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The Highlanders of Scotland
Part I - Chapter V


General History of the Highlands from the first Norwegian Invasion of that District to the Accession of Malcolm Kenmore, and to the Termination of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Highlands and Islands.

THE preceding portion of this work has been devoted to a critical examination of the fragments which remain of the early history of Scotland, by which we have been brought to the conclusion, that the Highlanders of Scotland are the descendants of the northern Picts; and in the course of that examination, a view has been given of the leading facts of their history, down to the end of the ninth century. The state of the Highlanders at that period was very different indeed from what it was in the thirteenth century, when the Highland clans first make their appearance in their modern shape. In the ninth century we find them in possession of the whole of the north of Scotland, with the exception of the districts of Fife, Strathern, Angus, and Mearns, while in the thirteenth century they were entirely confined to the mountainous part of the country, and the eastern districts were occupied by a people of Teutonic origin, and speaking a German language. The causes of this change to the population are to be found in the events of Scottish history during the tenth and eleventh centuries; it will therefore be necessary, before proceeding with the history of the Highland clans, to give a rapid sketch of these events, in so far as they affected the state of the Highlands.

      The limits of this work must of necessity render that sketch as concise as possible; but it will be proper to premise, that the history contained in the following chapters will be found altogether different from that which has generally been received; which arises from the simple fact, that instead of following the monkish writers, who have given birth to the fabulous notions of the present day, the author has gone to the only genuine sources of the history of this early period now extant, namely, the Norse Sagas, and the Annalists of Ireland, which, although entirely unconnected, corroborate each other in so remarkable a manner as to leave no doubt of the authenticity of their details.

      With the tenth century, the history of the Highlanders of Scotland may, properly speaking, be said to commence. Previously to that period, they appear indeed under their distinctive appellations of Dicaledones, Cruithne, or northern Picts, but still they were not then marked out from the other tribes of Scotland by any peculiarity of manners or of polity; – of their internal condition we known nothing; – and their history in no degree differed from that of Scotland generally.

      The conquest of the southern Picts by the Scots of Argyll, in which, if they were not assisted, at least they were not opposed, by the northern Picts, produced the first remarkable change in the internal state of Scotland. The inhabitants of the Lowlands, from being a powerful and, comparatively, civilized Celtic people, became a mixed race of Picts and Scots; their learning, their civilization, and their very name being lost in the Scottish barbarism with which they were overrun, while the Highlanders found, according to the usual fate of Celtic policy, that, in prosecuting an internal feud, they had placed a more formidable enemy in a situation of power which it was by no means easy for them to resist, and that they had purchased the defeat and ruin of their rival race of southern Picts  by the loss of their own independence. The history of Scotland, from the Scottish conquest to the beginning of the tenth century, is principally characterised by the gradual and steady progress of the power and influence of the Scots in the plains of Scotland, and by the resistance of the inhabitants of its mountains to their domination, while both parties were equally exposed to the harassing invasions of the northern pirates. The erection of the Norwegian kingdom of the Isles and Earldom of Orkney, in the end of the ninth century, produced the next change in the internal condition of Scotland, and may be considered as throwing the first distinct light on the history of the Highlands. Previously to this period, the ravages of the Norwegian pirates had for some time been incessant, and, in general, successful, yet they had not effected any permanent settlement either in the isles or on the mainland of Scotland. The summer was spent by them on the seas, ravaging and laying waste wherever they were attracted by the prospect of plunder, while in winter they retired to some of the numerous isles of Scotland, to secure their plunder and recruit their followers. Towards the latter end of the ninth century, however, the pirates who infested these isles, received a great addition to their numbers and strength by the arrival of those Vikings who had unsuccessfully opposed the conquest of Norway by Harald Harfagr, and who preferred a piratical life on the ocean to one of submission to his authority. The facilities of shelter and protection which these islands afforded them, enabled them, by their incessant incursions on the newly erected kingdom of Norway, to harass the conqueror who had expelled them from their country, while, although Harald sent out his fleet every summer to drive them from the islands where they had taken refuge, he found that they merely evaded his force by flying to the open sea, and returned again to these retreats in winter. At length, Harald finding it in vain to protect his newly acquired dominions from the constant incursions of these rovers, determined at once to put an end to their predatory expeditions, by the conquest of the isles which had afforded them shelter and the means of renewing these enterprises. For this purpose, having collected a powerful fleet, he set sail in person from Norway, and proceeding first to the Shetland Isles, he totally subdued them, and drove out the pirates who had there taken refuge. Continuing then his southern course, he reduced to his allegiance the Orkney Isles and Hebrides, concluding an uninterrupted career of victory with the capture of the Isle of Man, which was found deserted, its inhabitants having fled on his approach to the neighbouring coast of Scotland. Here he left a garrison for the maintenance of his authority in these distant isles, and retracing his course towards the north, ravaged the coasts of Scotland as he proceeded. Among the chiefs who had followed Harald in his expedition to the west was Rognwald, the son of Eystein, who had been made Iarl of the Maerians in Norway; he was accompanied by his brother Sigurd and his son Ivar, the latter of whom was killed in some one of the many encounters which Harald had with the pirates. In order to recompense the father in some measure for such a loss, Harald, on his return from the Irish seas, proposed to bestow upon Rognwald the isles of Orkney and Shetland, in addition to his former possessions. But Rognwald, finding that such a distant acquisition would bring more trouble than profit, besought Harald’s permission to make over the princely gift to his brother Sigurd, who was accordingly installed Iarl of the Orkneys.

