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A Brief History

A wonderful read: The Lion in the North by John Prebble (SBN: 436 38608 9)

One more: The Lords of the Isles by Ronald Williams (0-7011-2268-4)

A very special mention: If you're interested in the people, places and events in Scottish history (quote!) you really aught to have a look at the YouTube channel of the 'stand-up comic come tour guide' (another quote!) Bruce Fumey. A great many short 15 minutes videos in which Bruce tackles often complicated subjects. His presentation is unique! 'In the meantime.......let me tell you a story' (yet another quote!)

The Romans and Hadrian's Wall

Although the Romans finally conquered England, Scotland proved to be a problem.

The difficult terrain, the logistics and the ferocious resistance of the tribes finally forced the emperor Hadrian to abandon his ambitious plans to extend the Empire just that little bit further. He ordered a wall to be built across the island from sea to (shining) sea. The Roman landowners however continued to expand their holdings north of the wall and became very vulnerable to raids. Around 142 AD, the new emperor Antoninus Pius set out to build another wall just that little bit further north. This venture, the Antonine Wall, for many different reasons soon came to a grinding halt and although the legions sometimes did venture into the Highlands, the wall of Hadrian became once again the final frontier.


Arrival of the Scotii

Over the centuries many Irish (*Scotii), had made the crossing to Cruithentuath (Gaelic for Pictland). It was only the Dál Riata tribe however that managed to establish a firm foothold in spite of the fierce resistance of the Picts. It is said (very conjectural!) that, at some stage, the Dalriadic king (The "Rí na Dál Riata") called for help from Ireland and it was Fergus Mor Mac Earca with his brothers and their powerful following who in 498, the Roman legions had long since left, answered the call.

Fergus moved for reasons of defence the royal seat of Dál Riata to Dunadd in Argyll. It was to become Scotland’s cradle. It would take another 350 years before Dál Riata and Pictland were finally to merge and become 'Alba'. By the 11th century it was more commonly known as Scotia or Scotland, but Alba remains the Gaelic name for Scotland today.

* Scotii: a name originally used by Roman and Greek writers for the Irish who raided Roman Britain.


In Argyll there were four main Dál Riatan kindreds (Cenéls) each with their own chief:

  • Cenél Loairn (kindred of Loarn) in north and mid-Argyll, who gave their name to the district of Lorn.
  • Cenél nÓengusa (kindred of Óengus) based on Islay
  • Cenél nGabráin (kindred of Gabrán) based in Kintyre
  • Cenél Comgaill (kindred of Comgall) based in east Argyll, who gave their name to the district of Cowal.

Although they originated from the same stock, the different Cenéls were often quite literally at each other's throat when it came to the High Kingship.


Battling the Vikings

At the beginning of the 13th century the Firth of Clyde was frontier territory.

Although the mainland was Scottish, the islands of Bute and Cumbrae and the whole of the Hebrides gave its allegiance to the Vikings, who had plagued Alba already for hundreds of years. In spite of the fact that their often savage raids had, over time, evolved into trade and settlement, both Haakon IV of Norway and Alexander II of Scotland were determined to expand their authority. Both men regarded the Hebrides (Innse Gall) as lying within their sphere of influence.

Over the next decades forces loyal to Alexander II and Haakon fought a vicious running battle in the islands.

Alexander's obsession with winning the Hebrides proved fatal when he sailed up the west coast with a powerful fleet in 1249. He died of a fever as he tried to persuade island lords to sever links with Norway.

Alexander III ordered raids deep into Norse territory. It was a brutal show of force. Haakon, in response  led his fleet through the Hebrides, island by island, demanding allegiance.

By the time he reached the disputed territories of the Clyde, he had 120 ships and up to 20,000 men at his command.

A sudden storm however destroyed most of the Viking fleet and the Battle of Largs petered out into a long distance and sporadic shooting match. Neither side had won.

The Norse king's decided to disperse the fleet and spend the winter in Orkney determined to return in the spring to have his bloody revenge on Alexander.

