Kenneth MacAlpin

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Kenneth MacAlpin
Portrait of Kenneth I
Portrait of Kenneth by Alexander Bannermann, 18th century.
King of Alba
Reign843 – 13 February 858
PredecessorOffice established
SuccessorDonald I
King of Picts
Reign843 – 13 February 858
PredecessorDrest X
SuccessorDonald I
King of Dál Riada
Reign841 – 850
PredecessorAlpín mac Echdach
SuccessorOffice disestablished
DiedFebruary 13, 858(858-02-13) (aged 47–48)
Forteviot, Perthshire, Scotland
Regnal name
Kenneth I
Posthumous name
An Ferbasach
Medieval GaelicCináed mac Ailpin
Modern Scottish GaelicCoinneach mac Ailpein
FatherAlpín mac Echdach

Kenneth MacAlpin (Medieval Gaelic: Cináed mac Ailpin, Modern Scottish Gaelic: Coinneach mac Ailpein;[a] 810 – 13 February 858), or Kenneth I, was the King of Dál Riada (841–850), the King of the Picts (843–858), and the King of Alba (843–858). Inherited the throne of Dál Riada from his father, Alpín mac Echdach, the founder of the Alpínid dynasty, Kenneth I conquered the kingdom of the Picts in 843–850, and began a campaign to seize all of Scotland, as well as assimilate the Picts. For this he was posthumously nicknamed An Ferbasach, meaning "The Conquerer".[1] Forteviot became the capital of his kingdom, while he also fought the Britons of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, and the invading Vikings from Scandinavia. Moreover, Kenneth relocated relics, including the Stone of Scone, to his new domain from an abandoned abbey on Iona.

Kenneth I is traditionally considered the founder of Scotland, known then as Alba, although he, like his immediate successors, bore the title of King of the Picts. One of the chronicles calls Kenneth the first Scottish lawgiver, but there is no information about the laws he passed.


According to the genealogy of the Scottish kings, Kenneth's father was Alpín mac Echdach, the King of Dál Riada, which existed in what is now western Scotland. Alpín is considered to be the grandson of Áed Find, a descendant of Cenél nGabráin, who ruled in Dál Riada. The Synchronism of the Irish Kings lists Alpín among the kings of Scotland.[b] At the same time, modern historians are sceptical of both the reign of Alpín in Dál Riada and his relationship with Áed, believing that this misconception was the result of negligence on the part of the scribes in some texts.[2][3] The genealogy of the kings of Scotland and Dál Riada dates back to an original manuscript made during the reign of Malcolm III, in the second half of the 11th century.[4] The Book of Glendalough from the Rawlinson B 502 manuscript provides the following ancestry for Kenneth:

...Cináed son of Alpín son of Eochaid son of Áed Find son of Domangart son of Domnall Brecc son of Eochaid Buide son of Áedán son of Gabrán son of Domangart son of Fergus Mór ...[5]

There is very limited information about Alpín, the father of Kenneth. Some of Dál Riada's royal lists indicate that he ruled from 841 to 843, but these lists contain many scribal errors. Therefore, the reign of the monarch is unclear. The Chronicle of Huntingdon, dating to the late 13th century, states that Alpín defeated the Picts at Galloway, but the Picts then defeated him in a battle that took place in the same year, where Alpín was killed.[6] According to the chronicle, Alpín died on 20 July 834.[7][8][9] This date is given in other sources, however, several researchers claim that the date was probably copied from another source, then the year of his death was obtained by recalculating the dates in the erroneous royal lists, so they attribute Alpín's date of death to 840,[10] or 841.[11]

Alpín's mother is likely to have been a Pictish princess, the sister of Constantine I and Óengus II. According to the Pictish tradition, a female representative of the royal dynasty could also inherit the crown. Thus, this origin gave Kenneth a legitimate claim to the Pictish throne.[11]

It is known that Kenneth I had at least one brother, Donald I, who succeeded him.[7]


Kenneth MacAlpin is believed to have been born about 810,[12][13] on the island of Iona, which is located in what is now the Kingdom of Scotland within the United Kingdom. He succeeded his father as the King of Dál Riada after his death. His coronation took place in 840 or 841. One of the main sources on the life of Kenneth is the 10th-century Chronicle of the Kings of Alba, sometimes called the Scottish Chronicle. The chronicle is a part of a 14th-century manuscript known as the Poppleton manuscript and describes the reign of the Scottish kings from Kenneth I to Kenneth II (r. 971–995).[14] Initially, the chronicle was just a list of kings, but details about kings and their reigns were added to it in the 10th century.[15][16]


