Bloody Business

Following the assassination of Malcolm I, in 954, the throne of Alba passed to Indulf, son of Constantine II. According to John of Fordun, Constantine had decreed that the designated heir to the throne of Alba should have "lordship of the region of Cumbria [i.e. Strathclyde]", until the time came that he succeeded to the throne of Alba. When Indulf succeeded Malcolm, he purportedly passed the lordship of Strathclyde on to Malcolm's son, Dubh.

The 'Scottish Chronicle', preserved in the 'Poppleton Manuscript', reports that:

"Indulf held the throne for 8 years. In his time the fortress of Edinburgh was evacuated, and abandoned to the Scots right up to the present day. A Viking fleet was destroyed off Buchan."

The 'Scottish Chronicle' had previously noted that Malcolm I (at the instigation of Constantine II - who had abdicated, probably in 943) raided Northumbria "as far as the River Tees", and now the Northumbrians had been obliged to abandon Edinburgh. In 962, Indulf was killed by Vikings. A couplet from the so called 'Verse Chronicle', as copied into the 'Chronicle of Melrose', notes:

Fighting in battle at the mouth of the river Cowie [near Stonehaven, Mearns],
There he [Indulf] was sent straight to the grave by the swords of the Danes.

John of Fordun's, typically colourful, history maintains that Indulf ambushed the Vikings, who were:

"... laying the country waste near a place called Collyn [Cullen, Banffshire] ... he [Indulf] rushed impetuously upon them with shouts, slew a great number, and forced the rest to have recourse to flight. Finally he, high-spirited as he was, having unfortunately thrown away his weapons, so that he might pursue the runaways more swiftly, was struck in the head by a dart out of one of the ships, and died that same night."

Dubh (which is the Gaelic for 'black') succeeded Indulf, but John of Fordun makes no mention of who replaced Dubh as ruler of Strathclyde. He does, however, assert that Dubh was:

"... a man of dove-like simplicity towards those who loved quiet and peace; but a cruel, terrible, and bloody avenger towards rebels, plunderers, and thieves."

Dubh faced a challenge from Indulf's son, Culen. The 'Scottish Chronicle' records:

"There was a battle between Niger [i.e. Dubh] and Caniculus ['the Whelp', i.e. Culen] above Crup ridge [Duncrub, Perthshire], in which Niger had the victory: at which Duncan the abbot of Dunkeld and Dubdon the governor [mormaer] of Atholl both fell."

The date of the battle (provided by the 'Annals of Ulster') was 965. Dubh's triumph, however, proved to be short lived, since the following year (966), as reported by the 'Scottish Chronicle':

"Niger was driven from the throne, and Caniculus held it for a short time."

Dubh's fate is described in the 'Chronicle of Melrose':

The treacherous race of Moraymen killed him;
In Forres town, delivered to their swords.
When they hid him under a bridge, the sun withheld its rays,
Until he was found again, from where he had been concealed.
According to John of Fordun (who had certainly read a copy of the 'Verse Chronicle' - possibly in the 'Chronicle of Melrose'), Dubh was snatched from his bed and killed. The assassins "... then put the body of the murdered king into a ditch under the shadow of a certain bridge near Kinloss, and covered it lightly with green turf, without leaving any trace at all of blood. But the wonder was that, from that hour forwards, until it was found, no ray of sunlight gleamed within the whole kingdom - nay as long as it lay hidden under the bridge, continual darkness miraculously shrouded the whole land, to the amazement of all. But as soon as the body was afterwards found, the sun shone forth more brightly, it seemed, than ever, to reveal the crime of the traitors. His body was then put into a coffin, embalmed with aromatic spices, and taken to the island of Iona, to be there honourably buried."  There was a total solar eclipse on 20th July 966, though the 'Annals of Ulster' (using the 'corrected' dates) place Dubh's death in 967.

Culen reigned from 966 to 971. John of Fordun says Culen was:

"... useless and slack in the government of the kingdom; and nothing kingly or worthy of remembrance was done in his days. For, spurning the advice of men of sense, he cleaved in all things to the paths of the young: being sore given to violating maids; a lustful adulterer with the wives of nobles and private persons; in many things, an imitator of Edwy [Eadwig], king of the English, who was just dead ..."

