Godred II Olafsson - Conflict With Somerled

Conflict With Somerled

The Chronicle of Mann states that when Godred felt sufficiently secure in Mann he began to act tyrannically towards his chiefs. It relates that one of the more powerful chiefs, Thorfinn Ottarsson, fled to Somerled, Lord of Argyll and begged that Somerled's son, Dugald, be made "king over the isles" —possibly meaning king of all of the isles. The chronicle states that a pleased Somerled agreed to Thorfinn's proposal and placed Dugald under Thorfinn's protection. Thorfinn is regarded by scholars to have been somehow related to Ottar, King of Dublin, an Islesman with Manx connections, who seized Dublin in 1142 and held it until his death in 1148. It may be that Thorfinn had intended to restore his family's position in the area, possibly with Somerled's assistance. There is also a possibility that Thorfinn was distantly related to Dugald, through a proposed maternal-ancestry of Ragnhild, and this relationship may have also played a part in Thorfinn's involvement. In any event, the chronicle's statement that Thorfinn was simply reacting to Godred's tyranny cannot be taken strictly at face value.

Modern scholars have noted that the intended coup does not appear to have had unanimous support amongst the Hebridean chiefs. For example, the chronicle notes that when Dugald was sent throughout the isles, the island-chiefs not only rendered him pledges but surrendered hostages to Dugald as well. Furthermore, the chronicle states that a certain island-chief named Paul remained loyal to Godred, and fled in secret to Mann, where he informed Godred of the treachery brewing in the isles. According to the chronicle, Godred immediately assembled a large fleet to counter Somerled whose forces had meanwhile risen to 80 ships.

Dugald's claim to the kingship appears to stem from his mother Ragnhild being the daughter of Olaf Godredsson (thereby making Dugald a nephew of Godred). It is not clear why Somerled's son was selected in his place, although it has been suggested that Somerled was somehow an unacceptable choice to the Hebrideans, and that Ragnhild's ancestry lent credibility to their son that Somerled lacked himself. In fact, it is not entirely clear whether Dugald was the son in question and events may pertain to another son, Ragnvald. The reasoning is that there is no evidence that Dugald acted as a king in the Hebrides. Furthermore, after Somerled's death in 1164 the leadership of his descendants appears to have been taken up by Ragnvald, who styled himself in one charter "King of the Isles and Lord of Argyll and Kintyre".

The chronicle records that in the year 1156, on the night of the Epiphany (5 January 1156), the forces of Godred and Somerled fought a vicious naval battle with heavy casualties on both sides. The next day Godred and Somerled made peace, and divided the Kingdom of the Isles between themselves. In essence this division lasted for over a century, at which time Godred's grandson, last of the Crovan dynasty of sea-kings, Magnus Olafsson (d. 1265), had his seat on Mann and controlled at least the largest Hebridean islands of Skye and Lewis, while Somerled's descendants controlled the Inner Hebridean islands of Islay, Mull, and likely Coll and Tiree, possibly along with the Outer Hebridean islands of Uist and Barra. In 1158, two years after this stalemate on the Epiphany, the chronicle records that Somerled returned to Mann with a fleet of 53 ships, and fought Godred again. This time Somerled was victorious, and the chronicle states that all of Mann was plundered before his forces left.

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