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General History of the Highlands
Uniting of Scots & Picts - 843


Conal, the fifth king of the Scots in Argyle, the kinsman of St. Columba, and under whose auspices he entered on the work of conversion, and to whom it is said he was indebted for Hy, died in 571. His successor Aidan went over to Iona in 574, and was there ordained and inaugurated by the Abbot according to the ceremonial of the liber vitreus, the cover of which is supposed to have been encrusted with crystal.

To return to the history of the Picts, we have already observed that little is known of Pictish history for more than one hundred years after the Roman abdication; and even up to the union of Picts and Scots, the materials for the history of both are about as scarce as they could possibly be, consisting mostly of meagre chronicles containing the names of kings, the dates of their accession and death, and occasionally the names of battles and of the contending nations. Scotland during this period appears to have been the scene of unceasing war between the Scots, Picts, Britons of Strathclyde, English, and Danes, the two first being continually at strife not only with each other but among themselves. We shall endeavour to give, as clearly and as faithfully as possible, the main reliable facts in the history of the Scots and Picts until the union of these two nations.

The reign of Brude was distinguished by many warlike exploits, but above all, as we have seen, by his conversion and that of his people to Christianity, which indeed formed his greatest glory. His chief contests were with the Scoto-Irish or Dalriads, whom he defeated in 557, and slew Gauran their king. Brude died in 586, and for several ages his successors carried on a petty system of warfare, partly foreign and partly domestic. Passing over a domerstic conflict, at Lindores in 621, under Kenneth, son of Luthrin, we must notice the important battle of Dun-Nechtan, fought in 685, between the Picts under Brude, the son of Bili, and the Saxons, under the Northumbrian Egfrid. The Saxon king, it is said, greedy of conquest, attacked the Picts without provication, and against the advice of his court. Crossing the Forth from Lothian, he entered Srtathearn and penetrated through the defiles of the Pictish kingdom, leaving fire and desolation in his train. His career was stopt at Dun-Nechtan, the hill of Nechtan, a hill in the parish of Dunnichen, about the centre of Forfarshire; and by a neighbouring lake, long known by the name of Nechtan's mere, a short distance east from the town of Forfar, did Egfrid and his Saxons fall before Brude and his exasperated Picts. This was a sad blow to the Northumberland power; yet the Northunbrians, in 699, under Berht, an able leader, again ventured to try their strength with the Picts, when they were once more defeated by Brude, the son of Dereli, who had recently mounted the Pictish throne.

The wars between the Picts and Northumbrians were succeeded by various contests for power among the Pictish princes, which gave rise to a civil war. Ungus, honoured by the Irish Annalists with the title of great, and Elpin, at the head of their respective partisans, tried their strength at Monacrib, supposed by some to be Moncrieff in Strathearn, in the year 727, when the latter was defeated; and the conflict was renewed at Duncrei (Crieff), when victory declared a second time against Elpin, who was obliged to flee from the hostilities of Ungus. Nechtan next tried his strength with Ungus, in 728, at a place called Monacurna by the Annalists - possibly Moncur in the Carse of Gowrie - but he was defeated, and many of his followers perished. Talorgan, the son of Congus, was defeated by Brude, the son of Ungus, in 730, and in the same year the Picts appear to have entered into a treaty of peace with the English nation.

The victorious Ungus commenced hostlilities against the Dalriads, or Scoto-Irish, in the year 736, and appears to have got the better of the latter. The Scots were again worsted in another battle in 740 by Ungus, who in the same year repulsed an attack of the Northumbrians under Eadbert. In the year 750 he defeated the Britons of the Cumbrian kingdom in the battle of Cato or Cath-o, in which his brother Talorgan was killed. Ungus, who appears to have been a powerful and able monarch, but whom Bede characterizes as having conducted himself "with bloody wickedness, a tyratn and an executioner", died about 760. A doubtful victory was gained by Ciniod, or Kenneth, the Pictish king, over Aodh-fin, the Scottish king, in 767. Constantine, having overcome Conal, the son of Tarla, in 789, succeeded him in the throne.

