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The Highlanders of Scotland
Part I - Chapter III


The Scottish Conquest – Its effects did not extend to the Northern Picts, but were confined exclusively to the Southern Picts, or Picts inhabiting the Lowlands – The Northern Picts were altogether unaffected by that conquest, and remained in some degree independent of the Scottish Dynasty, which then began to rule over the greater part of Scotland.

      HAVING now examined, at some length, the internal state and constitution of the different tribes inhabiting Scotland in the year 731, and ascertained their relative position we shall be better enabled to determine the nature and extent of the singular revolution which took place in the ninth century. In doing this we are unfortunately deprived of the usual mode of ascertaining an historical point, as the silence of the best authorities for the history of this period, and the fables of the other historians, have left us no distinct authority for the nature of the event. It is still possible, however, in a point of this nature, to make a considerable approximation to the truth, by reasoning as well from the natural consequences of the events which we know to have happened previously to the revolution as from the condition of the country after it. Either of these modes of reasoning in themselves would afford a strong presumption that the conclusion to which we are brought by them, was probably the true one, but if the result of both accurately coincides, we are then warranted in concluding that we have made thee nearest approximation to the truth, which it is possible to attain regarding the nature of a revolution occurring at so very distant a period. In the first place, then, we shall ascertain th principal events of the history of Scotland, between the year 731 and that in which the Scottish conquest is said to have taken place, and by arguing from the effects likely to have resulted from them, form a conclusion as to what the nature of that revolution must have been. The record of these events is principally to be found in the Irish Annals.

      In the year 731, Angus Mac Fergus, as he is styled by the Annalists, commenced a reign of thirty years over the Pictish nation. By a continued course of victory, and the gradual subjugation of every opponent, he had in the year 729 raised himself to the command of the Piccardach or southern Picts, to which division of the nation he belonged; and finally, in the year 731, by the conquest of Talorgan Mac Congusa, his last opponent, he obtained the throne of the whole Pictish nation. From the opposition which Angus met with, and from the number of opponents with whom he had to contend, it would seem that originally he possessed but a doubtful title to the throne; and that he owed his success rather to his own power and talents than to the support of any of the other Pictish chiefs. After he had in the year 729 overcome all opposition among the southern Picts, his efforts were directed entirely against the Cruithne or northern Picts; and it would appear from the constant succession of attacks, to which he was subjected during his reign from that nation, that they strenuously opposed his right to the throne. Angus at length succeeded in subduing their opposition, and it is quite clear, from the Irish Annalists, that the immediate result of his success and rapidly increasing power was, as might be expected from the character of the Celts, a league between the principal tribes of the northern Picts and the Dalriads or Scots of Argyll, who were ever ready for war with their Pictish enemies.

      When Angus Mac Fergus commenced his reign over the Picts, Eocha, the son of Eochaigh of the line of Gabran, ruled over the Dalraids. On his death in 733, the line of Loarn obtained the superiority in Dalriada in the person of Muredach, the son of Aincellach, and it was immediately on the commencement of his reign that this league appears to have been formed, for in the same year, Dungal, the son of Selvach, and consequently his cousin, made a sudden descent upon the monastery of Tory Island, surprised Brude, the son of Angus, the Pictish king, who was there at the time, and in defiance of the monasterial privileges carried him off. This act of treachery was revenged in the following year by Angus, who undertook an expedition into the Dalriadic territories. When on his march for that purpose, Talorcan Mac Congusa, by whose conquest Angus had obtained the Pictish throne, was delivered up to him by his own brother, and was immediately drowned. Angus then penetrated into the district of Lorn, where he was attacked near the foot of Dunolly by Talorcan Mac Drusten, the king of Atholl. Talorcan, however, was defeated and taken prisoner, and some years afterwards shared the same fate with Talorcan Mac Congusa. Angus then returned to Dunleitfin, a fort upon the banks of the river Leven, which he destroyed, and Dungal, being wounded in its defence, was obliged to fly to Ireland from his power. Angus thus, by the same vigour and success which had marked his previous career, crushed this formidable union.

