Kenneth MacAlpin

Last updated
Kenneth MacAlpin
King of the Picts
Reign843 – 13 February 858
Predecessor Drest X
Successor Donald I
King of Dál Riata (possibly)
ReignUnknown c. 834-858?
Predecessor Alpin II of Dál Riata
SuccessorNone, title abolished
Born810
Iona, Scotland
Died(858-02-13)13 February 858
Scotland
Burial
Iona
Issue
among possible others
Full name
Kenneth MacAlpin
Cináed mac Ailpín
House Alpin
Father Alpín mac Echdach

Kenneth MacAlpin (Medieval Gaelic: Cináed mac Ailpin, Modern Gaelic: Coinneach mac Ailpein; [1] 810 – 13 February 858), known in most modern regnal lists as Kenneth I, was a king of the Picts who, according to national myth, was the first king of Scots. He was thus later known by the posthumous nickname of An Ferbasach, "The Conqueror". [2] He became the apex and eponym of a dynasty—sometimes called Clann Chináeda—that ruled Scotland from the ninth- to the early eleventh-century.

Scottish Gaelic Celtic language native to Scotland

Scottish Gaelic or Scots Gaelic, sometimes also referred to simply as Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Celtic and Indo-European language family, native to the Gaels of Scotland. A member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages, Scottish Gaelic, like Modern Irish and Manx, developed out of Middle Irish. Most of modern Scotland was once Gaelic-speaking, as evidenced especially by Gaelic-language placenames.

National myth

A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation's past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic or be incorporated into a civil religion. A group of related myths about a nation may be referred to as the national mythos, from μῦθος, the original Greek word for "myth".

Eponym Someone or something after which something is named

An eponym is a person, place, or thing after whom or after which something is named, or believed to be named. The adjectives derived from eponym include eponymous and eponymic. For example, Elizabeth I of England is the eponym of the Elizabethan era, and "the eponymous founder of the Ford Motor Company" refers to Henry Ford. Recent usage, especially in the recorded-music industry, also allows eponymous to mean "named after its central character or creator".

Contents

Disputed kingship

The Kenneth of myth, conqueror of the Picts and founder of the Kingdom of Alba, was born in the centuries after the real Kenneth died. In the reign of Kenneth II (Cináed mac Maíl Coluim), when the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba was compiled, the annalist wrote:

Picts ancient and medieval tribal confederation in northern Britain

The Picts were a confederation of peoples who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. Where they lived and what their culture was like can be inferred from the geographical distribution of Brittonic place name elements and Pictish stones. The name Picts appears in written records from Late Antiquity to the 10th century, when they are thought to have merged with the Gaels. They lived to the north of the rivers Forth and Clyde, and spoke the Pictish language, which was closely related to the Celtic Brittonic language spoken by the Britons who lived to the south of them.

The Kingdom of Alba refers to the Kingdom of Scotland between the deaths of Donald II in 900 and of Alexander III in 1286, which then led indirectly to the Scottish Wars of Independence. The name is one of convenience, as throughout this period the elite and populace of the Kingdom were predominantly Pictish-Gaels or later Pictish-Gaels and Scoto-Norman, and differs markedly from the period of the Stuarts, in which the elite of the kingdom were speakers of Middle English, which later evolved and came to be called Lowland Scots. There is no precise Gaelic equivalent for the English terminology "Kingdom of Alba", as the Gaelic term Rìoghachd na h-Alba means 'Kingdom of Scotland'. English-speaking scholars adapted the Gaelic name for Scotland to apply to a particular political period in Scottish history during the High Middle Ages.

Cináed mac Maíl Coluim was King of Scots (Alba). The son of Malcolm I, he succeeded King Cuilén on the latter's death at the hands of Rhydderch ap Dyfnwal in 971.

So Kinadius son of Alpinus, first of the Scots, ruled this Pictland prosperously for 16 years. Pictland was named after the Picts, whom, as we have said, Kinadius destroyed. ... Two years before he came to Pictland, he had received the kingdom of Dál Riata .

Dál Riata Gaelic overkingdom that included parts of western Scotland and northeastern Ulster in Ireland

Dál Riata or Dál Riada was a Gaelic overkingdom that included parts of western Scotland and northeastern Ireland, on each side of the North Channel. At its height in the late 6th and early 7th centuries, it encompassed roughly what is now Argyll in Scotland and part of County Antrim in the Irish province of Ulster.