Up to this period the Norsemen from Scandinavia, or the Vikingr, i.e. men of the voes or bays, as they were termed, had confined their ravages to the Baltic; but, in the year 787 they for the first ime appeared on the east coast of England. Some years afterwards they found their way to the Caledonian shores, and in 795 made their first attack on Iona, which frequently afterwards, along with the rest of the Hebrides, suffered grievously from their ravages. In 839 the Vikingr entered the Pictish territories. A murderous conflict ensued between them and the Picts under Uen their king, in which both he and his only brother Bran, as well as many of the Pictish chiefs, fell. This event, no doubt, hastened the downfall of the Pictish monarchy; and as the Picts were unable to resist the arms of Kenneth, the Scottish king, he carried into execution, in the year 843, a project he had long entertained, of uniting the Scots and Picts, and placing both crowns on his head. That anything like a total extermination of the Picts took place is now generally discredited, although doubtless there was great slaughter both of princes and people. Skene asserts indeed that it was only the Southern Picts who became subject to Kenneth, the Northern Picts remaining for long afterwards independent of, but sometimes in alliance with, the Scots. This is substancially the opinion of Mr E.W. Robertson, who says, "the modern shires of Perth, Fife, Stirling, and Dumbarton, with the greater part of the county of Argyle, may be said to have formed the actual Scottish kingdom to with Kenneth succeeded". The Picts were recognised as a distict people even in the tenth century, but before the twelfth they lost their characteristic nominal distinction by being amalgamated with the Scots, their conquerors.

The Scoto-Irish after their arrival in Argle did not long continue under the seperate authority of the three brothers, Lorn, Fergus, and Angus. They were said to have been very far advanced in life before leaving Ireland, and the Irish chroniclers assert that St. Patrick gave them his benediction before his death, in the year 493. The statement as to their advanced age derives some support from their speedy demise after they had laid the foundations of their settlements, and of a new dynasty of kings destined to rule over the kingdom of Scotland. Angus was the first who died, leaving a son, Muredach, who succeeded him in the small government of Ila. After the death of Lorn the eldest brother, Fergus, the last survivor, became the sole monarch of the Scoto-Irish; but he did not long enjoy the sovereignty, for he died in 506.

Fergus was succeeded by his son Domangart, or Dongardus, who died in 511, after a short but troubled reign of about five years. His two sons Comgal and Gabhran or Gauran, successively enjoyed his authority. Comgal had a peaceful reign of four and twenty years, during which he extended his settlements. He left a son named Conal, but Gauran his brother, notwithstanding, ascended the throne in the year 535 without opposition. Gauran reigned two and twenty years, and, as we have already observed, was slain in a battle with the Picts under Bridei their king.

Conal, the son of Comgal, then succeeded in 557, and closed a reign of fourteen years in 571. It was during his reign that Columba's mission to the Picts took place. A civil war ensued between Aodgan or Aidan, the son of Gauran, and Duncha or Duncan, the son of Conal, for the vacant corwn, the claim to which was decided on the bloody field of Loro or Loco in Kintyre in 575, where Duncha was slain. Aidan, the son of Gauran, had been formally inaugriated by St. Columba in Iona, in 574. In the time of Aidan there were frequent wars between the Dalriads and the English Saxons. Many battles were fought in which the Scots were generally defeated, the principal being that of Degsastan or Dalston near Carlisle, in 603, in which nearly the whole of the Scottish army was defeated. The wars with the Saxons weakened the power of the Dalriads very considerably, and it was not till after a long period of time that they again ventured to meet the Saxons in the field.

During a short season of repose, Aidan, attended by St. Columba, went to the celebrated council of Drum-keat in Ulster, in the year 590. In this council he claimed the principality of Dalriada, the land of his fathers, and obtained an exemption from doing homage to the kings of Ireland, which his ancestors, it would appear, had been accustomed to pay. Aidan died in 605 or 608, at the advanced age of eighty, and was buried in the church of Kil-keran, the ruins of which are still to be seen in the midst of Campbleton.

Aidan was succeeded in the throne by his son Eocha-bui, or the "yellow", who reigned sixteen years. He carried on war with the Cruithne of Ulster. After him came his brother Kenneth-Cear, or the "left-handed", who was followed by Ferchar, son of Eogan, of the race of Lorn.

