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Kings and Queens of Scotland

The Origins of the Kingdom

Scotland is first mentioned in history in the first century AD, as Caledonia, with the arrival of the Romans. They found it a wild land of trackless forest, bog and mountain, where wolf and wild boar roamed and preyed on the deer. The human population was a group of hostile and uncivilised Celtic tribes, each in its own territory. The Romans' efforts at conquest failed, and resulted in the building of Hadrian's and Antonine's Walls to keep the barbarians out.

North of the Roman walls, the tattooed and warlike tribesmen kept up their Iron Age lifestyle. They were not cut off from the world around; there were alliances with, and invasions from, Ireland to the west, England to the south and Scandanavia to the north east. And long after the Romans had gone, the numerous high chiefs and petty kings, remembering the power and prestige of the Roman Emperor, had their own titles styled in somewhat erratic Latin.

Eventually four distinct kingdoms emerged: Pictland in the north, Dalriada in the west (the people there were named Scots, and this name was gradually adopted throughout the country), Strathclyde in the south west, and Lothian in the south east. In the Celtic kingdoms, the eldest son did not usually inherit. Succession was normally through the female line: the son of a king's sister could be nominated as the next king. This practice, known as tanistry, prevented weakling or child kings in an age when the king's role as law giver and war leader was essential. But it promoted murder and blood feuds among rival cousins. Royal families, once established, were considered as a breed apart; a king of Pictish origins might reign over the Scots and vice versa.

A vigorous dynasty was founded in the ninth century by Kenneth McAlpin, king of Scots who also, by a combination of violence and diplomacy, became king of the Picts in 843. It is possible that his mother was Pictish, but he could also trace his father's ancestry back to Fergus Mor who had led the Scots across the sea from Ireland over three centuries before. Kenneth was far from the most powerful king in the north of Britain, and his overlordship was maintained by his descendants. The kings who later ruled all Scotland numbered themselves from him.

At this time, there was neither Scotland nor England: the kingdom of Strathclyde reached south into Cumbria, and the kingdom of Lothian was often under English lordship. In 971, Edgar, king of most of England, ceded Lothian to the king of Scots, who thus established control over the south east, as far as the River Tweed. On the death in 1034 of Malcolm ll, king of Scots, Picts and Lothian, his grandson Duncan, who was already king of Strathclyde, inherited the other kingships too. He was the first king of what came to be called Scotland. But huge tracts of Pictland had by then been overrun and settled by Vikings; and the Northern and Western Isles, and Caithness and Sutherland on the mainland, were ruled by Norse earls in the name of the king of Norway.

Celtic & Norman-Celtic Kings...

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