      Two years after this, Dungal again returned to Scotland, having, in all probability, received assistance from Ireland, and Angus once more made preparations for invading Dalriada. His formidable army was divided into two parts; with the one he himself laid waste the whole of Dalriada, burnt the fort of Dunadd, carried off an immense booty, and cast the two sons of Selvac, Dungal and Feradach, into chains. In the meantime, his brother, Talorcan, opposed Muredach, the king of Dalriada, with the other division of the army, and a battle was fought between them on the banks of the Linne Loch, in which Talorcan was victorious, and Muredach was obliged to fly.

Whether the northern Picts were engaged in this second attempt, it is impossible to determine, but Angus seems to have firmly established his power by the event, and to have, for the time, completely crushed the power of the Dalriads. [For this short detail of the events which occurred subsequent to 731, the reader is referred to the accurate copies of Tighernac and the Annals of Ulster, printed by O’Connor, in which the authorities for the various events here stated will be found under the different years in which they are said to have occurred. The author cannot resist calling the attention of the reader to the valuable addition which an examination of these important Annals in the original makes to the history of this period.]

      With this year commences a very remarkable difference between the various chronicles of the Dalriadic kings. These chronicles consist of what are generally termed the Latin Lists or Chronicles of several of the Scottish monasteries written in the twelfth century; and of the Albanic Duan, a work composed in the year 1050, and consequently the oldest and best authority for the list of their kings. These various lists agree in general down to the flight of Muredach, and whenever there is any discrepancy between them, the Albanic Duan is invariably supported by Tighernac, and the Ulster Annals. After Muredach, however, they differ altogether, and the two lists are as follows.

           ALBANIC DUAN                                    LATIN LISTS


                                                              Years                                                    Years

            Muredh............................................3    Muredach........................................3

            Aodh na Ardflaith.. ........................30     Ewen...............................................5

            Domnall.........................................24    Muredach........................................3

            Conaill.............................................2    Ewen...............................................3

            Conaill.............................................4    Hedalbus.......................................30

            Constantin.......................................9    Fergus.............................................3

            Aongus............................................9   Selvad............................................21

            Aodha..............................................4  

            Eoganan........................................13    Eogan............................................30

            Dungal.............................................7   Dungal.............................................7

            Alpin................................................4   Alpin................................................4

            Kenneth Mac Alpin......................109      Kenneth Mac Alpin......................109

      On comparing these two lists it will be observed that they both agree as to the reign of Muredach, and that after him they differ altogether, both in the names and number of the kings, until they come to Eoganan, where they once more agree during the last three reigns. The antiquity of the Albanic Duan, and the fact that the amount of the reigns of the different kings mentioned by it make up exactly the interval between the reign of Muredach and that of Kenneth, precludes the possibility of that part of the list not being authentic; while at the same time the number and accordance of the Latin Lists obliges us to receive their catalogue also as genuine; consequently, the only supposition which can be made is, that between the reigns of Muredach and Eoganan, there existed in Dalriada two independent lines of princes, and that these two lines were once more united in the person of Eoganan, after he had reigned seventeen years in one part of the Dalriadic territories. Two of the kings contained in the Latin Lists during this period are to be found in the Irish Annals: in 778 they mention the death of Edfin Mac Eachach, Ri Dalriada, and in 781 the death of Fergus Mac Eachach, Ri Dalriada. From this it would appear that the kings of the Latin Lists were the kings of Dalriada, properly speaking, and not those of the Albanic Duan, and also that they were descended from Eachach, who reigned over Dalriada in 726, and who was a Scot, of the tribe of Gabran. The question then comes to be, who were the kings said by the Albanic Duan to be reigning in Dalriada during this period? Aodh, the first of them, could not, from the period of his reign, have been the same person with Edfin, as is generally supposed; and the fact that Aodh commenced his reign in the very year that the Pictish monarch, as we have seen, overran Dalriada, and conquered the whole district of Lorn, affords a strong presumption that he must have been put there by the Pictish king, and that he ruled over the Pictish possessions in Dalriada. This presumption is placed almost beyond a doubt, by the Annals of Ulster, where we find, in 749, “The burning of Cillemoire of Aiden, the son of Angus.” Aodh could not have been of the line of Lorn, for the first of the proper kings of Dalriada during this period, as given by the Latin Lists is Ewen, the son of Muredach, of that line. He could not have been of the line of Fergus, for Ewen is succeeded, in the thirteenth year of Aodh’s reign, by Edfin of Fergus line; and when during the reign of Aodh we find Cillemoire, a place in Lorn, actually in possession of a person of the same name, and when that person is described as the son of Angus, shortly after the district of Lorn had been conquered by Angus, king of the Picts, we must hold it to establish beyond a doubt, that Aodh, or Aidan, was the son of Angus Mac Fergus, king of the Picts, and that he was the first of a line of Pictish princes who ruled over the Pictish possessions in Dalriada.

