Bridei I, also known as Bridei, son of Maelchon, was king of the Picts from 554 to 584. Sources are vague or contradictory regarding him, but it is believed that his court was near Loch Ness and that he may have been a Christian. There were contemporaries claiming the title "king of the Picts". He died in the mid-580s, possibly in battle, and was succeeded by Gartnait son of Domelch.
Bridei son of Maelchon was king of the Picts until his death around 584–586. Other forms of his name include Brude son of Melcho and, in Irish sources, Bruide son of Maelchú and Bruidhe son of Maelchon. He was first mentioned in the Irish annals from 558–560, where the Annals of Ulster report "the migration before Máelchú's son, king Bruide". An earlier entry, reporting the death of "Bruide son of Máelchú" in the Annals of Ulster for 505 is presumed to be an error. The Ulster annalist does not say who fled, but the later Annals of Tigernach refers to "the flight of the Scots before Bruide son of Máelchú" in 558. This uncertainty has provoked considerable speculation; in one version the Annals of Ulster is said to associate this with the death of Gabrán mac Domangairt.
Bridei is suggested to have been the son of Maelgwn Gwynedd by John Morris in his Age of Arthur, where he is referred to in passing as "... Bridei, son of Maelgwn, the mighty king of north Wales, ...". Though the book has been a commercial success, it is disparaged by historians as an unreliable source of "misleading and misguided" information.
Bridei's death was reported in the 580's, perhaps in battle against Pictish rivals in Circinn, an area thought to correspond with the Mearns. The lists of kings in the Pictish Chronicle agree that Bridei was followed by Gartnait son of Domelch.
Bridei appears in Adomnán's Life of Saint Columba as a contemporary, and as one of the chief kings in Scotland. Adomnán's account of Bridei is problematic as it does not mention whether Bridei was already a Christian, and if not, whether Columba converted him. The archaeological discoveries at Portmahomack, showing that there was a monastic community there from around 550, provide some support for the idea that Bridei was either already a Christian, at least in name, or was converted by Columba.
Bridei was not the only "king of the Picts" during his lifetime. The death of Galam — called "Cennalath, king of the Picts" — is recorded in 580 in the Annals of Ulster, four years before Bridei's death. In addition, Adomnán mentions the presence of the "under-king of Orkney" at Bridei's court. The Annals of Ulster report two expeditions to Orkney during Bridei's reign, in 580 and 581.
The location of the court of Bridei's kingdom is not certain. Adomnán's account states that after leaving the royal court, Columba came to the River Ness and that the court was located atop a steep rock. Accordingly, it is supposed that Bridei's chief residence was at Craig Phadrig, which is to the west of the modern city of Inverness and overlooks the Beauly Firth. Bridei’s kingdom may also have corresponded with what would later become Fortriu.
References in popular culture
Juliet Marillier's trilogy The Bridei Chronicles is written as a combination of history, fiction, and informed guesswork regarding this king's rise to power and rule. Her novels also describe events in the life of Bridei III.
- The entry in question is AU 558.2; compare AU560.1 and AU560.2 where these are not associated and also AT559.2 and 559.3. For speculation, Morris, The Age of Arthur and was believed to have died in the 580's and was also known in his lifetime as the "Underking of Orkney', p. 182 ff.
- Morris, John (1973), The Age of Arthur: a history of the British Isles from 350 to 650, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p. 192
- D. P. Kirby and J. E. C. Williams, "Review of The Age of Arthur", Studia Celtica, 10–11 (1975–76), pp. 454–486; "an outwardly impressive piece of scholarship", it went on to argue that this apparent scholarship "crumbles upon inspection into a tangled tissue of fact and fantasy which is both misleading and misguided".
- Annals of Tigernach, s.a. 584; Annals of Ulster, s.a. 584. The entry in 505 mentioned earlier is approximately one 84-year Easter cycle misplaced. Bridei's death in battle in Circinn is in the Annals of Tigernach, s.a. 752, apparently misplaced by two cycles; see M.O. Anderson, pp. 36–37.
- Life, I.1, I.10, II.33, II.35 and II.42.
- Smyth, pp. 103–107 argues against conversion, Sharpe, pp. 30–33 is uncertain. Bede, III.4, writes that Columba did convert Bridei, which represents the belief a century after Columba's death rather than a contemporary view.
- The Annals of Tigernach, AT578.2 and 581.3, disagree on the dates, but confirm the sequence.
- Adomnán, Life, II.42.
- As with the earlier report of the "migration" in 558 and 560, it is possible that the reports which provide more detail were glossed much later.
- "Fort, Craig Phadrig". Highland Heritage Environment Record. Highland Council. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
- Woolf, Alex. "Pictish Matriliny Reconsidered". ResearchGate. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
- Adomnán of Iona, Life of St Columba, tr. & ed. Richard Sharpe. Penguin, London, 1995. ISBN 0-14-044462-9
- Annals of Ulster, ed. & tr. Seán Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill (1983). The Annals of Ulster (to AD 1131). Dublin: DIAS. Lay summary – CELT (2008).
- Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History A.D 500–1286, volume 1. Reprinted with corrections. Paul Watkins, Stamford, 1990. ISBN 1-871615-03-8
- Anderson, Marjorie Ogilvie, Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland. Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, revised edition, 1980. ISBN 0-7011-1930-6
- Smyth, Alfred P., Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80–1000. Edinburgh UP, Edinburgh, 1984. ISBN 0-7486-0100-7
- CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Cork includes the Annals of Ulster, Tigernach, the Four Masters and Innisfallen, the Chronicon Scotorum, the Lebor Bretnach (which includes the Duan Albanach), Genealogies, and various Saints' Lives. Most are translated into English, or translations are in progress.
- Bede's Ecclesiastical History and the Continuation of Bede (pdf), at CCEL, translated by A.M. Sellar.
- Tarbat Discovery Programme with reports on excavations at Portmahomack.
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