      Harald had no sooner returned to Norway than the native chiefs of the isles and the neighbouring districts of the mainland, who had been either expelled or subdued by the Norwegian pirates, took advantage of his absence, and of the complete dispersion of the pirates which he had effected, to seize possession of the isles, with the assistance of the Irish, and to revenge themselves for their previous subjection, by the expulsion and slaughter of the Norwegians whom Harald had left to secure the isles. In order effectually to subject the western isles to his authority, and to preclude the possibility of their again becoming a retreat for the pirates, from which they might harass his dominions, Harald determined to adopt the same method which had proved successful with the Orkneys, and with that view he dispatched Ketil, the son of Biorn, chief of Raumsdal, with a powerful fleet, and the title of Iarl, to the Hebrides. Ketil reached the Orkneys in safety, and proceeding thence along the line of the Hebrides, he successfully reduced them under his subjection, the Islesmen apparently having been quite unprepared for the prompt attack of the Norwegians.

      No sooner, however, did Ketil find himself in the quiet possession of the western isles, than he determined to throw off his allegiance to the King of Norway; for this purpose he strengthened himself by alliances of every description, both with the native chiefs of the isles and also with several of the pirates themselves, and then sending back to Norway the troops which had established him in his new possessions, he refused to pay the stipulated tribute to Harald, and declared himself independent King of the Hebrides.

      But Ketil was not destined long to enjoy his newly erected kingdom, as he appears to have died a very few years afterwards. On his death the chief authority in the isles was assumed by his son Helgi and his grandson Thorstein the Red the son of his daughter Audur and Olaf the White, King of Dublin. The native chiefs of the isles seem soon after this to have embraced a favourable opportunity of again throwing off the yoke of the Norwegians altogether; as we find that Helgi left the Hebrides and settled with his adherents in Iceland, while at the same time Thorstein the Red, Ketil’s grandson, proceeded in company with his mother to the Orkneys. [Snorro, Orkneyinga Saga, Landnamabok, Laxdaela Saga, Olaf’s Saga.]

      Sigurd, then Earl of the Orkneys, received Thorstein with hospitality, and forming a close alliance with him, he took advantage of this great accession to his strength, to make a descent in company with his ally upon the northern districts of Scotland. The two pirate kings rapidly made themselves masters of the districts of Kateness, Sutherland, Ross, and Moray, and their progress southward was only arrested by that part of the great barrier of the Grampians which forms the southern boundary of the district of Marr. The Norse Sagas have recorded the names of two of the Scottish Iarls or Maormors who were slain in this expedition, Meldun and Melbrigda Tonn; the latter of these Maormors appears to have been the last who opposed Sigurd, and was therefore in all probability Maormor of Marr. The death of this maormor was revenged upon Sigurd in a most remarkable manner, if we are to believe the incident as related in the Norse Sagas. Melbrigda, say these writers, derived his appellation of Tonn from his possessing a very prominent tooth, and Sigurd having slain him in battle, cut off his head and suspended it to the front of his saddle as he galloped over the field of his victory. The violence of the motion occasioned the prominent tooth to inflict a wound on the thigh of the Iarl, which inflamed, produced mortification, and ultimately caused the Iarl’s death. He was buried in the territories of him he had slain. [Landnamabok, Olafs Saga, & c.]

      On the death of Sigurd, his son Guttorm succeeded to him as Earl of Orkney, while Thorstein the Red, retaining possession of the conquests of the mainland, assumed the title of king of the half of Scotland. Thorstein had scarcely enjoyed his newly acquired territories for six years when the chiefs of the north of Scotland determined to make an effort for the recovery of the districts which had been wrested from them by the Norwegians. They united together, and under the command of Dungadi or Duncan, the Iarl or Maormor of Caithness, they made a general and simultaneous attack upon Thorstein; a pitched battle ensued, which ended in the defeat and death of Thorstein, and the expulsion of the Norwegians from the north of Scotland. [Sagas above referred to.]