Indeed, the 'Scottish Chronicle' mentions only that Culen (and his brother, Eochaid) "were killed by the Britons [of Strathclyde]" - "in a battle-rout", add the 'Annals of Ulster'. Culen had, apparently, seized the daughter of a "certain chief" (says John of Fordun) named Rhydderch. In reprisal, the 'Verse Chronicle' (in the 'Chronicle of Melrose') notes that, Rhydderch was said to have "mutilated him in Lothian". John of Fordun comments that Culen's death was "to the great joy of many, and the grief of very few", although he was still buried "with the other kings in the island of Iona".

If John of Fordun's assertion, that both Indulf and Dubh (as designated heirs to the Scots' kingship) had ruled Strathclyde, is correct, then, if Culen (as designated heir) was overlooked for that position, a motive for his rebellion becomes clear. However, the last attested ruler of Strathclyde was Owen, who may well have been killed at the battle of Brunanburh (937), and the next attested rulers are Donald, son of Owen, and Donald's son, Malcolm - both of whom appear in the early 970s. In 'Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000', Alfred P. Smyth contends that: "While it may have been in Fordun's interest to tie Strathclyde kingship into the main line of Scottish royal succession, nevertheless his information was almost certainly derived from elsewhere and is substantially confirmed by other sources."  Professor Smyth suggests that Donald had "... been allowed by Dub [Dubh] to exclude Culen from the Strathclyde kingship."  Professor Smyth, therefore, avers that "there is reason to suppose" that Donald took over Strathclyde from Dubh in 962, and identifies Rhydderch, the killer of Culen, as Donald's son and successor. On the other hand, A.A.M. Duncan, in 'Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom', whilst agreeing with the identification of Rhydderch, suggests that Donald had been king of Strathclyde "from c.940".

Kenneth II, brother of Dubh, succeeded Culen, in 971. He is the last king listed in the 'Scottish Chronicle' of the 'Poppleton Manuscript'. The opening line of the entry against his name reads:

"Kenneth the son of Malcolm ruled for     years."

A gap being left by the chronicler for the later addition of the length of Kenneth's reign. It was never inserted. Kenneth actually reigned for 24 years.

Kenneth's forces were, purportedly, on the verge of defeat by Danes, at the, so called, 'Battle of Luncarty'. The rout was stopped by the intervention of a ploughman and his two sons, who, until then, had apparently carried on with their work whilst the battle raged nearby. Unyoking his oxen, the ploughman armed himself and his sons with their ploughing paraphernalia, and rallied the fleeing Scots. Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. This fable seems to originate with, the highly inventive, Hector Boece (or Boethius), who published his 'Scotorum Historiae' in 1527.

The first incident recorded by the 'Scottish Chronicle' is somewhat enigmatic:

"He immediately raided Britain in part. Kenneth's infantry were killed with the greatest of carnage at Moin Uacoruar."

Presumably "Britain" is Strathclyde. It would appear that Kenneth's campaign was unsuccessful, but the motive for his attack is not apparent - the Strathclyde Britons, after all, seem to have done Kenneth a favour by killing his predecessor, Culen, who had previously overthrown Kenneth's brother, Dubh.

Alfred P. Smyth ('Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000') maintains that: "Apart from a garbled record of an attack by Kenneth II on 'part' of the Strathclyde kingdom in 971 there is otherwise a consistent record of friendship between him and the sub-kings of Strathclyde."  A.A.M. Duncan ('Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom'), proposing a date of 972 for Kenneth's raid on Strathclyde, suggests that "Rhiderch [Rhydderch], Donald's son, king in 971, disappeared as a result of the Scottish attack in 972 ..."

The 'Scottish Chronicle' continues:

"The Scots plundered Saxonia [England] as far as Stainmore, and Cluiam, and Stangna Deranni [Derwentwater]. Kenneth however fortified the banks of the shallows at Forthin. After a year Kenneth went forth, and raided Saxonia, and brought back as a prisoner the son of the king of the Saxons."

