HBO Worthy Episodes in Medieval History; “The Last Celtic King of Scotland”

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No one called him Alexander that fateful night.  They never used the king’s given name unceremoniously, not where their folly would reach his royal ears. He was their sovereign, the third of his name.  Even more, he was a legend in his own lifetime.  Even on that dark night in his forty fifth year, his people looked upon him in awe and saw the young king of decades past who defeated the invading King Haakon of Norway at the famed Battle of Largs.

That was a skillfully won victory borne of guile, strength, and luck.  He had delayed Haakon with diplomacy until the autumn storms arrived to strike the Norwegian flank and fleet.  Then he battered down Haakon’s obligatory attacks until the latter realized the futility of his actions and set sail for home before more ships and supplies were lost.  The result for Haakon was death in transit.  For Alexander…  Legend.

Alexander.  Even as their caution and worry overwhelmed them, his advisers would not use his given name in earnest.  Even as the afternoon gave way to evening and heavy gray clouds.  They pleaded for him to stop, a March gale was upon them, but he ignored their wishes and they retreated from his defiance.  Who can be king who can also be challenged?  What kingdom can be without a king?  No one dared.

Besides, the king had a young new wife, and though he was in his middle years, it was said that he was a virile man still driven like an autumn stag to the rut.  And there was more.  He also felt the pressure of his looming death, and a sense of monarchical duty.  Few men lived past their fiftieth birthday, and Alexander’s viable heirs were all dead.  His first wife, the daughter of England’s King Henry III, had passed just over ten years previous.  All three of their children had died between 1281 and 1284, and he was only two years removed from those sorrowful days.

They say Yolande, the new queen, was beautiful in the youth she still possessed.  They say the king, while he had never given up on women entirely during those eleven years since his first wife’s passing, was enamored and revitalized by his new wife.  His grief had passed, and he was joyous, determined to live the remainder of his days passionately indulged in Yolande and his kingly tasks.  It was the queen’s birthday the following day, so he raced from Edinburgh to his castle at Kinghorn in Fife to rejoin her.

The last stretch of his journey required him to travel by horse over high and rugged terrain.  The wind whipped snow, sleet, and rain against his face.  His horse, frightened but submissive, carried him forth.  He couldn’t hear the hoof beats in the storm, or the voices of his guides as they became separated in the dark.

One can imagine him, hard jawed, powerful, willful, and regal in his middle age.  A man who would not be denied.  A man who felt youth despite his years, and feared nothing. One can imagine him, filled with lustful images of Yolande as he commanded his horse onward through the gale.  It wouldn’t be long, he may have thought.  His castle and bride were not far.  Even as his horse stumbled and he fell, he may have doubted his peril.  Surely if he only braced himself…  But he fell and fell, and as he recognized his true danger, death came upon him suddenly.

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image credit to Scotland’s Past

They say the search lasted through the night.  Perhaps in those final hours one or two of them dared to scream his given name into the wet, howling wind; ALEXANDER, but their brave shouts never reached his ears.  They did find him in the morning.  He had washed up on a beach near his destination of Kinghorn, dead of a broken neck.  His ears would never again draw a sound from the sky, and his loved ones were safe to speak his name with great love and sorrow.

His death was a tragedy for all.  In the months and years to come that would become evident. The child in Yolande’s womb was either miscarried or stillborn.  His granddaughter, born of his only daughter and King Eric II of Norway, assumed the throne at age three only to die three years later at sea on her way to Scotland.

Without a true heir, a new period in Scottish history began, a period that would be rife with Game of Thrones  worthy moments.  Names such as William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, John “The Red Comyn” Comyn, and Edward III would rise in fame and infamy.  The centuries long blood feud between the McDonalds and Campbells would take root in the consequences of Alexander’s fall.  Places would be named…  The Red Ford, where Clan MacDougall ambushed and brutally slaughtered Colin Campbell.  Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace and Andrew de Moray defeated an early English advance into Scottish lands.  Senseless tragedies all, in hindsight, as wars and careless ambitions always are.

If any of his advisers could have seen into the near future, would they have dared call him by his name?  ALEXANDER!!!  WAIT UNTIL THE MORROW!!! YOU KNOW NOT WHAT YOU DO!!!

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A Brief Introduction

Welcome to Ten Minute History, where I will informally and quite unacademically write about points in history which have always fascinated me, especially in my college dorm days when I regrettably spent more time playing ‘Civilzation’ and ‘Goldeneye’ than studying.  In a way, I consider this the rehabilitation of an aspiring historian.  No professors.  None of the great university research tools.  Just me, my laptop, Google Books, amazon.com, a library card, and an unchecked appetite for frozen pizza.

As a teaser for my first historical entry, how about this, Game of Thrones fans?

“Dark wings, dark words.”

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picture by Paruula