Alexander ii. was only seventeen years old when his father William the Lion died. But he was crowned at once, and young though he was, he proved to be a good and wise King.
During this reign the quarrelling over the border lands between England and Scotland still went on. Alexander was very anxious to recover his power over Northumbria, and soon after he came to the throne he marched into England to help the barons who were fighting against their own King John.
John was very angry when he heard that the King of Scotland was helping his rebellious barons, and he marched northward at the head of a wild and terrible army. The names of some of the leaders of this army show what fierce men they were. They were called Buch the Murderer, Godeschal the Iron-hearted, Manleon the Bloody.
These cruel warriors marched through all the country, killing people, burning houses, and laying waste the land. Every morning they set fire to the town in which they had spent the night, King John himself showing the example and setting light, with his own hand, to the house in which he had slept.
This terrible host came to within a few miles of Edinburgh, John vowing that he would "unearth the young fox," as he called King Alexander. But there he found the Scottish army ready to fight him. John dared not fight, for his soldiers were almost starving. All the country round was a desert. In it John could find no food for his army, so he turned and went home again.
Then in revenge Alexander marched once more into England, and not until John died, and his son ruled instead, was there peace between the two countries.
Alexander then married the sister of the new English King, and the peace was so secure for a time, that once, when the English King had to go to France, he asked Alexander to take care of the north of England, while he was gone. And Alexander like a true knight, accepted the trust, and kept faith with the English King.
Having made peace with England, Alexander had time to look after his own country and people. This was no easy task. The people were wild and passionate, and so fiercely did they quarrel among themselves that at times they were in danger of dragging the whole country into war.
Once a tournament took place near a town called Haddington. Knights came from all sides to take part in it. Among them was a great and powerful lord called Walter Bisset. Through all Scotland he was known to be a skilful fighter. He rode proudly into the lists, his armour gleaming and his helmet plumes waving in the breeze. He was sure of winning the prize.
But there was there a young lord called the Earl of Athole. He hated Walter Bisset, and he had made up his mind to conquer him. So when the heralds sounded the trumpets, as a sign for the tournament to begin, the Earl, singling out Walter Bisset, lowered his lance and rushed upon him with all his might. But Walter Bisset was a strong man and knew well how to use his weapons. He sat firmly upon his horse, returning blow for blow. The fight grew fierce, their lances were shivered to atoms, their swords flashed and rang. Then suddenly putting out all his strength the Earl dealt a mighty blow. In a moment Walter lay upon the ground, and his horse galloped riderless away.
Walter rose unhurt, but with anger in his heart, and swearing vengeance upon the Earl, he sullenly left the lists.
A few days later the young Earl was killed, and his house was set on fire and burned to the ground.
As soon as the Earl's friends heard of what had happened, they made sure that it was Walter Bisset who had done the deed. So he was seized and brought before the King. In vain Walter tried to clear himself. No one would believe him. He was condemned, as a punishment for his wickedness, to have all his land taken from him. He was also ordered to go upon a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, there to remain for the rest of his life, praying for the soul of the murdered Earl.
But instead of going to the Holy Land, Walter went to the court of the King of England. He told the King that he was innocent, and he complained that the King of Scotland had no right to punish him, even had he been guilty, without leave from his over-lord the King of England.
Of course the King of England was not the King of Scotland's over-lord, but the King of England was only too glad to make believe once more that he was. So he sent messengers to Alexander asking how he dared act in so great a matter without leave.
"Tell your master," replied Alexander proudly, "that I never have held, nor never will hold, the smallest part of my kingdom of Scotland as vassal of the King of England. I owe no obedience to him."
When Henry received this answer he resolved to make war on Scotland. He gathered a great army; Alexander also gathered an army, and they marched to meet each other.
But there was no fighting. Even in England many people loved Alexander. The English nobles did not wish to fight against him, and at the last moment peace was arranged. This peace lasted until the death of Alexander in 1249 a.d.