      Thus terminated the first Norwegian kingdom in the Highlands, which lasted too short a time to have had much effect upon the population. And after this little can be gathered from the Norse writers as to the state of Scotland till the close of the tenth century. Thorfinn, who was Earl of Orkney about the middle of that century, appears to have regained possession of Caithness, but during a long reign, made no other attempt to extend his conquest in Scotland; he had married the daughter of Duncan, the Maormor of Caithness, and in all probability founded a claim to the district from that circumstance; but with the exception of Caithness, the northern chiefs appear from the Sagas to have enjoyed the undisturbed possession of their territories during the whole of this period.

      After the kingdom of Thorstein, the Sagas throw somewhat more light upon the internal state of the Highlands. From the first Norwegian conquest under Thorstein to the end of that under Sigurd II., we find frequent mention made of various powerful Scottish chiefs, who universally appear under the Norwegian title of Iarls, but in addition to this we can now distinctly trace the division of the north of Scotland into a number of tribes, possessing considerable extent of territory, whose chiefs or Maormors it was to whom the Norwegians gave the title of Iarl. The people who opposed the invasions of the Norwegians at this period were unquestionably the descendants of the very same people who fought with the Romans many ages before, and who then exhibit the same division into tribes of a similar extent. Now, when we consider the rugged and almost inaccessible nature of the northern Highlands, the few circumstances which occurred during the first eight centuries to make any great alteration in the state of its tribes, and the unlikelihood that any political change or event which might take place in a different part of the country, could exercise any great influence over the inhabitants of districts so remote; there is every reason to conclude that the northern tribes would in all probability vary but little in their situation, extent, numbers, or power, from the period of the Roman invasion to the tenth century; and accordingly when we compare the number and situation of the tribes into which the Highlands were divided in the tenth and eleventh centuries, with the minute and accurate account of the Caledonian tribes, given by Ptolemy in the second century, we find that in three particulars only is there the slightest variation between them, and that with these exceptions, the north of Scotland in the eleventh century exhibits the exact counterpart, in the number and extent of its tribes, to th same districts in the second.

      The first variation which we observe is in the situation of the two tribes of the Caledonii and the Vascomagi. In Ptolemy’s time the Caledonii certainly inhabited the west of Atholl, the district of Badenoch, and the numerous glens which branch out on every side from Lochness, while the Vacomagi possessed a tract of country extending along their eastern frontiers, and embracing the present counties of Nairn and Elgin, the districts of Strathspey, Strathearn, and Marr, and the eastern part of Atholl.

      In the eleventh century we find these tribes in a different situation; for the territories occupied by these two tribes now formed the earldoms of Atholl, Moray, and Marr, the ridge of the Mounth or Mound (including Drumnachdar), dividing the former earldom from the two latter.

      This ids a change which could only have been produced by the sudden seizure of the districts which afterwards formed the earldom of Moray by another tribe, by which these two tribes would be respectively confined to Atholl and Marr; and as the territories of the Taixali still remained unaltered as the earldom of Buchan, probability points to the Canteae, who lay immediately to the north of the districts in question, as the invading tribe. Now, it is remarkable that we can distinctly trace this change in the relative position of these tribes at a very early period in the Irish Annals. In the year 666 Tighernac mentions the death of Eacha, King of the Midland Cruithne. The Cruithne, we have seen, was the peculiar name of the northern Picts, and as of all the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy that of the Caledonii proper is the only one which could be called Midland, it is plain that these kings of the Midland Cruithne were the chiefs of that tribe. Now, we find a singular change in their title within eighty years after this date, for in 739 Tighernac mentions the death of Talorgan, King of Atholl. Atholl was always a part of the territories of the Caledonians proper, and consequently, when we find the chiefs of that tribe preserving their title of king, but changing the designation of Midland Cruithne for the less extended title of Atholl, we can have little difficulty in inferring that they had between these two periods been deprived of the northern portion of their territories, and confined principally to that district. This change is confirmed by our finding distinct evidence of the extension of the eastern tribes towards the west in 668, for at that date Tighernac mentions the departure of the Gens Garnaidh with the people of Skye for Ireland. The western position of the former tribe is sufficiently indicated by that of the latter, and the coincidence between the departure of that tribe for Ireland, and the loss of their northern districts by the Caledonii, is sufficient to warrant us in concluding that these events were connected, and that the expulsion of the Gens Garnaidth, and the death of Eacha, the king of the Midland Cruithne, was probably effected by the conquest of the latter together with the Vacomagi by the Canteae, and the seizure by that tribe of the northern part of their territories. In this way the Vacomagi would be confined to the earldom of Marr, the Caledonii to that of Atholl, while the Canteae would form the earldom if Moray; and as Tighernac mentions in 670 the return of the Gens Gartnaidh from Ireland, they probably occupied the district previously possessed by the Canteae, and which afterwards formed the earldom of Ross. The same event will also account for the next variation in the possession of these tribes. In Ptolemy’s time the southern division of modern Argyll was inhabited by the Epidii, the Creones extended from the Linne Loch to Kintail, and the present district of Wester Ross was possessed by the Carnones.

