Nechtan son of Derelei had apparently been king of the Picts since 706. The Pictish king-list in the Poppleton Manuscript presents an orderly line of succession: Nechtan son of Derelei is granted a 15 year reign; then “Drest and Elpin reigned together 5 years”; which is followed by the 30 year reign of Onuist son of Uurguist – who is generally known by the Irish version of his name, Oengus son of Fergus. Entries in Irish annals, however, present a much more complicated sequence of events.
The Annals of Tigernach (AT), in an entry corresponding to the year 724, report that Nechtan was “made a cleric”, i.e. he retired into religion. Later events suggest this may not have been his own idea! He was superseded as king by Drest. In 725, Drest’s son was imprisoned – perhaps by Nechtan’s supporters, since the next year Nechtan himself was imprisoned by Drest. In that same year (i.e. in 726), Drest was expelled from the kingship, and replaced by Elpin. In 728, in a battle “between the Picts themselves”, at a site called Monid Croib (identified as Moncreiffe Hill, near Perth), Elpin suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Oengus (i.e. Onuist). Later the same year, in a “lamentable battle between the Picts”, at an unidentified site called Caislen Credi, AT reports that: “Elpin was routed, and deprived of all his territories and people”. What isn’t quite so clear, however, is who defeated him. The phraseology used by the Annals of Ulster (AU) in its equivalent entry – the battle “was fought between the same parties” – suggests it might have been Oengus, but, whoever it was, AT concludes its entry: “and Nechtan son of Derelei took the kingship of the Picts.” It is possible that, at this stage, Oengus was acting on behalf of Nechtan. However, two decisive encounters, in 729, would apparently see Oengus emerge as winner of this five-year Pictish power struggle. AT, which has preserved the most detail of these events, surprisingly, has no reference to the first encounter, but AU records: “The battle of Monid Carno [unidentified] near Loch Loogdae [probably Loch Lochy] between the hosts of Nechtan and the army of Oengus, and Nechtan’s exactors fell … [three individuals are named] … and many others; and the adherents of Oengus were triumphant.” In the second encounter, at the battle of Druim Derg Blathuug [unidentified], Drest was defeated and killed by Oengus – on the twelfth of August says AT. The conventional understanding, then, is that, having defeated the forces of Nechtan and Drest, Oengus became king of the Picts in 729. Nechtan, however, did not die until 732 (AT), and the notice of the battle of Monid Carno given by AU could be interpreted as indicating that, here too, Oengus was fighting on behalf of, rather than against, Nechtan.[*]
Meanwhile, unnoticed by chroniclers, what is now Dumfries and Galloway, in south-western Scotland, had been taken from the Britons by the Northumbrian English. Bede mentions that at the time he was completing his Ecclesiastical History, i.e. in 731, Whithorn had only recently become the seat of a Northumbrian bishop. In his summary of “the state of all Britain”, with which he concludes his narrative, Bede writes:
The Pictish people also at this time are at peace with the English nation, and rejoice in having their part in Catholic peace and truth with the universal Church. The Scots that inhabit Britain, content with their own territories, devise no plots nor hostilities against the English nation. The Britons, though they, for the most part, as a nation hate and oppose the English nation, and wrongfully, and from wicked lewdness, set themselves against the appointed Easter of the whole Catholic Church; yet, inasmuch as both Divine and human power withstand them, they can in neither purpose prevail as they desire; for though in part they are their own masters, yet part of them are brought under subjection to the English.
Oengus son of Fergus was evidently not a young man when he rose to power – he had a son, Bridei, old enough to lead an army against a certain Talorc son of Congus, “who was put to flight” in 731 (AU). Perhaps Talorc found refuge with, and gained the support of, Dúngal son of Selbach, chief of the Cenél Loairn (the ‘tribe’ of Dál Riata after whom the district of Lorn, in Argyll, is named), who had been ejected from the kingship of Dál Riata in 726.[*] In 733, Dúngal violated the sanctuary of Tory Island (off Donegal) to capture a Bridei – presumably Oengus’ son. Later the same year, Dúngal was superseded as chief of his ‘tribe’ (in fact, AU and AT use the phrase: “kingship of Cenél Loairn”) by Muiredach son of Ainbcellach. Muiredach would appear to have become king of Dál Riata before the year was over. The next year, AUs.a. 734: “Talorc son of Congus was held captive by his brother, handed over to the Picts, and drowned by them.… Dún Leithfinn [an unidentified fortress] is destroyed after the wounding of Dúngal, and he fled to Ireland from the power of Oengus.”
AU reports, s.a. 736: “Oengus son of Fergus, king of the Picts, laid waste the territory of Dál Riata and seized Dún At [Dunadd] and burned Creic [unidentified] and bound in chains two sons of Selbach, that is Donngal [presumably Dúngal is meant] and Feradach”. Seemingly, Oengus’ son, Bridei, had previously been released from his captivity, since “shortly afterwards” Bridei “died” (so presumably of natural causes). In the same year (736) there took place the “battle of Cnoc Cairpri in Calathros at Etarlinde [an unidentified site] between Dál Riata and Fortriu” – Fortriu being the region of Pictland traditionally, though not certainly, equated to Strathearn with Menteith (see previously) – in which the Picts, commanded by Oengus’ brother, Talorcan, routed “the son of Ainbcellach”, i.e. Muiredach, king of Dál Riata, and his army: “many nobles falling in this encounter”.
Five years later, i.e. s.a. 741, AU records: “The smiting of the Dál Riata by Oengus son of Fergus.” The indications are that Oengus took control of Dál Riata.[*] He also seems to have set his sights on the Strathclyde Britons. Symeon of Durham notes (HR) that, in 744: “A battle was fought between the Picts and the Britons.” No further detail is given. However, s.a. 750, AU reports: “The battle of Catohic between Picts and Britons, in which Talorcan son of Fergus, brother of Oengus, fell.” This same battle is also reported by the Annales Cambriae, which grants Talorcan the title ‘king’. The A-text names the battle-site Mocetauc, which is identified as Mugdock, to the north of Glasgow. A subsequent, brief, entry s.a. 750 in AU is variously translated: “Ebbing of the sovereignty of Oengus.” Or: “End of the reign of Oengus.”[*] Oengus, though, was still king of the Picts six years later, so this comment is somewhat enigmatic. However, AT has an entry (which does not appear in AU) in the year equating to 752, which says: “The battle of Asreth [unidentified] in the land of Circinn between Picts on both sides, and in it Bridei son of Maelchon fell.” According to one suggested scenario, Bridei son of Maelchon was a rival claimant who succeeded in driving Oengus from the Pictish throne in 750, but Oengus later recovered his position at the battle “in the land of Circinn” (Circinn being the region of Pictland traditionally, though not certainly, equated to Angus with Mearns), in which Bridei was killed.[*] Plainly, this is not beyond the realms of possibility, but there is only one known Bridei son of Maelchon, and he was active some two centuries earlier. His death is placed s.a. 584 by AU, but the circumstances are not mentioned. Could it be that it was he who fell at the battle of Asreth, the record of which is grossly misplaced in AT? If this were the case, and there was no battle “between Picts on both sides” in 752, then perhaps it was Dál Riata that Oengus lost his grip on in 750?[*] Whatever occurred, the list of kings of the Picts in the Poppleton Manuscript gives no indication that Oengus’ reign was interrupted.
The ‘Continuation of Bede’ (a set of annals covering the period 732–766 found in a number of manuscripts of the Ecclesiastical History) reports that Æthelbald, king of Mercia – Mercia being Northumbria’s southern neighbour – had, in 740: “wrongfully wasted part of Northumbria, their king, Eadberht, with his army, being employed against the Picts.”[*] The same source records that, a decade later (in 750), Eadberht, king of Northumbria, captured territory from the Strathclyde Britons: “Eadberht added the plain of Kyle [in modern-day Ayrshire] and other places to his dominions.”[*] A few years later, in 756, Eadberht and Oengus (called Unust by Symeon of Durham, HR), as allies, marched on Alt Clut, i.e. Dumbarton Rock, stronghold of the kings of the Strathclyde Britons. Presumably the Britons were besieged – no fighting is mentioned, but they agreed terms on 1st August. However, most of Eadberht’s army was wiped-out, on the 10th August, apparently on the homeward march (the location of this disaster, Niwanbirig, an English name, isn’t certainly identified). Presumably the Northumbrians had been ambushed, but if so, by whom? The Strathclyde Britons would seem the obvious candidates, but the Continuation annal for 761, which reports that “Oengus, king of the Picts, died”, notes that: “from the beginning to the end of his reign, [he] continued to be a blood-stained and tyrannical butcher”. Perhaps Oengus had double-crossed Eadberht?[*]
Oengus, king of the Picts, was succeeded on his death, in 761, by his brother, Bridei (Bruide in Irish). Bridei died in 763 – he is titled ‘king of Fortriu’ by AU and AT.[*] Bridei was succeeded by Ciniod (Cinaed in Irish) son of Uuredech. AU reports, s.a. 768: “A battle in Fortriu between Aed and Cinaed.” Since the battle was fought in Fortriu, the implication is that it was the Scots – the Aed in question being Aed son of Eochaid, also known as Aed Find (‘the White’), king of Dál Riata – who attacked the Picts, but the outcome of the engagement is not recorded. AU titles Ciniod ‘king of the Picts’ in his obit, s.a. 775.