But Haakon died in Orkney on 16 December 1263.

His son Magnus the Lawmender was not interested in continuing the fight and gave up the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland, in return for 4,000 marks in silver and an annual payment, under the Treaty of Perth.

At the same time the Scots recognised Norwegian rule over Shetland and the Orkney Islands.

For the descendants of the Vikings in the Hebrides things were beginning to change too.

There a ‘new’culture started to develop that would culminate into the Lordship of the Isles.


Influx of the Normans

After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, many Anglo-Saxons and Norman adventurers settled in the lowlands of Scotland, where they gradually introduced English ways. Feudalism was established and the chiefs of lowland clans became ‘nobles’. Scotland prospered.


Lordship of the Isles

"Ni h-eibhneas gan Chlainn Domhnaíll. Ni comhnairt bheith’na n-éagmhais an chlann dob fhearr san gcruinne gur dhiobh gach duine céatach." (It is no joy without Clan Donald. It is no strength to be without them. The best race in the round world. To them belongs every goodly man.): A poem by MacMhuirich bard, late 15th century


The Western Isles of Scotland were controlled by various Norse and Gaelic rulers who owed their allegiance to the kings of Norway rather than the kings of Scotland.

So removed from Scottish control were these islands that these rulers referred to themselves as 'King of the Isles' (in Gaelic, 'Ri Innse Gall'). From the origins of these semi-autonomous island kingdoms the 'Lords of the Isles' would emerge.

While elsewhere in Scotland the nobles were building castles to protect themselves from the English or their own neighbours, the Lordship of the Isles, a unique political institution was taking shape amongst the Gaelic people of the west.

At a time when the King of Scots himself was forced by his enemies to take refuge in France, the Lord of the Isles was able to live in peace and safety among his own kin. the Lordship provided the Gaels of Scotland with a political unity and cultural focus that was never to be equalled. It represented a tradition that stretched back to the days of St Columba and the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.

At one point almost a third of Scotland was under the control of Clan Donald. This did not come about by accident, but by great skill in politics, diplomacy and war. Above all, it came about because of the loyalty and affection the Lordship inspired among its people, not just those of Clan Donald but also the other confederate clans.


The English state their claim

By the end of the 13th century dark clouds gathered. In 1290 the Scottish throne was vacant and 13 claimants (among whom the Dutch count Floris V) contested the Crown.

Edward I of England was called in to make a final decision. They really shouldn’t have done that as the English warrior king, claiming ‘overlordship’ (look for the Treaty of Falaise), demanded acknowledgement of his feudal sovereignty first.

The claimants after long deliberations acceded (oh dear) and Edward chose John de Baliol, a rather malleable personality, as King of Scots and answerable to himself. This  infuriated Robert the Bruce, another claimant.

When Edward haughtily demanded Scottish troops against the French, Baliol however rebelled and entered into the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France.


The Wars of Indepence

Edward felt betrayed in his trust and crossed the border in 1296. To set an example he allowed his troops to massacre nearly the whole population of Berwick-on Tweed, took Baliol prisoner and proclaimed himself king of Scotland instead. ( see also: The Wars of Independence )

The Scots led by William Wallace, revolted and in 1297 routed a massive English host at Stirling Bridge.

The next year a furious Edward returned and annihilated the Scots at Falkirk. Wallace was later betrayed, captured and executed in London.

The Scots soon found another great champion in the son of Robert the Bruce, named Robert as well, who finally saw his chance for the glory, denied to his father a few years earlier.

He proclaimed himself king and in 1314, after years of bloody conflict, Bruce inflicted a disastrous defeat on a superior English host led by Edward II himself at Bannockburn near Stirling.

It was still not enough.

Another 14 years went by before Edward III, exasperated with the incursions of the Scots, finally recognized Scotland's independence.

In the late middle ages, ineffectual kings and powerful nobles created the perfect opportunity for England to pursue their ancient claim of overlordship.

