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Haco's Expedition against Scotland

Preface

(1782)

The editor, from some particular advantages he enjoyed, was encouraged to collect such inedited fragments as might elucidate antient history. He, lately, published Anecdotes of Olave the Black, king of Man; and now lays before the learned the Norwegian account of Haco's celebrated expedition against Scotland.

It was the editor's intention to have given a succinct detail of the descents made by the northern nations upon the British isles, but an increase of materials induced him to reserve that subject for a future work. At present, therefore, he thinks it sufficient to premise that the Æbudæ were, long, the cause of much dispute between various kingdoms. They seemed naturally connected with Scotland; but the superior navies of Lochlin rendered them liable to impressions from that quarter.

The situation of the Kings of the Isles was peculiarly delicate; for, though their territories were extensive, yet they were by no means a match for the neighbouring states. On this account, allegiance was extorted from them by different Sovereigns. The Hebridian Princes considered this involuntary homage, as, at least, implying protection: and, when that was not afforded, they thought themselves justified in forming new connexions more conducive to their safety.

The Alexanders of Scotland having united Galloway, then a powerful maritime state, to their dominions, began to think of measures for obtaining a permanent possession of the Hebrides by expelling the Norwegians. The preparatory steps they took were first to secure the Somerled family, and next to gain over the insular chieftains. Haco was no less earnest to attach every person of consequence to his party. He gave his daughter in marriage to Harold King of Man; and, on different occasions, entertained at his court King John, Gilchrist, Dugall the son of Rudri, Magnus Earl of Orkney, Simon bishop of the Sudoreys, and the abbot of Icolmkil.

All this, however, did not effectually conciliate the Somerlidian tribe. The Norwegian Monarch, disappointed in his negotiations, had recourse to the sword, and sailed with a fleet, which both the Sturlunga-saga, and the Flateyan annals represent as the most formidable that ever left the ports of Norway.

It would be improper for the editor to draw any comparison between the Scottish and Norwegian narratives; he, therefore, leaves it to the discernment of the reader to fix what medium he thinks reasonable.

The Flateyan and Frisian are the principal MSS. now extant, that contain the life of Haco the aged. The first belongs to the library of His Danish Majesty, the latter is deposited in the Magnæan collection. Of them the editor obtained copies; and by the help of the one was enabled, reciprocally, to supply the imperfections of the other. He has since examined the originals themselves.

The Fr. MS. relates the following anecdote of Missel, at the coronation of Prince Magnus A.D. 1261. During Mass Missel the Knight stood up in the middle of the Choir, and wondered greatly at some ceremonies, unusual at the coronation of Scottish Kings. And when King Magnus was robed, and King Haco and the Archbishop touched him with the sword of state, the Scottish knight said, “It was told me, that there were no knights dubbed in this land; but I never beheld any knight created with so much solemnity as him whom ten (f. two) noble lords have now invested with the Sword.”

The conjectures, in my note on page 42 are confirmed by the following passage in the Fl. MS. Then came there from the western seas John the son of Duncan, and Dugall the son of Rudra; and both of them solicited that King Haco would give them the title of King over the northern part of the Sudoreys. They were with the King all summer.

Antiquarians may be desirous of knowing something of the MSS. from which this work hath been taken, therefore, it was judged not improper to subjoin the following account of them. The Frisian MS. is a vellum quarto of the largest size, in a beautiful hand, and the character resembles that which prevailed in the end of the 13 century. The book of Flatey is a very large vellum volume in folio, and appears to have been compiled in the 14. age. It contains a collection of poems; excerpts from Adam Bremensis; a dissertation on the first inhabitants of Norway; the life of Eric the Traveller; of Olave Trygvason; of St Olave; of the earls of Orkney; of Suerir; of Haco the Aged; of his son Magnus; of Magnus the Good; of Harald the Imperious; of Einar Sockason of Greenland; and of Ölver the Mischievous; it contains also a general chronology 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's history, inclusive, was written by John Thordrson the priest; the rest by Magnus Thorvaldson also a clergyman.

The initial letters, in some places, are ornamented with historical miniature paintings. In page 35, there is a representation of the birth of Trygvason; and, at the bottom of the leaf, there is a unicorn and a lion. 217. An archer shooting. 272. Orme Storolfson carrying off a hay-cock. 295. Haldan the Black beheading the Norwegian princes; one of them is represented on his knees, dressed in a red cap, a short doublet, and in red trousers reaching down to the middle of his legs. 310. Three men armed with swords, and battle axes, dispatching St Olave 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, in these paintings, are depicted in armour or mail; their helmets are sometimes conical, sometimes like a broad-brimmed hat; their defensive armour is generally a round target, and a two-handed sword. This venerable volume, the noblest treasure of northern literature now existing, though wrote in a very small character, and much abbreviated, consists of 960 columns, two to every page.

The History of the Norwegian Expedition against Scotland


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