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In 20 May 685, the Picts had been threatened by the Angles of Northumbria,   who were trying to increase their lands to the north.  At the battle of  Nechtansmere, the Picts defeated the Angles and put to rest any further Northumbrian (Angle) northward expansion.  The border was set.  Had the battle gone the other way, a Nation called Scotland might never have happened.

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  The Viking Invasions

In 793 AD, the Vikings were attracted by the wealth of the Monasteries and the easy treasure to be found   wthin .  Silver, gold vik-swd.gif (28675 bytes)and precious manuscripts were sources of great booty.   Islands such as Iona were particularly susceptible. The Monks of St. Ninian's Island, Shetland, were also attacked, and the monks, pre-warned, quickly buried all that was of value.    The  Monks' hidden hoard of 8th century gold and silver was not discovered until 1958.  It is a dazzling display of gold and silver relics in remarkably good condition that is as impressive today, as it must have been to  the treasure hungry sea raiders in the 8th, 9thand 10th centuries.

By the end of the 9th century the Vikings came to Scotland to raid and settle.  It is curious that the Vikings settled so quickly in Scotland and northern and east Ireland, and slower in England. Certainly, resistance was just as fierce in Scotland and Ireland as it was in England.  In general none of the native Britains or English were able in any significant way, to stop the Northmen. They appeared unbeatable, even when outnumbered.

However, the Scots seemed to have something in common with the Vikings, and after a while, intermarriages, both common and noble, with established clans took place in north Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland) and extensively throughout the Western Isles of Scotland, called the Inner and Outer Hebrides.    To this day you can find Scottish Clans with direct Viking descent.    Clan Gunn in the North, Clan MacDonald of the Isles and Clan MacLeod, in the west mainland and Isles, along with other Clans (such as MacQueen and MacAulay) are of Norse-Scotorigin.  They even spoke both  Norwegian and Gaelic for several centuries. All Clans of  this unique heritage have a reputation as skilled fighters.   These same Clans were some of the earliest to use the longer swords and employ archers in their ranks.

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  Scotland's Nationality

By the middle of the 9th century the Norsemen had moved into the Pictish  Kingdom.  In the west they attacked the Scots of the Kingdom of Dalriada, who had expanded north into Argyll and Uist.  The Scots/Picts capital near Dunstaffnage near Oban, was threatened and under the leadership of Kenneth MacAlpin, the Scots moved inland, towards Scone on the East coast.

The Vikings helped the Scots and southern Picts create an enlarged Kingdom called Alba, with Scone (pronounced Skun or Skoon), as its capital. On the Stone of Scone, Kenneth MacAlpin, already king of  Scots, was made King of Picts. The famous Stone had very religious and ceremonial ancestry to the Scots dating back to the 6th - 7th century, and  earlier, when the stone is said to have been brought by Fergus to Dalriada to crown the Kings of Scots. (This stone was stolen from the Scots by Edward I "longshanks" of England in 1296).

At this point in time, circa mid-9th century, the Scots themselves only represented 10% of Scotland's people. They became dominate through battle and marriage. The Celtic (pronounced Keltic) Scots passed Kingship down through the male line. The Picts by way of the female.

Therefore, due to the subsidiary role of women, Scots marriages to Picts,  over time, put and end to the Pictish  system and they became part of Scottish society. The Picts were, due to their own rules of lineage, in essence, married out of existence as a named race.   Obviously, they were still around, just called Scots now.   All this was due to the male lineage taking precedence of Kingship of the Celtic Scots.  But this does not mean the Picts disappeared, just assimilated into Scots and Viking  society.

In these genetically mixing years, Pictish men broke the meagre soil, planted grain, hunted on their beloved horses, herded cattle, carved their stones with  loving care, and built a mix of Christian Churches and pagan fires.

Pict helmet
As already mentioned, there was a new and more deadly enemy to  the  Scot-Picts, and an enemy of all in their way. The slender Longships of the Norse raiders, determined and hearty men, (reportedly many were over six feet tall, which for those days was like being seven feet tall today), and also, they invaded at will, all of the British Isles, Europe,  Russia and elsewhere for plunder and slaves.  Interestingly the Vikings, who were already overpopulated, didn't in fact take many slaves, but they did take the women they wanted - often to begin new colonies..