It would seem that Aed was remembered for his sound government – the Scottish Chronicle in the Poppleton Manuscript reports that “the rights and laws of the kingdom of Aed son of Eochaid” were adopted, almost a century later, in the united kingdom of Picts and Scots (during the reign of Donald son of Alpin, 858–862). Aed died in 778. He was succeeded by his brother, Fergus son of Eochaid, who died in 781. From this point onwards the sequence of kings of Dál Riata becomes very uncertain. Scottish king-lists (i.e. lists of kings of Dál Riata) for the period are found in two Irish texts: a late-11th century versified king-list, the Duan Albanach, and the Synchronisms traditionally attributed to Irish scholar Flann Mainistrech, who died in 1056 (but no manuscript of the Synchronisms is earlier than the 14th century). The Duan Albanach provides reign lengths but no patronymics; the Synchronisms patronymics but no reign lengths.[*] In the shorter version of the Synchronisms, Fergus is succeeded by an Eochaid. In the longer version, Fergus was not listed but Eochaid is. In the Duan Albanach, neither Fergus nor Eochaid are present.[*] Next is a Domnall – “son of Constantine” according to the longer version of the Synchronisms – to whom the Duan Albanach allots a twenty-four year reign. Neither Eochaid nor Domnall appear in AU, but the death of “Donncoirce, king of Dál Riata” is placed in 792 by AU. Donncoirce, who is not listed in either Duan Albanach or Synchronisms, is the last individual to be titled ‘king of Dál Riata’ in AU.
According to the Pictish king-list in the Poppleton Manuscript three kings ruled between Ciniod son of Uuredech and one Canaul son of Tarl’a.[*]AU records, s.a. 789: “A battle between the Picts, in which Conall son of Tadg was defeated and escaped; and Constantine was victor.” Under the next year AU notes: “The battle of Conall and Constantine is entered here in other books.” Conall son of Tadg, presumably, equates to Canaul son of Tarl’a. Constantine son of Uurguist (Uurguist = Fergus in Irish) is the next king in the Poppleton’s Pictish list.[*]
AU makes a brief but ominous announcement s.a. 794: “Devastation of all the islands of Britain by gentiles.” The Vikings had arrived on the scene.
the 9th Century: the Emergence of the Kingdom of Alba
AU reports, s.a. 807, that Conall son of Tadg was killed in Kintyre (in Dál Riata) by Conall son of Aedán. The Duan Albanach and the Synchronisms list two adjacent Conalls – the first called Conall Coem and the second “another Conall, his brother” in the Synchronisms (longer version) – the first given a reign length of two years, the second four years, in the Duan Albanach. Conall son of Tadg and Conall son of Aedán are generally equated to the two listed Conalls, by which token it would appear that, having been ousted as king of the Picts in 789 (or 790), Conall son of Tadg became king of the Scots of Dál Riata c.805–807.
The death of Constantine son of Fergus, king of the Picts (his obit titles him ‘king of Fortriu’), is placed s.a. 820 in AU. Constantine’s successor in the Poppleton king-list (evidently his brother) is Onuist son of Uurguist – Oengus son of Fergus, in Irish nomenclature. AU places the death of Oengus son of Fergus s.a. 834 (he too is titled ‘king of Fortriu’). Following Onuist (Oengus) in the Poppleton list is the joint rule, for 3 years, of a son of Constantine, called Drest, and one Talorcan son of Uuthoil (neither of whom feature in AU). The next listed king is Uuen son of Onuist – Eoganán son of Oengus in Irish. AU reports that, in 839, Vikings (“gentiles”) defeated the Picts (“the men of Fortriu”) in battle: “and Eoganán son of Oengus, Bran son of Oengus, Aed son of Boanta, and others almost innumerable fell there.”
In fact, Constantine son of Fergus, Oengus son of Fergus and Eoganán son of Oengus, all kings in the Pictish list, also feature as kings in the Scottish lists of the Synchronisms and, without patronymics, the Duan Albanach – as, indeed, does Aed son of Boanta:
Nine years of fair Constantine [son of Fergus],
nine of Oengus [son of Fergus] over Alba,
four years of noble Aed [son of Boanta],
and thirteen of Eoganán [son of Oengus].[*]
Duan Albanach Verse 19 (of 27)
Clearly, this chronological scheme is incompatible with the evidence of AU. Some scholars accept that Constantine, Oengus and Eoganán, kings of the Picts, were also kings of Dál Riata.[*] Others, however, reckon that those three Pictish kings have been wrongly intruded into the Scottish lists, and that only Aed son of Boanta was king of Dál Riata.[*] Either way, it would appear that both the Picts and the Scots of Dál Riata lost their king, in the same battle against Vikings, in 839.
ThePictish king-list in the Poppleton Manuscript records the reigns of two kings, totalling four years, after the reign of Uuen son of Onuist (Eoganán son of Oengus, in Irish nomenclature) – whose death, at the hands of Vikings, the Annals of Ulster (AU) place s.a. 839 – at which point the king-list as such ends and a new text, designated the Scottish Chronicle (SC), begins:
So Kenneth [Kinadius] son of Alpin, first of the Scots, ruled this Pictland [Pictavia] prosperously for 16 years. Pictland was named after the Picts, whom, as we have said, Kenneth [Cinadius] destroyed. For God deigned to make them alien from, and void of, their heritage, by reason of their wickedness; because they not only spurned the Lord’s mass and precept, but also refused to be held equal to others in the law of justice.[*] Two years before he came to Pictland, he had received the kingdom of Dál Riata. In the seventh year of his reign, he transported the relics of Saint Columba to a church that he had built [probably at Dunkeld].[*] And he invaded England [Saxonia] six times; and he burned Dunbar and seized Melrose [both of which were in Northumbria]. But the Britons [of Strathclyde] burned Dunblane, and the Danes wasted Pictland as far as Clunie and Dunkeld. He finally died of a tumour, before the Ides of February, on the 3rd day of the week [i.e. Tuesday], in the palace of Forteviot.
The death of Kenneth (Cinaed in Irish) son of Alpin – he is commonly called Kenneth MacAlpin – is placed in 858 by AU (the Tuesday before the Ides of February in 858 was the 8th of February). According to SC, then, he would have become king of the Picts in about 842.
Whilst the Poppleton Manuscript lists two kings – the first reigning for three years, the second for one year – between Eoganán son of Oengus and Kenneth MacAlpin, some other Pictish king-lists, for instance the one quoted by John of Fordun, allot one month, rather than one year, to the second king in the Poppleton’s list, and then record a further three kings, reigning for a combined six years, before Kenneth. This might suggest that Kenneth, in fact, faced stiff opposition and did not secure control of all the Picts until about 848. SC seems to add substance to this notion, since his first recorded deed is in the seventh year of his kingship of the Picts.