      In 503 we know that the Dalriads obtained possession of the territories of the Epidii, and it is equally certain that Dalriada did not extend north of the Linne Loch. In 843 we know that the Dalriads left Dalriada and seized possession of the extensive country of the southern Picts, but in the eleventh century we find that the possessions of the Creones still remained a distinct earldom, under the title of Garmoran, while those of the Dalriads and the Carnones appear as forming part of one great district, termed Ergadia or Oirirgael, while individually they were known as Ergadia Borealis and Australis. It is also worthy of notice that Lochaber formed a part of this great district, and in some degree connected the two detached portions.

      The name of Argyll, it must be recollected, was not applied to any district of Scotland previous to the Scottish conquest, and consequently it must have arisen by the extension over the whole district of some tribe who had previously inhabited a part. that tribe could not have been the Dalriads, for such an extension would be quite incompatible with their conquest of the southern Picts, and it is difficult to see how their Highland conquest should have assumed such a form, or that the name of Argyll would have been confined to that part of their conquest only.

      The Creones remained unaltered, and the only other people who at any time possessed any part of this district are the Carnones, who inhabited Wester Ross, and the Caledonians proper, who must have possessed Lochaber. One or other of these two tribes must, it is plain, have first dispossessed the other, so as to become the sole inhabitants of the northern part of Ergadia; and on the departure of the Dalriads in 843, they must have occupied the vacant territory, and thus extended the name over the whole, for from the detached and arbitrary nature of the districts which were included under the name of Argyll, it is impossible in any other way to account for its application.

      Now, it is certainly remarkable, that at the very period when we have ascertained that the tribe of the Caledonii or Midland Cruithne were driven out of their northern possessions by the Canteae, and when the conquered portion of the tribe must have taken refuge in other districts, probably to the west, we see an otherwise unaccountable emigration of the Gens Gartnaidh, or inhabitants of Wester Ross, to Ireland. The inference is unavoidable, that the vanquished Caledonians had dispossessed them, and taken possession of their territories. This tribe then, it is plain, inhabited the whole of the great district of Argyll, with the exception of Dalriada; and as at the period of the Scottish conquest in 843 they surrounded Dalriada on every side, we can have little hesitation in concluding that they probably obtained possession of the relinquished districts, and extended the name of Argyll over the whole.

      Such is the natural deduction from the events obscurely indicated in the Irish Annals, but that the fact was really so is proved by another circumstance.

      It will afterwards be shewn, that the jurisdiction attached to each of the Culdee monasteries, was exactly co-extensive with the territories of the tribe in which the monastery was situated, and that these jurisdictions were in number and extent the same with the earliest bishoprics in Scotland. Now, the bishopric of Dunkeld originally consisted just of the district of Atholl and of Argyll, the latter of which was separated from it in A.D. 1200, and formed into an independent diocese. This is sufficient proof that some one tribe possessed at one time both of these districts and as Atholl was at all times the principal possession of the Midland Cruithne or Caledonians proper, it puts the fact that the name of Argyll was applied to the territories on the west coast, acquired at different timers by that tribe, beyond a doubt. The only other change which had taken place in the relative situations of the tribes is, that in place of the two tribes of the Lougai and Mertae, we find the single earldom of Sutherland, and this change is certainly to be attributed to the conquest of the northern districts by Thorstein.

      Although the districts of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, and Moray are certainly mentioned by the Sagas as forming a part of his kingdom in Scotland, yet it is plain, from the nature of the country and the rapidity with which he overran the whole of it as far as the Mounth, that that conquest must have comprehended only the eastern and less mountainous parts of these districts. Thorstein retained possession of his conquered territories for six years, and during this period it might be expected that the native tribes inhabiting these districts would be almost driven out – those whose possessions included mountain districts would take refuge there in order to escape the invader, but it is scarcely to be expected that any tribe whose sole possessions were on the coast would escape almost total annihilation.

