Kings of Scotland
The kings of Scotland number more than 30, if you start counting from the formation of the kingdom of Scotland until the time of the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Here is a list of the early kings of Scotland, up to the Battle of Bannockburn, with a few comments only on the more interesting ones. Still, I don’t know, some of these early Celtic rulers could have been a laugh-a-minute at state banquets. But I’m going to skim through these anyway..
The Early Kings of Scotland
–from the formation of the Scottish kingdom
Kenneth I, MacAlpin, became in 843 first King of Scots. He defeated the Picts and united the country. So, amongst the kings of Scotland he is the one credited as the first to rule the united kingdom of Scotland. Important guy. Oddly enough, one former Pictish territory is still referred to today in the phrase ‘The Kingdom of Fife’. Kenneth and his successors as kings of Scotland were crowned at Scone near Perth. Look closely at this picture of the chapel (below) that sits on top of the Moot Hill, Scone Palace, Perth.
At the bottom left that wee blob is a replica of the Stone of Scone. The kings of Scotland used to sit on a similar stone until King Edward I removed it in 1296. We only got it back in 1996. Or did we? Or was the real stone here all the time? Or is it still lost? Oh, don’t start me off. In fact, too late – I’ve gone and written a whole page on the Stone of Destiny now! Anyway, the early kings ended up buried on the island of Iona, sometimes called the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. (Some historians dispute the notion of the kingly burial place.)
OK, here goes with the list of kings of Scotland. Are you sure about this? You’ll only need to know these if you’re doing a school project on the Kings of Scotland or something. Or if the coffee by your keyboard is really hot. That way you will have time to wander your way to the end of the page, which ends, tantalisingly (well, I like to think so) just before the Battle of Bannockburn.
- Donald I 860-63
- Constantine I 863-77
- Aodh 877-78
- Eocha 878-89
- Donald II 889-900
- Constantine II 900-43
- Malcolm I 943-54
- Indulf 954-62
- Duff 962-67
- Colin 967-71
- Kenneth II 971-95
- Constantine III 995-97
- Kenneth III 997-1005
- Malcolm II 1005-34
- Duncan I 1034-40
Well, I don’t know about you but there are some here I know little about. Whatever happened to Good King Duff, for instance?! Actually, scanty original sources point to his being killed by the Scots themselves and that the famous Sueno’s Stone, in Forres, was erected as a memorial. Aha, the mystery of Sueno’s stone (pictured left). We’ll return to that another day….when I will try to get a picture of it that doesn’t show the reflection of the glass canopy they built round it to preserve it. (Damn these reflections…..)
Macbeth, 1040-57, killed Duncan in battle near Elgin, though the Shakespearian version of his accession to the throne is better known. Macbeth in turn was killed in battle with his successor at Lumphanan, north of Royal Deeside, between Banchory and Aboyne. The local woods are said to mark the battle site. Shakespeare’s version gives the setting as Dunsinane, in the Sidlaw Hills north-east of Perth.
Malcolm III: 1057-93 Known as Canmore (Gaelic Ceann-mor – great head or chief.) This king from the Celtic dynasty married a refugee Saxon Princess, fleeing from the Norman Conquest in England. Queen Margaret was the sister of Edgar, King Elect of England. Under her influence, the Royal court moved from Dunfermline to Edinburgh in the Lothians, which was disputed land, not under Celtic influence. Her chapel still stands as St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh Castle.
Margaret and Malcolm were buried at Dunfermline. Historians like to portray Margaret as a softening influence on Malcolm’s Celtic ways, making him drink French wine instead of home-brewed ale. (Aspirational, or what?) She was also terribly virtuous – obviously one of the boxes to be ticked if you’re going to become a saint.
Donald Bane 1093-94 (restored 1094-97). Increasing Anglo-Norman influence meant that Donald, brother of Malcolm, was the last of the Celtic Scottish kings to be buried in Iona, the island sacred to the kings of Scotland from the time of Kenneth MacAlpin. (They say.) Iona is still a place of pilgrimage for visitors – almost a ‘Mull must see’, I reckon. But make sure you take in the beaches on the west side of the island, not just the restored Iona Abbey (pictured below), worthy though it is.
- Duncan II 1094
- Edgar 1097-1107
- Alexander I 1107-24
David I 1124-53. The door, as it were, having been opened by the saintly Queen Margaret, from about this king’s time onwards, new Anglo-Norman families were encouraged to settle in Scotland. From David through to William the Lion, this process of moving away from the old Celtic habit towards the feudal Anglo-Norman ways of organising society continued. King David I, for instance, ruthlessly suppressed rebellion by Celtic folk in Moray. After their defeat he granted lands to a Fleming called Freskin who built the original Duffus Castle, 5 miles north of Elgin, in the Norman style. The castle mound, called a motte, remains to this day as one of the best examples of its type in Scotland. The four great Border abbeys, Kelso, Dryburgh, Jedburgh and Melrose, also date from David’s time.
Malcolm IV 1153-65 Known as ‘The Maiden’ from his celibate life and gentleness, obviously not a characteristic usually noted in the kings of Scotland. The big woose.
William I ‘The Lion’ 1165-1214 Associated with the symbol of Scotland, the heraldic ‘Lion Rampant’. He is one of the kings of Scotland who reigned longest, though in his old age he still must have been spry enough to clamber into a boat when a mighty flood on the River Tay washed his castle away in Perth during the winter of 1209-10. He escaped and probably thought ‘That does it, from now on no more mottes and wooden castles for me….and, Zounds! I do believe I’m the first Scottish monarch ever to speak a text link!’
Alexander II 1214-49
Alexander III 1249-86. He brought a time of peace to Scotland. He stopped Norse expansion plans by defeating them at the Battle of Largs in 1263. During Alexander’s reign, security and peace was maintained by a new type of castle. There was a changeover from the ‘motte and bailey’ style of fortress, with wooden defences on top of a mound, to more substantial stone structures. Several survive today in Scotland with traces of 13th century work, for example, Rothesay, Skipness, Castle Sween and several others.
There was, however, a small problem. King Alexander was childless, never a good idea for the kings of Scotland. However, he had a new(ish) wife, Yolande de Dreux. He left her in Fife to attend to business in Edinburgh. It was the late winter of 1286 and the weather was bad. There were no gritters out, mostly because there were no roads. However, he was determined to get back to her that night and ordered a reluctant ferryman to get him north across the estuary of the River Forth. Then, outpacing his bodyguards in the darkness of the night, he rode ahead, the old devil, but was killed by a fall from his horse on the cliffs near Aberdour in Fife. A memorial by the roadside marks the spot.
The crown passed to his grand-daughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway. Later, she was to die before reaching Scotland from Norway – as perhaps loosely told in the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens. This left several claimants in Scotland as well as the ambitious King Edward I of England. (He was particularly ambitious because Alexander III’s first wife, Margaret of England, had been Edward’s sister – another example of intermarriage between the royal houses of Scotland and England.) In short, things were getting really messy.
The English Edward was asked to mediate in the dispute of succession. He chose John Balliol who swore fealty to him. Edward invaded in 1296 after the Scots persuaded the weak Balliol to side with France in a French/English dispute. The many fortifications that were besieged by English forces included Dunbar and Dirleton Castle in East Lothian. Linlithgow and Stirling likewise fell into Edward’s hands. Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness and Kildrummy Castle, near Alford, were also of importance and King Edward himself stayed at Lochindorb Castle south of Nairn, as well as many other Scottish castles. It was to free the land from this English domination that the Scottish Wars of Independence were fought, culminating at the Battle of Bannockburn, in 1314.