SC implies that Kenneth became king of the Scots of Dál Riata in about 840. Scottish king-lists are in a state of disarray in the run-up to Kenneth’s reign. In the Synchronisms traditionally attributed to Irish scholar Flann Mainistrech (who died in 1056, but no manuscript of the Synchronisms is earlier than the 14th century), Eoganán son of Oengus (whose obit is placed s.a. 839 in AU) is followed by Kenneth’s father, Alpin son of Eochaid, then another, unidentified, Eoganán, and then Kenneth.[*] The Synchronisms do not provide reign lengths. Another Irish source, the Duan Albanach, a late-11th century versified (in Irish) Scottish king-list, does provide reign lengths, but there is no extant stanza in which Alpin and the unknown Eoganán would be featured – as it stands, Kenneth (who is given a thirty year reign) follows Eoganán son of Oengus. Other, Latin, Scottish king-lists, for instance in the Poppleton Manuscript, grant Kenneth’s father, Alpin son of Eochaid, a three year reign immediately before Kenneth (who is given a sixteen year reign). However, there was a textual aberration in the document from which these lists are descended, whereby some kings’ reigns have been reordered and others dropped entirely, so that it is the Alpin who apparently ruled in Dál Riata a century earlier (according to the longer version of the Synchronisms, he was “son of Eochaid”) who features as Kenneth’s father and immediate predecessor. The reconstituted list, presents Kenneth’s father, Alpin son of Eochaid, as the grandson of Aed Find, the king of Dál Riata whose obit AU places in 778. (In fact, Alpin son of Eochaid is the last in a block of four kings who have been moved so that they appear after, rather than before, Aed Find.) Aed Find’s father, another Eochaid, is presented as the “son of Domangart [d.673], son of Domnall Brecc [d.642]”. This Eochaid’s death is s.a. 697 in AU. The same sequence – Alpin son of Eochaid, son of Aed Find, son of Eochaid, son of Domangart, son of Domnall Brecc – appears in the pedigree of Kenneth MacAlpin’s great-great-great-grandson, Constantine son of Culén, king of Alba (often called Constantine III of Scotland) 995–997.[*] It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that the king-list has been purposely manipulated to manufacture a suitable royal pedigree for Kenneth.[*]
Some versions of the manipulated Latin list (e.g. List D) have a note that says Alpin: “was killed in Galloway, after he had entirely destroyed and devastated it.” A particular version of the list, that has been translated into 14th century French, amplifies this story, saying: “He [Alpin] was killed in Galloway, after he had destroyed it, by a single man who lay in wait for him in a thick wood overhanging the entrance of the ford of a river, as he rode among his people.”[*] A different account of Alpin’s demise is found in the, late-13th century, Chronicle of Huntingdon:
In the year from the Lord’s Incarnation eight hundred and thirty-four, the Scots fought with the Picts on the festival of Easter. And many of the noblest of the Picts fell. And thus Alpin, king of the Scots, was the conqueror; and he was so exalted with pride because of it that [another] battle was [fought] by [them] on the thirteenth of the Kalends of August [i.e. on the 20th of July] in the same year; and he was conquered by the Picts, and killed. His son Kenneth [succeeded to his father’s kingdom].[*]
The Chronicle of Huntingdon continues with an outline of Kenneth MacAlpin’s career:
And in the 7th year of his reign [840/41] – when Danish pirates had occupied the shores, and with the greatest slaughter had destroyed the Picts who defended their land – Kenneth passed over into, and turned his arms against, the remaining territories of the Picts; and after slaying many, drove [the rest] into flight. And so he was the first of the Scots to obtain the monarchy of the whole of Albania [i.e. Alba], which is now called Scotia [Scotland]; and he first reigned in it over the Scots. In the 12th year of his reign [845/46] he fought seven times in one day with the Picts, destroyed many, and confirmed the kingdom to himself; and he reigned for 28 years.[*]
Presumably(?) the “Danish pirates” who “had destroyed the Picts” equate to the “gentiles” who inflicted a heavy defeat on “the men of Fortriu”, dated 839 by AU. The Chronicle of Huntingdon, though, seems to imply that Kenneth was in collusion with the Vikings, or at least took advantage of their attack; and also adds further substance to the idea, hinted at by SC and Pictish king-lists, that it took Kenneth a number of years to overcome all the regions of Pictland.
In fact, the Chronicle of Huntingdon is not alone in placing Kenneth MacAlpin in a position of power in Dál Riata during the mid-830s. A late Irish source, the Annals of the Four Masters (compiled in the 1630s) has an entry s.a. 835 (though other entries in that annal belong to 836) which states that: “Gofraid son of Fergus, chief of Oirghialla [in northern Ireland], went to Alba, to strengthen Dál Riata, at the request of Cinaed son of Alpin.” Gofraid is an Irish rendition of the Norse name Guthfrith. His father has an Irish name, so Guthfrith appears to be of mixed Norse/Irish blood. The Four Masters place Guthfrith’s death s.a. 851, but this time call him “chief of the Innsi Gall [‘Islands of Foreigners’ – Foreigners being Vikings – i.e. the Hebrides]”.[*]
According to a cryptic Irish poem known as the Prophecy of Berchán (apparently composed in the late-11th century):
He [Kenneth MacAlpin] is the first king from the men of Ireland in Alba who will take kingship in the east; it will be after strength of spear and sword, after sudden death, after sudden slaughter.
The fools in the east [i.e. the Picts] are deceived by him, they [the Scots] dig the earth, mighty the occupation; a deadly goad-pit, death by wounding, on the floor of noble-shielded Scone.
Norman-Welsh cleric and scholar Giraldus Cambrensis, in his De Principis Instructione (On the Instruction of a Prince), written close-12th/opening-13th century, evidently shines further illumination on the alleged incident to which the Prophecy is alluding:
They [the Scots] brought together as to a banquet all the nobles of the Picts, and taking advantage of their perhaps excessive potation and gluttony of both drink and food, they noted their opportunity and drew out the bolts which held up the boards; and [the Picts] fell into the hollows of the benches on which they were sitting, [caught] in a strange trap up to the knees, so that they could never get up; and [the Scots] immediately slaughtered them all, tumbled together everywhere and taken suddenly and unexpectedly, and fearing nothing of the sort from allies and confederates, men bound to them by benefits, and companions in their wars. And thus the more warlike and powerful nation of the two peoples wholly disappeared; and the other, by far inferior in every way, as a reward obtained in the time of so great treachery, have held to this day the whole land from sea to sea, and called it Scotland after their name.
De Principis Instructione I, 18
In fact, it was the Scots’ kingdom of Dál Riata that disappeared in the first instance. Kenneth is titled ‘king of the Picts’ in his Annals of Ulster (AU) obit, as are his three successors in the combined kingdom of Scots and Picts. It is not until the year 900 that the title ‘king of Alba’ – originally, Alba was the Irish name for the whole island of Britain – makes its first appearance in AU as a replacement for the designation ‘king of the Picts’. Similarly, the Scottish Chronicle in the Poppleton Manuscript (SC) uses the term Pictavia (Pictland) until 900, and then the term Albania (Alba) appears. Inexorably, however, the language and customs of the Scots superseded those of the Picts. The Picts, that is to say ‘Pictish identity’, eventually faded into history – the Picts, in effect, became Scots. The 12th century English chronicler Henry of Huntingdon comments:
The Picts, however, appear to have been annihilated and their language utterly destroyed, so that the record of them in the writings of the ancients seems like ﬁction. Who will not espouse love of celestial things and dread of worldly things, if he considers not only that their kings and princes and people have perished, but also that at the same time their whole racial stock, their language and all remembrance of them have disappeared? And if there were nothing surprising in other respects, yet it must seem amazing as regards their language, which was one of those established by God at the very beginning of languages.
Historia Anglorum I, 8
Kenneth MacAlpin (Kenneth I) died in 858: “and he died in Forteviot, and was buried in the island of Iona, where the three sons of Erc – Fergus, Loarn and Oengus – were buried.” (List D).
Cinaed son of Alpin, king of the Picts, died. It was of him that the quatrain was said:
Because Cinaed with many troops lives no longer
there is weeping in every house;
there is no king of his worth under heaven
as far as the borders of Rome.
Kenneth’s obit in the, so-called, Three Fragments (or Fragmentary Annals of Ireland) §285
Kenneth was succeeded by his brother Donald (Domnall in Irish), who ruled for four years. Donald (Donald I) may have been Kenneth’s half-brother – the Prophecy of Berchán calls Donald (though, as usual, he is not actually named): “the rash son of the foreign wife.” Had Donald’s father, Alpin, taken a Norse wife to cement an alliance with a Viking leader?SC mentions that: “In his [Donald’s] time, the Gaels [i.e Scots] with their king made the rights and laws of the kingdom of Aed son of Eochaid, at Forteviot.” Aed, son of Eochaid (also known as Aed Find), king of Dál Riata, died in 778. SC seems to be saying that the laws of Dál Riata, as defined during Aed’s rule, were imposed in the newly integrated kingdom of Picts and Scots. The SC entry concludes with the remark: “He [Donald] died in the palace of Cinnbelathoir on the Ides of April [13th of April].” According to the Verse Chronicle copied into the Chronicle of Melrose, he died, was perhaps murdered, at Scone, whilst Berchán says Donald died: “of a single attack of a disease.”[*]
Donald “king of the Picts” died in 862. He was succeeded by his nephew, Kenneth’s son, Constantine (Constantine I). AU reports that, in 866: “Amlaíb and Auisle went with the foreigners [i.e. Vikings] of Ireland and Alba to Fortriu, plundered the entire Pictish country and took away hostages from them.” The Three Fragments version of this entry reads: “The Norwegians laid waste and plundered Fortriu, and they took many hostages with them as pledges for tribute; for a long time afterwards they continued to pay them tribute.” (§328). SC reports the same event: “Amlaíb, with his gentiles [i.e. heathens], wasted Pictland, and dwelt in it, from the Kalends of January to the feast of Saint Patrick [i.e. from the 1st of January to the 17th of March].”[*]
Around this time there were three Viking kings operating from Ireland: Olaf (Amlaíb in Irish), Ivar (Ímar in Irish) and Auisle (which is the Irish form of this individual’s name – it probably equates to the name rendered Eowils in Old English).
AU states, s.a. 867: “Auisle, one of three kings of the gentiles, was killed by his kinsmen in guile and parricide.”
