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The Battle of Largs

2838207712_a59f9855e9[1]The Largs Viking Festival is already underway this weekend, in memory of the historical Battle of Largs, so what better way to get into the Viking spirit than a short impromptu history lesson?

The Battle of Largs was fought 2nd October, 1263, between the forces of Norway (led by king Håkon Håkonsson) and Scotland (led by king Alexander III) on the Firth of Clyde in North Ayrshire, where the town of Largs stands today. Since the beginning of the 12th century, the Inner and Outer Hebrides and Kintyre, and the kingdom of Man had been under the suzerainty of the King of Norway. In the 13th century, Alexander III of Scotland had been attempting to buy the islands off him, but launched an offensive when that failed. This prompted King Håkon to respond by setting sail with what was reputedly the biggest fleet to ever leave Norway, with over 120 long ships and between 12,000 to 20,000 soldiers. He easily took back the Hebrides, and anchored his fleet by the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, where he was approached by envoys from the Scottish king, opening peace talks. But the talks failed, and King Håkon soon afterwards sent the kings Magnus and Dougal with 40 ships up Loch Long and into Loch Lomond, while the main fleet with King Håkon in charge moved closer towards the islands of Cumbrae and Largs.

It was then that the Scots found their deus ex machina in the form of a storm that drove five of the longs ships aground. The next day, King Håkon went onshore with some 800 men in an effort to rescue the longs ships, and were confronted by the Scottish forces- some 8000 men in all, including 500 armoured and mounted knights. Outnumbered ten-to-one, the battle began to quickly turn into a rout. King Håkon finally managed to escape back into main fleet, but could not send reinforcements because of the storm. Only one ship from the main fleet managed to reach land, and a lengthy long-distance battle ensued, which ultimately ended with both sides retreating. The Norwegians had survived the Scottish onslaught, but they were a spent force themselves. Winter was almost at hand, and the army was short of provisions. King Håkon was forced to sail back to the north, and never returned again- he fell ill and died on 15th December that very year.

The Battle still lives on in the form of the Largs Viking Festival every year, a celebration which dignitaries of both Scotland and Norway attend as a mark of the friendship between the countries. Image: Flickr

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