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Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots and Picts

In 839, a fateful battle took place. Some Picts were fighting the rebellious Scots under Alpin of Gabhran's house, a large army of Norsemen happened upon their rear. Though Alpin was killed, and his head impaled by the Picts --  the Pictish army now turned to face the Norsemen and were destroyed in a wild pitched battle. The Picts not only lost to the Norsemen, they were utterly destroyed.   Eoghann, the last King of Picts, died with them and now there was no Pictish leader to oppose the Scots.

Why the Norsemen took part in a battle between Scots and Picts that did not concern them, is easily explained. The Norsemen believed to die in battle was a sure way of entering Valhalla, the great warriors reward in "Asgaard", and because of this pagan belief, the Vikings  had no fear of dying in combat.  They happened upon the battle between the Picts and Scots, which the Scots were losing, and promptly attacked the winners -- the Picts.   Besides the last of the Pictish Kings dying in the battle, so did the Scots' King Alpin.   Kenneth the Hardy, son of Alpin, avenged his fathers death by taking the remaining territory of the Picts.  His ascendancy to 'King of Scots and Picts,'  was not a peaceful one though.

The first king of Scots and Picts, (southern Picts), MacAlpin, it is said, murdered seven Earls of Dalriada, kinsmen who might have disputed his claim to Kingship.  All this took place during a celebration banquet at Scone. The ascendancy of Kings was a bloody and treacherous affair -- not for the faint of heart.

One would think that after a history making battle such as the one above-described would be a dramatic turning point and famous in all history books.    Curiously this didn't happen, and the reason is, most likely, that it actually took another century, and more battles, before the union was a stable union of Pict and Scot.  In time, however, it did become stable and the Scots gained  tremendous lands, wealth, and access to expert horsemanship, as well as countless more Scottish subjects, from the fall of the Picts.  The two peoples    had been locked in ferocious combat for so long that the bonds of war had actually helped unite the people, as two metals in a great flame, they became fused and then were tempered by the cooling hand of Christianity.

Kenneth MacAlpin was the first Scottish King of Alba, (the Pict name for their Kingdom) although his mother was a Pict.  The Picts pass from history as most unknown races but  the memory of their culture would last for a thousand years among the  western clans.

The Vikings were another story.   In Scotland they invaded then settled. The Norsemen had easy pickings in early Scotland, which at the time was a confused collection of rival kinglets, prior to MacAlpin. It was not until 843 that the country was totally united under     Kenneth.

When Kenneth MacAlpin died in the latter half of the 9th century, Scotland  went through a series of mediocre kings who were kept very busy trying to hold the Norsemen out of Scotland and keep its borders fixed.   Three kings died in battle, others had short reigns. The Scottish unity held, but barely.   One hundred  and sixty years of Norse invasions and counter attacks occurred, led by, only partially successful kings, (three of whom died in battle) and then, finally  the Vikings began to settle more than invade.

The unity did not keep the Norsemen out.  They took Dumbarton, on the River  Clyde, and lorded it over the area, and they were the death of Scots' Kings,  Constantine, Donald the Second and Indulf.

They were the kings in a time when not many Scottish kings died in their beds.  Turbulence was never far from the surface, and a king was liable to be struggling against the Norsemen, new territorial aggression from England, as well as the incurablerebelliousness of the men of Moray in the north.  It was not until MalcolmII arrived on the throne in 1005, that the country even  acquired, atlast, a geographical unity with fixed borders.  Malcolm II vainly triedto extend his borders to occupy parts of the north of England, but had  his armies cut to pieces.

England also had trouble with the Vikings, who had been invading England and now began to thirst for England's land. They took nearly half of England by force and then    demanded to be paid to stop further aggression.  Actually, it was an English king's idea to pay the money, or "Danegeld" (Dane gold) as it came to be known, to halt the Viking attacks. This "ransom" or Danegeld was at first  successful, and the Danes left the rest of England alone......for a while. 

However, the idea of easy pickings, the Danegeld, was just too much for the Vikings to resist and they began to demand more and more payment of Danegeld from the English, at this point in time, England was in serious crisis. Plus the Danes were now settling large areas of England and marrying the locals.  The villages in the north and east of England still have many Viking names.   Eventually the Danes became so powerful in England, one of their own became King of England. This was King Canut who took the English throne in  1016.