Florence of Worcester records a meeting at Chester, in 973, at which "eight petty kings ... swore that they would be faithful" to the English king, Edgar, "and assist him by land and by sea". Two of the "petty kings" are clearly identified as "Kynath [Kenneth], king of the Scots" and "Malcolm, king of the Cumbrians [i.e. Strathclyde]". Florence goes on to describe how Edgar took the helm whilst the eight kings rowed him on the river Dee. Although the record of the Chester meeting is couched in terms of submission to Edgar, it seems likely that it was more akin to a 'summit conference', where treaties could be negotiated.

One of the other Chester attendees, "Dufnall", is identified with Dunmail (i.e. Donald, son of Owen), father of Malcolm, the king of Strathclyde. Donald had abdicated and entered religion - the 'Annals of Ulster' note that, in 975: "Domnall [Donald] son of Eógan [Owen], king of the Britons, died on pilgrimage ..."  John of Fordun claims that Malcolm was a son of Dubh, not Donald (he also implies that Malcolm had succeeded to Strathclyde when Kenneth succeeded to Alba, in 971). He says that Malcolm, son of Dubh, died "about the twentieth year" of Kenneth's reign (i.e. c.991), and that Kenneth's son, also Malcolm (later Malcolm II of Alba), replaced him as ruler of Strathclyde. However, Kenneth's death was in 995, and, in its entries for 997, the 'Annals of Ulster' record: "Mael Coluim [Malcolm] son of Domnall [Donald], king of the northern Britons, dies."

Roger of Wendover notes that Edgar gave Kenneth "many presents of his royal bounty", particularly the territory of Lothian (the land between the Tweed and the Forth):

"... on this condition, that every year, on particular festivals, when the king and his successors wore the crown, he should come to court and celebrate the festival with the other princes of the realm. The king gave him besides many mansions on the road, that he and his successors might find entertainment in going to the feast, and returning ..."

The gift is presented as a magnanimous gesture on the part of Edgar, but, since the Scots already appear to have been in control of the area, it is more likely that he was simply recognising the fact - in return for a cessation of hostilities against other English territories. Roger of Wendover does not say when this occurred (it must have been between 971 and 975), but it seems a reasonable supposition that it was during the Chester conference.

William of Malmesbury says that Edgar was, reportedly, a very small man. "At a certain banquet", Kenneth was said to have jested "that it seemed extraordinary to him how so many provinces should be subject to such a sorry little fellow". Edgar found out about the comment, took Kenneth into a wood, and challenged him to a duel: "Confused, and not daring to utter a word, he [Kenneth] fell at the feet of his sovereign lord, and asked pardon for what was merely a joke, which he immediately obtained."  Edgar died in 975.

The final entry, in the 'Poppleton Manuscript' version of the 'Scottish Chronicle', says that Kenneth:

"... yielded up the great city of Brechin to the Lord."

The 'Annals of Ulster' note that, in 977, Olaf, the brother of Culen "was killed by" Kenneth. John of Fordun contends that:

"... King Kenneth wished that the law of succession of the ancient kings of his country - who hitherto reigned in entangled disorder - should be abolished; and that, after each king, his offspring of legitimate birth should, in preference to the rest, be decked with the kingly diadem. He himself had an illustrious son, named Malcolm; and he proposed to use every endeavour to have the throne assigned to him. He therefore appointed, with the consent of all his chiefs, with the exception of a few supporters of the old rule of succession, that, thenceforth every king, on his death, should be succeeded by his son or his daughter, his nephew or his niece; or by his brother or sister, in the collateral line; or, in short, by whoever was the nearest survivor in blood to the deceased king ... But the chiefs who favoured the other rule of succession, hated King Kenneth and his son, asserting that they were now deprived of the accustomed ancient title to the succession. The principal of these were Constantine the Bald, son of King Culen, and Gryme [Giric], son of Kenneth [future Kenneth III], son of King Duff [Dubh] ..."