Border clashes in the ‘debateable land’ were endemic. James IV of Scotland married Margaret, daughter of Henry VII of England in 1503, but when Henry VIII went to war with France in 1512, James IV, in the spirit of the ‘Auld Alliance’, invaded England. It was a total disaster. At Flodden Field the King of Scots died ‘riddled with arrows’.

His son James V died broken hearted (quite a story in itself) after his army had been beaten at Solway Moss in 1542 and the throne went to his infant daughter, Mary Stuart.


The Reformation

Major changes were in the air. The Reformation had swept across Europe and into England.

Scotland was still a Roman Catholic country. Its young queen, Mary Stuart, was in France when John Knox, a follower of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Reformation, came home to Scotland from Switzerland.

In 1560 Scotland's parliament adopted a confession of faith drawn up by Knox and established the Church of Scotland.

Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, but was later imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle and forced to abdicate her throne.

She escaped however in 1568 and fled to England, where Queen Elizabeth I made her a prisoner and finally, in 1587, had her executed at Fotheringay.


Mary Stuart's son, James VI, was brought up as a Presbyterian. He inherited the throne of England as James I when Elizabeth died in 1603.

The two nations were now united under a single king, but Scotland remained a separate state with its own parliament and government.
England tried repeatedly to impose the Anglicans' Episcopal form of worship and church government on the Scottish Kirk.

For anyone interested: You might check out the following link: http://www.covenanter.org.uk/whowere.html

The Scots took up arms against Charles I and when civil war broke out in England, they aided the Puritans against the king.

After Oliver Cromwell executed Charles I without consulting the Scots, they were furious and welcomed Charles's son as Charles II.

Cromwell then marched into Scotland and imposed his rule.

When Charles II was restored, persecution of Presbyterians continued and only after James II had been driven from the throne, Presbyterianism was firmly established as Scotland's national church.


Merging of the Kingdoms

The age-old rivalry between Scotland and England ended formally in 1707 when the parliaments of both nations “agreed” to the Act of Union.

This act merged the parliaments of the two nations and established the Kingdom of Great Britain.


The Last Act

The Highlanders however long remained loyal to the exiled Stuarts. In 1715 they attempted to restore the house of Stuart to the throne; James Stuart, known as the Old Pretender, was proclaimed James III. The uprising however failed miserably.

Twenty eight years later, in 1745 a number of clans (oft grudgingly) supported his son, Charles Edward, known as ‘the Young Pretender’ (Bonnie Prince Charlie). Although the 'Jacobites' did very well initially (they got quite close to London!), it all finally ended in 1746 with the battle of Culloden when the Highland forces were defeated by the English.

Listing of rulers of Dál Riata and early Scotland and their "accomplishments"

This listing has been compiled from many, often extremely obscure sources. Historians have their doubts as names, dates and events can not always be verified!

Kings of Dál Riata


  • Fergus Mor Mac Earca c. 498-501

Fergus led the grand exodus from Ireland in order to escape oppression from other tribes, find freedom for his people and help his embattled kin on the fringes of Alba.

  • Domangart mac Fergus 501-507

Son of Fergus. Born around 465 and died at Dunollie Castle in 507. No further details.

  • Comgall mac Domangart 507-538

Son of Domangart. Born 478 and died in 538. No further details.

  • Gabráin mac Domangart 538-558

Son of Domangart and brother to Comgall. For unknown reasons was also called "The Treacherous". Born around 507. Died in battle in 558. Buried at Icolmkill (Isle of Iona). No further details.

  • Conall mac Comgall 558-574

Son of Comgall. It seems he donated Iona to Columba and it is said that his reign was relatively untroubled.

  • Áedán mac Gabráin 574-608

Son of Gabráin. His campaigns against in Ireland, northern Britain and the Orkney's are recorded in the Irish Annals. Defeated by Æthelfrith of Bernicia at the Battle of Degsastan he died in 609.

  • Eochaid Buide ‘The Yellow Haired’ 608-629

Son of Áedán mac Gabráin and chosen heir upon the death of his elder brothers. From 627 to 629, he shared power with Connad Cerr, who predeceased him. He died in 630.

