The end of the Golden Age – Acrylic in a Watercolour Moleskine
This scene shows a monument perched halfway down a cliff on the main road outside Kinghorn in Fife. It marks the spot where, on the 19th March 1286, King Alexander 111 fell to his death during a storm. Not many Scots have seen this monument or even know of it’s existence. I am very familiar with it as I cycled past it, many times, when learning to swim in nearby Burntisland’s outdoor swimming pool in the 1950′s.
Alexander was a wise ruler carefully avoiding conflict over matters of feudal superiority with his brother-in-law, Edward 1st of England. Under Alexander’s reign, trade in Scotland prospered and this was responsible for many small towns becoming very rich through trade with England and the near continent of Europe. He defeated King Haakon of Norway at the battle of Largs (1263) making the country safe from the threat of the Norsemen. In 1275, however, his wife Margaret, died leaving three children who also died soon afterwards. This left his granddaughter, Margaret – known as the Maid of Norway, as the only possible successor to his throne. Alexander remarried in 1285 in the hope of producing a male heir. It was to his second wife, Yolande, that he was travelling on that stormy night from Edinburgh. It is said that he became separated from his escort and his horse must have stumbled in the dark. His body was found on the rocks, below, the following day. The Maid of Norway, Margaret, was now queen at age three. Edward 1st tried to arrange a marriage between her and his son under a previous treaty. Margaret, Maid of Norway, however died on the voyage to Scotland and thus scuppered Edward’s ambitions of having a hand in the Scottish crown. Many “behind the scenes” bargaining followed as there were no fewer than eleven claimants to the Scottish crown and Edward’s interfering influence set Scotland on course for the Wars of independence. It is said that our country died with Alexander along with his golden age of prosperity.
There is a tradition that some people, in our country – seers, have the gift of “second sight”. One such seer “Thomas the Rhymer” or “True Thomas” – because he was unable to tell a lie, foretold of Alexander’s death. On the 18th of March 1286 at Dunbar, Thomas is said to have uttered -
“Alas for the morrow, day of misery and calamity! Before the hour of noon there will assuredly be felt such a mighty storm in Scotland that its like has not been known for long ages past. The blast of it will cause nations to tremble, will make those who hear it dumb, and will humble the high, and lay the strong level with the ground.”
This is excellently commemorated in a song, Yolande, by Gordon Menzies ( One half of the folk duo “Gaberlunzie”) on their album “Take the Road”.
The first verse:
True Thomas prophesied a storm, a tempest which would rage
To end the peace and plenty some men called the Golden Age