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19 September 2014
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Kenneth MacAlpine - Born to be King?

Kenneth was born around 800AD in the Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riata - it was a time when the Gaels were dominated by the more powerful Pictish kingdom. His father, Ailpín, was beheaded fighting for a Pictish king and historical sources suggest that his mother was a Pictish princess.

In the confusion and terror caused by the ferocious ninth century Viking raids, the Pictish kingship was almost completely destroyed. Wrad, a Pictish warlord, eventually became King of the Picts at the same time as Kenneth became King of Dal Riata.

When Wrad died in 842 his kingship was contested. Wrad’s sons believed they were the rightful heirs, whilst Kenneth, through royal Pictish descent on his mother’s side, claimed the kingship for himself - his claims were heard all the louder with the backing of his Gaelic and Pictish followers. The matter was settled seven years later when Kenneth invited Drest, last of the sons of Drest, to a truce meeting at Scone, a meeting at which Kenneth treacherously slew his rival.

Dunadd Hillfort was the royal centre for the Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riata, where Kenneth MacAlpine first ruled before moving to Pictland. Dunadd

Picts and Gaels United
As Kenneth MacAlpine triumphed in Pictland, he faced a new challenge. A Viking fleet of 140 ships intent on destruction attacked Dal Riata. It spelled doom for the Gaelic kingdom; the Gaels collected the relics of their saints and moved them to Kenneth’s new Pictish kingdom. Dal Riata vanishes from the chronicles and we only hear of Pictland from this point.

Kenneth was able to reward his Gaelic followers with lands taken from the men who supported the sons of Wrad, but he no doubt faced resentment from the Picts over their new Gaelic overlords. Unity was needed: something the Picts and Gaels had in common, to define them as a single people, and, as is so often the case throughout history, this came in the form of a common enemy. Kenneth raided the Angles of Northumbria for booty.

The Dupplin Cross, which would have been visible from the Pictish royal palace of Forteviot, where King Kenneth MacAlpine ruled and died.

The cross is thought to have been erected for an earlier Pictish King, who would have ruled whilst Kenneth was a child in Gaelic Dal Riata.
Dupplin Cross

Kenneth died in 858 at the Palace of Forteviot. For the Gaels he was the conqueror of the Picts and their bards lamented his passing:

‘That Kenneth with his host is no more brings weeping to every home.
No king of his worth under heaven is there, to the bounds of Rome.’


What the Picts thought is unrecorded. They must have believed the Gaels and Kenneth’s successors would adopt Pictish ways, but - as is apparent from the story of King Constantine II - it is the Picts who vanish from history.


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