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Early Kings of Scotland

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Introduction --- Kings of Alba --- Macbeth --- David I --- Robert --- Stewarts

According to national myth, Kenneth I is the first king of Scots.

The genealogy of the Kings of Alba is rather confusing, so here is a family tree. The numbers in brackets are the dates of the reigns, so anyone without numbers was not a king. This is all AD, of course.


                                                                  Alpín
                                                                    |
                                                   --------------------------------------
                                                  |                                      |
                                         Kenneth I (843-858)                     Donald I (858-862)
                                                  |
                           ------------------------------------------ 
                          |                                          |
             Constantine I (862-877)                            Áed (877-878)
                          |                                          |
                Donald II (889-900)                      Constantine II (900-943)
                          |                                          |
                 Malcolm I (943-954)                           Indulf (954-962)
                          |                                          |
      ---------------------------------                         Colin (967-971)           
     |                                 |                             |       
Duff (962-967)               Kenneth II (971-995)          Constantine III (995-997)
     |                                 |
Kenneth III (997-1005)       Malcolm II (1005-1034)
                                       |
                                     Bethóc
                                       |
                               Duncan I (1034-1040)

If you look at that family tree carefully, you will see that no-one managed to inherit the kingdom directly from his father! In those times, there was no primogeniture (oldest son inherits). The king could chose his heir, or someone could simply take the kingdom by force. You may also notice a gap from 878 to 889. Giric may have been king then (see below) but he was not descended from Kenneth I.

Here is a chronological list of kings of the Picts and kings of Alba. The Gaelic names show their fathers, since mac means son of. Their deaths (if known) shows how violent the times were. The Vikings were attacking Scotland, but many battles were between Scots themselves.

Anglicised nameMediaeval Gaelic nameReignedLength of reignEnd of reign
Kenneth ICináed mac Ailpín843-858 15died from a tumour
Donald IDomnall mac Ailpín858-862 4?
Constantine ICausantín mac Cináeda862-877 15killed fighting Vikings
ÁedÁed mac Cináeda877-878 1killed
GiricGiric mac Dúngail878-889 11?
Donald IIDomnall mac Causantín889-900 11killed fighting Vikings
Constantine IIConstantín mac Áeda900-943 43retired to monastery
Malcolm IMáel Coluim mac Domnaill 943-954 11killed
IndulfIldulb mac Causantín954-962 8killed fighting Vikings
DuffDub mac Maíl Coluim962-967 5killed or driven out by Colin
ColinCuilén mac Ildulb967-971 4killed in a hall-burning
Kenneth IICináed mac Maíl Coluim971-995 24killed by his own men
Constantine IIICausantín mac Cuiléin995-997 2killed in battle
Kenneth IIICináed mac Duib997-1005 8killed by Malcolm II
Malcolm IIMáel Coluim mac Cináeda1005-1034 29?
Duncan IDonnchad mac Crínáin1034-10406killed in battle with Macbeth

Kenneth I or Kenneth MacAlpin is the founder of the dynasty which ruled Scotland for much of the medieval period. During his reign and after, the Vikings were attacking Scotland, and settling in Shetland,the Orkneys, Caithness, Sutherland, the Western Isles and the Isle of Man. Kenneth and his immediate descendents are called Kings of the Picts. The Picts lived in Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde from Roman times to the tenth century. However, little in the way of Pictish writing has survived, so records are limited, and little is known of them.

From 878 to 889, the descendants of Kenneth I in the male line lost the kingship. Giric may have been king then, or he may have ruled jointly with Eochaid who may have been descended from Kenneth's daughter.

By the time of Constantine II, the kings are starting to be called Kings of Alba, rather than the Kings of the Picts. The Gaels and the Picts needed to unite against the Vikings, and the Gaels (who came originally from Ireland) gradually took over the language and culture of Scotland. Alba is the Gaelic name for Scotland. Constantine II was not king of the modern area of Scotland. His kingdom was centred on the River Tay. Its southern limit was the River Forth, northwards it extended at least to the Mounth, and perhaps to the River Spey, while its western limits are uncertain (see right).

Map of limits of kingdom of Constantine II
Map of limits of kingdom of Malcolm II

There seems to have been disputes between the various descendents of Kenneth I. Duff was killed or driven out by Colin and Kenneth III was killed by Malcolm II.

By the time of Malcolm II, he was one of several kings within the geographical boundaries of modern Scotland: his fellow kings included the king of Strathclyde, who ruled much of the south-west, various Norse-Gael kings of the western coasts and the Hebrides and, nearest and most dangerous rivals, the Kings or Mormaers of Moray. To the south, in the kingdom of England, the Earls of Bernicia and Northumbria, whose predecessors as kings of Northumbria had once ruled most of southern Scotland, still controlled large parts of the south-east. Malcolm did lead raids into England, and by his death, a client of his was in control of Caithness and Orkney, although, as with all such relationships, it is unlikely to have lasted beyond his death.

Duncan I is the king at the start of Shakespeare's play Macbeth. See next page.