In the 15th century, Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland , a history in verse, added little to the account in the Chronicle:

Andrew Wyntoun, known as Andrew of Wyntoun, was a Scottish poet, a canon and prior of Loch Leven on St Serf's Inch and, later, a canon of St. Andrews.

The Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland is a history of Scotland from the beginning of the world until the accession of King James I. Attributed to Andrew of Wyntoun, a learned scholar of the time, it is one of the only manuscripts composed in Scots verse before the seventeenth century, though it is also said to be written in northern English. Wyntoun himself calls his language "Ynglys".

Quhen Alpyne this kyng was dede, He left a sowne wes cal'd Kyned,
Dowchty man he wes and stout, All the Peychtis [Picts] he put out.
Gret bataylis than dyd he, To pwt in freedom his cuntre!

When humanist scholar George Buchanan wrote his history Rerum Scoticarum Historia in the 1570s, a great deal of lurid detail had been added to the story. Buchanan included an account of how Kenneth's father had been murdered by the Picts and a detailed, and entirely unsupported, account of how Kenneth avenged him and conquered the Picts. Buchanan was not as credulous as many and he did not include the tale of MacAlpin's treason, a story from Gerald of Wales, who reused a tale of Saxon treachery at a feast in Geoffrey of Monmouth's inventive Historia Regum Britanniae .

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. The term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century to refer to a system of education based on the study of classical literature. Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of human freedom and progress. It views humans as solely responsible for the promotion and development of individuals and emphasizes a concern for man in relation to the world.

MacAlpin's treason is a medieval legend which explains the replacement of the Pictish language by Gaelic in the 9th and 10th centuries.

Gerald of Wales 12th and 13th-century Welsh clergyman, writer, and historian

Gerald of Wales was a Cambro-Norman archdeacon of Brecon and historian. As a royal clerk to the king and two archbishops, he travelled widely and wrote extensively. He both studied and taught in France and visited Rome several times, meeting the Pope. He was nominated for several bishoprics but turned them down in the hope of becoming bishop of St Davids, but was unsuccessful despite considerable support. His final post was as archdeacon of Brecon, from which he retired to academic study for the remainder of his life. Much of his writing survives.

Later 19th-century historians, such as William Forbes Skene, brought new standards of accuracy to early Scottish history, while Celticists, such as Whitley Stokes and Kuno Meyer, cast a critical eye over Welsh and Irish sources. As a result, much of the misleading and vivid detail was removed from the scholarly series of events, even if it remained in the popular accounts. Rather than a conquest of the Picts, instead, the idea of Pictish matrilineal succession, mentioned by Bede and apparently the only way to make sense of the list of Kings of the Picts found in the Pictish Chronicle, advanced the idea that Kenneth was a Gael, and a king of Dál Riata , who had inherited the throne of Pictland through a Pictish mother. Other Gaels, such as Caustantín and Óengus , the sons of Fergus, were identified among the Pictish king lists, as were Angles such as Talorcen son of Eanfrith, and Britons such as Bridei son of Beli. [3]

William Forbes Skene Scottish historian

William Forbes Skene WS FRSE FSA(Scot) DCL LLD, was a Scottish lawyer, historian and antiquary.

Kuno Meyer German Celtic scholar

Kuno Meyer was a German scholar, distinguished in the field of Celtic philology and literature. His pro-German stance at the start of World War I in the United States was a source of controversy. His brother was the distinguished classical scholar, Eduard Meyer.

Bede 7th and 8th-century Anglo-Saxon monk, writer, and saint

Bede, also known as Saint Bede, Venerable Bede, and Bede the Venerable, was an English Benedictine monk at the monastery of St. Peter and its companion monastery of St. Paul in the Kingdom of Northumbria of the Angles. Born on lands likely belonging to the Monkwearmouth monastery in present-day Sunderland, Bede was sent there at the age of seven and later joined Abbot Ceolfrith at the Jarrow monastery, both of whom survived a plague that struck in 686, an outbreak that killed a majority of the population there. While he spent most of his life in the monastery, Bede travelled to several abbeys and monasteries across the British Isles, even visiting the archbishop of York and King Ceolwulf of Northumbria. He is well known as an author, teacher, and scholar, and his most famous work, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, gained him the title "The Father of English History". His ecumenical writings were extensive and included a number of Biblical commentaries and other theological works of exegetical erudition. Another important area of study for Bede was the academic discipline of computus, otherwise known to his contemporaries as the science of calculating calendar dates. One of the more important dates Bede tried to compute was Easter, an effort that was mired with controversy. He also helped establish the practice of dating forward from the birth of Christ, a practice which eventually became commonplace in medieval Europe. Bede was one of the greatest teachers and writers of the Early Middle Ages and is considered by many historians to be the single most important scholar of antiquity for the period between the death of Pope Gregory I in 604 and the coronation of Charlemagne in 800.

