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Alexander III
Alexander III and Ollamh Rígh.JPG
Coronation of King Alexander on Moot Hill, Scone. He is being greeted by the ollamh rígh, the royal poet, who is addressing him with the proclamation "Benach De Re Albanne" (= Beannachd Dé Rígh Alban, "God Bless the King of Scotland"); the poet goes on to recite Alexander's genealogy. By Alexander's side is Maol Choluim II, Earl of Fife holding the sword.
King of Scots
Reign 6 July 1249 – 19 March 1286
Coronation 13 July 1249, Scone
Predecessor Alexander II
Successor Margaret (disputed)
Spouse Margaret of England
Yolande de Dreux
Issue Margaret, Queen of Norway
Alexander, Prince of Scotland
House House of Dunkeld
Father Alexander II
Mother Marie de Coucy
Born 4 September 1241
Roxburgh, Roxburghshire
Died 19 March 1286
Kinghorn Ness, Fife
Burial Dunfermline Abbey

Alexander III (Medieval Gaelic: Alaxandair mac Alaxandair; Modern Gaelic: Alasdair mac Alasdair) (4 September 1241 – 19 March 1286) was King of Scots from 1249 to his death.[1]


Alexander was born at Roxburgh, the only son of Alexander II by his second wife Marie de Coucy. Alexander III was also the grandson of William the Lion. Alexander's father died on 8 July 1249 and he became king at the age of seven, inaugurated at Scone on 13 July 1249.

The years of his minority featured an embittered struggle for the control of affairs between two rival parties, the one led by Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith, the other by Alan Durward, Justiciar of Scotia. The former dominated the early years of Alexander's reign. At the marriage of Alexander to Margaret of England in 1251, Henry III of England seized the opportunity to demand from his son-in-law homage for the Scottish kingdom, but Alexander did not comply. In 1255 an interview between the English and Scottish kings at Kelso led to Menteith and his party losing to Durward's party. But though disgraced, they still retained great influence, and two years later, seizing the person of the king, they compelled their rivals to consent to the erection of a regency representative of both parties.

Statue of Alexander on the west door of St. Giles, Edinburgh

On attaining his majority at the age of 21 in 1262, Alexander declared his intention of resuming the projects on the Western Isles which the death of his father thirteen years before had cut short. He laid a formal claim before the Norwegian king Haakon. Haakon rejected the claim, and in the following year responded with a formidable invasion. Sailing around the west coast of Scotland he halted off the Isle of Arran, and negotiations commenced. Alexander artfully prolonged the talks until the autumn storms should begin. At length Haakon, weary of delay, attacked, only to encounter a terrific storm which greatly damaged his ships. The Battle of Largs (October 1263) proved indecisive, but even so, Haakon's position was hopeless. Baffled, he turned homewards, but died in Orkney on 15 December 1263. The Isles now lay at Alexander's feet, and in 1266 Haakon's successor concluded the Treaty of Perth by which he ceded the Isle of Man and the Western Isles to Scotland in return for a monetary payment. Norway retained only Orkney and Shetland in the area. In 1284, Alexander invested the title of Lord of the Isles in the head of Clan Donald, Aonghas Mór, and over the next two centuries the Macdonald lords operated as if they were kings in their own right, frequently opposing the Scottish monarch.

Alexander III being rescued from the fury of a stag by Colin Fitzgerald


Alexander had married Margaret, daughter of King Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence, on 26 December 1251. She died in 1275, after they had three children.

  1. Margaret (28 February 1261 – 9 April 1283), who married King Eric II of Norway
  2. Alexander, Prince of Scotland (21 January 1264 Jedburgh – 28 January 1284 Lindores Abbey); buried in Dunfermline Abbey
  3. David (20 March 1272 – June 1281 Stirling Castle); buried in Dunfermline Abbey

According to the Lanercost Chronicle, Alexander did not spend his decade as a widower alone: "he used never to forbear on account of season nor storm, nor for perils of flood or rocky cliffs, but would visit none too creditably nuns or matrons, virgins or widows as the fancy seized him, sometimes in disguise."

Alexander III Monument at Kinghorn[2]

Towards the end of Alexander's reign, the death of all three of his children within a few years made the question of the succession one of pressing importance. In 1284 he induced the Estates to recognize as his heir-presumptive his granddaughter Margaret, the "Maid of Norway". The need for a male heir led him to contract a second marriage to Yolande de Dreux on 1 November 1285.

