In the first of a two-part series, Back In The Day examines how Scottish links with Norway in the 13th century shaped modern Scotland, starting with the Treaty of Perth of 1266

ALL roads should have led to Perth and all eyes should have been on the Fair City last month as it celebrated the 750th anniversary of a vital moment in Scotland’s history which took place on July 2.

The Treaty of Perth in 1266 was a turning point in the history of these islands, and in this two-part recounting of the 13th century relationship between Norway and Scotland, The National will show how the Treaty and subsequent events involving Norway moulded not just present day Scotland but the entire British Isles.

There should have been celebrations on a national scale to mark the 750th anniversary, but apart from a debate in parliament there was very little national fuss, though I am told that the people of Perth did the occasion proud with a family day that celebrated both Norse and Scottish culture and involved the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – that is no surprise because the Lord Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross is Brigadier Melville Jamieson who was the producer and chief executive of the Tattoo before he took on different tasks such as helping Perth to win formal city status, officially granted by HM the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee.

Among those in Perth for the 750th anniversary were representatives of the Norwegian community in Scotland who always make such a colourful contribution to events such as the annual installation of the city’s Christmas tree in Edinburgh, presented each year by Hordaland and Bergen to mark the friendship between the two communities.

Stavanger in Norway also gives a Christmas tree to its twin city Aberdeen, while Orkney also gets two Christmas trees.

Yet our neighbours across the North Sea were not always so friendly. Norse Vikings from Norway, as opposed to Vikings from Denmark – the people being invaded didn’t usually stop to check where the pillagers hailed from and chroniclers of the time were often confused – had raided Scotland relentlessly for several centuries and both Orkney and Shetland became Norwegian territory by conquest. They formed bases for Norwegian adventuring to Iceland and Ireland in particular, and those trips may well have included a journey across the Atlantic to North America – certainly there is evidence that a Norse expedition made it to the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland in Canada, and there may well have been Orcadian sailors aboard those long ships.

Not least because Norway and Denmark were often united under one monarch – such as Harald Bluetooth – the history of relations between Scotland and the Vikings is often complex and confused. It is simplistic to say that Danish raiders concentrated on England while the Norse Vikings from Norway raided Scotland and settled here, but apart from the times when Denmark and Norway were united, that is more or less what happened over a period of centuries.

The Danes settled in what was then Northumbria and made Jorvik their capital but though they also settled in East Anglia and Mercia they could never quite conquer all of England, thanks largely to Wessex, so memorably titled The Last Kingdom by Sharpe author Bernard Cornwell in his excellent series of historical novels based on English history around the time of Alfred the Great.

In that series, Cornwell repeats the common assertion that the Danes could not conquer Scotland, but the Norwegians certainly made a good go of it, with Orkney and Shetland conquered by the end of the ninth century and the Pictish peoples there either subjugated or ejected.

Suffice to say that Norse names and culture came to completely dominate the two archipelagoes, while the Norse settlers moved west and south.

From the time of King Harald Fairhair and his sons Eric Bloodaxe and King Haakon I in the tenth century, Norse occupation extended southwards.

By the end of the 11th century, they claimed control over the Outer and Inner Hebrides, much of Kintyre, the islands in the Firth of Clyde including Bute and Arran and the Isle of Man, or Mann as it was known then. Caithness and Sutherland were disputed territories, the Norse Earldom of Orkney claiming overlordship well into the 13th century.

King Edgar of Scotland, son of Malcolm Canmore and St Margaret, recognised the inevitable and in 1098 in return for peace on the mainland, he formally ceded the western islands and Kintyre to Norwegian King Magnus III. He was also known as Magnus Barefoot or Barelegs, apparently so-called because he wore what was possibly an early kilt.

Having made peace in Scotland, Magnus tried to conquer Ireland and despite becoming King of Dublin, he was not the first or last man to find that Ireland is a difficult place to rule – he became the last Norwegian king to die in battle near the River Quoile in Ulster in 1103.

The Kings of Norway allowed their Scottish dominions to be controlled by powerful earls, and by the mid-13th century, Norse rule was established around the north and west of Scotland with the Earl of Orkney effectively a sub-king of both Norway and Scotland.

YET apart from place names, very little evidence of Viking overlordship remains. There is Jarlshof on Shetland – the name was given to the site by Sir Walter Scott and means ‘Earl’s Mansion’ – which is the biggest archaeological site of Viking origin in Britain, and Orkney’s very own cathedral shows its Norse foundation, being named after St Magnus when it was founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald. Apart from items such as the Lewis chessmen, it could be said that the only evidence of Norse Viking rule over much of Scotland are those place-names, ceremonies like Up Helly Aa, and the New Year tradition that a first foot had to be “dark” because fair hair was so associated with Viking raiders.

