Scottish–Norwegian War

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Scottish–Norwegian War
Date 1262–1266
Location Mostly Scotland, possible at the Hebrides and Orkney as well
Result Scottish victory, Treaty of Perth
Scottish sovereignty over the Hebrides and Isle of Man. Scotland confirms Norwegian sovereignty over Shetland and Orkney.

Coat of arms of Norway (1924) no crown.svg Kingdom of Norway

Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland.svg Kingdom of Scotland
Commanders and leaders

Haakon IV of Norway

Alexander III of Scotland

Around 12,000 light armed soldiers, no cavalry, around 120 leidang ships[1] Around 5,000 heavy armed soldiers and 800 heavy cavalry[2]

[1]: Magnus III of Orkney did not participate in the war; however, he would remain nominal head of the forces who participated in the war from the Earldom of Orkney.

[2]: Haakon IV of Norway died during the war, according to some historians, even though he resided in Orkney, the war was still ongoing.

The Scottish–Norwegian War was a conflict from 1262 to 1266.[3] The conflict arose because of disagreement over the ownership of the Hebrides. The war contained only skirmishes and feuds between the kings. The only major battle was the indecisive Battle of Largs.[4]


Map of North Sea showing relative location of Scotland and Norway, in relation to Shetland, Orkney and Hebrides islands

Both the Hebrides and the Isle of Man had come under Norwegian influence dating to the reign of King Harald Fairhair of Norway. Norwegian control had been formalized in 1098, when Edgar, King of Scotland signed the islands over to King Magnus III of Norway, setting the boundary between Scots and Norwegian claims in the west. The Scottish acceptance came after the Norwegian king had imposed more direct royal control over the Hebrides as well as Orkney and the Isle of Man in a swift campaign earlier the same year, directed against the local Norse-Gaelic leaders of the various islands. In Norwegian terms, the islands were the Suðreyjar, meaning Southern Isles.[5][6][7]

The Norwegian suzerainty over the Hebrides had been contested since the 1240s, when the Scottish king, Alexander II, began asking King Haakon IV of Norway if he could purchase the islands from him. For almost a decade these attempts were unsuccessful, and the negotiations ceased for thirteen years after Alexander II died. When his son Alexander III came to power in 1262, by obtaining majority support among the clansmen, he sent Haakon a final request saying that if Haakon did not sell them the Islands they would take them by force.[8][9]

The war (1262–1263)[edit]

Haakon responded to this request by gathering a fleet of over 120 leidang warships and setting out in July 1263 to defend the Isles. Haakon stopped at the Isle of Arran where negotiations were started. Knowing Haakon had to win a decisive victory before the winter, Alexander III stalled during the negotiations until the autumn storms. In October 1263, several of King Haakon's ships got stranded at Largs in stormy weather. A rescue party was sent ashore to help salvage the ships, where the Scottish forces launched a surprise attack, and a minor skirmish followed. The battle ended indecisively with a tactical draw. The following morning King Haakon’s forces sailed back to Orkney for the winter, where he died in December. Haakon’s successor, King Magnus VI of Norway, had problems at home and lacked the proper funding to launch a new expedition.[10][11]


Although the war was not really decided while Haakon was king, he was a major player in the events leading up to the conflict. Alexander III actually captured the Hebrides in 1264, and then made another formal claim to the Islands which were bought from Norway for a sum of 4,000 marks, and 100 every year after under the terms of Treaty of Perth, by which the Scots at the same time recognized Norwegian rule over Shetland and the Orkney Islands.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to various sources, there could have been as many as up to 20,000 soldiers (^ a b c Lawrie (1783), p. 26).
  2. ^ According to several sources (^ a b c Lawrie (1783), p. 26).
  3. ^ Tour Scotland: Scottish Battles
  4. ^ Steven Brocklehurst (14 December 2012). "The last battle of the Vikings". BBC Scotland News website. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  5. ^ Odd Bruce Hansen. "Hebridene". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ Claus Krag. "Magnus 3 Olavsson Berrføtt, Konge". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Suðreyjar". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  8. ^ Knut Helle. "Håkon 4 Håkonsson, Konge". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  9. ^ Haakon Holmboe. "Aleksander 3". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  10. ^ Steve Hendry (2012-12-09). "BBC show tells how Battle of Largs was beginning of the end for ruthless invaders". Daily Record. Retrieved 2013-10-02. 
  11. ^ Knut Helle. "Magnus 6 Håkonsson Lagabøte, Konge". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  12. ^ Alastair Kneale (July 20, 2013). "Celts and Vikings - Scandinavian Influences on the Celtic Nations". Transceltic. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 

Other sources[edit]

  • Armit, Ian (2006) Scotland's Hidden History (Stroud. Tempus) ISBN 0-7524-3764-X
  • Barrett, James H. "The Norse in Scotland" in Brink, Stefan (ed) (2008) The Viking World (Abingdon. Routledge) ISBN 0-415-33315-6
  • Crawford, Barbara E. (1987) Scandinavian Scotland (Leicester University Press) ISBN 978-0718511975
  • Graham-Campbell, James and Batey, Colleen E. (1998) Vikings in Scotland: An Archaeological Survey(Edinburgh University Press) ISBN 978-0-7486-0641-2
  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004) The Scottish Islands (Edinburgh: Canongate) ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  • McDonald, R. Andrew (1998) The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, 1100–c1336 (Tuckwell Press, Ltd. ) ISBN 978-1898410850
  • Murray, W. H. (1973) The Islands of Western Scotland (London. Eyre Methuen) ISBN 0-413-30380-2
  • Simpson, Grant. G. (ed) (1990) Scotland and Scandinavia 800-1800 (John Donald) ISBN 978-0859762205
  • Woolf, Alex (ed.) (2009) Scandinavian Scotland – Twenty Years After (St Andrews. St Andrews University Press) ISBN 978-0-9512573-7-1