      When the unconquered tribes, however, succeeded in driving the Norwegians out of the country, those who had taken refuge in their mountain recesses would regain possession of that part of their territories which they had lost, while the districts which had belonged to any tribe that had been totally crushed and overwhelmed by the Norwegians, would probably become the possession of the nearest tribe. Now the Lougai was almost the only tribe whose possessions were confined to the coast and in the numerous Norse accounts of Thorstein’s kingdom, we find traces of the extinction of the family of but one of the many Scottish Iarls who opposed him. The Landnamabok mentions the slaughter of Meldun, a Scottish Iarl, and the slavery of his whole family, who did not recover their freedom even on the reconquest of the northern districts by the native chiefs. There can be little doubt from this that the tribe inhabiting the coast of Sutherland had been almost entirely annihilated by the conquest of Thorstein, and that the tribe inhabiting the interior of this district had, on the extinction of the Norwegian kingdom, obtained possession of the whole.

      The changes which had taken place in the relative situation of the northern tribes in the second and in the eleventh century, will be more easily understood from the following Table: –

            Names of the districts of the 10th Century            Names of the Tribes inhabiting them;     from the Norse Sagas.                                              from Ptolemy.

Katans or Cathness                                          By the Kournaovioi.

                Ness – Durnes and Edderachylis.                  By the Kairinoi.

                Sudrland – Sutherland, except Strathnaver.     By the Mertai. The Lougoi were destroyed by
                                                                                 Thorstein, and the Mertai occupied the whole.

                Ros – Easter Ross                    By the Karnones, who were expelled from Wester Ross to Ireland, and two years afterwards returned and took possession of Easter Ross.       

                –   – Garmoran                                                           By the Kreones.

                Myrhaevi – Moray                           By the Kanteai, who expelled the Caledonioi and Vakomagol.

                Dala – Argyll                                  By the Kaledonioi, who originally possessed Atholl, occupied South Argyll on its relinquishment by the Dalriads, and expelled the Karnones out of North Argyll, or Wester Ross.

      The second conquest of the north of Scotland by the Norwegians took place towards the end of the tenth century, and was occasioned by an attempt on the part of the Scots to recover possession of Caithness. Finlay, the son of Ruairi, Maormor of Moray, the chiefs of which district were at that time the most powerful in the northern part of Scotland, marched to Caithness with a powerful army, for the purpose of driving the Norwegians out of that district. He was met by Sigurd, then Earl of Orkney, with the whole force of the Orkneys, and after an obstinate engagement Finlay was defeated and obliged to fly. Sigurd, upon this success, immediately overran the whole of the Highlands with his victorious army, and obtained possession, with little difficulty, of the districts of Ross, Moray, Sutherland, and Dala or Argyll. The Celtic inhabitants of these districts, although, after the total defeat which they had sustained under the Maormor of Moray, they were unable to offer any opposition to the progress of Sigurd, were not disposed to endure the Norwegian yoke long without making an attempt to throw it off. Accordingly, Sigurd had retained possession of the conquered territories for seven years only, when the northern Maormors made a sudden rising, and succeeded in surprising and expelling the Norwegians from the Highlands, and slaying the governor whom the Earl of Orkney had placed over the conquered districts. Sigurd no sooner became aware of this success, that he collected a numerous army among the island, and at once proceeded to the mainland of Scotland; but he had scarcely landed in Caithness before he was informed that the Gaelic army under Kenneth and Melsnechtan, Maormors of Dala and Ross, was stationed near Duncansbay Head for the purpose of intercepting his progress. Sigurd immediately attacked the Highland army, and succeeded in killing Melsnechtan, one of their leaders, and putting the rest to flight. This success he would in all probability have followed up with the entire destruction of their army, and the recovery of his Highland possessions, had he not learned that Malcolm, the Maormor of Moray and nephew of Finlay, was at that moment approaching with an army too powerful for him to cope with. On receiving his intelligence, Sigurd judged it prudent to retire to the Orkneys, and thus left Malcolm in possession of the disputed districts. By Sigurd’s retreat the Highland chiefs gained time to recover complete possession of the whole of the territories which had been for seven years wrested from them, and they established that possession so firmly, that Sigurd was never afterwards able to obtain a footing upon the mainland of Scotland. [Olafs Saga, Snorro, Niala Saga.]