Kenneth was murdered in 995. A couplet in the 'Chronicle of Melrose' says:

It was he who was destroyed at Fettercairn by the crossbow,
Felled by the treachery of Fenell the daughter of Cuncar.

According to the yarn told by John of Fordun, the lady in question, Finella, became the accomplice of Constantine and Giric. She was bent on avenging her only son, whose death Kenneth had, for some unknown reason, ordered. In "an out of the way little cottage" she had a trap constructed. In the centre of a room was the statue of a boy. The statue was rigged to an array of crossbows, "on all sides ... and fitted with very sharp arrows". Finella inveigled Kenneth to enter the cottage and told him: "If the top of the head of this statue, which thou seest, my lord king, be touched and moved, a marvellous and pleasant jest comes of it."  Kenneth, of course, moved the head, "and immediately he was shot through by arrows sped from all sides, and fell without uttering another word."  The 'Annals of Ulster' is content to announce that Kenneth "was deceitfully killed."

John of Fordun notes that Kenneth was buried on Iona, "as was the custom with the kings", despite its continued susceptibility to the predations of pirates. Indeed, during Kenneth's reign, the 'Annals of Ulster' record:
986  "Í [Iona] of Colum Cille [St.Columba] was plundered by the Danes on Christmas Night, and they killed the abbot and fifteen of the elders of the monastery."
987  "A great slaughter of the Danes who plundered Í, and three score and three hundred of them were slain."

Kenneth was succeeded by Constantine, son of Culen (Constantine III). John of Fordun states:

"... Constantine the Bald ... came with his supporters, and, despising the State ordinance, usurped the throne; and, backed up by a few of the nobles, he placed the crown of the kingdom on his own head ..."

The general consensus among the various king lists is that Constantine reigned for one and a half years. Those lists that name the agent of his downfall say it was one Kenneth, son of Malcolm. Constantine was killed in battle at Rathinveramon ('fort at the mouth of the river Almond'), which could be either in Tayside or Lothian.

Constantine's death, in 997, appears to have been overlooked by the 'Annals of Ulster'. It is, however, recorded by the 'Annals of Tigernach': "A battle among the Scots, wherein fell Constantine, son of Cuilindaín [Culen], king of Alba, and many others."

The name of Constantine's successor, who ruled for eight years, is the subject of some confusion. The king lists, broadly, fall into two camps: those that favour Giric, and those that favour Giric's father, Kenneth. The couplets in the 'Chronicle of Melrose' and John of Fordun both assign the eight years to Giric (Grim or Gryme). The clincher, however, would seem to be an 'Annals of Ulster' entry for 1005:

"A battle between the men of Alba themselves, in which fell the king of Alba, i.e. Cinaed [Kenneth] son of Dub [Dubh]."
It is possible that Kenneth, son of Dubh (Kenneth III), shared the rule with his son, Giric. More radical, is the possibility that Giric, son of Kenneth, may owe his whole existence to nothing more than a scribal error.

Kenneth III was killed, at Monzievaird, by Malcolm, son of Kenneth II. John of Fordun says of Malcolm (Malcolm II):

"Historical annals inform us that he was skilled in brandishing the sword and hurling the spear, and could bear hunger, thirst, cold, and watching, wonderfully long."
According to John of Fordun's scheme of things, Malcolm had mounted his bid for the throne of Alba from Strathclyde, where he had previously been installed as ruler by his father. The 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' records that, in the year 1000, English king, Æthelred: "... went into Cumberland [i.e. Strathclyde], and nearly laid waste the whole of it with his army ..."  The 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' supplies no motive for the attack. John of Fordun (who would have come across this information in the 'Chronicle of Melrose'), disliking loose ends, is happy to provide that motive. He says that Æthelred's raid on Strathclyde was as a result of Malcolm's refusal to compel "his Cumbrians" to pay their share of tribute to the Vikings who were plaguing England! Since an English fleet, which had been prevented from joining Æthelred in Strathclyde, subsequently ravaged the Isle of Man (information not in the 'Chronicle of Melrose'), it might be supposed that Æthelred's target was actually Norse settlers - who may have been aiding (or Æthelred thought that they might in future aid) the raiders. Alternatively, perhaps it was in retaliation for border incursions by the men of Strathclyde.