      The two lines of kings reigning at the same time in Dalriada unite, as we have seen, in the person of Eoganan, whose reign in the Latin Lists is made to extend to thirty years, and in the Albanic Duan to only thirteen. He would appear, consequently, to have been one of the kings of Dalriada, of the Scottish line, and to have recovered possession of the territories which had been wrested from his ancestors by Angus in 736. This undertaking he apparently accomplished by the assistance of the Irish. The seventeenth year of his reign, or that in which he obtained possession of the whole of Dalriada, will fall about the year 819, and in that very year the Annals of Inisfallen mention the death or slaughter of Aid, king of Ireland, while fighting in Alban, or Scotland; and in another part of the same annals he is mentioned as having been killed at the battle of Drum; thus plainly indicating that he assisted the Dalriads in recovering their ancient possessions, and that he was himself slain after they had pushed their success as far as the Drum, or Drumalban, the original boundary between the Picts and Scots.

      The events which took place between the conquest of part of Dalriada by the Picts in 736, and its recovery by the Dalriads in 819, are not numerous.

      In 741 the northern Picts appear once more to have leagued with the Dalriadic Scots, and to have slain one of the Pictish princes on the side of Angus Mac Fergus, which aggression was immediately followed by the attack and total defeat of the Dalriads.

      In 749 Cillemoire, the residence of the Pictish prince in Lorn, was burnt, probably by Edfin, the Dalriadic king.

      In 761 died Angus Mac Fergus, certainly the most powerful king of the Picts, and brought these turbulent tribes under his subjection. He almost annihilated the Scots of Dalriada; and yet it was his power and his victories which laid the germs of that revolution which resulted in the overthrow of the Pictish influence in Scotland.

      Angus was succeeded by his brother Brude, who reigned only two years. After Brude’s death the northern Picts appear to have regained their strength sufficiently to enable them to place Kenneth, a chief of that race, upon the throne, although they were opposed by Aodh, thee son of Angus and chief of the Piccardach. Kenneth was succeeded by Elpin, but it is uncertain whether he was of the northern or southern Picts. He was succeeded by Drust, son of Talorcan, who was probably the same as Taloran, the king of Atholl, and therefore a northern Pict. Drust was succeeded by Talorcan, son of the famous Angus, and he again, after a reign of two years and a half, by Conall, the son of Tarla or Tadg, who reigned five years.

      From the death of Angus, in the year 761, down to this period, there seems to have been a constant struggle between the northern and southern Picts for the superiority, the two races being apparently alternately successful, for a king of the one race generally succeeds one of the other down to the reign of Conall, when the southern Picts under Constatin Mac Fergus, a descendant of Angus, succeeded once more in obtaining the pre-eminence which they had had under Angus.