      Malcolm, the Maormor of Moray, by his success in expelling the Norwegians, and by the assistance derived from the extensive territories under his control, as well as by his great personal talent, had now acquired so much power and influence in the north of Scotland that he was enabled to obtain possession of the Scottish throne itself. In what his title to the crown consisted, or what was the nature of the claim which he made to it, it is impossible now to determine; but certain it is that he was supported in his attempt by the whole inhabitants of the northern part of Scotland, and in order to obtain the countenance of a people so singularly tenacious of their ancient customs, he must have possessed a stronger claim than what mere power or influence could give him, more especially as his descendants, for many generations afterwards, constantly asserted their right to the throne of Scotland, and as invariably received the assistance of the Celtic portion of its inhabitants. In all probability the Highlanders were attempting to oppose the hereditary succession in the family of Kenneth M’Alpin, and to introduce the more ancient Pictish law. Be this as it may, however, Malcolm, by the defeat and death of Kenneth M’Duff, at Monievaird, became king of Scotland. Shortly after he had mounted the throne, Malcolm effected a reconciliation with Sigurd, Earl of Orkney, who married his daughter, and the fruit of this marriage was Thorfinn, who afterwards became the most powerful earl which the Orkneys ever possessed. On Malcolm’s death, after a reign of twenty-six years, the Scottish faction, as it may be termed, in opposition to the Pictish or northern party, succeeded in placing a descendant of Kenneth M’Alpin again upon the throne. His name was also Malcolm; he was the son of Kenneth, whom his predecessor had defeated and slain, and is known in the Norse Sagas by the name of Kali Hundason. The second Malcolm had no sooner commenced his reign that he appears to have directed his efforts towards reducing the power of the Norwegians in Scotland; but this was a task to which his strength was by no means equal, for his opponent Thorfinn was a person of no ordinary talents and energy.

      On the death of Sigurd, his father, Thorfinn had received from his maternal grandfather, Malcolm, king of Scotland, the district of Caithness, which had so often been the subject of contention between the Norwegians and the Scots, and during Malcolm’s life he had obtained every assistance from him in the government of his dominions. Malcolm M’Kenneth therefore determined to make this a pretext for going to war with Thorfinn. With this intention he demanded tribute from him for the territories which he possessed on the mainland of Scotland, and upon the refusal of the Norwegian earl he gave Caithness to Moddan, his sister’s son, and directed him to assume the Norwegian title of Iarl. Moddan accordingly, in consequence of these directions, proceeded to the north, and raised an army in Sutherland for the purpose of taking possession of the district which had thus been bestowed upon him. But the Norwegians who inhabited that district had no sooner heard of his arrival than they immediately assembled under Thorfinn, who was at that time in Caithness, and having been joined by a large force from the Highlands, commanded by Thorkell, thee Scots found it necessary to retire, while Thorfinn took advantage of the opportunity to subjugate the districts of Sutherland and Ross, and to ravage the greater part of Scotland. Moddan in the meantime having returned to the king, and having reported to him the ill success of his expedition, Malcolm resolved upon making one great effort to reduce Thorfinn. For this purpose he collected a fleet of eleven ships, and the whole force of the south of Scotland, and dividing his army, he went himself in the fleet towards the north, while he sent Moddan by land with a strong detachment, with the intention of attacking Thorfinn on both sides at once; but scarcely had Malcolm reached the Pentland Firth when he was met by Thorfinn, who had in the meantime retired to the Orkneys, where he had collected a powerful fleet. After a long and fiercely contested engagement the Scottish fleet was completely dispersed, and the king of Scotland, having with difficulty escaped, fled to the Moray Firth, where he once more commenced to levy troops.

      Nevertheless, he was speedily followed by Thorfinn, who, having been joined by Thorkell with troops raised by him in the Orkneys, also reached the Moray Firth; but having learnt, so soon as he landed, that Moddan had marched to Caithness with the other division of the Scottish army, and was then at Thurso, he resolved to despatch Thorkell with a part of the army to attack Moddan, while he himself with the rest of his force remained to oppose Malcolm. Thorkell, aware that the inhabitants of Caithness were favourable to the Norwegians, proceeded with such expedition and secrecy that he succeeded in surprising Moddan in Thurso, and having set fire to the town, he slew the leader and completely dispersed his followers. Having collected additional forces in Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross, Thorkell returned towards the Moray Firth and joined Thorfinn in Moray.

      Malcolm in the meantime had once more collected forces, both from the east and west of Scotland, his levies having even extended as far as Kintyre, and having also been joined by a number of Irish auxiliaries who had been invited over by Moddan, he determined to make a final effort for the expulsion of the Norwegians, and marched accordingly with this immense army towards the north in search of Thorfinn. He found the Norwegian earl not the less prepared to meet him, that in numbers he was far inferior. A battle took place between the two hostile races on the southern shore of the Beauly Firth; each party seeming resolved to peril their cause upon the result of this engagement; but the ferocity and determined valour of the Norwegians at length prevailed over the numbers and undisciplined daring of the Scots, and Malcolm was totally defeated, himself killed, and his army almost destroyed. By this defeat the Scots were now left altogether without the means of resistance, and Thorfinn followed up his success by conquering the whole of Scotland as far as the Firth of Tay, and completely subjugating the inhabitants.

