Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 2: The Kingdom of Scotland

By the end of the seventh century, the four kingdoms of Alban were united in the Christian faith, but not much else. As in Wales, the clergy retained some of the traditions of the early Celtic Church, which put them out of touch with Rome. Thus, the ever-prejudiced English Churchman Bede condemned them. We may be sure that "The Celtic Church gave love; the Roman Church gave law" was not one of his favorite sayings. Even the constant raids of the Norsemen, beginning in the eighth century and culminating in the conquest of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Caithness and Sutherland, (where, in many areas, the non-Celtic Pictish tongue was replaced by the Scandinavian Norn), could not bring the four kingdoms together in a common cause.

Picts and Scots, with their own separate languages, were still enemies; and the Welsh-speaking Britons of Strathclyde were desperately trying to hold on to their culture in the face of ever-increasing hostility from the Angles of Lothian and Northumbria. They were only kept from further conquest by a defeat by the Picts at the Battle of Nectansmere in 685. Even before this battle, however, the incursions of the Northumbrians had separated the Celts of Strathclyde from their kinfolk in Wales.

A semblance of unity among the warring societies of the Picts, Scots, Britons and Angles did eventually arrive, however, by the year 843, thanks to the determined efforts of Kenneth MacAlpin, King of the Scots of Dalriada, who claimed the throne of the Picts after he had defeated them in battle. He created his capital at Forteviot, in Pictish territory; moved his religious center to Dunkeld, on the River Tay, in present-day Perthshire, where he transferred the remains of St. Columba from Iona.

According to the Huntingdon Chronicle, MacAlpin "was the first of the Scots to obtain the monarchy of the whole of Albania, which is now called Scotia." From that time on, the Picts, the tattooed or painted people, have remained a shadowy, poorly documented race. It is a pity that no Pictish literature has survived. All we have are the sculptured stones with their remarkable designs incised that show warriors, huntsmen and churchmen.

At roughly the same time that the people of Wales were separated from the invading Saxons by the artificial boundary of Offa's Dyke, MacAlpin was creating a kingdom of Scotland. His successes in part were due to the threat coming from the raids of the Vikings, many of whom became settlers. The seizure of control over all Norway in 872 by Harold Fairhair caused many of the previously independent Jarls to look for new lands to establish themselves. One result of the coming of the Norsemen and Danes with their command of the sea was that Scotland became surrounded and isolated. The old link with Ireland was broken; the country was now cut off from southern England and the Continent. Thus, the kingdom of Alba established by MacAlpin was thrown in upon itself and united against a common foe.

In 1018, under MacAlpin's descendant Malcolm II, the Angles were finally defeated in this northerly part of Britain and Lothian came under Scottish rule. In the same year, the British (Celtic) King of Strathclyde died leaving no heir; his throne went to Malcolm's grandson Duncan. In 1034, Duncan became King of a much-expanded Scotland that included Pict-land, Scotland, Lothian, Cumbria and Strathclyde. It excluded large tracts in the north, the Shetlands, Orkneys and the Western Isles, which were held by the Scandinavians. There was still no established boundary between Scotland and England.

Duncan met his fate at the hands of Macbeth in 1040; himself slain by Malcolm (Ceann Mor or Bighead) who became King Malcolm III. Malcolm married his second wife the English Princess Margaret, who had fled to Scotland at the coming of the Normans. She introduced many English fashions and customs to Scotland and established a refined court life. Margaret also imposed English religious practices on the Scottish clergy and her husband moved the cultural center of his kingdom to Lothian, away from the Celtic north.

Unfortunately for the stability of Malcolm and Margaret's kingdom, however, the Scottish king's constant excursions into Northern England brought him the enmity of the Norman William who forced him to pay homage at Abernethy in 1071. On one of his attacks on Northumberland in 1093, Malcolm was killed, his sainted wife following him in death a few days later. Margaret was later canonized for her benefactions to the Church including the rebuilding of the monastery at Iona.

Chapter 2: The Kingdom of Scotland