      In 789 a battle was fought between Conall and Constantin, in which Constantin was victorious, although Conall succeeded in making his escape. During a long reign of thirty years Constantin established the power of the southern Picts so firmly that he was enabled to transmit the crown to his posterity, and thus introduce hereditary succession to the throne for the first time among the Picts. Conall, on his defeat by Constantin, appears to have adopted the usual policy of the northern Picts, and immediately to have entered into a league with the Dalriadic Scots; for we find him in 807 fighting in Dalriada, having attacked the possessions of the southern Picts in that territory, although unsuccessfully, as he was killed in Kintyre by Conall, the son of Aiden, the Pictish prince there.

      In 819, the Dalriads at last prevailed, after so many unsuccessful attempts, in recovering the territory which had been wrested from them by the southern Picts, and their success was principally owing to the assistance of the Irish Monarch, although there can be little doubt that the northern Picts would on that occasion be faithful to those allies by whom they had been so frequently assisted.

      In 839, Uen, the last king of the Picts of the line of Constantin, was killed by the Danes, and with him the power of the southern Picts again declined. The only fact which is at all known with certainty after this date, is the death of Alpin, king of Dalriada in Galloway, after he had overrun and nearly destroyed that province; [Register of St. Andrews] and the chronicles are altogether silent until we find his son Kenneth in the undisturbed possession of the whole of Scotland north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde.

      Such being a short outline of the events which occurred between the year 731 and the Scottish conquest, so far as they can be ascertained from the more authentic annalists, it will now be proper to proceed to the first line of argument by which the true character of that conquest can be established, namely, by arguing from the natural consequences of these events, and the change which they were calculated to produce in the relative situation of the different nations which at that time inhabited Scotland.

      First. – We have seen that the pre-eminent power to which the Piccardach or southern Picts attained under Angus Mac Fergus, had the immediate effect of causing the northern Picts to offer every opposition to that power, and to take every opportunity of rendering themselves independent of them – an object, which although they were unsuccessful during the life of Angus, they accomplished after his death, and even succeeded in placing two monarchs of their own race upon the Pictish throne.

      We have also seen that the very same cause under Constantin Mac Fergus and his brother Angus, fifty years later produced the very same effect of causing the revolt of the northern Picts; and that although they were equally unsuccessful during the lives of these two princes, yet during the reign of Drust, son of Constantin, who succeeded Angus, they appear as independent, and governed by a king of their own of the name of Talorcan, according to the Pictish chronicle.

      Such having been the result of the great accession of power obtained by the southern Picts upon three several occasions, it is to be presumed that when upon the death of Uen, the last king of the line of Fergus, the southern Picts attempted for the fourth time to assert their superiority, and to put forward a king of their own race, the northern Picts would oppose them to the utmost of their power, and would endeavour, as they had done thrice before under similar circumstances, to render themselves altogether independent of the southern division of the race. But when we find that immediately after the death of Uen, the southern Picdts were engaged in contest with Alpin, the Dalriadic king, and that they were unable to prevent his conquering Galloway, one of their principal provinces, we may infer that the northern Picts had been successful in their fourth attempt, and consequently that at the date of the Scottish conquest they were perfectly independent of, and unconnected with the southern Picts.