  • Connad Cerr 629

Son of Connall OR Eochaid (not clear). He shared the throne with Eochaid for two years and died at the battle of Fid Eóin in 629.

  • Domnall Brecc ‘The Speckled’ 629-642

Son of Eochaid. Born in 600 at Dunollie Castle. Not very succesful as a war lord. He died in 642 in Strathcarron fighting the Strathclyde Britons.

  • Ferchar mac Connaid 637-650

Son of Connad. He is the only descendant of Connad Cerr known to have held the kingship of Dál Riata. No further details.

  • Conall Crandomna mac Eochaid 650-660

Son of Eochaid. Succeeded Fergar to a divided kingdom. Shared power with Dúnchad mac Conaing (a cousin) who died in battle against the Picts in 654. Conall died in 660.

  • Domangart mac Domnal 660-673

Son of Domnall Brecc. It seems he finally managed to halt the Pictish incursions, especially around the Isle of Skye.

  • Máel Dúin mac Conaill 673-688

Son of Conall. There is a lot of confusion about this king. Was he a "High King"? Did he rule with his brother Domnall Don? No further details.

  • Domnall Donn 688-695

Son of Conall. Nothing is certain about Domnall. It could be that he ruled together with his brother Máel Dúin mac Conaill or succeeded him in 688. No further details.

  • Ferchar Fota “The Tall” 695-697

Son of Feredach mac Fergusa of Cenél Loairn. Battled all his rivals to obtain the High Kingship but his reign as High King of Dál Riata lasted only two years.

  • Eochaid mac Domangart 697

Son of Domangart. He was killed in 697 by Fiannamail ua Dúnchado.

  • Ainbcellach mac Ferchar 697-698

Son of Ferchar Fota. Exiled to Ireland by Fiannamail mac Conall he reportedly returned to fight his brother Selbach mac Ferchar.

  • Fiannamail mac Conall 698-700

Grandson of Dúnchad mac Conaing (see Conall Crandomna). He exiled Ainbcellach and died shortly afterwards (700) in battle.

  • Selbach mac Ferchar 700-723

Son of Ferchar Fota. He fought battles against rivals and his brother Ainbcellach. Abdicated in 723, entered a monastery, but was again 'in the field' in 727.

  • Dúngal mac Selbaig 723-726

Son of Selbach. He held the throne for 3 years. Sources claim he kept fighting Eochaid's Cenél nGabráin. Later he fled to Ireland and upon returning in 736 was captured by Oengus, king of the Picts.

  • Eochaid mac Echdach 726-733

Son of Eochaid. Not much is known other than his battles with Selbach and Dúngal.

  • Muiredach mac Ainbcellach 733-736

Son of Ainbcellach. Nothing is known for certain as the overall picture is confusing with the different Cenéls and the Picts fighting near endless wars.

  • Eógan mac Muiredach 736-739

Son of Muiredach. Very little is known about this king. During his reign Dál Riata was invaded and conquered by the Picts.


Interrechnum. The Picts rule in Dál Riata


  • Aed Find ‘the White’ ??-778

Son of Eochaid. Another king about whom hardly anyything is known. He was the first king after the Pictish conquest so probably Dál Riata was once again "free".

  • Fergus mac Eochaid 778-781

Son of Eochaid. He is mentioned in different sources but still, not much is actually known. Died in 781.

  • Donncoirce 781-792

Nothing is known. He is mentioned but all details are extremely vague.

  • Connall mac Taidg ????

Another rather shadowy king. He seems to have been king of the Picts untill 789 and died in battle in 807. It suggests that Dál Riata was once again dominated (conquered?) by the Picts.

  • Constantin mac Fergusa 789-820

King of the Picts and probably als king of Dál Riata. From here on things get murky as during Viking raids much information was lost

  • Óengus mac Fergusa 820-834

Brother to Constantin and king of the Picts and Dál Riata.