Later historians would reject parts of the Kenneth produced by Skene and subsequent historians, while accepting others. Medievalist Alex Woolf, interviewed by The Scotsman in 2004, is quoted as saying:

The myth of Kenneth conquering the Picts – it’s about 1210, 1220 that that’s first talked about. There’s actually no hint at all that he was a Scot. ... If you look at contemporary sources there are four other Pictish kings after him. So he’s the fifth last of the Pictish kings rather than the first Scottish king." [4]

Many other historians could be quoted in terms similar to Woolf. [5]

A feasible synopsis of the emerging consensus may be put forward, namely, that the kingships of Gaels and Picts underwent a process of gradual fusion, [6] starting with Kenneth, and rounded off in the reign of Constantine II. The Pictish institution of kingship provided the basis for merger with the Gaelic Alpin dynasty. The meeting of King Constantine and Bishop Cellach at the Hill of Belief near the (formerly Pictish) royal city of Scone in 906 cemented the rights and duties of Picts on an equal basis with those of Gaels (pariter cum Scottis). Hence the change in styling from King of the Picts to King of Alba. The legacy of Gaelic as the first national language of Scotland does not obscure the foundational process in the establishment of the Scottish kingdom of Alba.

Background

Kenneth's origins are uncertain, as are his ties, if any, to previous kings of the Picts or Dál Riata. Among the genealogies contained in the Rawlinson B 502 manuscript, dating from around 1130, is the supposed descent of Malcolm II of Scotland. Medieval genealogies are unreliable sources, but many historians still accept Kenneth's descent from the established Cenél nGabráin , or at the very least from some unknown minor sept of the Dál Riata. The manuscript provides the following ancestry for Kenneth:

...Cináed son of Alpín son of Eochaid son of Áed Find son of Domangart son of Domnall Brecc son of Eochaid Buide son of Áedán son of Gabrán son of Domangart son of Fergus Mór ... [7]

Leaving aside the shadowy kings before Áedán son of Gabrán, the genealogy is certainly flawed insofar as Áed Find, who died c.778, could not reasonably be the son of Domangart, who was killed c.673. The conventional account would insert two generations between Áed Find and Domangart: Eochaid mac Echdach , father of Áed Find, who died c.733, and his father Eochaid .

Although later traditions provided details of his reign and death, Kenneth's father Alpin is not listed as among the kings in the Duan Albanach , which provides the following sequence of kings leading up to Kenneth:

Naoi m-bliadhna Cusaintin chain,
a naoi Aongusa ar Albain,
cethre bliadhna Aodha áin,
is a tri déug Eoghanáin.
Tríocha bliadhain Cionaoith chruaidh,

The nine years of Causantín the fair,
The nine of Aongus over Alba,
The four years of Aodh the noble,
And the thirteen of Eoghanán.
The thirty years of Cionaoth the hardy, [8]

It is supposed that these kings are the Constantine son of Fergus and his brother Óengus II (Angus II), who have already been mentioned, Óengus's son Uen (Eóganán), as well as the obscure Áed mac Boanta , but this sequence is considered doubtful if the list is intended to represent kings of Dál Riata, as it should if Kenneth were king there. [9]

That Kenneth was a Gael is not widely rejected, but modern historiography distinguishes between Kenneth as a Gael by culture and/or in ancestry, and Kenneth as a king of Gaelic Dál Riata. Kings of the Picts before him, from Bridei son of Der-Ilei , his brother Nechtan as well as Óengus I son of Fergus and his presumed descendants were all at least partly Gaelicised. [10] The idea that the Gaelic names of Pictish kings in Irish annals represented translations of Pictish ones was challenged by the discovery of the inscription Custantin filius Fircus(sa), the latinised name of the Pictish king Caustantín son of Fergus, on the Dupplin Cross. [11]

Other evidence, such as that furnished by place-names, suggests the spread of Gaelic culture through western Pictland in the centuries before Kenneth. For example, Atholl, a name used in the Annals of Ulster for the year 739, has been thought to be "New Ireland", and Argyll derives from Oir-Ghàidheal, the land of the "eastern Gaels".

