After the fun of the Viking ‘invasion’ three weeks ago the members of the Lit enjoyed a fascinating and much more detailed discussion of the Battle of Largs by Tom Barclay.
As a specialist librarian Tom has meticulously researched the period around 1263 when the Norwegians under King Hakon were most active in the Clyde. Leading the Scots side was Alexander Stewart of Dundonald, the 4th High Steward of Scotland.
The contemporary descriptions of the lead up to, and the actual fighting at Largs are unfortunately quite one sided, the main source being a saga commissioned by Hakon’s son Magnus and written by the Icelandic historian Sturla Thordarson. Some information on the numbers of Scots involved has surprisingly been gleaned from the unlikely source of the financial accounts of Walter Stewart of Menteith, Alexander Dundonald’s brother.
The Battle itself was really more of a skirmish due to the relatively small numbers involved and the storm which drove the Norwegian boats ashore at Largs, but the eventual outcome was very important. Three years later with the conclusion of the Treaty of Perth, King Hakon’s son, Magnus, ceded Scotland’s western seaboard to Alexander III of Scotland.
Tom explained that until relatively recently the Battle of Largs was regarded by historians as only a small ‘incident’ in the long history of the Vikings in Scotland, in Bute and on the Clyde. Local Ayrshire historians, perhaps encouraged by the tourist industry, now give it much more prominence.
In a more light hearted vein Tom pointed out that the many depictions of the Vikings wearing horned helmets were historically inaccurate. It was actually much earlier Danish fighters who sported such headgear; the myth was perpetuated by the costumes worn in Wagner’s operas, and is now enthusiastically adopted by partygoers.
The next meeting of the Lit on Tuesday, October 29, will see a complete change of topic when Jim Mitchell will talk on The Long Way Home, the story of how a Glasgow built locomotive was returned from South Africa.