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kingdom of Scots


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In the 9th cent. a new kingdom emerged out of the ashes of the kingdom of Fortriu and in succeeding centuries became the dominant political force in north Britain. It was born out of the wreckage wrought by repeated Scandinavian incursions in eastern Scotland. Fortriu's heartland in eastern Perthshire was repeatedly devastated, reaching a nadir of desperation in 875 when Danes inflicted another crushing defeat at the battle of Dollar (east of Stirling). These Scandinavian attacks were not, however, followed by attempts to colonize eastern Scotland. What brought misfortune to many could also offer the opportunity for a few to refashion political relationships to their own advantage. By the beginning of the 10th cent. a Gaelic lineage—the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin—had succeeded in entrenching itself as the rulers of eastern Scotland. For the first time in eastern Scotland kingship was monopolized by a single dynasty. From 900 the kingdom was no longer ‘Fortriu’ (or ‘Pictland’), but Alba, the Gaelic word for Scotland.

The territory which the first kings of Scots held firmly in their grasp was probably little larger than an 11th‐cent. English earldom. Until as late as the early 13th cent. Alba, ‘Scotland’ (or Albania/Scotia in Latin), was used to refer to the area east of the Grampian mountains stretching north from the river Forth to (approximately) the border with Moray. In the 13th cent. ‘Scotland’ came to be used regularly by Scots themselves to refer to the whole of what is now mainland Scotland.

The survival of this new kingdom can be attributed largely to the long reign of Constantine II. He succeeded his cousin Donald II, the first recorded ‘king of Scotland (Alba)’, in 900, and reigned for at least four decades. The emergence of ‘Scotland’ in this period can, therefore, be compared with other new countries of a similar size, such as Flanders and Normandy, which rose out of the ashes of Scandinavian devastation.

Constantine II's reign was also crucial to the kingdom's survival because he halted the Scandinavian tide of destruction. In 904 a Danish army led by the sons of Ivarr was defeated in battle in Strathearn (southern Perthshire). The kingdom was not attacked again by Vikings for more than 50 years. Constantine's success at keeping the Danes at bay was, however, achieved principally by a policy of rapprochement. His daughter married the Danish king of Dublin, while Constantine himself may have had a Danish wife: his son Indulf bore a Scandinavian name.

When the new kingdom of ‘Scotland’ emerged in the 10th cent. from its grim struggle for survival it was well placed to expand and dominate north Britain. Its natural rival in the north was the kingdom of Moray, which harnessed the resources of the rich Lowlands surrounding the Moray Firth. The kings of Moray, however, faced constant pressure from the Scandinavian earls of Orkney. They served, indeed, as a buffer protecting the kingdom of the Scots from the full power of the earls of Orkney. But the greatest danger to the long‐term success of the kingdom would have arisen from a rejuvenated Northumbria stretching from Edinburgh to York. In the 7th cent. Northumbria had established itself as the dominant force in north Britain, but had since imploded into internal chaos and had been largely conquered and settled by Danes. In the late 10th cent. Northumbria south of the Tweed was revived as an earldom and was at times able to match the kings of Scots, but Scottish rule as far as the Tweed was decisively reasserted by Malcolm II at the battle of Carham (south‐west of Berwick) in 1018. By this time the king of the Britons of Strathclyde (or king of the Cumbrians) had become a client of the king of Scots, and after the accession of Duncan I, king of the Cumbrians, to the Scottish kingship in 1034 it appears that the two kingdoms were ruled by one line of kings. When Macbeth, king of Moray, became king of Scots in 1040, Moray, too, became bound into the kingdom of the Scots. By the mid‐11th cent., therefore, the kingdom had begun to assume a form recognizable as the Scottish kingdom of the Middle Ages and beyond.

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Subjects: British History.


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