Reign

Compared with the many questions on his origins, Kenneth's ascent to power and subsequent reign can be dealt with simply. Kenneth's rise can be placed in the context of the recent end of the previous dynasty, which had dominated Fortriu for two or four generations. This followed the death of king Uen son of Óengus of Fortriu, his brother Bran, Áed mac Boanta "and others almost innumerable" in battle against the Vikings in 839. The resulting succession crisis seems, if the Pictish Chronicle king-lists have any validity, to have resulted in at least four would-be kings warring for supreme power.

Kenneth's reign is dated from 843, but it was probably not until 848 that he defeated the last of his rivals for power. The Pictish Chronicle claims that he was king in Dál Riata for two years before becoming Pictish king in 843, but this is not generally accepted. It is also said that his reign began in 834 and ended in 863, this is especially predominant in the 17th and 18th centuries where many depictions of Kenneth would state his reign as either 834-863 or 843-863.[ citation needed ] In 849, Kenneth had relics of Columba, which may have included the Monymusk Reliquary, transferred from Iona to Dunkeld. Other than these bare facts, the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba reports that he invaded Saxonia six times, captured Melrose and burnt Dunbar, and also that Vikings laid waste to Pictland, reaching far into the interior. [12] The Annals of the Four Masters , not generally a good source on Scottish matters, do make mention of Kenneth, although what should be made of the report is unclear:

Gofraid mac Fergusa , chief of Airgíalla , went to Alba, to strengthen the Dal Riata, at the request of Kenneth MacAlpin. [13]

The reign of Kenneth also saw an increased degree of Norse settlement in the outlying areas of modern Scotland. Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, the Western Isles and the Isle of Man, and part of Ross were settled; the links between Kenneth's kingdom and Ireland were weakened, those with southern England and the continent almost broken. In the face of this, Kenneth and his successors were forced to consolidate their position in their kingdom, and the union between the Picts and the Gaels, already progressing for several centuries, began to strengthen. By the time of Donald II, the kings would be called kings neither of the Gaels or the Scots but of Alba. [14]

Kenneth died from a tumour on 13 February 858 at the palace of Cinnbelachoir, perhaps near Scone. The annals report the death as that of the "king of the Picts", not the "king of Alba". The title "king of Alba" is not used until the time of Kenneth's grandsons, Donald II (Domnall mac Causantín) and Constantine II (Constantín mac Áeda). The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland quote a verse lamenting Kenneth's death:

Because Cináed 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. [15]

Kenneth left at least two sons, Constantine and Áed , who were later kings, and at least two daughters. One daughter married Run , king of Strathclyde, Eochaid being the result of this marriage. Kenneth's daughter Máel Muire married two important Irish kings of the Uí Néill . Her first husband was Aed Finliath of the Cenél nEógain . Niall Glúndub , ancestor of the O'Neill, was the son of this marriage. Her second husband was Flann Sinna of Clann Cholmáin. As the wife and mother of kings, when Máel Muire died in 913, her death was reported by the Annals of Ulster, an unusual thing for the male-centred chronicles of the age.

See also

Notes

  1. Cináed mac Ailpín is the Mediaeval Gaelic form. A more accurate rendering in modern Gaelic would be Cionaodh mac Ailpein since Coinneach is historically a separate name. However, in the modern language, both names have converged.
  2. Skene, Chronicles, p. 83.
  3. That the Pictish succession was matrilineal is doubted. Bede in the Ecclesiastical History, I, i, writes: "when any question should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race, rather than the male: which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day." Bridei and Nechtan, the sons of Der-Ilei, were the Pictish kings in Bede's time, and are presumed to have claimed the throne through maternal descent. Maternal descent, "when any question should arise" brought several kings of Alba and the Scots to the throne, including John Balliol, Robert Bruce and Robert II, the first of the Stewart kings.
  4. Johnston, Ian. "First king of the Scots? Actually he was a Pict". The Scotsman , October 2, 2004.
  5. For example, Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 107–108; Broun, "Kenneth mac Alpin"; Forsyth, "Scotland to 1100", pp. 28–32; Duncan, Kingship of the Scots, pp. 8–10. Woolf was selected to write the relevant volume of the new Edinburgh History of Scotland, to replace that written by Duncan in 1975.
  6. After Herbert, Rí Éirenn, Rí Alban, kingship and identity in the ninth and tenth centuries, p. 71.
  7. Genealogies from Rawlinson B 502: ¶1696 Genelach Ríg n-Alban.
  8. "The Duan Albanach".
  9. See Broun, Pictish Kings, for a discussion of this question.
  10. For the descendants of the first Óengus son of Fergus, again see Broun, Pictish Kings.
  11. Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 95–96; Fergus would appear as Uurgu(i)st in a Pictish form.
  12. Regarding Dál Riata, see Broun, "Kenneth mac Alpin"; Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 111–112.
  13. Annals of the Four Master, for the year 835 (probably c.839). The history of Dál Riata in this period is simply not known, or even if there was any sort of Dál Riata to have a history. Ó Corráin's Vikings in Ireland and Scotland, available as etext, and Woolf, Kingdom of the Isles, may be helpful.
  14. Lynch, Michael, A New History of Scotland
  15. Fragmentary Annals , FA 285.