  • Drust mac Constantine 834-837

Nephew of Óengus. It seems that he was king of the Picts and not any longer king of Dál Riata. Who did rule in Dál Riata then?

  • Eóganan mac Óengusa 837-839

Son of Óengus. King of the Picts. Nothing is known other than his final battle against the Vikings in 839.

  • Alpin mac Eochaid 839-841

Died in 834 in Galloway fighting the Picts.


Kings of Alba / House of Alpin


  • Kenneth I mac Alpin 841-859

Son of Alpin mac Eochaid. Following victory in battle against the marauding Vikings, Kenneth was also accepted as King of the Picts. At a banquet at Scone, Kenneth had the seven Earls of the Scot's kingdom of Dalriada, who might have lead opposition to his claim to be King of Scots and Picts, murdered. That very effectively ended ended the conflict. The murder is popularly known as "MacAlpin's treason".

After a long reign fighting the Angles and Bernicans, Kenneth I died at Forteviot and was buried on the island of Iona.

  • Donald I 859-863

Donald (Domnall MacAlpin) succeeded his brother Kenneth. Killed in battle, against the Vikings at Scone but had no heirs. He was buried on Iona and was succeeded by his nephew Constantine.

  • Constantine I 863-877

Constantine (Constantín mac Cináeda) son of Kenneth I mac Alpin and Queen Cinaeth MacDonald. He was styled as king of the Picts but now is traditionally referred to as king of Scots as many consider Kenneth I to be the first king of Scots. Constantine was faced with repeated attacks from Vikings including the forces of Olaf the White based in Dublin who reportedly took many Albans and Britons as slaves. In 877 Constantine was killed fighting the Vikings at Inverdovat, near Newport-on-Tay, Angus. The throne passed to his brother Aed, as his son was considered too young to be king as he was only around 10 at the time. He was buried on Iona.

  • Aed ‘Whitefoot’ 877-878

Aedh (Áed mac Cináeda) was the brother of Constantine I and another son of Kenneth I. He was king for barely a year before he was killed by his cousin Giric at Strathallan, North of Stirling. He was buried on Iona.

  • Eochaid joint with Giric 878-889

Eochaid (Áed mac Cináeda) was the grandson of Kenneth MacAlpin, and son of the Strathclyde ruler Rhun whose father had been slain by Constantine. He ruled jointly with Giric until they were expelled in 889 by Duncan II, ending the influence of Strathclyde which then became a Scottish sub-kingdom. Eochaid was either killed or exiled. Some reports have his burial place as the mound of Cunning hillock near Inverurie.

  • Donald II Dasachtach 889-900

Donald (Domnall mac Causantín) was the son of Constantine I. He was king of the Picts and the last to be officially named that. He succeeded Eochaid and Giric and annexed Strathclyde, establishing himself as King of the Scots. He had some success against the Vikings in the West, but the North was dominated by Viking Sigurd the Mighty based in Orkney. Donald was killed in 900, possibly murdered, at Dunnottar near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. He was buried on Iona.

  • Constantine II 900-943

Constantine II, son of Aed, was the first official king of Alba and the first Scottish King to hold power south of the Forth, but his reign was dominated by Viking raids and northern conquests of the Wessex Kings Athelstan and Edmund of England. In 904 he defeated Vikings at the Battle of Streathearn.

An alliance of Constantine, Owen of Strathclyde and Olaf the Viking king of Dublin was defeated by Aethelstan at Brunanburh in 937. In 943 Edmund established control over Northumbria and extended his rule into southern Scotland. Having been defeated twice and proclaiming he could not handle the English forces Constantine abdicated and lived out the rest of his life as a monk in the monastery at St. Andrews. Eleven years later he died childless, passing the throne to his 1st cousin.

