The 51st King of Picts, Oengus I, ruled from 729 to 761 (a total of 32 years). There is no disputing the fact that he was noted as a warrior. He killed his Pictish opposition as well as Britons and Scots in great battles. Finally, he defeated the Scots of Dalriada and beheaded their King to become the first King of both Picts and Scots for the final twenty years of his reign. It is possibly a lesser known fact that St. Andrew (rather than St. Peter) was "enthroned" as patron of the Picts by King Oengus I. He was probably influenced in the choice of saint by the Columban Christians from the sacred Isle of Iona.

Oengus was followed by his brother Brude/Bridei IV, who ruled for two years. There is, for the first time, reason to believe that the successor to the Pictish kingship, Cinoid, might have had some Scottish blood as well as Pictish, since Dalriada was allowed to become re-established. For a lengthy period there was some confusion and darkness in the list of kings.

Several Pictish kings, including Alpin II, Drust VII, Talorc II, Talorc III MacOengus and Conall, may have reigned briefly before Castantin became the 2nd King of Picts and Scots with a term of 35 years. He was succeeded by his brother Oengus II, who reputedly brought the relics of St. Andrew back to Alba. Oengus II was killed by the Scots, after being forced to divide his army during a battle with the Vikings to the north, when Alpin of the Scots attacked from the south in 834. Some copies of the chronicle name further Kings, such as Drust VIII, Talorc, Uven (killed by Vikings in 839), Uurad, Brude/Bridei V, Kenneth, Brude/Bridei VI and Drust IX (where the lists end).

The battle with the Vikings in 839 claimed not only King Uven and his brother Bran but also the cream of the Pictish warrior class. Thus the stage was set for a claim by a Scot to the Kingship of Picts and Scots under the Pictish rules of succession. There was no "honourable field of battle" in this episode, widely recorded as "Kenneth MacAlpin's Treason", which is reported by F. Lennox Campello as follows. "It is Giraldus Cambresis in De Instructione Principus who recounts how a great banquet was held at Scone, and the Pictish King and his nobles were plied with drinks and became quite drunk. Once the Picts were drunk, the Scots allegedly pulled bolts from the benches, trapping the Picts in concealed earthen hollows under the benches; additionally, the traps were set with sharp blades, such that the falling Picts impaled themselves (the Prophecy of St. Berchan tells that '[MacAlpin] plunged them in the pitted earth, sown with deadly blades'). Trapped and unable to defend themselves, the surviving Picts were then murdered from above and their bodies, clothes and ornaments plundered." In Lion in the North, John Prebble states that seven earls of Dalriada, his kinsmen, were included in the massacre because they might have disputed his claim to Ard-Righ Albainn. [I would question the claim that all of these earls were from Dalriada.]

The power of Kenneth MacAlpin lay in Dalriada to the west and in Fortrenn to the south, but the seeds of northern separatism were sown when a rival kindred, Cenel Loairn, took over in the old Pictish district of Fidach (Moray and Ross). Kings of Scots would soon discover ways to set clan chiefs against one another in order to cement the foundation of their power, but the old Celtic manner of succession to the throne continued to have strong support, as the inhabitants of Pictland were absorbed into the Scottish culture.

Fourteen kings and almost two hundred years later, King Malcolm II was influenced by the Saxon method of succession in the male line of inheritance, but had no male issue. It is suspected that he conspired against the successors of his father, Kenneth II, who reigned from 971 - 995, to gain the throne. In addition to killing King Kenneth III, he removed a few tanists (including the grandson of Boite), who were rivals to his own young grandson, Duncan I, son of Bethoc.

Many abbreviated histories have glossed over the importance of Norse Viking involvement during the transition from Alba to Scotland. Elizabeth Marshall in "Legends and Antiquities" wrote: "On a detached hillock at Easter Rarichie there was supposedly a Viking Fort surrounded by a protective rampart and on a skerry in the sea below known as the King's Sons, three young princes were drowned while on their way to avenge their sister who was being ill-treated by her husband, a Thane of Ross. The three greatest stones of Hilton, (now in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh) Sandwick and Nigg are said to mark their graves."