King Canut of England (pronounced Kanewt) now began to eye Scotland,  especially the Lothian area which he considered belonged to him by right. What right isn't clear. His forces went to repossess it in 1018, and the combined  Britons and Scots massacred them on the banks of the River Tweed, at a battle called Carham in 1018, under the King of Scotland, Malcolm II, a descendent of  Kenneth MacAlpin.  The army they defeated was an Angle army from Northumbria,  which brought the rich Lothians under Malcolm II's rule.   Scotland,and her  borders, were now stable, but not necessarily for long.

Meanwhile, in the farthest southwest corner of England, Alfred the Great and his descendants, made a stand against the Danes and won a series of  victories, which led in time, to the Saxons reclaiming England.  The Vikings, remained however, slowly mixing with Britain and in all of Europe with the native populations and eventually the "Age of the Vikings" came to a gradual  end.

Alba grew even more:

In the same year as the Scottish victory at Carham, 1018, the King of the Britons of Strathclyde died with no heir and was succeeded by Malcom II's grandson and heir -- Duncan, (who was not the ageing and venerable monarch portrayed by Shakespeare in "MacBeth"), Duncan had some type of claim to the throne of Strathclyde through the female line.   Exactly how he did this isn't clear, but 16 years later, in 1034, Duncan became King of Scotland.  In this way the frontiers of the Scottish Kingdom were still further extended,  reaching far down into what is now English territory.

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The Last of the Great Scottish Kings

Duncan I of Scotland, was an impetuous and spoiled young man whose six years of rule brought glory neither to Scotland nor to his family.   Against wise advice, Duncan invaded Northumbria and attacked Durham. The poorly planned campaign was a total disaster for the Scots and Duncan was compelled to  withdraw. News of his disastrous and humiliating defeat had preceded his return to Scotland and in no time he was faced with a revolt among the lords, particularly from his cousin MacBeth, Mormaer (or lord) of Moray.

In a skirmish at Bothgouanan, Duncan was slain by MacBeth.   Duncan had come to the    throne by a strange set of claims to succession.  MacBeth had a much better claim, as far as strict descent was concerned: so had his wife, Grauch, who  was his cousin. (Not unusual in those days). Both MacBeth and his wife were descended from Kenneth MacAlpin, and the Moray party were keen to have MacBeth the new ruler of Scotland. Again, reality is much different from legend, and MacBeth was not at all the same MacBeth portrayed in fiction.

Of course I refer, again to Shakespeare's, excellent, but inaccurate version    "MacBeth" with whom most of us are familiar. It is a beautiful work of art and  fiction, but it is far from reality and worse, gives a good impression of Duncan, while giving a bad version of MacBeth.  Royalty murdering each other  was, almost like a game, in all medieval history, and was quite common and  even encouraged among all countries.

Under MacBeth, north and south Scotland were united and a stable Scottish kingdom looked likely.  MacBeth appears, contrary to popular belief, to have been a wise monarch who ruled Scotland successfully for seventeen prosperous years.  Coming to power, (in a time, where differing peoples, who were trying  to adjust to unity at the same time, but didn't want to give up their own ways of life, which were not always compatible with those of their neighbours), he organized troops of men to patrol the wilder countryside and enforce some kind of law and order.  An example of how stable the kingdom was under MacBeth, was that he was able to make a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050, returned to find his  kingdom quiet and went on to enjoy seven more years of successful rule.

Unfortunately, MacBeth (who had just united Scotland for 17 years) was killed in the year 1057.   One of Duncan's sons, Malcolm, (known as Ceanmor or Canmore, meaning 'big head'), who was brought up in exile in England, raised an army (with English help), invaded Scotland and reached deep into  Aberdeenshire.   At the battle of Lumphanan, he defeated MacBeth, who was slain in battle, and after some further resistance, he became king of Scotland,  calling himself Malcolm III -- and of course being supported (and controlled) by the English.

NEVER again were the emerging Kings of England to leave Scotland alone.   There are times in history that one could say were turning points, without  being overly dramatic, MacBeth's reign, had it continued ..... well, Scotland  might now rule England.   Instead, the north of Britain would absorb the life giving red blood of Scots and English alike  for seven hundred more years of brutal carnage.

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