with England, the relations established between the papal see and the Scottish church and state, the strict enforcement of justice amongst his own subjects, there is sufficient evidence of a prudent king anxious to consolidate his small kingdom, to raise its rank, and to rule it well.

[Matthew Paris; Chronicles of Melrose and Lanercost, Bannatyne Club; Chronicle of Man (Munch's Notes); Saga of King Haco; Concilia Scotiæ (Joseph Robertson's Notes, Bannatyne Club); Statuta Alexandri I; Act. Parl. Scot. i.; Wyntoun, Cronykil; Fordun, Scotichronicon; Hailes's Annals; Robertson's Early Scottish Kings; W. F. Skene's Celtic Scotland; Grub's Ecclesiastical History of Scotland.]

Æ. M.