A line from the 'Verse Chronicle', in the 'Chronicle of Melrose, notes of Malcolm:

"He was a victorious warrior in battle."

John of Fordun gushes:

"... the conqueror of every neighbouring nation which ventured to put his daring to the test... Malcolm, by God's favour, triumphed everywhere with such glorious victories over his vanquished foes, that, in all the writings wherein he is mentioned, he is always called by the title of "the most victorious king.""
A victory over "the Norwegians", near Mortlach (Banffshire), is mentioned by Fordun (later, incorporated into an elaborate fable by Hector Boece), and now appears to be firmly lodged in tradition.

Unfortunately, there is little in the slender surviving record to substantiate these notions. The first reliable report relating to Malcolm is found in the 'Annals of Ulster' for 1006 - just a year after Malcolm came to power. Malcolm may have been attempting to impose his overlordship on Bernicia (Northumbria north of the Tees), or perhaps he was simply intending to plunder the treasures of St.Cuthbert, whose relics had recently been translated to Durham. Either way, the Scots were soundly defeated: The Siege of Durham.
Several years later Malcolm got his revenge. In 1018, he and Owen 'the Bald', king of Strathclyde, defeated the Northumbrians on the Tweed: The Battle of Carham.

Welsh annals record the death of one Owen, son of Dyfnwal (Donald). The date suggested by the annals is 1015. This may be a misplaced reference to the death of Owen 'the Bald', who, it is generally thought, died shortly after Carham.

John of Fordun does not know of Owen, but says that Malcolm gave Strathclyde to his grandson, Duncan. It is fairly certain that Duncan did indeed become king of Strathclyde - he is referred to as "king of the Cumbrians" by Florence of Worcester, William of Malmesbury etc. Duncan was the offspring of Malcolm's daughter, Bethoc, and Crinan, abbot of Dunkeld.

A couplet in 'Chronicle of Melrose' notes:
His daughter, Bethoc, was wife to abbot Crinan,
And worthy indeed, it is said, of her reputation.

John of Fordun says he has read that Bethoc was Malcolm's only child. That was not the case, however. The 'Orkneyinga Saga' (written c.1200, by an anonymous Icelandic author) states that Sigurd 'the Stout', earl (jarl) of Orkney:

"... went into a marriage with a daughter of Malcolm the king of the Scots, and their son was earl Thorfinn."
The 'Orkneyinga Saga' says that Sigurd "... held by main force Caithness against the Scots, and had a host out every summer. He harried in the Southern Isles, in Scotland and Ireland."  Following his death, at the Battle of Clontarf (near Dublin) in 1014, Sigurd's holdings were divided amongst three other sons: Sumarlidi, Brusi, and Einar 'Wry-mouth'. "Thorfinn was with the Scot-king five winters old when his father Sigurd fell. Then the Scot-king gave Thorfinn, his daughter's son, Caithness and Sutherland and the title of earl, and set up men to rule the land with him. Earl Thorfinn was early in coming to his full growth, the tallest and strongest of men; his hair was black, his features sharp, and his brows scowling, and as soon as he grew up it was easy to see that he was forward and grasping."  Eventually, after a long convoluted story involving the deaths of Sumarlidi and Einar, Thorfinn ends up sharing the rule of Orkney with Brusi. "Earl Thorfinn had much strength from his kinsman the Scot-king; it was a great help to his power in the Orkneys that that strength was so near."

In 1027, Manuscript D of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' notes that Cnut (who had become king of England at the end of 1016):

"... went to Scotland; and the king of the Scots submitted to him, and became his man, but he held his allegiance a little while only."

Manuscript E says that Cnut:

"... went to Scotland; and Malcolm, king of the Scots, submitted to him, and two other kings, Mælbæth and Iehmarc."
It seems possible that Cnut's invading force advanced as far as the Tay. Sighvat 'the Skald' (bard to King Olaf II of Norway), cited in the 'Heimskringla', discovered from Cnut's messengers that: "... two kings came to him [Cnut] from the North, from Fife in Scotland, and he gave up his wrath against them, and allowed them to retain all the lands they had possessed before, and gave them besides very valuable gifts."  The first two lines from a verse by Sighvat run:
From the North land, the midst of Fife,
Two kings came begging peace and life.

