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Viking Raid


Viking Scotland

Although there was certainly contact between Scotland and Scandinavia in earlier times, the earliest recorded Viking activity in Scotland was an attack on the monastery of Colmcille on Iona in 795, and the first permanent, large-scale settlement of people from Norway in the Northern Isles of Shetland and Orkney is usually held to date from c.8oo, while comparable settlement on the northern Scottish mainland and in the Western Isles (especially Lewis) would appear to have begun some fifty years later. In Lewis and northern Skye the majority of older settlement names are Scandinavian in origin, and in the northern Hebrides generally a high proportion of the names of the chief natural features are also Norse. The place—name evidence for the Western Isles as a whole points to fairly full-scale Viking settlement in the ninth and tenth centuries, appreciably less intensive than in the Northern Isles but dense enough to leave permanent traces in the ethnic constitution of today’s population and to have affected its ancestral language, Gaelic.

The influence of Scandinavia seems to have been more thoroughgoing in the lands bordering the North Minch — Lewis and Harris, Skye, Raasay and the mainland seaboard from Loch Broom northward to Cape Wrath — than it was in the southern Hebrides and the Firth of Clyde. Further south still, however, the Isle of Man was colonized relatively thoroughly, and this colony in turn must have had close relations with the small but important Norse settlements established from 841 onwards along the eastern shores of Ireland, from Dublin to Waterford.

It has been suggested that, Olaf the White, Norse king of Dublin in the mid-ninth century, was of Hebridean origin. Certainly, Dublin and other Irish coastal towns were founded and used by the Norwegians as bases from which to plunder the rich and largely defenceless Irish monasteries and the wealthy English lowlands, not the Hebrides. The inference must be that the Scottish islands and West Highland coastal regions were areas attracting not plunder (at least not after Iona had been ransacked so completely that there was nothing left) but permanent settlement by comparatively humble west Norwegian families which, for the first two or three generations, gladly participated in Viking summer raids on Ireland, England and the north—west coastal territories of the continent.

Norse Hebrideans, many of them Christian, also played a considerable part in the colonization of Iceland (late ninth century) and evidently took a hand in the ‘Norwegian’ settlement of English Cumbria.

For the later history of Scotland two consequences of the utmost importance stemmed from the Scandinavian occupation of the Western Isles and the West Highland seaboard. At the height of the Norse invasions the residual Celtic realms of Picts and Scots seem to have been compelled to merge, almost in self-defence. As a result of the merger the political
centre of gravity of the Scots was shifted from Dalriada to the east, especially the Tay valley, and this would have intensified the displacement of Pictish by Gaelic in Scotland north of the Forth. Secondly, and connected with this process, the links between Scottish Dalriada and its mother country in northern Ireland were broken to such an extent that the Western Isles acquired the name Innse Gall (Isles of the Foreigners); the mixed Scandinavian—Gaelic peoples who overran south-west Scotland in the ninth and tenth centuries were known as Gallghaidhil (Foreign Gael), whence the name Galloway; while the young warriors from Argyll and the Hebrides, who in medieval times made a living by fighting in Irish wars, were known to the Irish as galloglaig (foreign youth).

The Scoto—Pictish kingdom was unable to reassert a hegemony over the west, where Norwegian over­lordship was asserted by King Magnus Barelegs at the end of the eleventh century. His expedition of 1098 led to a treaty with Edgar, king of Scotland, which is said to have conceded to Norway rule over all the isles from Man to Lewis, together with Kintyre. One important consequence was that the church of the isles, the diocese of Sodor (i.e. suoreyjar, southern isles) and Man, was formally sub­ordinated to the Norwegian metropolitan archbishop of Trondheim. The ecclesiastical link with Norway was to last for a century and more beyond the date at which secular sovereignty was transferred from the Norwegian to the Scottish Crown. By the treaty of Perth (1266) the Western Isles and Man were finally ceded to Scotland, although in fact the kings of Norway between Magnus Barelegs and Haakon IV Haakonsson (d. 1263) had been able to assert effective lordship only occasionally and for short periods. Geographically and historically the isles belonged to Scotland. Their acquisition by King Alexander III made it easier for the Scottish kingdom after his death (1286) and that of his heir Margaret (1290), herself the daughter of the king of Norway, to face the onslaught of Edward I of England and survive intact, albeit after much tribulation. Of the two national heroes, William Wallace and Robert Bruce, who led their country to victory and saved its independence for future generations, the latter at least had reason to appreciate the vital importance of the Highlands and Islands, a region in which he took refuge in 1306—7 and from which he received not only succour then but also substantial military support in the years of armed struggle culminating in Bannockburn (1314).

Vikings in North-East Scotland

Some time between 954 and 962 a party of Vikings from Orkney, led by the sons of King Eric Blood-Axe raided the Buchan coast but were defeated by the natives. The exact site of this battle is unknown but one account would suggest that it was on the slopes of the Aldie Hill at Cruden.

In 1004 Gamrie (Gardenstown) was attacked by a party of Norsemen who were in search of provisions for their fleet which was storm-bound. These raiders were defeated and the skulls of three of their leaders was built into the walls of the church which was under construction at the time. The ruins of this church (St John's Church) can still be seen today and the recesses in which the skulls lay are still in existence, although the skulls have gone. This church and churchyard is supposed to be the second oldest still to be seen in Scotland. One of the teachers in St Combs school comes from Gardenstown (Gamrie) and she assures me that it is said locally that the battle was won because the local 'ladies' attacked the Vikings with their stockings filled with sand and stones. I can't make up my mind whether this is true or whether my leg is being pulled. You'll have to decide for yourself. The skulls were supposed to have been removed by University archaeologists.

A large force of Danes under the command of Canute (later King Canute) landed at Cruden in 1012. They built a fort on the links where the golf course now stands. King Malcolm II gathered an army and following a very fierce battle the Norsemen were defeated. Casualties on both sides were very high.

One account states that some of the Danes, instead of leaving Cruden by boat decided to join their countrymen in Moray by going overland. They were involved in fighting at Memsie. Cairns were erected to mark the graves of the dead. A huge cairn can still be seen at Memsie today.

It is said that the name Cruden derives from Chroch Dain, Croja Danorum, Croya Dain or Crushain which in different languages means 'slaughter of the Danes'.

Along the Coast, near Inverness, on the Black Isle is a bay called Port an Righ which means 'Bay of the Kings'. Legend has it that three Viking kings were wrecked here in the tenth century. The legend also suggests that it was three sons of Danish kings that were drowned here when they were on an expedition.

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