Vikings and the Lords of the Isles Part I

Outer Hebrides

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© Stornoway Port Authority

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The area’s strategic location, inevitably, attracted the attention of the Vikings who, after settling in the Northern Isles, began to extend their influence down the western seaboard into the Hebrides, Argyll and ultimately as far as Dublin.

After a century of viking raids and sporadic settlement, the Hebrides came under Norse control in the middle of the 9th century under Kettil Flatnose who, while nominally owing allegiance to the Norwegian Crown, essentially established an independent Kingdom of the Isles. Two centuries later, Norse control of the Hebrides was formalised by the Scottish King Edgar ceding the islands to the Norwegian King Magnus III. This was clearly a diplomatic fiction in that Magnus had then to conquer the local chiefs in a bloody campaign as described by his bard, Bjorn Criplehand “ flame spouted from the houses and the king dyed his sword red in blood”.

In reality, the islands’ population remained Gaelic under the control of local kings of mixed Gaelic Norse background for another century until the creation of the Lordship of the Isles by Somhairle Mor – Somerled the Great - in 1156, himself the progenitor of the great Gaelic clan Macdonald which would maintain its per-eminent position in Western Scotland until the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

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