Related Research Articles

Causantín or Constantín mac Cináeda was a king of the Picts. He is often known as Constantine I in reference to his place in modern lists of kings of Scots, but contemporary sources described Causantín only as a Pictish king. A son of Cináed mac Ailpín, he succeeded his uncle Domnall mac Ailpín as Pictish king following the latter's death on 13 April 862. It is likely that Causantín's reign witnessed increased activity by Vikings, based in Ireland, Northumbria and northern Britain. He died fighting one such invasion.

Constantine, son of Áed was an early King of Scotland, known then by the Gaelic name Alba. The Kingdom of Alba, a name which first appears in Constantine's lifetime, was situated in modern-day Scotland. The core of the kingdom was formed by the lands around the River Tay. Its southern limit was the River Forth, northwards it extended towards the Moray Firth and perhaps to Caithness, while its western limits are uncertain. Constantine's grandfather Kenneth I of Scotland was the first of the family recorded as a king, but as king of the Picts. This change of title, from king of the Picts to king of Alba, is part of a broader transformation of Pictland and the origins of the Kingdom of Alba are traced to Constantine's lifetime.

Alpín mac Echdach was a supposed king of Dál Riata, an ancient kingdom that included parts of Ireland and Scotland.

Óengus mac Fergusa was king of the Picts from 820 until 834. In Scottish historiography, he is associated with the veneration of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.

Causantín mac Fergusa King of Picts

Causantín or Constantín mac Fergusa was king of the Picts, in modern Scotland, from 789 until 820. He was until the Victorian era sometimes counted as Constantine I of Scotland; the title is now generally given to Causantín mac Cináeda. He is credited with having founded the church at Dunkeld which later received relics of St Columba from Iona.

Eochaid mac Áeda Find is a spurious King of Dál Riata found in some rare High Medieval king-lists and in older history books.

Áed Find, or Áed mac Echdach, was king of Dál Riata. Áed was the son of Eochaid mac Echdach, a descendant of Domnall Brecc in the main line of Cenél nGabráin kings.

Giric mac Dúngail (Modern Gaelic: Griogair mac Dhunghail, known in English simply as Giric, and nicknamed Mac Rath, ; was a king of the Picts or the king of Alba. The Irish annals record nothing of Giric's reign, nor do Anglo-Saxon writings add anything, and the meagre information which survives is contradictory. Modern historians disagree as to whether Giric was sole king or ruled jointly with Eochaid, on his ancestry, and if he should be considered a Pictish king or the first king of Alba.

The House of Alpin, also known as the Alpínid dynasty, Clann Chináeda, and Clann Chinaeda meic Ailpín, was the kin-group which ruled in Pictland and then the kingdom of Alba from the advent of Kenneth MacAlpin in the 840s until the death of Malcolm II in 1034.

Óengus I King of the Picts

Óengus son of Fergus, was king of Picts from 732 until his death in 761. His reign can be reconstructed in some detail from a variety of sources. The unprecedented gains he made and the legacy he left, mean Óengus can be considered the first king of what would become Scotland.

Loarn mac Eirc was a legendary king of Dál Riata who may have lived in the 5th century. He was buried on Iona.

Uuen (Wen) or Eogán in Gaelic was king of the Picts 837-839.

Conall mac Taidg was a king of the Picts from 785 until 789. Very little is recorded of Conall. He is mentioned twice by the Irish annals, the most reliable source for the history of northern Britain in the years around 800. He also appears in later king lists.

Ciniod son of Uuredech was king of the Picts from 763 until 775.

Origins of the Kingdom of Alba History of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of Alba

The origins of the Kingdom of Alba pertain to the origins of the Kingdom of Alba, or the Gaelic Kingdom of Scotland, either as a mythological event or a historical process, during the Early Middle Ages.

Domnall mac Caustantín is thought to have been king of Dál Riata in the early ninth century.

References

For primary sources see underExternal linksbelow.

Further reading

Kenneth MacAlpin
Born: after 800 Died: 13 February 858
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Drest X
King of the Picts
843–858
Succeeded by
Donald I