The vicinity of such enterprising neighbours was particularly irksome to the Scottish kings, and they anxiously endeavoured to get possession of these islands. When treaty failed, they encouraged their subjects of Scotland to invade them; and Alan lord of Galloway, assisted by Thomas earl of Athole, about thirty years before this, carried on a successful war against the isles, and expelled Olaf the Black, King of Man, from his dominions.* These Scottish chiefs had collected a large fleet, with a proportionably numerous army; and it required all the exertions of the Norwegian king to re-establish his vassal on his island throne. After this, the authority of Norway became gradually more and more precarious throughout the isles. Some of the chiefs were compelled, others induced by motives of interest, to renounce their allegiance, and to embrace the nearer superiority of Scotland: some, who held lands of both crowns, were uncertain to whom they should pay their paramount allegiance; and Alexander the Second, the immediate predecessor of Alexander the Third, after an unsuccessful attempt at negotiation, prepared an expedition for their complete reduction. The expressions used in threatening this invasion, may convince us that the Norwegians had not only acquired the sovereignty of the isles, but had established themselves upon the mainland of Scotland; for the Scottish king declares, "that he will not desist till he hath set his standard upon the cliffs of Thurso, and subdued all that the King of Norway possessed to the westward of the German Ocean."f Alexander the Second, however, lived only to conduct his fleet and army to the shores of Argyleshire; and, on the king's death, the object of the expedition was abandoned.
During the minority of Alexander the Third, all idea of reducing the isles seems to have been abandoned; but when the king was no longer a boy, the measure was seriously resumed: and after an unsuccessful embassy to the Norwegian court,the Earl of Ross and other island chiefs were induced to invade the reguli, or petty kings of the Hebrides, in the western seas. Their expedition was accompanied with circumstances of extreme cruelty. The ketherans and soldiers of the isles, if we may believe the Norwegian Chronicles, not content with the sack of villages and the plunder of churches, in their wanton fury raised the children on the points of their spears, and shook them till they fell down to their hands: barbarities which might be thought incredible, were we not acquainted with the horrid atrocities which, even in our own days, have accompanied piratic warfare.
Such conduct effectually roused Haco, the Norwegian king. He determined to revenge the injuries offered to his vassals, and immediately issued orders for the assembling of a fleet and army, whilst he repaired in person to Bergen to superintend the preparations for the expedition. The magnitude of these spread an alarm even upon the coasts of England. It was reported, that the Kings of Denmark and Norway, with an overwhelming fleet, had bent their course against the Scottish islands ; and although the apparent object of Haco was nothing more than the protection of his vassals, yet the final destination of so powerful an armament was anxiously contemplated.