Donal, surnamed breac or freckled, the son of Eocha'-bui, of the race of Gauran, succeeded Ferchar about 637. He was a warlike prince and had distinguished himself in the wars against the Cruithne of Ireland. Congal-Claon, the son of Scanlan, the king of the Cruithne in Ulster, having slain Suibne-Mean, a powerful king of Ireland, was attacked by Domnal II, supreme king of Ireland, who succeeded Suibine, and was defeated in the battle of Duncetheren, in 629. Congal sought refuge in Cantyre, and having persauded Donal-breac, the kinsman of Domnal, to join him in a war against the latter, they invaded Ireland with a heterogeneous mass of Scoto-Irish, Picts, Britons, and Saxons, commanded by Donal and his brothers. Cealach, the son of Maelcomb, the pephew of the reigning king, and as tanist or heir-apparent, the leader of his army, attacked Donal-breac in the plain of Magh Rath or Moyra in Down, in 637, and completely defeated him after an obstinate and bloody engagement. Congal, the murderer of his soverign, met his merited fate, and Donal-breac was obliged to secure his own and his army's safety by a speedy return to Cantyre. St. Columba had always endeavoured to preserve an amicable understanding between the Cruithne of Ulster and the Scoto-Irish, and his injunctions were, that they should live in constant peace; but Donal disregarded the wise advice of the saint, and paid dearly for so doing. He was not more successful in an enterprise against the Picts, having been defeated by them in the battle of Glinne Mairson, Glenmairison, or Glenmoreson, probably in West Lothian, during the year 638. He ended his days at Strath-cairmaic or Strathcarron, possibly in the neighbourhood of Falkirk, by the sword of Hoan or Owen, one of the reguliof Strathcluyd, in the year 642. His son Cathasuidh fell by the same hand in 649.

Conal II, the grandson of Conal I, who was also of the Fergusian race of Congal, next ruled over the tribes of Cantyre and Argyle; but Dungal, of the race of Lorn, having obtained the government of the tribe of Lorn, questioned the right of Conal. He did not, however, carry his pretensions far, for Conal died, in undisturbed possession of his dominions, in 652, after a reign of ten years. To Donal-duin, or the brown, son of Conal, who reigned thirteen years, succeeded Maolduin, his brother, in 665. The family feuds which had long existed between the Fergusian races of Comgal and Tauran, existed in their bitterest state during the reign of Maolduin. Domangart, the son of Donal-breac, was murdered in 672, and Conal, the son of Maolduin, was assassinated in 675.

Ferchar-fada, or the tall, apparently of the race of Lorn, and either the son or grandson of Ferchar, who died in 637, seized the reins of government upon the death of Maolduin. On the death of Ferchar, in 702, he sceptre passed again to the Fergusian race in the person of Eocha'-rineval, remarkable for his Roman nose, the son of Domangart. The reign of this prince was short and unfortunate. His sceptre was seized by Ainbhcealach, the son of Ferchar-fada, who succeeded Eocha' in 705. He was of an excellent disposition, but after reigning one year, was dethroned by his brother, Selvach, and obliged, in 706, to take refuge in Ireland. Selvach attacked the Britons of Strathcluyd, and gained two successive victories over them, the one at Longecoleth in 710, and the other at the rock of Mionuire in 716. At the end of twelve years, Ainbhcealach returned from Ireland, to regain the sceptre which his brother had by his cruelties shown himself unworthy to wield, but he perished in the battle of Finglein, perhaps Glen Fyne at the head of Loch Fyne, in 719. Selvach met a more formidable rival in Duncha-beg, who was descended from Fergus, by the line of Congal; he assumed the government of Cantyre and Argail, and confined Selvach to his family settlements of Lorn. These two princes appear to have been fairly matched in disposition and valour, and both exerted themselves for the destruction of one another, thus bringing many miseries upon their tribes. In an attempt which they made to invade the territories of each other in 719 by means of currachs, a naval combat ensued off Airdeanesbi, (probably Ardaness on the coast of Argyle), in which Selvach was overcome by Duncha; but Selvach was not subdued. The death of Duncha in 721 put an end to his designs; but Eocha' III, the son of Eocha'-rineval, the successor of Duncha, being as bent on the overthrow of Selvach as his predecessor, continued the war. The rival chiefs met at Irroisfoichne in 727, where a battle was fought, which produced nothing but irritation and distress. This lamentable state of things was put an end to by the death of Selvach in 729. This event enabled Eocha to assume the goverment of Lorn, and thus the Dalriadan kingdom which had been alternately rules by chiefs of the houses of Fergus and Lorn became again united under Eocha. He died in 733, after a reign of thirteen years, during nine of which he ruled over Cantyre and Argyle, and four over all the Dalriadic tribes.

