Alexander III became King of Scotland in 1249 at the age of eight, although his rule did not truly begin until 1262. While still young, he married Margaret, daughter of Henry III of England. For most of his rein, Alexander focused on reclaiming the northern islands from Norway. In this he was ultimately successful, and eventually his daughter, Margaret, would marry King Eirik II of Norway. After the death of his wife, King Alexander was known to make many night-time forays out to visit unmarried women. It was on one of these excursions in 1286 that King Alexander III of Scotland fell from his horse in the dark and died. It was a double tragedy for Scotland, for not only was the king in his prime, but all three of his children had died soon before. Thus the crown of Scotland passed to Alexander’s granddaughter, Margaret, “the Maid of Norway”.
As Scotland was going through this tragedy, their southern neighbour England was going through a period of prosperity. Under the firm kingship of Edward I, England had secured her borders, most notably through the conquest of Wales. King Edward was busy planning his next enterprise, a new Crusade to the holy land.
The Proposed Marriage of Edward of Caernarfon and Margaret “the Maid of Norway”
With the death of King Alexander, King Edward saw an opportunity to bring the two countries together in peaceful Union. Contrary to popular belief, the preceding generations had been ones of peace between Scotland and England. Their nobility had intermarried, immigration (especially from England to Scotland) had been common, and the Scottish nobility had adopted much of the ways of their English counterparts. It was in this atmosphere that in 1290, Edward proposed the marriage of his son, the six-year-old Edward of Caernarfon to the seven-year-old Margaret “the Maid of Norway”.
The Death of Margaret
Despite lengthy negotiations between King Edward and the Scottish nobility, the marriage was agreed. However, in October of 1290, King Edward received the news that Margaret had died during the voyage. She was probably accidently poisoned through eating bad food. The plan of Unification collapsed.
For years afterward, the Scots were unable to agree on a monarch. Finally, King Edward claimed the crown for himself and spent the last years of his life leading repeated, bloody campaigns into Scotland.