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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 3, Chapter 8 - Reigns of Malcolm I; Indulf; Duff; Culleen; Scotland's One Talent

Malcolm I., son of Donald, was the successor of Constantin, the monarch whom we saw, in a former chapter, descending from the throne to pass his age in the Culdean Monastery of St Andrews. With Malcolm I. there opens a series of obscure reigns which it were tiresome and wholly without profit minutely to chronicle. Constantin had left to his successor a legacy of political troubles, the settlement of which occupied the first years of Malcolm’s reign. The task was a difficult one. The spirit of the nation had sunk low, its arms tarnished, its bravest leaders fallen in battle, and violence lifting up its head in the provinces, but the new king grappled manfully with the evils that confronted him on all sides. He first put himself right with his neighbours of England; he next gave the Danes to know that it was at their peril should they set foot on Scottish earth while he filled the throne. Finally, he addressed himself to the work of restoring order at home. He purged his tribunals from the corruption of venal judges. He coerced by the terrors of his justice those whom the sense of equity and honesty could not restrain. He repressed with a firm hand the lawlessness which had grown up under the former reign. These measures made every peaceable man his friend; but they made all who delighted in robbery and pillage—and they were not few—his enemies. He was occupied in pursuing some robbers in Moray, and attempting to make the power of his sceptre felt beyond the Spey, the boundary of Alban, when he perished by the dagger of an assassin. The Pictish Chronicle says that the men of Moerne slew him at Feteresso, in the parish of Fordun, Kincardineshire; "but the later chronicles remove the scene of his death farther north, and state that he was slain by Ulurn by the Moravienses, or people of Moray."1 St Berchan places his grave at Dunotter. Malcolm’s death took place in A.D. 954, in the thirteenth year of his reign.

Malcolm I. was succeeded by Indulf, the son of Constantin. The most notable event of Indulfs reign was a fresh invasion of the Danes. These visits, which were growing more familiar but not more welcome, came to brace the patriotism of the nation when in danger of becoming relaxes. The Norsemen crossed the sea in a fleet of fifty ships. They ravaged the southern shores of England. Intent, however on gathering more booty before returning to their own country, they sailed northward and entered the Firth of Forth. Their appearance spread terror along both shores of the Firth. The timid left their houses and fled. The courageous hastened to the beach, and mustered in such force that the Danes deemed it prudent to withdraw. Dropping down the Firth past the May, their galleys crept round the "neuk" of Fife and entered the estuary of the Tay. Again a phalanx of determined combatants lined the shores of the river, and the invaders saw that neither here was there safe landing place. They sailed away, and coasting along the shores of Angus and Mearns, they arrived off Buchan, searching all the way for unguarded creek, or bay into which they might run their galleys and let loose their ravaging hordes like a flock of vultures upon the land. The coast bristled with defenders ready to grapple with the foe should he dare to land and throw him back into the waves. The invaders put their helms about and bore away to the Danish shore. It was a feint. After vanishing in the blue, they suddenly reappeared. Finding the coast unguarded, they landed unopposed in Banffshire near Cullen. Brief time was given them to pillage and slay. Indulf soon came up with them, and the two armies were installed in hot combat. The Danes were worsted and driven to their ships, and hoisting sail, this time in earnest, they made off to their own country. King Indulf had fallen in battle, and the throne of Scotland was again vacant.2

One other event in Indulf’s short reign of eight years must we note. His father, Constantin, fleeing before Athelstan, had abandoned the Lothians, and with the Lothians a city destined one day to be the capital of Scotland, to the English. What the father lost the son recovered; for in Indulf’s days Edinburgh took its place once more among Scottish cities, not again to come into possession of strangers, or be ruled by any but a Scottish sceptre.3

Duff, the Black (962), was the new king. He was an excellent prince, if the uncertain records of these far off times may be believed. Fordun calls him a man of dovelike simplicity, yet the terror of rebels, thieves, and robbers. Cullen, the son of his predecessor, attempted to seize his throne, in violation of what in those days was the established order of succession, even, that the brother or nephew and not the son succeeded the deceased monarch. Cullen carried his cause to the battle-field and was defeated. Among the slain was Dunchad, Abbot of Dunkeld.4 One wonders what business he had in the battle at all. The incident, however, is significant. It tells us that a great change had now taken place in the office of abbot. The temporal possessions of the abbacies had been disjoined from the spiritual duties of the office, and these institutions had come to have a dual head. The lands, converted into a hereditary lordship, were owned by families of high rank, and the spiritual duties were performed by a prior. This enables us to understand why an abbot should appear in arms on the field, and his corpse be found among the slain when the fight had ended.