Eocha was succeeded in the kingdom by Muredach, the son of Ainbhceallach, fo the race of Lorn. His reign was short and unfortumate. In revenge for an act of perfidy committed by Dungal, the son of Selvach, who had carried off Foria or Toria, the daughter of Brude, and the niece of Ungus, the great Pictish king, the latter, in the year 736, led his army from Strathearn, through the passes of the mountains into Lorn, which he wasted with fire and sword. He sized Duncad, in Mid-Lorn, and burned Creic, another fortress in the Ross of Mull, taking Dungal and Feradach, the two sons of Selvach, prisoners. Muredach went in pursuit of his enemy, and having overtaken him at Knock Cairpre, at Calatros, on he shores of the Linne, a battle ensued, in which the Scots were repulsed with great slaughter. Talorgan, the brother of Ungus, commanded the Picts on this occasion, and pursued the flying Scots. In this pursuit Muredach is supposed to have perished, after a reign of three years.

Eogban or Ewan, the son of Muredach, took up the fallen succession in 736, and died in 739, in which year the Dalriadic sceptre was assumed by Aodh-fin, the son of Eocha'III, and grandson of Eocha'-rineval, descended from the Fergusian race of Gauran. In 740 he measured his strength with the celebrated Ungus; but victory declared for neither, and during the remainder of Ungus's reign, he did not attempt to renew hostilities. After the death of Ungus, in 761, Aodh-fin declared war against the Picts, whose territories he entered from Upper Lorn, penetrating through the passes of Glenorchy and Breadlbane. In 767 he reached Forteviot, the Pictish capital in Strathearn, where he fought a doubtful battle with Ciniod the Pictish king. Aodh-fin died in 769, after a spendid reign of thirty years.

Fergus II, son of Aodh-fin, succeeded to the sceptre on the demise of his father, and died after an unimportant reign of three years. Selvach II, the son of Eogan, assumed the government in 772. His reign, which lasted twenty four years, presents nothing very remarkable in history.

A new soverign of a different lineage, now mounted the throne of the Scots in 796, in the person of Eocha or Auchy, the son of Aodh-fin of the Gauran race. Eocha' IV is known also by the latinized appellation of Achaius. The story of the alliance between Achaius and Charlemagne has been shown to be a fable; although it is by no means improbable that he entered into an important treaty with the Picts, by marying Urgusia, the daughter of Urguis, an alliance which, it is said, enabled his grandson Kenneth afterwards to claim and acquire the Pictish sceptre, in right of Urgusia his grandmother. Eocha died in 826, after a happy and prosperous reign of thirty years. He was succeeded by Dungal, the son of Selvach II, of the race of Lorn, being the last of that powerful family who swayed the Dalriadic sceptre. After a feeble but stormy reign of seven years, he died in 833.

Alpin, the last of the Scoto-Irish kings, and the son of Eocha IV and of Urgusia, now mounted the throne. He was killed in 836, near the site of Laicht castle, on the ridge which seperates Kyle from Galloway. The fiction that Alpin fell in a battle with the Picts, when asserting his right to the Pictish throne, had long been exploded.

In 836 Kenneth, the son of Alpine, succeeded his father. He was a prince of a warlike disposition, and of great vigour of mind and body. He avenged the death of his father by frequent inroads among the people dwelling to the south of the Clyde; but the great glory of his reign consists in his achievements against the Picts, which secured for him and his posterity the Pictish septre. The Pictish power had, previous to the period of Kenneth's accession, been greatly enfeebled by the inroads of the Danisg Vikingr; but it was not till after the death of Uven, the Pictish king, in 839, after a distracted reign of three years, that Kenneth made any serious attempt to seize the Pictish disdem. On the accession of Wred, Kenneth, in accordance with the principle of succession said by Bede to have prevailed among the Picts, claimed the Pictish throne in right of Urgusia, his grandmother; Wred died in 842, and after an arduous struggle, Kenneth wrested the sceptre from Bred, his successor, in 843, after he had reigned over the Scots seven years.

Burton thinks there can be no doubt that the two countries were prepared for a fusion whenever a proper opportunity offered, but that this was on account of a matrimonial alliance between the two royal houses cannot with certainty be ascertained. As we have said already, it is extremely improbable that Kenneth gained his supremency by extermination. The Picts certainly appear to have suffered severe defeat, but the likelihood is that after Kenneth succeeded to the throne, a gradual fusion of the two people took place, so that in course of time they became essentially one speaking language, oveying the same laws, and following the same manners and customs. If we knew for certain to what race the Picts belonged, and what language they spoke, it might help us not a little to understand the nature and extent of the amalgamation; but as we know so little about these, and as the chroniclers, in speaking of this event, are so enigmatical and meagre, we are left almost entirely to conjecture. We are certain, at any rate, that from some cause or other, the kings of the Dalriadic Scots, about the middle of the 9th century, obtained supremancy over at least the Southern Picts, who from that time forward ceased to be a seperate nation.


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