      The Norwegian Saga gives a strong and powerful picture of the effects of this conquest: “Earl Thorfinn drove the scattered remnants of the Scottish army before him, and subjugated the whole country in his progress, even as far as the district of Fyfe. He then sent Thorkell with a part of the army home, but when the Scots, who had submitted to him, heard that the earl had sent some part of his army away, they attacked him, but unsuccessfully, for Earl Thorfinn no sooner perceived their treachery than he gathered his army together again and met them. The Scots did not attempt to defend themselves, but fled immediately to the woods and deserts. Then Earl Thorfinn, when he had driven the fugitives away, declared that he would burn and lay waste the whole country in revenge for their treachery. His men then spread over the whole conquered country, and burnt every hamlet and farm, so that not a cot remained. Every man that they found they slew, but the old men and women fled to the deserts and woods, and filled the country with lamentation. Some were driven before the Norwegians and made slaves.

      “Thus says Arnor, the earl’s skald:

            ‘The dwellings were all destroyed,
                When he burnt every where (that day
                Danger and death was not awanting,)
                As among dry reeds the red flames
                Sprung into the kingdom
                Of the Scots. The Great
                Slayer revenged himself
                On the Scots. In one summer
                Three times were they
                Overcome by the Prince.’

“After this Earl Thorfinn returned to his ships, subjugating the country everywhere in his progress.” [Orkneyinga Saga, Flatey Book. – Tighernac, Annals of Ulster. It will be observed that the Author has here altogether departed from the generally received history, and that in place of Malcolm II, said to have reigned thirty years, he has placed two Malcolms of different families, the first of whom reigned twenty-six and the latter four years. This view he has adopted in consequence of finding the most remarkable coincidence between the Irish Annals and the Norse Sagas, both of which agree in these particulars.]

      The Norwegians thus obtained effectual possession of the greater part of the north of Scotland, and their kingdom, which by the talents and energy of Thorfinn they were enabled to retain for thirty years, was unparalleled in its extent and duration by any previous or subsequent conquest. Besides the Orkneys, which was their original seat, their possessions in Scotland consisted now of the Hebrides and of nine of the great districts or earldoms of Scotland, which, as far as can be gathered from the Sagas, appear to have been those of Caithness, Ness, Sutherland, Ross, Moray, Garmoran, Buchan, Marr, and Angus; while to the Scot there remained nothing north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde, except the districts of Fyfe, Strathern, Menteith, Gowry, and Lennox, with the two northern districts of Atholl and Argyll. [All the Norse Sagas are unanimous as to the extraordinary extent of Thorfinn’s conquest.]

      The effects of this conquest seem to have been more particularly felt by the Scottish portion of the population, and its immediate result appears to have been the complete extinction of the house of Kenneth Mac Alpin, which for so many generations had filled the Scottish throne, the extirpation of the greater part of the chiefs of the Scottish race, and the termination of that superiority and dominion which they had so long maintained in the Lowlands of Scotland.

      But besides the portion of the country occupied by the Scots, a considerable part of the territories of the northern Picts remained unconquered by the Norwegians, while Thorfinn extended his conquests to the banks of the Firth of Tay, and while he effected the utter destruction of the Scottish possessions, even of those districts which he had not overrun with his victorious troops, the district of Atholl and the greater part of Argyll was sufficiently protected by its mountain barriers from his power, and became now the only part of Scotland which could offer any resistance to his progress.

