Details of the Norwegian expeditionNo aid, however, appeared from Scotland; and the Caithnesians quietly submitted to the tribute which Haco imposed upon them. It is remarked by the Norwegian Chronicle, that when their king lay with his fleet in Ronaldsvoe, "a great darkness drew over the sun, so that only a little ring was bright round his orb." The ancient historian thus unconsciously afforded to modern science the means of exactly ascertaining the date of this great expedition. The eclipse was calculated, and it was found to have taken place on the 5th of August, 1263,and to have been annular at Ronaldsvoe in Orkney: a fine example of the clear and certain light reflected by the exact sciences upon history. Early in August, the king sailed across the Pentland Firth, having left orders for the Orkney men to follow him when their preparations were completed; thence he proceeded by the Lewes to the Isle of Sky, where he was joined by Magnus, the Lord of Man; and from this holding on to the Sound of Mull, he met Dugal and other Hebridean chiefs with their whole forces.
The united armament of Haco now amounted to above a hundred vessels, most of them large, all well provided with men and arms; and, on the junction of the fleet, the business of piracy commenced. A division of the forces first took place. A squadron of fifty ships, under Magnus and Dugal, was sent to plunder in the Mull of Kentire; five ships were despatched for the same purpose to Bute; and the king himself, with the rest of the fleet, remained at Gigha, a little island between the coast of Kentire and Isla. He was here met by King John, one of the island chiefs, whom Alexander the Second had in vain attempted to seduce from his fidelity to Norway. John was now, however, differently situated; and a scene took place which is strongly illustrative of feudal manners. Haco desired him to follow his banner, as was his duty; upon which the island prince excused himself. He affirmed that he had taken the oaths as a vassal of the Scottish king; that he held of him more lands than of his Norwegian master; and he entreated Haco to dispose of all those estates which he had conferred on him. This reasoning, although not agreeable to his powerful superior, was apparently such as Haco could not dispute; and after a short time John was dismissed, not only uninjured, but with presents.
Many of these island chiefs found themselves, during this northern invasion, in a very distressing situation. On one hand, the destroying fleet of Haco lay close to the shores of their little territories, eager to plunder them should they manifest the slightest resistance. On the other, they had given hostages for their loyal behaviour to the King of Scotland; and the liberty, perhaps the lives, of their friends or their children were forfeited if they deserted to the enemy. In this cruel dilemma was Angus lord of Kentire and Isla, apparently a person of high authority in these parts, and whose allegiance the Scottish king seems to have adopted every method to secure. He held his infant son as a hostage; an instrument had been drawn out, which declared his territories subject to instant forfeiture if he deserted; and the barons of Argyle were compelled to promise that they would faithfully serve the king against Angus of Isla, and unite in accomplishing his ruin, unless he continued true to his oaths. But the power of the King of Scotland was remote; the vengeance of piratical warfare was at his door; and Angus, with another island prince, Murchad of Kentire, submitted to Haco, and delivered up the whole lands which they held of Alexander. A fine of a thousand head of cattle was esteemed a proper punishment for their desertion from Norway; and when they renewed their oaths to Haco, he promised, what he did not live to perform, to reconcile them to the offended majesty of Scotland.
In the meantime, the squadron which had been despatched towards the Mull of Kentire, made a desolating descent upon the peninsula; but in the midst of their havoc, and when they were proceeding to attack the greater villages, they received letters from Haco, forbidding them to plunder, and commanding them to rejoin the king's fleet at Gigha. Haco next despatched one of his captains, with some small vessels, to join the little squadron which had sailed against Bute; and intelligence soon after reached him, that the castle of Rothesay, in that island, had been taken by his soldiers, and that the Scottish garrison had capitulated. A pirate chief, named Roderic, who claimed Bute as his inheritance, but who had been opposed by the islanders and outlawed by Alexander, was at this time with Haco. His knowledge of the seas in these quarters made him useful to the invaders, and the power of Haco enabled him to gratify his revenge. He accordingly laid waste the island, basely murdered part of the garrison of Rothesay, and leading a party of plunderers from Bute into Scotland, carried fire and sword into the heart of the neighbouring country.