AU, s.a. 870, records: “The siege of Ail Cluaithe [Dumbarton Rock, stronghold of the kings of the Strathclyde Britons] by the Northmen; that is, Amlaíb and Ímar, two kings of the Northmen; they laid siege to the fortress and at the end of 4 months they destroyed and plundered it.” According to the Three Fragments (§388): “the Norwegian kings besieged Strathclyde in Britain, camping against them for four months; finally, having subdued the people inside by hunger and thirst – the well that they had inside having dried up in a remarkable way – they attacked them. First they took all the goods that were inside. A great host was taken out into captivity.” The following year, AUs.a. 871: “Amlaíb and Ímar returned to Áth Cliath [Dublin] from Alba with two hundred ships, bringing away with them in captivity to Ireland a great prey of English and Britons and Picts.” Amlaíb disappears from AU at this point. SC has it that he was killed by Constantine in the third year of the latter’s reign (864–5), which is plainly impossibly early. The meaning of the text is not certain either, but it may be that SC says Amlaíb was slain whilst “drawing tribute”.[*] If Amlaíb had, indeed, been killed in the British Isles it is, perhaps, remarkable that no Irish source recorded the event. In fact, the Three Fragments, indicating the year 871 (§400), say: "Amlaíb went from Ireland to Norway to fight the Norwegians and help his father, Gofraid [Guthfrith], for the Norwegians were warring against him, his father having sent for him."
In 872, two years after his fortress on Dumbarton Rock had been destroyed by Amlaíb and Ímar, AU reports that: “Artgal, king of the Britons of Strathclyde,[*] was killed at the instigation of Constantine son of Cinaed.” AU doesn’t say where Artgal was at the time he was slain. He may have been captive in Dublin, and it may be that Constantine bought his slaughter to prevent any possibility of him returning and thwarting his own plans for Strathclyde. Artgal was evidently succeeded by his son Rhun, whose wife (name unknown) was Constantine’s sister. It seems reasonable to suppose that Rhun ruled Strathclyde as Constantine’s subordinate.
AU states, s.a. 873: “Ímar, king of the Northmen of all Ireland and Britain, ended his life.”
By 874, Viking forces had methodically conquered all but one of the English kingdoms – only Wessex, ruled by Alfred the Great, remained independent. Late in 874, a section of the Viking army, led by Ivar’s brother, Halfdan, established winter quarters on the Tyne. Halfdan’s forces “subdued the land, and often harried on the Picts and on the Strathclyde Welsh [i.e. Britons]”, reports the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.a. 875.[*]AU, s.a. 875: “The Picts encountered the Black Foreigners [in battle], and a great slaughter of the Picts resulted.”[*] Presumably, the “Black Foreigners” were Halfdan’s forces. What is clearly the same battle is dated to the 14th year of Constantine’s reign (875–6) by SC: “a battle was fought by him at Dollar between the Danes and the Scots; the Scots were slain at/to Achcochlam.[*] The Northmen passed a whole year in Pictland.” In AUs.a. 875, the entry immediately after its report of the slaughter of Picts by “Black Foreigners” states: “Oistín [Eystein] son of Amlaíb [Olaf], king of the Northmen, was deceitfully killed by Albann.” It is generally believed that Albann is an Irish rendition of Halfdan.
AU begins its entries for 876 with Constantine’s obit (he is called “king of the Picts”), but no details are provided – he is simply first in a short list of notables who are said to have “died”. SC makes no mention of Constantine’s demise at all,[*] but some Latin king-lists (e.g. List D) do: “he was slain by the Norwegians in the battle of Inverdufatha [or variations thereof [*]], and he was buried in the island of Iona.” Whilst the Verse Chronicle in the Chronicle of Melrose says:
Fighting in battle, he fell by the arms of the Danes.
The place where the battle was fought is called Black Cave.
Halfdan was in Northumbria during 876. He parcelled out land in the south of the country amongst his army, founding a kingdom centred on York. The territory beyond the Tyne was left to English rule. According to Symeon of Durham (LDE II, 13), Halfdan:
… was attacked at the same time by mental insanity and the severest bodily suffering; the intolerable stench exhaling from which made him an object of abomination towards the whole army. Thus despised and rejected by all persons, he fled away in three ships from the Tyne, and shortly afterwards he and all his followers perished.
AU, s.a. 877:
A skirmish at Loch Cuan [Strangford Lough] between the White Gentiles and the Black Gentiles, in which Albann, chief of the Black Gentiles, fell.
In the earliest manuscript (second half of the 12th century, in the Book of Leinster) of an apparently early-12th century Irish text, Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib (The War of the Irish with the Foreigners), it is said (§25) that:
… there was a battle fought between themselves, viz., the White Gentiles and the Black Gentiles, i.e. Barith and Ragnall’s son [Albann, presumably], in which fell Ragnall’s son, and a multitude with him. Barith was wounded there, and he was lame ever after. The Black Gentiles after this were driven out of Ireland and went to Alba, where they gained a battle over the men of Alba, in which were slain Constantine son of Cinaed, chief king of Alba, and a great multitude with him. It was then the earth burst open under the men of Alba.
Supposing this account of the circumstances of Constantine’s death is not just a 12th century fantasy, then it would indicate that Constantine was actually killed in 877, the year after his obit appears in AU.[*] Constantine was succeeded by his brother, Aed. The Scottish Chronicle in the Poppleton Manuscript (SC), simply states: “Aed held the same [kingdom] for 1 year. Also the shortness of his reign has bequeathed nothing memorable to history; but he was slain in the civitas of Nrurim.” The ‘civitas of Nrurim’ is not certainly identified, but elsewhere (e.g. List D) Aed’s death is placed in the area of Strathallan, to the north of Stirling, and it is dated 878 by the Annals of Ulster (AU): “Aed son of Cinaed, king of the Picts, was killed by his own associates.” Other sources are more specific – for instance, List D: “he was killed in the battle of Strathallan, by Giric son of Dúngal; and was buried in the island of lona.”[*]
So, having killed Aed, Giric took the throne: “Giric son of Dúngal reigned for 12 years; and he died in Dundurn, and was buried in the island of lona.” (List D). Well, according to SC that wasn’t exactly the case: “Eochaid son of Rhun king of the Britons [of Strathclyde], grandson of Kenneth by his daughter, reigned for 11 years; although others say that Giric son of [? name apparently omitted] reigned at this time, because he became Eochaid’s foster-father [alumnus] and governor [ordinator].” The genealogy corresponding to Strathclyde in Harleian MS 3859 (§5) terminates with Rhun son of Artgal (Run map Arthgal). It appears, then, that Eochaid’s maternal grandfather was Kenneth MacAlpin and his paternal grandfather was Artgal, the king of Strathclyde who had been killed at the instigation of Constantine, Aed’s brother (and Eochaid’s uncle), in 872.
Whilst Eochaid was forgotten, extravagant claims were made for Giric. List D: “He subdued to himself all Ireland, and nearly all England;[*] and he was the first to give liberty to the Scottish church, which was in servitude up to that time after the custom and fashion of the Picts.[*]” John of Fordun – who refers (CGS IV, 18) to Giric as “this glorious King Gregory” – repeats these claims, and asserts (CGS IV, 17) that: “though Ireland belonged to him by right of succession, he did not get possession of it without war on the part of some who withstood him.” As far as England is concerned, Fordun says: “King Gregory himself, also, subdued the upper and western districts … The natives of some provinces, however, before he had reached their borders, gave themselves of their own accord, with their lands and property, into his power, after having sworn fealty and homage. For they deemed it a more blissful lot, and more advantageous, willingly to be subject to the Scots, who held the Catholic faith, though they were their enemies, than unwillingly to unbelieving heathens.” In fact, there is no evidence of Giric in Ireland at all – indeed, neither he nor Eochaid gets so much as a mention in AU. It is, though, likely that, in the wake of the rupture of Northumbria caused by the establishment of a Viking kingdom based at York, both the Scottish kingdom and Strathclyde made territorial gains, and it is plausible that Giric was able to secure the submission of English-ruled Northumbria, i.e. north of the Tyne.
According to SC, Eochaid and Giric were “expelled from the kingdom” in the implied year of 889, and replaced by Donald [Donald II], the son of Constantine, who: “held the kingdom for 11 years.” SC continues: “The Northmen wasted Pictland at that time [the last mention of Pictland in SC]. In his reign a battle was fought [at] inuisibsolian [possibly the island of Seil and its neighbours, off the Argyll coast], between Danes and Scots; the Scots had the victory. He was slain by the gentiles at Dunnottar.” A selection of Latin king-lists, List D for instance, place Donald’s death elsewhere: “he died in Forres, and was buried in the island of lona.”[*] The cryptic Irish poem known as the Prophecy of Berchán (Stanza 147) apparently agrees with SC regarding the location of Donald’s death, but puts the blame for the killing on the Scots (Gaels) themselves: “The Gaels will turn against him secretly on the path above Dunnottar; he will be over the brow of a mighty wave, in the east in his broad gory bed.”
Whilst AU had referred to Kenneth MacAlpin and his successors – Donald I, Constantine I and Aed – as “king of the Picts” in their obits, in his obit, s.a. 900, Donald II is titled “king of Alba”.