      Second. – Further, it has been seen that on the three several occasions when the power and superiority attained by the southern Picts under Angus Mac Fergus, and afterwards under Constantin, drove the northern Picts into revolt, they were not content with merely endeavouring to render themselves independent, but actually leagued with the Dalriadic Scots in active opposition to the Piccardachs; on the first two occasions, when we find the king of the northern district of Atholl fighting along with the Dalriads against Angus, the Pictish king; and on the third occasion, when we find that Conall Mac Tadg, the king of the race of the northern Picts whom Constantin drove from the throne, was killed by the Pictish Prince of Lorn while fighting in Kintyre, and therefore assisting the Scots of Dalriada. It is but reasonable to infer, that when the power of the southern Picts drove them for the fourth time into revolt, they would again join the Scots in opposition to the Piccardachs, and would assist them in their final and successful attempt. Again, the great object of the Piccardach princes was apparently to perpetuate the succession to the Pictish crown in their own family, and the northern Picts appear to have constantly opposed that object, and consequently to have upheld the ancient Pictish mode of succession by the female line. Now, as from the name of Alpin, and those of his descendants, it is plain that the Dalriadic king must have been connected with the Picts by the female line, it is natural to suppose that the northern Picts would support the heir to the Pictish crown according to the ancient system of succession, rather than to permit the introduction of hereditary succession in the line of the southern Picts, and the consequent increase of their power, even although that support should have the effect of placing a foreign family upon the throne.

      It is manifest, then, that if the Cruithne or northern Picts were altogether independent of the southern Picts at the time of the conquest, and if they even actually assisted the Dalriadic Scots in that conquest, they would themselves remain unaffected by its results, and instead of suffering from the success of that invasion, would even in all probability obtain an accession of territory.

      Such is the conclusion to which we are brought by this mode of argument; but there is still another mode by which the nature and intent of this revolution may be ascertained. We know the exact state and internal condition of the different tribes in 731; by contrasting with this the situation of the same tribes after the alleged conquest, it is manifest that we may deduce from their condition after that event the probably nature of the revolution which produced so great a change.

      From this contract we obtain the following results: –

      First. – In the year 731, Scotland was inhabited by two distinct nations, the Picts, and the Dalriadic Scots. These nations were independent of each other, and were governed by independent lines of princes. After the year 843, we find the whole of Scotland under the government of one monarch; it therefore necessarily follows, either that these two nations were united into one, or that the one reduced the other under its dominion.

      Second. – As we find that after the year 843 there was but one king over Scotland, and as we find that the succession to the throne was purely hereditary, it is manifest that the monarch must have been descended either from the Scottish or the Pictish line. But thre name of Scotland appears never to have been applied to North Britain before that ate, but rather to have subsequently extended itself gradually over the whole country, and to have at last superseded the more ancient appellation of Albion or Albania. It is consequently to be inferred that thee later kings were of the Scottish race, and that the Scots had obtained a preponderance over the Picts; besides this inference, which results naturally from the argument, the whole authorities for the early history of Scotland concur in establishing the fact, that Kenneth, the first monarch who ruled over the whole country, was of the Scottish race.

      Third. – When we consider that the name of Scotland did not spread rapidly over the country, but that it was many centuries before that appellation comprehended the whole of Scotland, and also that the first four or five kings of the line of Kenneth are termed by the Irish annalists kings of the Picts, and not of the Scots, or of Scotland, we must infer that the effects produced by the conquest did not extend to the whole of the Picts, but that a very considerable part of them must have remained altogether unaffected by the invasion, and that the name of Scotland must have spread over the country, rather from the fact of its kings being derived from that race, and of their political pre-eminence, than from an actual subjugation of all the Pictish tribes, as feigned by the Scottish historians; a theory the absurdity of which it is impossible not to perceive, if we look at the state of Scotland in 731, and the very great superiority of the Picts over the Scots in power, extent of territory, and in numbers.

      Fourth. – If we find, subsequent to the year 843, or the date of the supposed conquest, any part of the Pictish nation appearing as a body, under a peculiar national name, and apparently distinguished by that name from the rest of Scotland, it is manifest that that tribe could have formed no part of the Scottish conquest, and must have retained their territory and their independence, notwithstanding the subjugation of the rest of the country. But we find from the Irish annalists, that as late as the year 865, the northern Picts appear as a distinct people from the rest of Scotland, under their ancient and peculiar name of Cruithen tuath, or Cruithne of the North. We must consequently conclude that the Cruithne were not affected by the conquest, but remained a peculiar and distinct people for many years afterwards. The northern Picts, however, are not the only exceptions; for the Strath Clyde Britons exhibit a parallel instance of the same thing. They are frequently mentioned after the date of the conquest, by their peculiar national appellation. And we know from history that they were not included in the conquest, but remained for a long period independent, and under the government of their own kings.