Duff the Black had vindicated on the battlefield his right to reign, but now he was attacked by an enemy from whom arms were powerless to defend him. The king was seized with a strange disorder. His physicians did not understand his malady; they certainly failed to cure it, and accordingly they found it convenient to refer it to a cause which their art did not enable them to cope with. The king, it was said, was pining away under the withering power of wicked spells. His illness shut him out from superintending in person the administration of justice, and this was almost tantamount to a suspension of government; for unless the king were present to pass sentence, and see it carried into execution, crime when unpunished. The king’s sickness was a golden opportunity for the thief and the robber. The lawless waxed the bolder from the confident belief that the king was on his death-bed, and would never again put himself at the head of affairs. Duff, however, falsified these evil auguries. Shaking off his malady, he arose from his couch, to the terror of the evil-doer, and proceeded to call to account marauders of every degree, from the serf to the noble. The king, according to the later chroniclers, visited the counties of Moray and Ross, which had become hotbeds of arson and rebellion. He succeeded in apprehending the ringleaders, and, bringing them to Forres, he made them be publicly executed. But this act of righteous vengeance, which the king hoped might inspire a salutary dread of law in districts were it was flagrantly set at nought, gave moral offence to the governor of the royal castle of Forres. Among those who had expiated their crimes on the gallows were some of the governor’s and his wife’s relations, for whose lives they are said to have made supplication to the king in vain. They waited their opportunity of revenge. On his way to the south the king halted to pass the night at the castle of Forres. Occupied in tracing to their haunts robbers and outlaws the king’s fatigues had been great, and his sleep was deep. The guards at his chamber door were drugged. At midnight two assassins were admitted into his bedroom, and these promptly did their cruel work.5 How was the gashed and mangled corpse of the monarch to be disposed of? The morning would reveal the bloody deed of the night. In the darkness the current of a neighbouring river was diverted from its course, a grave was hastily dug in the bed of its channel, and when the body of the murdered king had been deposited in it, the waters were again turned on, and the stream was made to flow in its accustomed bed. The spot where the royal corpse was hidden was near or under the bridge of Kinloss. The regicide, despite this ingenious device for concealing it, did not long remain undiscovered, nor did its perpetrators escape the punishment their crime merited. The body of the king was exhumed and carried to Iona. His death is placed in 967.

Cullen, the son of Indulf, who, as we have seen, had attempted to snatch the crown from the brows of a worthier man than himself, now held the sceptre. The power he had so ardently coveted he now lawfully possessed, but notoriously and shamefully abused. There is a consent amongst historians that Cullen, the son of Indulf, was one of the worst kings that ever reigned over the Scots. He set no bounds to his licentious pleasures. John Major calls him "the Scottish Sardanapalus."6 He infected the youth of the nation with a vice which of all others saps manly virtue, and is fatal to noble resolve. The cares of government were neglected: the nobles fled from his court, and the people were fleeced to maintain the revels of the palace. Such a course could have no other than a violent ending. An assembly of the Estates met at Scone to concert measures for correcting the disorders of the State. Cullen was invited to meet them, and on his way thither he was waylaid and slain at Methven by Rohard, Thane of Fife, into whose family his liaisons had brought dishonour and distress. He had reigned four years and six months.7

Scotland, at this hour, gave but small promise of ever attaining the high destiny to which it seemed to be so surely and so rapidly advancing under Columba and his immediate successors. Its strength had been weakened in the way; it had turned aside from the only road that led to the goal which in former years it had so eagerly striven to reach. It looked as if fated to fall back into its primeval barbarism, and never see the good land of a perfected spiritual and political liberty. Scotland had received but one talent: it was therefore all the more incumbent on it to preserve that one talent, and trade with it, and turn it to the best possible account. Some of its neighbours had received ten talents. They had been gifted with ample territories, with a fertile soil, with a delicious climate, and the arts and letters which their ancestors had perfected and transmitted to them. But none of these rich endowments had fallen to the lot of the "land of brown heath and shaggy wood." Scotland had received but one talent, and that one talent was Bible Christianity., If it should trade upon it and wax rich and great, and outstrip its neighbours with their ten talents, well; but if it should fold its one possession in a napkin and bury it in the earth, what had Scotland besides? It had squandered its all, and had nothing before it in the ages to come but poverty and serfdom.