Inthe year 900, Donald II was succeeded by his cousin, Constantine son of Aed (Constantine II). Remarkably, Constantine ruled for more than forty years, before retiring into religion. At some stage during Constantine’s long reign: “died Donald, king of the Britons”, notes SC. Donald, i.e. Dyfnwal, must have been king of Strathclyde – this is his only appearance in the historical record. Until recently, it has been thought that SC proceeds to say that Dyfnwal was succeeded in Strathclyde by “Donald son of Aed” – the presumption being that this Donald, i.e. Domnall, was an otherwise unknown brother of Constantine. It is now, however, widely accepted that SC makes no such claim – that this notion is based on a misunderstanding of the manuscript.[*]
John of Fordun (CGS IV, 21) alleges that:
Constantine, in the 16th year of his reign, gave Eugenius [Welsh: Owain], the son of Donald [i.e. Donald II], his expected next heir, the lordship of the region of Cumbria [i.e. Strathclyde] to rule over, until he should, on Constantine’s death, obtain the diadem of the kingdom; and, on his being crowned king, his next heir was to succeed to that lordship; and thus the lordship was in future, by this rule of succession, always to be transferred from the heir, immediately on his being crowned king, to his next successor.
Fordun’s nationalistic assertion that Strathclyde became a sub-kingdom of Alba, to be ruled by the chosen successor of the incumbent king of Alba, seemed to be given substance by SC, but if it is accepted that the reading which apparently made another Donald, the otherwise unknown brother of Constantine, king of Strathclyde before Owain, is erroneous, then this plank of support is removed. Today there seems to be general scholarly agreement that Owain was not the son of Donald II, but was, as his name suggests, a Briton, the son of Dyfnwal, and that the kingdom of Strathclyde continued to be ruled by Britons into the 11th century.
SC reports: “And in his [Constantine II’s] third year the Northmen plundered Dunkeld, and all Alba. In the following year, the Northmen were slain in Strathearn.” Presumably the battle at Strathearn is the event mentioned by AUs.a. 904: “Ímar grandson of Ímar was killed by the men of Fortriu, and there was a great slaughter around him.” The elder Ímar, i.e. Ivar, is assumed to be the famous “king of the Northmen of all Ireland and Britain” who had died in 873. SC continues: “And in his 6th year King Constantine and Bishop Cellach upon the Hill of Credulity near the royal city of Scone, pledged themselves that the laws and disciplines of the faith, and the rights in churches and gospels, should be kept in conformity with [the customs of] the Scots. From that day the hill has deserved this name – that is, the Hill of Credulity.”
Alba appears to have enjoyed a decade of peace following the defeat of Ivar grandson of Ivar in 904 – at least there are no chronicled incidents – but all things come to an end …
In an article titled ‘Elech and the Scots in Strathclyde’ (Scottish Gaelic Studies Vol.15, 1988), Benjamin T. Hudson convincingly argued that what had previously been thought to be a contraction of the word eligitur, i.e. ‘was elected’, is actually a form of the Irish place name ‘Ailech’. As a result, the somewhat clumsy statement: “in this time died Donald, king of the Britons, and Donald son of Aed was elected king, and Flann son of Mael Sechnaill, and Niall son of Aed, who reigned three years after Flann”, is transformed into: “in this time died Donald, king of the Britons, and Donald son of Aed, king of Ailech, and Flann son of Mael Sechnaill, and Niall son of Aed, who reigned three years after Flann”. AU pretty much settles the matter, placing the death of “Domnall son of Aed, king of Ailech” in 915, the death of “Flann son of Mael Sechnaill … king of Tara” in 916, and the death of Flann’s successor, Niall son of Aed, in 919.
For instance, Donnchadh Ó Corráin¹ opines: “It is likely that they [the Gall-Gaedhil] originated in Viking Scotland, and were war bands aristocratically led by men of mixed Scottish and Viking descent, operating independently of the dynasty and adventuring on their own account in Ireland. By the middle of the ninth century, a generation (and perhaps a second generation) of such aristocrats would have come to military age in Scotland.”
And Clare Downham² writes: “They [the Gall-Gaedhil] have been identified as vikings of mixed Gaelic and Scandinavian culture. This group is only recorded in Irish chronicles within the years 856, 857 and 858 (it may be that after that time vikings of mixed ethnicity were not sufficiently novel or distinct in the Irish political scene to warrant special appellation).”
¹ Donnchadh Ó Corráin ‘The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland in the Ninth Century’ (Chronicon Vol. 2, 1998), freely available online.
² Clare Downham Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014 (2007), p.17.
For Instance, Andrew Jennings¹: “Caittil Find can be identified with Ketill ‘Flatnose’, whom Icelandic tradition names as ruler of the Hebrides in the generation prior to the settlement of Iceland c.875.”
On the other hand, Clare Downham² comments: “there is no reason to assume that a Ketill named in thirteenth-century sagas was the same as a man of a similar name active in Southern Ireland in 857. It is just conceivable that Caitill Find may have been active in Wales before pursuing a career in Ireland”. This is a reference to an entry in the Annales Cambriae, which, indicating a date of 844, simply states: “The battle of Cetill.”
¹ The entry ‘Galloway, origins of’ in The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001).
² Clare Downham Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014 (2007), p.18 f.n.44.
Barbara E. Crawford¹: “By the middle of the [9th] century a recognizable group of warriors of mixed blood appear in the records as the Gall-Gaedhil, or the ‘foreign Gael’, the foreign element almost certainly being Norse. There is some doubt as to who exactly made up the Gaelic element, and the term may have varied in its meaning over the centuries, eventually perhaps acquiring a territorial connotation, if indeed it is the origin of the name Galloway in south-west Scotland.”
Donnchadh Ó Corráin²: “The connection between Galloway and the Gall-Goídil (Old-Norse Gaddgeðlar) is uncertain: the word is the same, the people need not be.”
¹ Barbara E. Crawford Scandinavian Scotland (1987), p.47.
² Donnchadh Ó Corráin ‘The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland in the Ninth Century’ (Chronicon Vol. 2, 1998), freely available online.
This scenario is suggested by A.O. Anderson in Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.240 f.n.1 and p.241 f.n.3.
Thomas F. O’Rahilly opined (in Early Irish History and Mythology, 1946, p.508) that the known Bridei son of Maelchon, whose death is placed in 584, was killed at the battle of Asreth, the record of which is misplaced in AT by two 84-year Easter cycles (752 - 584 = 2 x 84). Marjorie O. Anderson (widow of A.O. Anderson) took this notion on board, and proposed that Oengus’ “overlordship ceased to be recognized by the Dál Riata” in 750 (Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, Revised Edition, 1980, p.187). However, Adomnán (d.704), in his Vita of St Columba (II, 33), implies that the known Bridei son of Maelchon, with whom Columba was acquainted, died peacefully of natural causes. There is no intrinsic reason why an otherwise unknown Bridei son of Maelchon – or perhaps a Bridei (a very common Pictish name) to whom the patronymic ‘son of Maelchon’ (the father of the Bridei who died in 584 is the only known Maelchon) has been wrongly attached – could not have been killed at the battle of Asreth in 752.
In his paper ‘Onuist son of Uurguist: tyrannus carnifex or a David for the Picts?’ (in Æthelbald and Offa: Two Eighth-Century Kings of Mercia, 2005), Alex Woolf argues that Niwanbirig is not in Northumbria, as is usually supposed, but in Mercia (Newborough, Staffordshire, is suggested). He proposes that the purpose of Oengus and Eadberht’s march to Dumbarton was not to attack it, but to elicit the Britons’ aid in their forthcoming invasion of Mercia (“or perhaps to extract oaths and hostages for their good behaviour whilst the two kings were in the south”). It was, therefore, the Mercians who smashed the combined forces of the Picts and the Northumbrians at Niwanbirig.
The patronymics only appear in the longer version of the Synchronisms, which dates from about 1119.
Marjorie O. Anderson* suggests that the sequence ‘Fergus and Eochaid’ was given by a common ancestor of the Synchronisms and the Duan Albanach. A missing stanza accounts for their absence from the Duan Albanach. No patronymics are given for Fergus and Eochaid in the shorter version of the Synchronisms (or just Eochaid in the longer version). Fergus was, of course, a son of Eochaid, and the suggestion is that ‘Fergus and Eochaid’ should simply be ‘Fergus son of Eochaid’ – i.e. Eochaid, supposed successor of Fergus, is a phantom. This view seems to have wide acceptance.
* Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, Revised Edition (1980), p.190.
The Synchronisms survive in two forms, catchily known as the ‘shorter version’ and the ‘longer version’. The longer version was apparently updated in about 1119, but it has been supposed¹ that the shorter version – the last Scottish king featured being Malcolm II (r.1005–1034) – is representative of the original text. However, Dauvit Broun² has argued that the longer version represents the original text’s extent, and that the shorter version is simply cut short. Anyway, during the period of under discussion, kings tend to be listed without patronymics in the shorter version, but with patronymics in the longer version.
¹ For instance: W.F. Skene Chronicles of the Picts, Chronicles of the Scots, and Other Early Memorials of Scottish History (1867) pp.xxx-xxxi; Marjorie O. Anderson Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, Revised Edition (1980), p.45.