      Not only, however, do the northern Picts appear as a distinct body under their peculiar appellation of Cruithne, as late as the year 865, but we even find that their territories, consisting of the whole of Scotland north of the Grampains [sic], retained the appellatiin of Pictavia as late as the year 894. This appears very clear from the Pictish Chronicle, for in 865, when the annals of Ulster mention that the Northmen ravaged the Cruithen [sic] tuath, or northern Picts, the Pictish Chronicle, in relating the same event, uses the expression Pictavia, instead of Cruithen [sic] tuath. Afterwards, in 894, the Pictish Chronicle mentions that the Norwegians conquered Pictavia, but we know from the Norse Sagas that this conquest was confined to the country north of the Grampians. Wherever the Norwegians ravaged other parts of the country, the Pictish Chronicle invariably uses the expression Albania instead of Pictavia. If the northern Picts appear as a distinct people, retaining their ancient appellation so late as the year 865, and if their territories also retained the name of Pictavia as late as the end of the ninth century, it is evident that that territory could not have been comprised within those conquered by the Scots, and that the name of Scotland must have spread over that part of the country from other causes than that of conquest.

      This result is confirmed by all the native writers of Scotland, who invariably confine the Scottish conquest to the country south of the Grampians, although they err in supposing that the country north of that range had been previously in possession of the Scots.

      Upon comparing, therefore, the results obtained by the two lines of argument which we have followed, we find them to coincide so very remarkably with each other, that we cannot, in the absence of express authority regarding the nature of this revolution, come to any other conclusion, than that we have made the nearest possible approximation to the truth, and that from a strict analysis of all the facts known, either preceding or subsequent to that event, and of the inferences deducible from them, it appears that the conquest by the Dalriadic Scots was confined exclusively to the Piccardach or southern Picts – that the Scots were assisted in that conquest by the Cruithne or northern Picts – and that after the conquest, the northern Picts, although they owed a nominal submission to the kings of the Scottish line, yet remained in fact independent, and still retained their ancient territories and peculiar designation.

      This view of the conquest is strongly corroborated by the testimony of Nennius, who mentions that in the fifth century a colony of Jutes under Octa and Ebussa, settled on the north of the “Mare fresicum id est quod inter nos Scotosque est usque ad confinia Pictorum.” [Nennius, c. 37.] Whatever may be the truth with regard to this colony, the clear inference from this passage is, that fifteen years after the Scottish conquest, or in 858, when Nennius wrote, the Scots occupied the country immediately north of the Firth of Forth, and the Picts lay beyond them, and were separated from them by a distinct boundary. In other words, the Scots occupied the territories previously possessed by the southern Picts, while the northern Picts remained untouched; and this view is like wise supported by the only facts regarding the war immediately preceding that event, which are to be found in the ancient chronicles.

      Alpin’s attack appears, from the register of St Andrews, to have been confined to Galloway, a province of the southern Picts; and it is expressly said by that chronicle, that it was his conquest of that territory which transferred the kingdom of the Picts to the Scots. Kenneth, his son, apparently fought but one battle, and that battle took place, according to the same chronicle, at Forteviot, in the very heart of the territory of the southern Picts.

      The origin of the fable of the subjugation and even extermination of the whole Pictish nation, is probably to be found in the circumstance, that the southern Picts were known by the peculiar name of Piccardach or Picts proper, a name which never occurs after the date of the conquest, while the northern Picts have the appellation of Cruithne, under which name they appear as late as the year 865, and thus those events which originally belonged to the Piccardach or Picts proper only, were afterwards, when both names had long ceased to be used, naturally extended to the whole Pictish nation.


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