FP100: No. 7

Alexander III memorial
Alexander III memorial

Alexander III, King of Scotland

On March 19, 1286, Scottish history was changed drastically when Alexander III, King of Scotland, fell to his death when his horse stumbled and fell over the cliffs above Kinghorn Ness near Pettycur during a storm.

The country enjoyed peace and prosperity under Alexander’s reign, but that came to an abrupt end following his sudden death. The nation was now in deep turmoil over how to proceed.

There were 13 claimants to the throne all wanting a chance to rule over Scotland, including Robert the Bruce.

The Kingdom was then placed under the rule of six Guardians, comprising bishops and nobles, while the Scots sent for Alexander’s infant granddaughter, Margaret ‘the Maid of Norway’, to take over the crown.

After her unexpected death in Orkney in 1290, Alexander’s brother-in-law, Edward Plantagenet, seized the opportunity to meddle in Scottish affairs and proclaimed himself overlord of the Scots with the right to nominate Alexander’s successor.

He chose John Balliol from among the Scottish candidates. But when the Scots refused to fight in Edward’s wars in France, he marched north to remove Balliol from his position, influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s prophecy that “the whole island of Britain would one day be ruled by one king”.

Alexander’s death resulted in the long struggle of the Scottish Wars of Independence, lasting almost 60 years.

It was then followed by warfare over the next four centuries as generations of Scots fiercely resisted all attempts to dominate Scotland until Cromwell’s conquest in 1650.

The only son of King Alexander II, Alexander III was only seven years old when he came to the throne. In 1251 he was married to Margaret the 11-year-old daughter of King Henry III who immediately began plotting to obtain gain control over Scotland.

In 1255 a pro-English party in Scotland seized Alexander, but two years later the anti-English party controlled the government again until Alexander came of age in 1262. The reign of the King of Scotland was notable for three major reasons.

He was to succeed where his father had previously failed; in ridding the Western Isles of Scotland of any Norse influence.

Secondly, he was to make one family from Scotland so powerful and wealthy, that they would become a fierce rival to any future kings of Scotland and have a heavy influence on any of those that took to the throne.

And lastly, Alexander the III’s death was about to plunge Scotland into a succession crisis that would ultimately lead the country to war with England.

The memorial, situated on the road between Kinghorn and Burntisland, was erected in 1886 in memorial to Scotland’s last Celtic King.

It stands on the Black Stone, which is traditionally believed to be the spot where he fell to his death.

Sculptor John Rhind was commissioned to create the piece which stands at 28’ high, crafted from red Peterhead granite set on natural bedrock and surmounted by a bronze Celtic Cross.

The plaque fixed to the memorial reads: “To the illustrious Alexander III the last of Scotland’s Celtic Kings who was accidentally killed near this spot on March XIX MCCLXXXVI erected on the sexcentenary of his death”