The Norwegian account of Haco's expedition against Scotland, A.D. MCCLXIII.
LITERALLY TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL ISLANDIC
OF THE FLATEYAN AND FRISIAN MSS.
REV. JAMES JOHNSTONE, A.M.
CHAPLAIN TO HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S ENVOY EXTRAORDINARY AT
THE COURT OF DENMARK.
Originally Printed for the Author in 1782.
WILLIAM BROWN, 149 PRINCES STREET.
ARCHIBALD MACDONALD, Esq.,
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
NEWCASTLE UNDER LINE;
THIS FRAGMENT OF ANCIENT SCOTTISH HISTORY,
CONTAINING SEVERAL ANECDOTES
LORDS OF THE HEBRIDES
Exactly one hundred years ago this Translation of the NorwegianAccount of Haco's Invasion of Scotland first issued from the press.
Since then, amid much literature upon the subject, it has always helda most important place in the eyes of the student of early ScottishHistory.
As an authentic source of information it has been eagerly soughtafter, but it has an additional attraction in the graphic pictureswhich it presents of the various perils by land and sea encountered bythe hardy Norsemen.
The translator's valuable notes are given in extenso, and for easierreference are transferred from the end of the work and printed on thepages to which they belong.
The editor, from some particular advantages he enjoyed, was encouragedto collect such inedited fragments as might elucidate antient history.He, lately, published “Anecdotes of Olave the Black, king of Man;” andnow lays before the learned the Norwegian account of Haco's celebratedexpedition against Scotland.
It was the editor's intention to have given a succinct detail of thedescents made by the northern nations upon the British isles, but anincrease of materials induced him to reserve that subject for a futurework. At present, therefore, he thinks it sufficient to premise that[viii]the Æbudæ were, long, the cause of much dispute between variouskingdoms. They seemed naturally connected with Scotland; but thesuperior navies of Lochlin rendered them liable to impressions fromthat quarter.
The situation of the Kings of the Isles was peculiarly delicate; for,though their territories were extensive, yet they were by no means amatch for the neighbouring states. On this account, allegiance wasextorted from them by different Sovereigns. The Hebridian Princesconsidered this involuntary homage, as, at least, implying protection:and, when that was not afforded, they thought themselves justified informing new connexions more conducive to their safety.
The Alexanders of Scotland having united Galloway, then a powerfulmaritime state, to their dominions, began to think of measures forobtaining a permanent possession of the Hebrides by expelling theNorwegians. The preparatory steps they took were first to secure theSomerled family, and next to gain over the insular chieftains. Hacowas no less earnest to attach every person of consequence to hisparty. He gave his daughter in marriage to Harold King of Man; and, ondifferent occasions, entertained at his court King John, Gilchrist,Dugall the son of Rudri, Magnus Earl of Orkney, Simon bishop of theSudoreys, and the abbot of Icolmkil.
All this, however, did not effectually conciliate the Somerlidiantribe. The Norwegian Monarch, disappointed in his negotiations, hadrecourse to the sword, and sailed with a fleet, which both the[x]Sturlunga-saga, and the Flateyan annals represent as the mostformidable that ever left the ports of Norway.
It would be improper for the editor to draw any comparison between theScottish and Norwegian narratives; he, therefore, leaves it to thediscernment of the reader to fix what medium he thinks reasonable.
The Flateyan and Frisian are the principal MSS. now extant, thatcontain the life of Haco the aged. The first belongs to the library ofHis Danish Majesty, the latter is deposited in the Magnæan collection.Of them the editor obtained copies; and by the help of the one wasenabled, reciprocally, to supply the imperfections of the other. Hehas since examined the originals themselves.
The Fr. MS. relates the following anecdote of Missel, at thecoronation of Prince Magnus A.D. 1261. During Mass Missel the Knightstood up in the middle of the Choir, and wondered greatly at someceremonies, unusual at the coronation of Scottish Kings. And when KingMagnus was robed, and King Haco and the Archbishop touched him withthe sword of state, the Scottish knight said, “It was told me, thatthere were no knights dubbed in this land; but I never beheld anyknight created with so much solemnity as him whom ten (f. two) noblelords have now invested with the Sword.”
The conjectures, in my note on page 42 are confirmed by the followingpassage in the Fl. MS. Then came there from the western seas John theson of Duncan, and Dugall the son of Rudra; and both of them solicited[xii]that King Haco would give them the title of King over the northernpart of the Sudoreys. They were with the King all summer.
Antiquarians may be desirous of knowing something of the MSS. fromwhich this work hath been taken, therefore, it was judged not improperto subjoin the following account of them. The Frisian MS. is a vellumquarto of the largest size, in a beautiful hand, and the characterresembles that which prevailed in the end of the 13 century. The bookof Flatey is a very large vellum volume in folio, and appears to havebeen compiled in the 14. age. It contains a collection of poems;excerpts from Adam Bremensis; a dissertation on the first inhabitantsof Norway; the life of Eric the Traveller; of Olave Trygvason; of St[xiii]Olave; of the earls of Orkney; of Suerir; of Haco the Aged; of his sonMagnus; of Magnus the Good; of Harald the Imperious; of Einar Sockasonof Greenland; and of Ölver the Mischievous; it contains also a generalchronology down to A.D. 1394, the year in which the MS. was completed.The work, from the life of Eric the Traveller to the end of St Olave'shistory, inclusive, was written by John Thordrson the priest; the restby Magnus Thorvaldson also a clergyman.