  • Malcolm I 943-954

Malcolm (Máel Coluim mac Domnaill), son of Donald II, became king when Constantine abdicated to become monk. He concluded a deal with Edmund of England to retain sovereignty over Strathcylde and Cumbria which Edmund had conquered in return for defending northern England from the Vikings. Malcolm’s battles took him south of Newcastle against Olaf Sihtricsson who was attempting to regain Northumbria and expel Erik Bloodaxe from York. However Malcolm was killed not by Vikings but defending the North of his kingdom by men of Moray at Fetteresso, near Aberdeen. He was succeeded by his cousin Indulf.

  • Indulf 954-962

Indulf (Ildulb mac Causantín) was the son of Constantine II. Indulf was a Norse name from old Norse Hildulfr, and his sons had Norse names Olaf and Culen. He was sub-king of Strathclyde during Malcolm I’s reign and became king when Malcolm was killed. During his reign the influence of the Scots was extended into Lothian, and he briefly occupied Edinburgh from the Northumbrians.

He was killed in 962 in battle at Invercullen near Aberdeen during Viking challenges for Moray. His legacy is forgotten and does not live on. He is rarely even mentioned now. He is buried in Iona.

  • Dubh 962-967

Dubh mac Mhaoil Chaluim (Duff) became king when Indulf was slain. His rule was challenged by Indulf’s son Culen in the battle at Duncrub, Perthshire.

Dubh was driven north where legend has him as being kidnapped by supporters of Culen and his murdered body discovered in a ditch at Forres, Kinross on the banks of Loch Leven. His burial place has been lost and no one knows the exact place of his burial although it was most likely in 967 just after his death and in Iona.

  • Culen 967-971

Culen (Cuilén mac Ildulb) was a son of Indulf. About his actual reign little is known. According to various sources, he and his brother, Eochaid, were slain by Britons. Some sources identify Cuilén's killer as Rhydderch ap Dyfnwal, a man whose daughter had been abducted and raped by the king. Rhydderch was evidently a man of eminent standing, and seems to have been a son of Dyfnwal ab Owain, King of Strathclyde, and could have possibly ruled the Cumbrian Kingdom of Strathclyde at the time of Cuilén's death.

  • Kenneth II 971-995

Kenneth II (Cináed mac Maíl Coluim) son of Malcolm I became King when Culen was killed, but faced a challenge from Culen’s brother Olaf. The challenge was ended when Kenneth had Olaf killed in 977.

Kenneth submitted to King Edgar of England at Chester in 973 and in return was granted kingship of Lothian. He pushed the borders south into territory previous occupied by the Northumbrians. He was said to be killed near Fettercairn by Fenella, daughter of the Mormar of Angus, in revenge for killing her son.

  • Constantine III 995-997

Constantine III succeeded to the crown after the murder of his cousin, Kenneth II. He reigned for just 18 months before he was killed at Rathinveramon near Scone by Kenneth III.

  • Kenneth III 997-1005

Kenneth and his son Giric were killed in battle at Monzievaird, Perth, in 1005 by his cousin Malcolm III. This rivalry contributed to the feud which resulted in Duncan, grandson of Malcolm, being killed in 1040 by Macbeth who had married Kenneth’s grand daughter Gruoch (Lady Macbeth).

  • Malcolm II Foranach ("The destroyer") 1005-1034

Malcolm (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda), son of Kenneth II, became king after his father was killed in battle. His daughter Bethroc married Crínán, Abbot of Dunkeld, and his daughter Donalda married Finlay MacRory, King of Moray. Malcolm really stands out as a crafty and wily survivor in an age where kings did not stay on their throne very long.

Malcolm’s early raids into Northumbria in 1016 were defeated by Uhtred the Bold at Durham, however he defeated a force of English and Vikings at Carham, and extended Scottish rule into Lothian and Northumbrian lands down to Berwick. In 1032 King Cnut King of England secured the southern part of Northumbria for England settling the border between Scotland and northern England.

Malcolm had no son so he had the grandson of Kenneth III murdered to ensure that his daughter Bethroc’s son Duncan became heir to the throne. Malcolm died from battle injuries at Glamis Castle in 1034 and was buried on the isle of Iona.

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