² Dauvit Broun The Irish Identity of the Kingdom of the Scots in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (1999), p.171.
A major plank in Alex Woolf’s argument (‘Onuist son of Uurguist: tyrannus carnifex or a David for the Picts?’, 2005) that Eadberht and Oengus mounted a combined assault on Mercia in 756, is the Version A story that it was on “the plain of Mercia” where Oengus, surrounded by his opponents (“all the peoples of nearly the whole island”), only managed to secure a victory and return to his homeland thanks to the intervention of St Andrew.
It would appear that Dúngal’s father, Selbach, became king of Dál Riata in 700, subsequent to the violent death of one Fiannamail . Selbach is identified as leader of the Cenél Loairn AUs.a. 719, in which year he was defeated, in a naval battle, by the Cenél nGabráin. Selbach abdicated and entered religion in 723. Only reported by AT, “Dúngal was ousted from the kingship” and “Eochaid son of Eochaid began to rule” in 726.
King-lists and pedigrees are susceptible to errors of omission, repetition and corruption, but Dauvit Broun* persuasively argues that “the transposition of this group of four kings … was in fact deliberate”.
* The Irish Identity of the Kingdom of the Scots in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (1999) pp.150–3.
As will become apparent, the seventh year of Kenneth’s rule in Pictland would be about 849. AU has an entry s.a. 849 which says: “Indrechtach, abbot of Iona, came to Ireland with the relics of Colum Cille [St Columba].” It is generally supposed that there was a division of Columba’s relics – Kenneth moving some to “the church which he built”, believed to be at Dunkeld, Perthshire, others being taken to Ireland. However, AU also states that Columba’s shrine and “his other relics” were taken to Ireland, “to escape the foreigners [i.e. Vikings]”, in 878. Where these items came from is not mentioned. Since Columba’s relics had evidently all been moved from Iona in 849, presumably it was from Dunkeld.
Marjorie O. Anderson, in Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland (Revised Edition, 1980), p.178 f.n.226, writes: “It is fair to point out the ambiguities in AU. Hostis [translated as “hosts” above] could be “enemy” (though inimicus is the word we should expect) and exactores [usually understood to mean ‘tax-gatherers’] could be “expellers”. These interpretations would produce a totally different story.” In a brief article (‘AU 729.2 and the last years of Nechtan mac Der-Ilei’) published in The Scottish Historical Review Vol. 85.1 (2006), Alex Woolf comments that Marjorie Anderson’s footnote “has had surprisingly little impact on the scholarship”, and argues that her: “alternative interpretations are the more credible.” At any rate, the amended AU entry would read: “The battle of Monid Carno near Loch Loogdae between the enemy of Nechtan and the army of Oengus, and Nechtan’s oppressors fell … [three individuals are named] … and many others; and the adherents of Oengus were triumphant.”
The king-lists for Dál Riata at this time are in disarray. The most coherent (though not necessarily accurate) picture is presented by a late-11th century versified (in Irish) list, the Duan Albanach. The seventeenth verse (of twenty-seven) runs:
Seven years was the rule of vehement Dúngal,
and four for Alpin;
three years of good Muiredach,
30 for Aed as high king.
Judging by the Annals, Muiredach’s reign was 733–736. Other (Latin) king-lists indicate that Muirdach’s reign was followed by that of his son, Eogan (not mentioned in the Annals), for two or three years. AU places the death of Aed, who is assigned a (suspiciously round?) thirty year reign, s.a. 778. By these tokens, there was a gap of about a decade prior to Aed’s accession when there was no recognized king of Dál Riata – a void, it is suggested, that represents Oengus’ rule of Dál Riata.
The original statement is in Irish: Aithbe flatho Oengussa. “End of the reign of Oengus” is the translation preferred by William M. Hennessy (1887), and by Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill (1983). “Ebbing of the sovereignty of Oengus” is the translation of A.O. Anderson (Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1, 1922). Similarly, T.M Charles-Edwards (The Chronicle of Ireland, 2006) has “The ebbing of the power of Oengus.”
In fact, the Continuation annal for 750 begins: “Cuthred the king of the West Saxons rose up against Æthelbald the king and Oengus”. Symeon of Durham (HRs.a. 750) has exactly the same statement as the Continuation, about Cuthred rising against Æthelbald, but completes Æthelbald’s designation, “king of the Mercians”, and omits the words “and Oengus”. It is hard to imagine how Cuthred, king of the West Saxons (i.e. of Wessex), could be connected to Oengus, king of the Picts, and, for the most part, scholars have tended to the view that Symeon’s statement represents the original annal, and that the reference to Oengus in the Continuation is the result of a scribal error. Dorothy Whitelock (English Historical Documents, 500–1042, Second Edition, 1979), however, in a footnote, comments: “If not [a textual corruption], it may mean that Angus [Oengus] had become an ally of the Mercian king for fear of their common enemy, Eadberht of Northumbria.” In Wales and the Britons, 350–1064 (2013), Pt.III 13.6, T. M. Charles-Edwards develops this notion much further: “That Cuthred rebelled against both Æthelbald and Óengus can best be explained on the supposition that Óengus and Æthelbald were not simply in alliance but had agreed to divide the overlordship of Britain between them: Æthelbald was overlord of the provinces south of the Humber, Óengus overlord of those to the north of the river, including Northumbria and the northern Britons. The allied kings, Óengus and Æthelbald, were attacked in the one year  by the West Saxons in the south and the Britons in the north [as per AU].” The final word is given to Charles Plummer (in his ‘Notes to the Ecclesiastical History’, 1896) : “I am inclined to think that the text is corrupt”.
One Eadwulf, having ruled Northumbria for two months in the winter of 705/6, had been overthrown and expelled. Eadwulf’s obit is only recorded by AU, s.a. 717: “Eadwulf son of Ecgwulf [Etulb mac Ecuilb] died.” Symeon of Durham (HR) notes the precise date that Eadwulf’s son, Earnwine, was killed: the 10th of the Kalends of January, i.e. 23rd December, 740. AU records this also (though committing it to 741): “The killing of Earnwine grandson of Ecgwulf [Ernani nepotis Ecuilp].” Alex Woolf* suggests that Eadwulf had found refuge with the Picts: “The conflict between the Picts and Northumbrians in 740 may thus have involved an attempt to insert Eadwulf’s son, Earnwine, into the kingship [of Northumbria]. If so it failed, and with fatal consequences for Earnwine.”
* ‘Onuist son of Uurguist: tyrannus carnifex or a David for the Picts?’, in Æthelbald and Offa: Two Eighth-Century Kings of Mercia (2005).
The Chronicle of John of Fordun incorporates the gist of Version B. In an attempt to reconcile the legend’s chronology, it is split into two episodes.
The first episode (CGS II, 46–48) places Regulus’ arrival in the 4th century, during the rule of a Pictish king, apparently created for the purpose and inserted in Fordun’s version of the Pictish king-list (CGS IV, 10), called Hurgust son of Forgso.
The second episode (CGS IV, 13–14) features the confrontation between Oengus II (called Hungus son of Fergus) and King Athelstan, which results in the decapitation of the latter. This Athelstan is equated to the son of, the king of Wessex, Æthelwulf (r.839–858). According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however, Æthelwulf’s son Athelstan was alive and well, and fighting Vikings, in 851 – almost twenty years after Oengus II had died.
Some other Pictish king-lists (e.g. John of Fordun’s) are at considerable variance with the Poppleton’s between Nechtan son of Derelei (who abdicated in 724) and Constantine son of Fergus (who assumed power in 789/90). The Poppleton’s list, however, is a decent match with entries in the Irish annals and seems to be, therefore, substantially correct.
The immediate predecessor of Canaul filius Tarl’a in the Poppleton’s list is Talorgen filius Onuist, i.e. Talorcan son of Oengus. If Oengus, Talorcan’s father, was Oengus son of Fergus (according to the list’s figures, Talorcan became king 21½ or 22½ years after the death of Oengus son of Fergus), it would be the first time that the father of a king of the Picts had also been a king.
The first fragment of AT runs-out during the entries for 766. The second fragment does not begin until 974.
Marjorie O. Anderson* identifies Fergus, the father of Constantine and Oengus, as Fergus, the king of Dál Riata, who died in 781. By this token, they had a legitimate claim to the throne of Dál Riata via Fergus, and a (presumed) legitimate claim to the Pictish throne via their Pictish mother: “In Constantine and Oengus II, sons of Fergus, we have, so far as we can tell, the first instances of one man holding both kingships simultaneously, by hereditary right in both kingdoms according to their different systems.”
* Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland (Revised Edition, 1980), pp.192–4.
Alex Woolf*: “The appearance of the Pictish kings in the ‘Synchronisms’ and in Duan Albanach, may simply have resulted from the fact that by the eleventh century rulers of both Pictavia and Dál Riata were being described, anachronistically, as kings of Alba in Gaelic literary texts.”
* From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), p.64.
Oh no we haven’t!