The initial letters, in some places, are ornamented with historicalminiature paintings. In page 35, there is a representation of thebirth of Trygvason; and, at the bottom of the leaf, there is a unicornand a lion. 217. An archer shooting. 272. Orme Storolfson carrying offa hay-cock. 295. Haldan the Black beheading the Norwegian princes; oneof them is represented on his knees, dressed in a red cap, a short[xiv]doublet, and in red trousers reaching down to the middle of his legs.310. Three men armed with swords, and battle axes, dispatching StOlave at Sticklestad; at the bottom of the page a man killing a boar,and another fighting with a mermaid. 650. Haco creating Sculi a Duke.Sculi is drawn with a garland, or coronet, and receiving a sword,together with a book by which he is to swear. Most of the figures, inthese paintings, are depicted in armour or mail; their helmets aresometimes conical, sometimes like a broad-brimmed hat; theirdefensive armour is generally a round target, and a two-handed sword.This venerable volume, the noblest treasure of northern literature nowexisting, though wrote in a very small character, and muchabbreviated, consists of 960 columns, two to every page.
At the time that King Haco ruled over Norway, Alexander, the son ofWilliam King of Scotland, was then King of Scotland. He was a greatPrince, and very ambitious of this world's praise. He sent, fromScotland in the Western sea, two Bishops to King Haco. At first theybegged to know if King Haco would give up those territories in theHebrides, which King Magnus Bare-foot had unjustly wrested fromMalcolm, Predecessor to the Scottish King. The King said that Magnushad settled with Malcolm, what districts the Norwegians should havein Scotland, or in the Islands which lay near it. He affirmed,however, that the King of Scotland had no sovereignty in the Hebridesat the time when King Magnus won them from King Godred, and alsothat King Magnus only asserted his Birthright. The commissioners thensaid, that the King of Scotland was willing to purchase all theHebrides from King Haco, and entreated him to value them in finesilver. The King replied, he knew no such urgent want of money aswould oblige him to sell his inheritance. With that answer themessengers departed. From this cause some misunderstanding arosebetween the Kings. The Scottish Monarch, however, frequently renewedthe negotiation, and sent many proposals; but the Scots received noother explanation than what is here related.
Alexander King of Scotland, wished much for possession of theHebrides. He had often sent to Norway to redeem them with money, andhe did so this summer. But when he could not purchase thoseterritories of King Haco, he took other measures in hand, which werenot princely. Collecting forces throughout all Scotland, he preparedfor a voyage to the Hebrides, and determined to subdue those islandsunder his dominion. He made it manifest before his subjects, that hewould not desist till he had set his standard east on the cliffs ofThurso, and had reduced under himself all the provinces which theNorwegian Monarch possessed  to the westward of the German Ocean.
King Alexander sent word to John King of the isles that he wished tosee him. But King John would not meet the Scottish King till fourEarls of Scotland had pledged their honour, that he should return insafety, whether any agreement was made or not. When the Kings met, theScottish Monarch besought King John, that he would give upKiarnaburgh into his power, and three other Castles which he heldof King Haco; as also the other lands which King Haco had conferredupon him. The Scottish King added, that, if he would join him in goodearnest, he would reward him with many greater estates in Scotland,together with his confidence and favour. All King John's Relations andFriends pressed him to assent. But he behaved well, and uprightly; anddeclared that he would not break his oath to King Haco. On this KingJohn went away, and stopped not at any place till he came quite northto Lewes.
King Alexander, then lying in Kiararey-sound, dreamed a dream, andthought three men came to him. He thought one of them was in royalrobes, but very stern, ruddy in countenance, somewhat thick, and ofmiddling size. Another seemed of a slender make, but active, and ofall men the most engaging, and majestic. The third again, was of verygreat stature, but his features were distorted, and of all the rest hewas the most unsightly. They addressed their speech to the King, andenquired whether he meant to invade the Hebrides. Alexander thought heanswered that he certainly proposed to subject the islands. The Geniusof the vision bade him go back; and told him no other measure wouldturn out to his advantage. The King related his dream; and manyadvised him to return. But the King would not; and a little after hewas seized with a disorder, and died. The Scottish army then broke up;and they removed the King's body to Scotland. The Hebridians say thatthe men whom the King saw in his sleep were St Olave King of Norway,St Magnus Earl of Orkney, and St Columba.
The Scotch took for their King Alexander the son of King Alexander. Heafterwards married the daughter of Henry King of England, and became agreat prince.
In summer there came, from Scotland in the west, an Archdeacon, and aknight called Missel, as Envoys from Alexander King of Scotland.They shewed more fair language than truth, as seemed to King Haco.They set out so abruptly on their return, that none wist till theywere under sail. The King dispatched Briniolf Johnson in pursuit, andhe detained them with him. The King declared that they should remainthat winter in Norway, because they had gone away without takingleave, contrary to what other Envoys did.
In summer there came letters from the Kings of the Hebrides in thewestern seas. They complain'd much of the hostilities which the Earlof Ross, Kiarnach, the