Entries in Irish annals tell of internal disputes within Alba. In 1020, Findlaech mac Ruadri, mormaer of Moray, was killed by his nephews, Malcolm and Gillacomgain. Malcolm became mormaer.

Moray's geographical isolation (cut off by the Mounth) appears to have enabled the mormaers of Moray to operate with a high degree of independence from the Scots' king. Indeed (in their annals for 1020), whilst the 'Annals of Tigernach' accord Findlaech the title "mormaer of Moray", the 'Annals of Ulster' call him "king of Alba". Similarly, the 'Annals of Tigernach' (in 1029) refer to Findlaech's nephew, Malcolm, as "king of Alba". These may be, it could be argued, scribal slip-ups, however, in entries for the years 1085 and 1130, the 'Annals of Ulster' make specific reference to kings of Moray.

In 1027, Dunkeld was "totally burned". No further detail is given, but it is possible that it was as the result of hostilities between King Malcolm and Malcolm, mormaer of Moray. At any rate, in 1029, Malcolm, mormaer of Moray, died, and was succeeded by his brother, Gillacomgain. In 1032, Gillacomgain was burned to death ("together with fifty people" says the 'Annals of Ulster'). It is not unreasonable to presume that the agent of his death was his successor, Findlaech's son, Macbeth. The 'Annals of Ulster' note that, in 1033, the grandson of one Boite, son of Kenneth, was killed by Malcolm, son of Kenneth. Clearly, Malcolm, son of Kenneth, is King Malcolm II, but Boite could be either Malcolm's own brother (perhaps more likely), or a son of Kenneth III. Either way, it appears that Malcolm was taking steps to ensure the succession of his own grandson, Duncan.

In the chartulary of St.Andrews, Macbeth's wife is referred to as "Gruoch daughter of Boite". Lulach (of whom more later) is described in the 'Annals of Ulster' as "son of Gillacomgain", and in the king-list of the 'Poppleton Manuscript' as "nephew of the son of Boite". It seems, therefore, that Macbeth married Gillacomgain's widow, Gruoch, and was step-father to Lulach.

In 1034, the 'Annals of Tigernach' announce that Malcolm:

"... king of Alba, glory of the whole west of Europe, died."

Marianus Scotus (d.1082/3) says Malcolm died on 25th November, and, incidentally, gives him the title "rex Scotiæ". These early sources imply that Malcolm's death was from natural causes, however, later writers accord him a violent end. A couplet from the 'Chronicle of Montrose' says:

In an alley in Glamis, Proserpine snatched away the king,
Underfoot he perished after overcoming his enemies.

In John of Fordun's yarn, Malcolm, three days after being wounded defeating ambushers near Glamis, died "of a hæmorrhage, at the age of eighty or more".

In 'Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom', A.A.M. Duncan writes: "... if it we set aside the fourteenth century phantasies of Fordun we might see Malcolm II as an unsuccessful ruler who lost control of northern Scotland to the rulers of Moray and sought to win it back by an alliance with the jarl of Orkney, Sigurd ..."

Malcolm was succeeded by his grandson, Duncan.

'Scottish Chronicle' by T.H.Weeks
'Chronicle of Melrose' by Jim Waddell
'Annals of Ulster' by MacAirt & MacNiocaill
'Orkneyinga Saga' by Sir G.W. Dasent, D.C.L.
Snorri Sturluson 'Heimskringla' by Samuel Laing
Roger of Wendover 'Flores Historiarum' by J.A. Giles
John of Fordun 'Chronica Gentis Scotorum' by Felix J.H. Skene, edited by W.F. Skene
William of Malmesbury 'Gesta Regum Anglorum' by Rev. J. Sharpe, revised by Rev. J. Stevenson
Florence of Worcester 'Chronicon ex Chronicis' edited and in part translated by Joseph Stevenson