This was now no mere untried theory to the Scots. They had tested the power of their one talent, and seen that it had in it the promise of a richer recompense to those who should trade with it in the market of the world than all the ten talents of their neighbours of France and Italy and other countries. It was Iona, in other words Bible Christianity, which had made Scotland to burn like a lamp in ages not long gone by. It was this which drew kings and princes from afar to its shore, and made them proud to breathe its air, and converse with its wise men, and be taught the wisdom of its schools. When Iona arose the fires of Baal ceased to blaze, and the cruel sacrifices of the Druid were no longer offered. Then Scot and Pict, instead of meeting in deadly strife on the battlefield, met in peaceful assembly in the sanctuary. The painted Caledonian disappeared from his native straths and hills: the savage transformed into the civilized. The plough went forth to make war upon an ancient sterility, and bid the barren field rejoice because the time had come for the springing of flowers and the waving of golden harvests. Commerce was putting forth her earliest buds in that tender spring time. The artisan was perfecting the cunning of his right hand in homely achievements. Architecture was training its infant skill for the erection of more pretentious structures than the wattle-built hut. The loom was sending forth fabrics of finer textures and richer colours, which shewed that the weaver’s art was as yet far from having reached the limits of its resources. The trader had begun to make ventures beyond seas, and the return visits of the foreign merchant gave a powerful stimulus to the industry of the country by the proffered interchange of home commodities with foreign products. The marvellous transformation now passing on the face of the country was the work of influences as silent but as irresistible as those by which Spring transforms the landscape bringing it out of death into life and beauty; but all these influences had their fountain-head in Iona. Scotland was trading with its one talent, and reaping an hundredfold.

But the men of the tenth century only dimly apprehended all this. Their fathers of the sixth and seventh saw it clearly, and knew what they did when they laid the foundations of Iona. They called into existence a church, simple and pure, whose glorious mission is should be to redress the moral and spiritual balance of Christendom which had been destroyed by the corruption of Christianity in its original seats, and so repair the wrong done the world by churches which had betrayed their great trust. It was a bold enterprise, but they acted in faith, and faith is the truest foresight and highest statesmanship. Its work alone endures, rising triumphant over opposition and temporary defeat, and surviving those changes and revolutions which sweep away the clever schemes of the mere Church and State politician, and bury the name and fame of their author in oblivion. But the men of the tenth and eleventh centuries in Scotland had waxed weak in a virtue which has been the strength of all strong men in every age, and which was eminently the strength of their fathers. "What good," they had begun to ask, "will this old-fashioned creed do us?" It may have served to guide our fathers, but our sky is brightening apace with a new light! Surely we shall not err if we exchange the pale and dying ray of Iona for the rising glory of that ancient and apostolic church which has her seat on the Seven Hills. Let us not be singular; let us not separate ourselves from the rest of Christendom; let us not dwell always outside the habitable world. So spoke many of the Scots. How plain is it that they had begun to despise their "one talent," and were burying it in the earth.

A decline had set in which called for an immediate corrective. That spiritual force which had its seat in the hearts of the people, and, though unseen, acted night and day upon the nation, ministering nurture and upholding order, was largely withdrawn, and unless some terrible danger shall arise to absorb all passions in the one great passion of enthusiasm for country, the nation will consume and waste away in the enmities, the outrages, and the bloody feuds, which, in the relaxation of their great bond of cohesion, have already deformed the country, and, continuing to operate, will ultimately destroy it, converting the glory of the seventh century in to the bye-word of the eleventh. Better that the cruel Viking should burn and slay, than that Scot should fall by the hand of Scot; and that strangers in time to come should point to the fallen country, and say: Its sons perished in no battle for their independence, nor were they crushed by the force of foreign arms; their undoing came from themselves. They allowed their light to go out, and now they sit in




1. Pict. Chron. Skene’s Celtic Scotland, i. 364, 365.

2. Chron. Pictorum, No. 5. Innes. On the moor west of Cullen are several tumuli of various sizes, believed to be the memorials of this battle.

3. Chronicon. Pictorum. Pinkerton’s Enquiry, vol. i. 496.

4. "Bellum inter Nigrum (Duff) et Caniculum (Cullen) super Dorsum Crup, in quo Niger habuit victoriam, ubi cecidit Duchad abbas Duncalden." –Pict. Chron. The Annals of Ulster under the year 965 mention a battle among the men of Alban themselves, in which many were slain, and among others the Abbot of Dunkeld.

5. "Vir pacificus, sed tempore ejus partes boreales latrones pertrubarunt, quos dum comprehendere perrexit in cubiculo occisus est."—Major, Hist. Scot., Lib. iii. cap. iv.

6. Major, Hist. Scot., Lib. iii. cap. iv. In the extract given on a pervious page from the Chronicles of the Picts he is styled Caniculus, a whelp, from Cu, a dog; an expression which implies contempt, and would seem to intimate that Cullen was the worthless character which he has been represented.

7. An English chronicle says that Cullen fell in battle with the Britons. It has been suggested that the author probably meant the Scotch lowlanders. Guthrie’s History of Scotland, vol. i. p. 188; Buchanan, Hist. Scot., Lib. vi. c. 79. It is also said in the Pict. Chron.: "Culen et frater ejus Eochadius occisi sunt a Britonibus."



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