Eric Linklater (Op.cit., pp.38-40), gives the following account of another Norse saga. "It happened one summer that Sigurd was challenged to a pitched battle by Findlaec, Earl of Moray, ..." and father of Macbeth. "Findlaec, in or about the year 995, was a dangerous enemy, and Sigurd told his mother that if he accepted the challenge the odds against him would be seven to one. To which she replied, 'I would have brought you up in my wool-basket if I had known you expected to live forever! It is fate that governs a man's life, not his own comings and goings; and it is better to die with honour than live in shame.' Then she gave him a raven-banner, finely embroidered, and Sigurd, in a black temper, gathered an army and went to battle at Skitten Mire in Caithness. Three men who carried his banner were killed, but Sigurd was victorious." According to the Ulster Annals and those of Tighernac (translated by O'Cosisser - v.ii. p.267), Malcolm II gave his daughter in marriage to Sigurd "the Stout", Earl/Jarl of Caithness, after the victory over Findlaec.

Duncan I was not the old king in Shakespeare's play, but neither was he a skilled warrior. Furthermore, the Scottish crown is said to have lost nine earldoms (which extended into the heart of Scotland via an alliance and kinship with the Mormaers of Moray) to the Norseman, Thorfinn, Earl of the Orkneys, during Duncan's reign of six years.

After his father Gillacomgain's death, Lulach probably had had a greater claim to the throne (than Duncan I) through his mother, Gruoch, but he was both youthful and intellectually weak. Gruoch was the daughter of Boedhe (son of Keneth III). Macbeth, son of Findlaech, became Thane of Glamis (Ross and Cromarty) and later Thane of Cawdor (Moray), and he succeeded to the title of Mormaer of Moray and Ross through his own right as tanist in the royal line. When Macbeth married Gruoch, the widow of former Mormaer Gillacomgain (the cousin of his father Findlaech), his claim was further strengthened under the older alternating order of succession. If tales of the three witches are true, they may have represented the aspirations and influence of Gruoch.

Duncan's throne was taken from him when he met Macbeth and Thorfinn, the Earl of Orkney, during a battle in 1040 near Elgin where he was killed "in the smith's bothy".

Dickinson (op.cit,) writes, "Macbeth appears to have ruled well. A reign of seventeen years is also indicative of a strong king; and he and his queen (Gruoch) were generous to the church." The Chronicle of St. Andrews notes that the lands of Kyrkness (Kirkness) and Balgyne were given by them directly to Almighty God ("Deo Omnipotenti") and the Culdees of Lochleven ... with no other parties having any rights to this bequest. In the charters by which King Macbeth conveys these gifts, according to John MacBeth [The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 17 & 18, 1920/21, pages 154-155], the Columban Culdees are referred to as the "Keledei of Lochleven" and the combined Gaelic (BH) letters occur in juxtaposition twice as "Machbet" and also as "Makbeth" for the king's name.

Unlike the extensive killings undertaken by his predecessors, King Macbeth had merely exiled Malcolm and Donald Ban, the sons of Duncan I. It is ironical, but not surprising, that one of Duncan's sons, whose life had been spared, would gain the sympathy of the English King, Edward the Confessor, and the armed support of Siward Earl of Northumbria ... to invade Scotland in 1054, and eventually kill Macbeth in Aberdeenshire or Mar on August 15, 1057.

Uprisings continued in the northern district of Moray and Ross, and the Earldom of Moray was forfeited to the Crown in 1130 (not to be revived until after the Battle of Bannockburn, when the Earldom was conferred by King Robert the Bruce upon his nephew Sir Thomas Randolph). The twelve-year reign of the young King Malcolm IV was marked with wars and insurrections, the most serious of which began shortly after he took the throne in 1153. These events ultimately had a bearing on the creation of the Earldom of Ross and the recognition of a new clan.

. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .

© J. Douglas Ross