The Synchronisms survive in two forms, catchily known as the ‘shorter version’ and the ‘longer version’. The longer version was apparently updated in about 1119, but it has been supposed¹ that the shorter version – the last Scottish king featured being Malcolm II (r.1005–1034) – is representative of the original text. However, Dauvit Broun² has argued that the longer version represents the original text’s extent, and that the shorter version is simply cut short. Anyway, in the shorter version the sequence of kings is given as: “Aed; Eoganán; Alpin son of Eochaid; Eoganán; Kenneth son of Alpin”. But in the longer version the sequence is given as: “Aed son of Boanta; Eoganán son of Oengus; Alpin”. It would appear that a copyist has inadvertently telescoped the list in the longer version, by jumping from the first occurrence of the name Alpin to the second (a type of error called ‘homoioteleuton’) – the upshot of which is that the second Eoganán is missing, and ‘Alpin son of Eochaid’ and ‘Kenneth son of Alpin’ are merged to become just ‘Alpin’.
¹ For instance: W.F. Skene Chronicles of the Picts, Chronicles of the Scots, and Other Early Memorials of Scottish History (1867) pp.xxx-xxxi; Marjorie O. AndersonKings and Kingship in Early Scotland, Revised Edition (1980), p.45.
² Dauvit Broun The Irish Identity of the Kingdom of the Scots in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (1999), p.171.
Alex Woolf* argues that the highlighted section is a 12th century addition to the original, late-10th century, chronicle text. The missing account of Kenneth’s destruction of the Picts having been dropped either when the Scottish material that survives in the Poppleton Manuscript was compiled c.1200, or by a subsequent copyist.
* From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), pp.93–5.
Constantine III is the first king of Alba for whom there is a surviving pedigree. It is appended to an Irish text called Senchus fer nAlban (History of the Men of Alba) or Míniugud Senchusa fher nAlban (Explanation of the History of the Men of Alba), of which the primary manuscript is in Trinity College Dublin MS H.2.7 (mid-14th century).
The pedigree of William I, r.1165–1214, in the Poppleton Manuscript (which traces William’s descent back to “Adam, son of the living God”), has two Eochaids between Aed Find and Domangart: Edafind filii Echadach, filii Echach, filii Domongrat.
In the pedigree of Kenneth MacAlpin presented by John of Fordun (CGS IV, 8), a further generation, Ferchar (Findan), is inserted between the two Eochaids: Ethfin, filii Eugenii, filii Findan, filii Eugenii, filii Dongardi.
A. O. Anderson¹ translates the Verse Chronicle line Qui Scone fertur subditus esse neci as “he [i.e. Donald] is said to have been assassinated at Scone”. No other source suggests that Donald came to an unnatural end.
According to the Prophecy of Berchán: “above Loch Adhbha will be his [Donald’s] gravestone”. Whilst according to List D, Donald: “died in Rathinveramon, and was buried in the island of Iona.” W.F. Skene² argued that “the palace of Cinnbelathoir”, “above Loch Adhbha” and “in Rathinveramon” are different ways of placing Donald’s death near Scone.
¹ A.O. Anderson in Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.291.
² W.F. Skene ‘The Coronation Stone’, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 8 (1869), freely available online.
The account of Alpin’s last two battles against the Picts in John of Fordun’s chronicle (CGS IV, 2) is so close to this account in the Chronicle of Huntingdon that it is clear they were taken from the same source – indeed, Fordun’s text is used to supply words that are illegible in the Chronicle of Huntingdon manuscript (shown in italics within brackets). In John of Fordun’s chronicle, though, the story is extended in whimsical fashion (CGS IV, 2–3). Following his defeat by the Picts, Alpin is “taken, and, all ransom being refused, beheaded”. The Scots’ chiefs, “like cowards or old women”, refuse to pursue a war of revenge against the Picts, so Kenneth hatches a plan whereby an accomplice wraps himself in a cloak adorned with “scaly fish skins … so that it flashed as with the flaming wings of an angel”. The ‘angel’ visits the chiefs’ bedchambers and persuades them to obey Kenneth “in all things … and particularly that they should in nowise be afraid to destroy the Pictish kingdom”.
The use of a king-list related to List D is also evident in Fordun’s chronicle, but there is no mention of the Galloway story.
Like the Chronicle of Huntingdon, the Chronicle of John of Fordun had placed Kenneth’s succession to Dál Riata (“his father’s kingdom”) in 834. The dating clause which appears as “in the 7th year of his reign” in the Chronicle of Huntingdon, appears as “in the sixth year of his reign” in Fordun’s dramatically elaborated version of the text (CGS IV, 4), and Kenneth is said to have won the Pictish throne in 839 (CGS IV, 3). List D states that Kenneth “reigned over the Scots for 16 years, after destroying the Picts” (SC expresses a similar idea). In Fordun, Kenneth dies “at the end of full 16 years and eight months of his reign as sole monarch” (CGS IV, 8), and the death of “King Kenneth the Great” is placed in 854 (CGS IV, 15). The Chronicle of Huntingdon, on the other hand, evidently adds 16 years to Kenneth’s 12th year, thereby giving him a reign of 28 years in Dál Riata, and implying he died in 861/2. According to AU, Kenneth’s death was in 858.
Fortriu being the region of Pictland traditionally, though not certainly, equated to Strathearn with Menteith (see previously).
The French list, known as ‘List K’, appears in the Scalacronica (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 133), a chronicle that a Northumbrian gent, Sir Thomas Gray, undertook to compose whilst a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle. Sir Thomas had been captured by the Scots after the Battle of Nesbit Moor in 1355.
H. M. Chadwick, in Early Scotland: The Picts, the Scots and the Welsh of Southern Scotland (1949), Chapter 9, assumes that it was the 8th century Alpin, not Kenneth’s father, who was meant to have died in Galloway.
In The Vikings: A Very Short Introduction (2005), Chapter 9, Julian D. Richards writes: “Interpretations of the character of Norse settlement in the Northern and Western Isles embrace the full spectrum of possible relationships between the Norse and the native Picts – from wholesale genocide to peaceful assimilation. Modern genetic evidence is consistent with large folk migration to the Northern Isles, and smaller scale settlement in the Western Isles, but both genetics and place names lack chronological resolution. The Hebrides may have been repopulated by Celtic peoples during the Middle Ages and the high proportion of Scandinavian ancestry in Orkney and Shetland may relate to the long period of close political, economic, and social ties with Norway, maybe commencing before the Viking Age. On balance, the archaeological evidence implies large-scale migration, followed by Norse political, linguistic, and cultural domination, but with some coexistence of indigenous and immigrant identities, expressed differently in each area.”
In the original Latin, the highlighted phrase is rex Britanorum Sratha Cluade. This is the earliest use of the name Strathclyde (see the Lie of the Land).
Though clearly recording the same Viking invasion that AU dates 866, SC implies that it was in 865 that the Vikings occupied Pictland (from January to March in the third year of Constantine’s reign).
The phrase is trahens centum, literally ‘drawing a hundred’, which, as it stands, does not make sense. A.O. Anderson* notes: “The text is perhaps corrupt. Read possibly censum: ‘drawing tribute’?” Regarding the date, SC proceeds to refer to Constantine’s 14th year as “a little while afterwards”, which is odd following on from his 3rd year. A.O. Anderson’s suggestion that the text should read 13th, rather than 3rd, year, seems the neatest solution, by which token Amlaíb was killed by Constantine in 874–5.
* Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.352 f.n.5 and f.n.6.
Wealas or Walas, which translates into modern English as ‘Welsh’, is what the Anglo-Saxons called all Britons, regardless of their location.
Viking factions distinguished by the prefixes dub, i.e. ‘black’, and finn, i.e. ‘white’, first appear in AUs.a. 851. The Three Fragments equates the black faction to Danes and the white faction to Norwegians. Some modern scholars, however, dispute this identification.
See Black Vikings and White Vikings.
In the original Latin, the highlighted phrase is occisi sunt Scoti co Achcochlam. A.O. Anderson¹ translates it: “the Scots were slain, [and driven] to Achcochlam.” It is generally supposed that Achcochlam should read Athfothlam, i.e. Atholl, a region which begins about thirty miles north of Dollar (Clackmannanshire). Benjamin T. Hudson² interprets the phrase: “the Scots were slaughtered as far as Atholl.” Alex Woolf³, however, points out that there is no mention of Constantine’s death in SC, and suggests that scribal misunderstanding has conflated two separate events: the battle at Dollar and the killing of Constantine in Atholl.
Alex Woolf notes that the contemporary records preserved by AU and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refer to ‘Picts’, whilst SC refers to Scotti, i.e. ‘Scots’. He writes: “Just as the term Danair [“Danes”] looks like a form that could not have come into use before the late tenth century, we might suggest the same for Scotti. The phrase ‘between the Danair and the Scotti’ may have originated as a parenthetic gloss, explaining a more laconic statement at a relatively late stage in the chronicle’s composition.”
¹ A.O. Anderson Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.353.