It rankled with the Scots that part of their land was so dominated by the Norse who had formed alliances with the Gaels to rule the Hebrides, with the Norse-Gael warrior Somerled and his dynasty taking the Lordship of the Isles and, as we saw some time ago, threatening the mainland before losing the Battle of Renfrew in 1164.

By 1230, the Norwegian King Haakon IV, also known as the Old, decided to restate his control over the Western Isles and he launched a punitive longship raid on Bute and other islands which owed him taxes.

Scotland’s King Alexander II began to seek control of the Hebrides for himself, and even offered Haakon cash for the islands.

There was no deal, and Alexander decided to take at least the Inner Hebrides for himself in 1249, sadly dying as his battle fleet gathered near Oban.

His son Alexander III was only a boy, but he soon took care of the perennial Scottish problem of the relationship with England by marrying Margaret, the daughter of Henry III, at the age of ten.

By 1262, Alexander was a grown man and anxious to carry on his father’s aim of annexing the Hebrides. Haakon was having none of it and gathered the greatest war fleet in Norwegian history and mooring at a place that was named after him – Kyleakin on Skye, meaning ‘strait of Haakon.’

The Norwegian combined force of naval vessels carrying warrior “marines” sailed south in July 1263 to the Firth of Clyde where Haakon raided Bute and landed on Arran. At this point the fact that both kings were Christian intervened, as Alexander sent Dominican friars to negotiate some sort of peace treaty. Haakon had to recognise the churchmen’s efforts and sent two of his bishops to talk to them.

Alexander was stalling for time, however, and Haakon recognised this. The saga which recounts his adventures tells how he sent longships north to Arrochar on Loch Long where they were carried across the land to Loch Lomond and took the lands of Lennox by surprise.

At Largs on October 1, 1263, Haakon sent some of his force ashore and a “battle” began as the Scots army pounced on them. There has been so much nonsense written over the centuries about the Battle of Largs that it is safe to say only one thing – Haakon never got his full force ashore and he sailed back to Arran before heading north to winter on Orkney where he died in December.

His successor, Magnus IV, was cash-strapped and facing internal revolt. He had no wish to continue a war with Scotland over land that he knew to be too far from his country for proper control to be exerted. He sent church messengers to Alexander and a meeting was set between the Scottish king and Magnus’s emissaries in Perth at Blackfriars Monastery in the summer of 1266.

Thus arose the Treaty of Perth in which the King of Norway ceded any claim to the Western Isles, the Isle of Man, and Kintyre and also disclaimed the overlordship of Caithness in return for a one-off payment of 4,000 merks of silver and an annual payment of 100 merks in perpetuity, though Magnus’s envoys made it clear he wanted Orkney and Shetland kept as Norwegian.

With a few strokes of a pen, Alexander vastly increased his kingdom, and apart from Orkney and Shetland, the boundaries of Scotland were set.

The importance of the Treaty of Perth in Scottish history cannot be gainsaid. For the first time, all of the mainland and the islands off the West Coast plus the Isle of Man came under the sovereignty of the king of Scots rather than the king of Norway.

AS the Treaty states in translation from Latin: “All the inhabitants of the said islands which are conceded, resigned, and quitted claim of, to the aforesaid lord, the King of Scotland, both great and small, may be subject to the laws and customs of the kingdom of Scotland, and governed and judged according to these from this time henceforth.”

The treaty also contained an important clause that recognised the previous enmity between Scotland and Norway and cited mutual forgiveness for past actions – one of the first examples anywhere of a treaty of reconciliation.

“Also it is added to this agreement, and by common assent ordained between the kings, and the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland, that all transgressions and offences between them and their ancestors and their people perpetrated to this day on both sides are wholly remitted.”

Scotland and Norway were now friends and allies and those who lived on the West Coast of Scotland and on the islands were safe in the knowledge they need no longer fear invasion by the Norwegian Vikings.

It was Winston Churchill who said that “jaw jaw is better than war war” and in 1266 the two kingdoms found out the truth of that dictum. Never again was a dispute between Scotland and Norway solved by battle and war, but by diplomacy and discussion.

It would be another two centuries before Shetland and Orkney finally became Scottish, but the process that made modern Scotland had begun in the monastery at Perth.

You can read the Treaty of Perth online or see it at Perth Museum and Gallery until September 4. In part two next week we will show how the Treaty of Perth and the alliance between Scotland and Norway directly led to the Wars of Independence