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Mac Alpin's Treason: The End of the Picts


The Gael warrior king whose bloody sword enthroned a Scottish line of kings which eventually created modern Scotland is perhaps one of the most mysterious figures of ancient history. His is a life surrounded by treacherous myths, dark stories and unproved allegations of shameful deeds and sinful accomplishments. That the first true Scottish king of the various peoples of Scotland is smeared with the stain of treason and backstabbing is as much a product from lack of knowledge as it is from the terrible bits and pieces from a story of treason which has survived for over a thousand years.

There is very little fact upon which to base a story; indeed there is a lot of falsified or embellished documents from later Scottish Churchmen and Church historians, eager to create a Church approved version of how the Gael line of kings (and its Church) came to conquer Alba, completely erase Pictish culture and destroy the Pictish Church.

That the Scots' aim was to free Dalriada from Pictish domination and establish Scottish rule over the Picts is clearly evident by the actions of Kenneth MacAlpin's father, known as Alpin, who in 834 AD, as the Picts faced the new Viking threat in the north, rebelled against his Pictish King of Scots and Picts. This ruler of both Pictland and Dalriada was Oengus II, and according to the Chronicles of Huntingdon, the subject of Alpin's rebellion.


The rebellion by his Scottish subjects in the south forced the Pictish king to forego his total preoccupation with the Vikings in the north; Oengus II split his land army in two and faced the Scottish rebel (and southern threat) on Easter day, 834 AD. The Picts suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of Alpin and the Scots and the Irish Annals record that Oengus, King of the Picts and Scots died that year. Overwhelmed with victory, Alpin marched north to attack the rear of the main Pictish army in the north. The Scots and Picts met in battle on August of that same year, and the Scots suffered a brutal defeat in which Alpin was captured and beheaded.

Five years later, the Picts still faced the northern threat of the nearly invincible Vikings. The Picts had suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Vikings in 839 AD. The Norsemen had by that year conquered and settled Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and as far south as the mouth of the Clyde. Additionally, Caithness, Sutherland and even Dalriada were being attacked and harassed by the long boats. The brutalizing defeat at the hands of the Vikings in 839 not only killed most of the Pictish nobility, including the King of Picts and Scots Uven Mac Angus II, his brother Bran and "numberless others", but also opened Mac Alpin's claim to the vacant Pictish throne, via his mother, who was a Pictish princess.

Recalling the peculiarity of a matrilineal succession which governed Pictish crowns, it is evident that Kenneth Mac Alpin (the Hardy) grounded his claims to the Pictish crown from his mother's bloodlines. His claim to the crown of Dalriada came from his father, who was a member of clan Gabhran, which had produced most Scottish kings, such as his ancestors King Eachaidh, King Alpin Mac Eachaidh, King Aed and King Fergus. His Pictish mother was descended from the royal house of Fortrenn, and his great-grand uncle, Alpin Mac Eachaidh had actually reigned as King of Picts until deposed by Oengus I. It is thus that Kenneth Mac Alpin was one of several nobles with a claim to the crown of Picts and Scots.

Mac Alpin, the King

The sources for facts of how Kenneth Mac Alpin, the avenging son of the slain Alpin, became King of Picts and Scots are few and suspect. Two such sources, The Prophecy of St. Berchan, and De Instructione Principus note that in 841 AD Mac Alpin attacked the remnants of the Pictish army and defeated them (he is lauded as "the raven feeder").

Mac Alpin then invites the Pictish king Drust IX and the remaining Pictish nobles to Scone to perhaps settle the issue of Dalriada's freedom or MacAlpin's claim to the Dalriadic crown. Faced with a recently victorious MacAlpin in the south, and a devastated army in the north, Drust, as well as all claimants to the Pictish throne from the seven royal houses attend this meeting at Scone. Legend has it that the Scots came secretly armed to Scone, where Drust and the Pictish nobles were killed.

It is Giraldus Cambresis in De Instructione Principus who recounts how a great banquet was held at Scone, and the Pictish King and his nobles were plied with drinks and became quite drunk. Once the Picts were drunk, the Scots allegedly pulled bolts from the benches, trapping the Picts in concealed earthen hollows under the benches; additionally, the traps were set with sharp blades, such that the falling Picts impaled themselves (the The Prophecy of St. Berchan tells that "...[Mac Alpin] plunged them in the pitted earth, sown with deadly blades...") . Trapped and unable to defend themselves, the surviving Picts were then murdered from above and their bodies, clothes and ornaments "plundered."

Although their king and royal houses had been murdered, and their armies wiped out in the north by the Vikings and decimated in the south by the Scots, the Picts nonetheless resist Scottish domination and as late as the 12th year of MacAlpin's reign the The Chronicle of Huntington tells us that Mac Alpin "fought successfully against the Picts seven times in one day" (perhaps wiping out the last remnants of an independent Pictish armed force).

Pictish resistance of a sort resurfaces after the end of the short reign by MacAlpin's second son, Aedh, when an attempt is tried to revive the Pictish matrilineal form of succession in the form of bringing to the throne Eochaidh Mac Run, son of Kenneth's daughter by a King of the Britons, which was in turn a joint ruler with a Pict named Giric, son of Dungal. They were expelled within ten years and Donald, who was the grandson of Kenneth via Kenneth's eldest son, assumed the throne.

The Scottish kings' dominion was essentially limited to Fortrenn, the Mearns and Dalriada, as the rest of the Pictish lands were under the yoke of the Vikings. Nonetheless, within a few generations, the Pictish language is forgotten, the Pictish Church taken over by the Scottish Columban Church and most vestiges of Pictish culture erased.

Furthermore, the seat of Kings is moved to Scone, sacred heart of the Pictish land and the sons of Mac Alpin accept the crown over the land of Picts and Scots seated on a slab of stone which Scottish myth tells us was carried by the Celtic tribes since their origins in Spain, brought to Tara in Ireland, built into the wall of Dunstaffnage Castle and then brought to Scone.

The Scots move north, ally themselves with the Vikings; in the south they lose and then defeat the Angles and with their borders relatively safe, forever suffocate Pictish culture.


Pictish Nation
The Pictish Kings
The Ancient Names of Scotland
A List of Books About the Picts
The Ancient Connection to Spain



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