Kenneth I, MacAlpine d. 860, king of the Scots, was son of Alpin, king of the Dalriad Scots. His father, according to the Chronicle of Huntingdon, which Fordoun follows, was slain in battle with the Picts on 20 July 834, and was at once succeeded by Kenneth as king, apparently only in Galloway. According to the same authority Kenneth became king of the Dalriad Scots about ten years later; in the seventh year after his father's death, 841 (not 839, as in Skene, Celtic Scotland, p. 308), he compelled Danish pirates who had seized the Picts' territory to fly, and in the twelfth year of his reign (846), two years after succeeding to the Dalriad monarchy, he finally defeated the Picts and confirmed his rule over Alban, the name given to the united kingdom of the Scots and Picts. The marauding Danish vikings whom he drove from the coasts were perhaps the followers of Ragnar Lodbrog, called by Irish annalists Vegesius (Wars of the Gaedhill and the Gael, Todd's edition), who founded a Scandinavian kingdom in Dublin about 830 and died 845; but this is doubted by recent Scandinavian scholars. The Chronicle adds that he reigned in all twenty-eight years—sixteen years over the Picts and Dalriad Scots together—which would make the end of his reign 862. The Pictish Chronicle, which dates only a century and a half after the event, implies that Kenneth's reign over Dalriada began in 842, and over the Picts in 844. But the difference in the dates between the Huntingdon and Pictish Chronicles is unimportant, and leaves no reasonable doubt on the point, cardinal for Scottish history, that Kenneth united the kingdoms of the Scots and Picts in the middle of the ninth century, a union effected by his conquest of the Picts. Skene points out that Kenneth and one or two of his successors are called in the Irish annals kings of the Picts, and that from his father's name (Alpin) being Pictish rather than Scottish, he may have had Pictish blood. But the evidence that Kenneth was a Dalriad king is really conclusive.
The expulsion, or, as the Pictish Chronicle calls it, the deletion of the Picts, may be something of an exaggeration; but the almost total disappearance of the Pictish dialect of Gaelic, save in the place-names, the names of the old Pictish kings, and a few other words which puzzle the philologist, indicates either a complete conquest and the superinduction of the Gaelic of the west upon the Pictish Gaelic of central and northern Scotland, or a divergence of dialect so slight that the adoption of the speech of the conquerors by the conquered was almost an imperceptible transition.
The Scots of Dalriada seem to have found in Kenneth a Scottish Alfred. Besides expelling the Danes and conquering the Picts of the central districts (the men of Fortrenn), Kenneth invaded Saxony, ie. Lothian, or the northern parts of Northumbria, six times, burning Dunbar and Melrose. By a bold stroke of policy he moved the chief seat of his kingdom from Argyll and the Isles (Dalriada), no longer tenable against the Danes, to Scone, which became the Scottish capital, so far as that word is applicable to the principal royal fort. In 851 he removed some of the relics of Columba still left in Iona to the church which he built at Dunkeld, possibly on the site of an earlier church founded by Constantine MacFergus [see Constantine], a Pictish king. Dunkeld became the chief ecclesiastical seat of the new kingdom; and this removal of Columba's relics, taken in connection with the statement of the Pictish Chronicle that the Picts were punished by God for despising the mass and precept of the Lord, and also for refusing to acknowledge others as their equals, probably indicates that an ecclesiastical revolution was associated with the civil—perhaps the restoration of the Columbite clergy, who had been expelled by the Picts in the beginning of the eighth century. Kenneth died of a tumour in 860 at Forteviot, and was buried at Iona.
If this be the true reconstruction of this obscure period in the annals of Scotland, it is not wonderful that Kenneth should have been looked back upon as the founder of the Scottish dynasty, and that the verses which Wyntoun quotes as existing in his time (c. 1395) should have been inscribed on his tomb at Iona:Primus in Albania fertur regnasse KynedusFilius Alpini prelia multa gerens.
Expulsis Pictis regnaverat octo bis annisEt post Forteviot mortuus ille fuit.
It was from Scone and Dunkeld that the Scottish monarchy gradually expanded, and the first important step was taken by Kenneth in giving his kingdom a firmer hold on the central highlands, where it was secure from permanent conquest, either by the Danes or the English. The laws which Fordoun ascribed to Kenneth MacAlpine, and Hector Boece printed at length, are supposititious, and were ascribed to him because it was thought a great king must be a great lawgiver [see under Donald V].
One of Kenneth's daughters married Cu (E. W. Robertson) or Run (Skene's reading of the name in the Pictish Chronicle), a prince of the Strathclyde Britons, an alliance which foreshadowed a later union with the south-western district of Scotland; another married Olaf the White, the Norse king of Dublin; and a third married Ædh Finnliath, king of Ireland (Celtic Scotland, i. 313). Kenneth's kingdom passed for three years into the hands of his brother, Donald V [qv.], who was succeeded in 863 by his son, Constantine I [qv.], after whose death in 877 Ædh, another son of Kenneth, reigned, or attempted to reign, for a single year, when he was killed by his rival Gregory the Great (d. 889) [qv.].
The Pictish Chronicle in Chronicles of the Picts and Scots
the Ulster and other Irish Annals
the Chronicles of Henry of Huntingdon, Wyntoun, and Fordoun are the principal early sources. Robertson's Scotland under her Early Kings and Skene's Celtic Scotland are the best modern histories.
Contributor: Æ. M. [Aeneas James George Mackay]