² Benjamin T. Hudson ‘The Scottish Chronicle’, The Scottish Historical Review Vol. 77.2 (1998).
³ Alex Woolf From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), p.111–12.
Unless, of course, Alex Woolf is correct, and, as previously noted, scribal misunderstanding has merged two separate events, and Constantine was, in fact, slain in Atholl.
In List D, for instance, the place of Constantine’s death is rendered Merdo fatha.
W.F Skene¹ identified the place as “now Inverdovet [Inverdovat], in the parish of Forgan”, in the north-east corner of Fife, “but this is doubtful” noted A.O. Anderson². It is “an unidentified place” says Alex Woolf³: “If he was killed in Atholl we should probably be looking for the mouth of a stream running into the Tay or the Tummel.”
¹ W.F. Skene Celtic Scotland: a History of Ancient Alban Vol.1 (1876), p.327.
² A.O. Anderson Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.353 f.n.3.
³ Alex Woolf From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), p.112.
Clare Downham¹ points to “the late date of composition” of Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib and “its pseudo-historical nature”, and suggests its account should be “questioned”; also: “the account in Cogad is evidently garbled, for contemporary records [i.e. AU] demonstrate that Causantín [Constantine] had died a year before Hálfdan.” Alfred P. Smyth², however, is not inclined to be so dismissive of Cogad: “It is unlikely that this unusual information was invented by a twelfth-century Munster compiler, and it almost certainly derives from the earlier annalistic material used by him.” AU implies Constantine ruled for 14 years, 862–876. There is some variation, but most king-lists, including SC, allot him a 16 year reign – his 16th year was 877–8.
¹ Clare Downham Clare Downham Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014 (2007), p.144.
² Alfred P. Smyth Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 (1984), p.194.
The scribe who copied the Verse Chronicle into the Chronicle of Melrose calls Giric’s father Donald (Dovenaldus).
The Verse Chronicle in the Chronicle of Melrose also places Aed’s killing, at the hands of Giric, in Strathallan. The Verse Chronicle refers to Aed as albipes i.e. White-foot. It is evident that the Verse Chronicle was employed as a source for John of Fordun’s chronicle. In Fordun, however, it is said (CGS IV, 16) that Aed was known as alipes i.e. Wing-foot: “that is, Heth [Aed] with wings on his feet; for he had earned a name for swiftness above all others of his day.”
List D is but one of a group of related Latin king-lists. Another member of the group, List I (Oxford, Bodleian MS Lat. Misc. C.75, 14th century), renders the highlighted phrase: “all Bernicia, and nearly [all] England” (Bernicia being the northern component of Northumbria).
Marjorie O. Anderson* writes: “Berniciam [Bernicia] was an intelligent attempt at emendation, but there is no doubt that Hiberniam [Ireland], however absurd historically, was the original reading, since it is shared by [Lists] F, G, and N, and was in the common source of D and K.”
* Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, Revised Edition (1980), p.283 f.n.111.
A variation on this yarn’s theme appears s.a. 890 in (what purports to be) a version of the vernacular Welsh Annals called Brut y Tywysogyon, that was published in The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales Vol. 2, in 1801. In 1922 A.O. Anderson published a translation of the annal in his Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1, p.368. Unfortunately, this particular version of Brut y Tywysogyon is the work of Edward Williams, alias Iolo Morganwg (1747–1826), renowned fabricator of Welsh history.
The concluding sentence in SC’s report of Donald’s career is: Oppidum Fother occisum est a gentibus.Oppidum Fother, i.e. Dunnottar, is a fortress sited on an outcrop of rock, to the south of Stonehaven, on the east coast of Scotland, and the sentence would seem to say that Dunnottar was ‘slain’ (occisum) by the gentiles. As pointed out by W.F. Skene¹, occisum can hardly apply to a fortress, and aught to be emended to occisus, to allow: “[At] Dunnottar he was slain by the gentiles.” This is now the generally accepted meaning. However, A.O. Anderson² acknowledged Skene’s opinion, but since Donald’s death is placed elsewhere in other sources, he translated the sentence: “Dunnottar was destroyed by the gentiles.” A.O. Anderson further suggested that the gentiles in question may have been the army of Harald Fairhair, who, in Heimskringla, the ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ (Ch.96), are said to have plundered in Scotland.
Alex Woolf³ adopts the Skene emendation, making his own suggestion that the basis for the entry in SC was the statement ‘Donald the son of Constantine held the kingdom 11 years, he was slain by the gentiles at Dunnottar’, the remainder of the entry being inserted within this at later stages in the text’s development.
¹ W.F. Skene Chronicles of the Picts, Chronicles of the Scots, and Other Early Memorials of Scottish History (1867), Preface p.cxxxix.
² A.O. Anderson in Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.396.
³ Alex Woolf From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), p.123.
The story is told at greater length in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto (History of St Cuthbert), an anonymous mid-11th century compilation. The work survives in three manuscripts, none of which is the original. The scribe of the copy thought to be the earliest (now incomplete, in: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 596) is believed to have been Symeon of Durham.
For instance, Allen Mawer*: “The chief incident of his [Guthred’s] reign was a campaign against the Scots, in which their army was swallowed up, apparently by an earthquake. This earthquake is probably mentioned in the ‘War of the Gaedhil and the Gael’, where we are told that just after the death of Healfdene [Halfdan] in Ireland, the foreigners went to Scotland and won a victory over the men of Alba, in which Constantine, King of Alba, fell.”
* ‘The Scandinavian Kingdom of Northumbria’, in Saga Book of the Viking Society Vol.7 (1911–12), freely available online.
Just what is meant by the highlighted phrase is not clear.
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
In about 1650, Irish scholar/scribe Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh included the Duan Albanach (Scottish Poem) in his Leabhar na nGenealach (Book of Genealogies). This is the earliest surviving, and best, copy of the Duan Albanach.
This translation is of the 1575 edition by Dana F. Sutton (freely available online). In the volume itself (incidentally, Boece is Latinized as Boethius), paragraph breaks are not generally used – these are supplied and numbered by Sutton.
A set of Irish annals preserved in Oxford, Bodleian MS Rawlinson B 503. The manuscript evidently originated in 1092 – up to halfway through the entries for that year it is the work of a single scribe – but was subsequently extended by many scribes.
Marjorie O. Anderson ‘Dalriada and the Creation of the Kingdom of the Scots’ in Ireland in Early Medieval Europe: Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes (1982).
John Rhys Celtic Britain Third Edition Revised (1904), p.148.
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his Historia Anglorum (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation).
Marjorie O. Anderson Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland (Revised Edition, 1980), pp.182–4.
In his translation of the SC section quoted above, A.O. Anderson* attaches a note to the statement: “The Northmen wasted Pictland at that time”, in which he opines: “This was probably the invasion of Sigurd and Thorstein.”
* Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 1 (1922), p.395 f.n.2.
Alex Woolf From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), Chapter 7, p.299.
Historia Regum (History of the Kings).
John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation) is the earliest extant full-scale history of Scotland – from legendary origins to the year 1153 in five books. The Chronicle would appear to have been completed in the mid-1380s – in the concluding passages of Book V, there is reproduced a genealogy of King David I (r.1124–1153) that the writer says he got from Walter Wardlow, bishop of Glasgow, to whom he gives the title ‘cardinal of Scotland’, which would only be appropriate for the period 1384–1387. However, in Scottish Independence and the Idea of Britain: From the Picts to Alexander III (2007), Dauvit Broun argues compellingly that John of Fordun was not a major contributor to the chronicle that bears his name – that he re-worked a chronicle produced in 1285, which was itself developed from a work produced in the 1260s.
The, so-called, Chronicle of Huntingdon was produced in 1291, by the canons of St Mary’s, Huntingdon, in response to a demand made by Edward I of England, for historical information about the relations between English and Scottish kings. The original manuscript is in The National Archives, Kew (E 39/100/170), but is not completely legible.
The main manuscript of the Prophecy of Berchán (Royal Irish Academy MS 23 G 4) was copied in 1722 from a copy that had been produced in 1627. As a rule, the kings featured in the poem are not actually named, but in most instances there are sufficient clues to identify who is being written about.
Peter E. Busse ‘Cinaed mac Ailpín’ in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (2006), p.438.
Alfred P. Smyth Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 (1984), pp.158–160.
Alfred P. Smyth Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 (1984), p.181.
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
The king-list known as ‘List D’ was, its prologue indicates, compiled around 1180 (though it stops at 1058), but it survives in a manuscript of c.1500 (National Library of Scotland MS Advocates’ 34.7.3).
Alfred P. Smyth Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 (1984), p.216.
The earliest Welsh collection of royal genealogies is found in Harleian MS 3859. The manuscript itself dates from c.1100, but the genealogies were probably collected in the later-10th century.
Kenneth Jackson The Gaelic Notes in the Book of Deer (1972), pp.47–8.
Alan Bruford ‘What Happened to the Caledonians?’, in Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Middle Ages (2000), p.65 f.n.76.
A collection of sagas chronicling the kings of Norway, written in Old Norse by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, c.1230.