      In addition to this, one of its most powerful chiefs had married the daughter of the last king, and his son, who thus added a hereditary right to the throne to the influence which he derived from his power, appears to have been proclaimed king without any opposition, and to have received the unanimous support of all who were still independent of the Norwegian yoke. In personal character Duncan was far from being well fitted for the difficult situation in which he was placed, but being the only chief of the northern Picts who remained unsubdued by the Norwegians, he was the most likely person to preserve the rest of Scotland from their grasp; and during the whole of his reign he appears to have been unmolested by Thorfinn in his circumscribed dominions. The Scots having thus enjoyed, during Duncan’s reign, six years of repose, began to consider their strength sufficiently recruited to attempt the recovery of the extensive territories in the north which Thorfinn had conquered. Taking advantage accordingly of the temporary absence of Thorfinn, who was engaged with the greater part of his Norwegian force in an English expedition, Duncan advanced towards the north of Scotland, and succeeded in penetrating as far as the district of Moray without encountering apparently any resistance. The Gaelic inhabitants of the north, however, who preferred remaining under the Norwegian yoke rather than submit to a chief of their own race whose title to the throne they could not admit, opposed his farther progress, and Macbeth, the Maormor of Moray, attacked him near Elgin, defeated his army, and slew the king himself. Macbeth immediately took advantage of this success, and assisted by the Norwegian force which still remained in the country, he overran the whole of Scotland, and speedily made himself master of all that had remained unconquered by the Norwegians. The sons of Duncan were obliged to fly; the eldest took refuge at the court of England, while the second fled from the vengeance of Macbeth to the Hebrides, and surrendered to Thorfinn himself. Macbeth, with the sanction probably of the Earl of Orkney, assumed the title of King of Scotland, which he claimed in right of his cousin Malcolm, and notwithstanding all the efforts of the Scots he maintained possession of the crown for a period of eighteen years.

      Although Macbeth was a native chief and one of the Gaelic Maormors of the north, yet his conquest can only be considered with regard to its effects as a Norwegian conquest. He had previously been tributary to that people, and it was by their assistance principally that he became king of Scotland; so that at this period we may consider the whole country as having been virtually under the dominion of the Norwegians: Thorfinn himself ruling over the northern districts, while with his concurrence Macbeth reigned in the southern half.

      During the reign of Macbeth the adherents of the Atholl family made two several attempts to recover possessions of the throne, but they were both equally unsuccessful. The first occurred in the year 1045, when Crinan, the father of Duncan, attacked Macbeth at the head of all the adherents of the family in Scotland; Crinan’s defeat was total, and the slaughter very great; for in the concise words of the Irish Annalists, “In that battle was slain Crinan, Abbot of Dunkeld, and many with him, viz. nine times twenty heroes.” This defeat seems for the time to have completely extinguished Duncan’s party in Scotland, and it was not till nine years afterwards that the second attempt was made. Malcolm, Duncan’s eldest son, who had taken refuge in England, obtained from the English king the assistance of a Saxon army, under the command of Siward, the Earl of Northumberland, but although Siward succeeded in wresting Lothian from Macbeth, and in placing Malcolm as king over it, he was unable to obtain any further advantage, and Macbeth still retained the kingdom of Scotland proper, while Malcolm ruled as king over Lothian until, four years afterwards, a more favourable opportunity occurred for renewing the enterprise. The son of the king of Norway, in the course of one of the numerous piratical expeditions which were still undertaken by the Norwegians, had arrived at the Orkneys, and on finding the great state of power to which Thorfinn had raised himself, he proposed that they should join in undertaking an expedition having no less an object than the subjugation of the kingdom of England. To this proposal the enterprising Earl of Orkney at once acceded, and the two sea kings departed for the south with the whole Norwegian force which they could collect. It was not destined, however, that they should even land on the English coast, for their fleet appears to have been dispersed and almost destroyed in a tempest; such was probably at least the calamity which befel [sic] the expedition, as the words of the Irish annalist who alone records the event are simply, “but God was against them in that affair.”

      It appears that the king of England had no sooner become aware of the discomfiture of the threatened invasion of his territories, than he sent an English army into Scotland for the purpose of overthrowing the power of the Norwegians in that country, and of establishing Malcolm Kenmore on his father’s throne; and in the absence of the Norwegians the Saxon army was too powerful for the Gaelic force of Macbeth to withstand. The English accordingly made themselves masters of the south of Scotland, and drove Macbeth as far north as Lumphanan, where he was overtaken and slain in battle. Upon the death of Macbeth, Lulach, the son of his cousin Gillcomgain, succeeded him, but after maintaining a struggle with Malcolm for the short space of three months, he also was defeated and slain at Esse, in Strathbolgie. In consequence of this defeat, Malcolm Kenmore obtained, by the assistance of the English, quiet possession of the throne of Scotland, which his own power and talents enabled him to preserve during the remainder of his life. He was prevented, apparently by the return of Thorfinn, from attempting to recover any part of the northern districts which the Norwegian earl had subjugated, and consequently his territories consisted only of those southern districts which Macbeth had acquired by the defeat of his father Duncan.

      From the accession of Malcolm Kenmore to the death of Thorfinn which took place six years after, the state of Scotland remained unaltered, and the country exhibited the remarkable spectacle of a Gaelic population, one half of which obeyed the rule of a Norwegian earl, while the other half was subdued by a prince of their own race at the head of a Saxon army.


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