But the sudden death of the king dashed all such hopes. Alexander died in a fall from his horse in the dark while riding to visit the queen at Kinghorn in Fife on 18 March 1286 because it was her birthday the next day.[3] He had spent the evening at Edinburgh Castle celebrating his second marriage and overseeing a meeting with royal advisors. He was advised by them not to make the journey over to Fife because of weather conditions, but travelled anyway. Alexander became separated from his guides and it is assumed that in the dark his horse lost its footing. The 44-year old king was found dead on the shore the following morning with a broken neck. Some texts have said that he fell off a cliff. Although there is no cliff at the site where his body was found there is a very steep rocky embankment - which would have been fatal in the dark. After Alexander's death, his strong realm was plunged into a period of darkness that would eventually lead to war with England. Had Alexander, who was a strong monarch, lived, things would have worked out differently (Ashley 2002, p. 156). He was buried in Dunfermline Abbey.

As Alexander left no surviving children, the heir to the throne was his unborn child by Queen Yolande. When Yolande's pregnancy ended, probably with a miscarriage, Alexander's granddaughter Margaret became the heir. Margaret died, still uncrowned, on her way to Scotland in 1290. The inauguration of John Balliol as king on 30 November 1292 ended the six years of interregnum when the Guardians of Scotland governed the land.

The death of Alexander and the subsequent period of instability in Scotland was lamented in an early Scots poem recorded by Andrew of Wyntoun in his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland.

Quhen Alysandyr oure kyng was dede,
That Scotland led in luve and le,
Away was sons of ale and brede,
Of wyne and wax of gamyn and gle.
Oure gold was changed into lede,
Cryst, born into vyrgynyte,
Succoure Scotland and remede,
That stat is in perplexyte.

In 1886, a monument to Alexander III was erected at the approximate location of his death in Kinghorn.[2]

Fictional portrayals[edit]

Alexander III has been depicted in historical novels. They include:[4]

  • The Thirsty Sword (1892) by Robert Leighton. The novel depicts the "Norse invasion of Scotland" (1262–1263, part of the Scottish–Norwegian War) and the Battle of Largs. It includes depictions of Alexander III and his opponent Haakon IV of Norway.[4]
  • Alexander the Glorious (1965) by Jane Oliver. The novel covers the entire reign of Alexander III (1249–1286), "almost entirely from Alexander's viewpoint".[5][6]
  • The Crown in Darkness (1988) by Paul C. Doherty. A crime fiction novel where Hugh Corbett investigates the "mysterious death" of Alexander III (1286). Alexander supposedly suffered a fatal fall from his horse. But there are suspicions of murder. The novel concludes that Alexander was indeed murdered "by a fanatical servant" of Edward I of England. The killer acting according to "Edward's secret desire to overwhelm and control Scotland". Doherty suggests that the personal relations of the two kings were strained by constant arguments, though this in not confirmed by historical sources.[7]
  • Insurrection (2010) by Robyn Young. This novel is the first of a series of novels primarily about the life and times of Robert the Bruce. However, it covers Alexander III and the circumstances surrounding his death in some detail.[8]
  • Holinshed in his oft fanciful history of England stated that at Alexander III's wedding, a horrible monster, mostly skeleton but with raw flesh, appeared at the end of the procession and caused the wedding to be hurriedly concluded. This was,in tradition, an omen of death.
  • Crusader (1991) by Nigel Tranter. This novel follows the minority of Alexander III and his relationship with David de Lindsay. Tranter, who has written scores of historical novels spanning the range of Scotland's history, also wrote "Envoy Extraordinary" (1999) (about Patrick Earl of Dunbar) and "True Thomas" (1981) (about Thomas the Rhymer), both of which take place during the reign of Alexander III and in which Alexander if a featured character.



  1. ^ "Alexander III (1241 - 1286)". 
  2. ^ a b British Listed Buildings
  3. ^ Marshall, Rosalind K. (2003). Scottish Queens, 1034-1714. Tuckwell Press. p. 27. 
  4. ^ a b Nield (1968), p. 37
  5. ^ "Historical Novel:Medieval Celts"
  6. ^ "Alexander the Glorious", review
  7. ^ Browne, Kreiser (2000), p. 78, 80-81
  8. ^ http://historicalnovelsociety.org. "Insurrection". http://historicalnovelsociety.org. 


Alexander III of Scotland
Born: 4 September 1241 Died: 19 March 1286
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander II
King of Scots
Succeeded by
Margaret (disputed)

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