While the king's fleet lay at Gigha, Haco received messengers from the Irish Ostmen, with proposals of submitting themselves to his power; under the condition that he would pass over to Ireland with his fleet, and grant them his protection against the attacks of their English invaders, who had acquired the principal towns upon the coast. In reply to this proposal, the king despatched Sigurd, one of his chief captains, to communicate with the Ostmen ;-fand in the meantime, he himself, with the whole fleet, sailed round the point of Kentire, and, entering the Firth of Clyde, anchored in the sound of Kilbrannan, which lies between the island of Arran and the mainland.
Hitherto the great body of the Norwegian fleet had remained in the Hebrides, and Scotland was only made acquainted with this formidable invasion by the small squadrons which had been despatched for the purposes of plunder. But the whole naval armament of Haco, amounting to a hundred and sixty ships, as it entered the Firth of Clyde, became conspicuous from the opposite shores of Kyle, Carrick, and Wigtown; and the more immediate danger of a descent, induced the Scottish government to think seriously of some terms of pacification. Accordingly, there soon after arrived from Alexander a deputation of Praedicant, or Barefooted Friars, whose object was to sound Haco regarding the conditions upon which a peace might be concluded; and, in consequence of these overtures, five Norwegian commissioners were sent to treat with the King of Scotland. They were honourably received by Alexander, and dismissed with a promise, that such terms of accommodation as the Scottish king could consent to, should be transmitted to Haco within a short time; and in the meanwhile a temporary truce was agreed on.
This was wise: for to delay any pacification, without irritating their enemy, was the manifest policy of Scotland. Every day gave them more time to levy and concentrate their army; and as the autumn was drawing to a close, it brought the Norwegians a nearer prospect of wreck and disaster from the winter storms. Envoys were now despatched from Alexander to Haco; and the moderate demands of the King of Scotland made it apparent, that, at this moment, he was not prepared to resist the fleet and army of Norway. He claimed Bute, Arran, and the two islands of the Cumrays, all lying in the Firth of Clyde, as the property of Scotland; but it appears that he was willing ta have given up to Norway the whole of the Isles of the Hebrides. These terms, so advantageous to Haco, were, fortunately for Scotland, rejected: no pacification took place; and the fleet of Norway bore in through the narrow strait between the larger and the lesser Cumray, thus menacing a descent upon the coast of Ayrshire, which is scarcely two miles distant.
The crews had now run short of provisions, the weather was daily becoming more threatening, a strong Scottish force of armed peasants had gathered on the shore, and Haco was anxiously exhorted by his officers to give orders for a descent on the coast, were it only to recruit, by plunder, the exhausted state of their provisions.This measure, it seems, he was unwilling to adopt, without a last message to the King of Scotland; and for this purpose he sent an ambassador to Alexander, whose commission was worded in the true style of ancient chivalry. He was to propose, "That the sovereigns should meet amicably at the head of their armies, and treat regarding a peace, which if, by the grace of God, it took place, it was well; but if the attempt at negotiation failed, he was to throw down the gauntlet from Norway, to challenge the Scottish monarch to debate the matter with his army in the field, and let God, in his pleasure, determine the victory." Alexander, however, would agree to no explanation; but "seemed," says the Norse Chronicle, "in no respect unwilling to fight ;" upon which the envoy returned from his unsatisfactory mission, and the truce was declared at an end.
Haco next despatched a fleet of sixty ships up the Clyde, into Loch Long, under the command of Magnus king of Man, and with him four Hebridean chiefs, and two principal Norwegian officers. They penetrated and plundered to the head of Loch Long; they then took to their boats, and dragging them across the narrow neck of land between Arrochar and Tarbet, launched them inte Loch Lomond, the islands of which lake were then full of inhabitants. To these islands the Scots, had retreated for security, no doubt; little anticipating the measure, which the lightness of the Norwegian craft, and the active perseverance of that bold people, enabled them to carry into execution. Their safeholds now became the scenes of plunder and bloodshed; the islands were wasted with fire, the shores of this beautiful lake completely ravaged, and the houses on its borders burnt to the ground, After this, one of the Hebridean chiefs made an expedition into the rich and populous county of Stirling, in which he slew great numbers of the inhabitants and returned, driving herds of cattle before him, and loaded with booty.