Conquest of Pictavia[edit]

According to the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba, Kenneth "came to Pictavia", which is also referred to as Pictland, a region inhabited by the Picts, during the second year of his reign in Dál Riada. Having defeated the Picts, he ruled there for sixteen years. Given that Kenneth, according to the Annals of Ulster, died in 858, he became the King of Picts in 842 or 843.[3][6] Although some sources state that Kenneth ruled the Picts from 841 to 856, according to the Chronicle of Melrose, he became their king in 843, a date that is generally accepted by most modern-day historians.[11]

Illustration of Kenneth MacAlpin by Jacob de Wet II, 1684–1686.

In the first half of the 9th century, the situation in Dál Riada seriously deteriorated. Almost the entire territory of the kingdom was mountainous and was filled with uneasy and narrow areas. Besides, Kenneth's realm was squeezed between the powerful Briton Kingdom of Strathclyde in the south and the Druim Alban mountain ridge in the east. It was difficult to pass through the provinces of Dál Riada, most of the land was infertile, and the kingdom had lost its western territories in the Hebrides to the Vikings, who had settled in the area and were raiding the borderline areas of Dál Riada. It is possible that these conditions forced Kenneth to attack the Pictavia.[6]

After the death of Eóganan mac Óengusa, which according to the Annals of Ulster occurred in 839, Uurad, and then Bridei VI succeeded him as the King of Picts. According to List One,[c] Uurad's reign lasted three years, while Brude VI reigned for a year. According to List Two, Uurad reigned for two years, while Bridei VI's reign lasted a month. The reigns of Uurad's three sons were also present in List Two. Based on these accounts, the Pictish kingdom fell in 849 or 850. Many sources dating to the following periods state that the historical kingdom of the Picts and the Scots unified in 850. List Two states that the last Pictish King was killed in Forteviot or Scone. This is probably a reference to MacAlpin's treason, a medieval legend first recorded in the 12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis. According to the legend, a Pictish nobleman is invited by the Scots to a meeting or a feast in Scone but gets treacherously killed there. At the same time, List One gives the year 843 as the date when Kenneth received the title of King of Picts.[3][6]

Sources do not detail Kenneth's conquest of Pictavia.[d] At the same time, no chronicle mentions that Kenneth continued his father's campaign on the Picts. Nor do the sources mention his supposed claim to the Pictish crown, but modern-day historians still suggest that Kenneth was a descendant of Pictish kings thorough his mother, or that he had ties with them thorough his wife. Likely, the death of Eóganan and the heavy losses sustained on the Picts in a battle against the Viking invaders had weakened the Picts' military might. There is also the possibility that Kenneth's visit to Pictavia began as a rebellion against the Pictish dominion, as the Pictish forces of Óengus had occupied Dál Riada, and made it its vassal in 741.[17] The Chronicle of Huntingdon gives the following interpretation of the events that took place after Eóganan's death:

When the Danish pirates... massacred the Picts who were defending their country, Kenneth entered the remaining Pictish territories.

It is likely that Kenneth killed the Pictish leaders and destroyed their armies during his conquest of Pictavia, after which he devastated the whole country. The three kings shown in List Two were probably candidates for the Pictish throne. At the same time, the Annals of the Four Masters do record a single battle during Kenneth's campaign. According to Isabel Henderson, this proves that the Picts didn't show any significant resistance to Kenneth's forces.[6]

King of Alba[edit]

According to historical tradition, it is believed that a new kingdom was formed after Kenneth annexed the kingdom of the Picts. The Gaelic name of this kingdom was Alba, which was later replaced by Scotia and Scotland. The rulers of the kingdom initially held the title of King of Alba. Kenneth is listed as the first King of Scotland in the royal lists dating to later periods. However, modern historians believe that the final unification of the kingdom took place half a century later and that the main political achievement of Kenneth should be considered the creation of a new dynasty. This dynasty sought to dominate all of Scotland, under which the Scots assimilated the Picts, resulting in their language and institutions quickly disappearing.[3][11][18]

Illustration of the Stone of Scone in the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, 1855.

After the conquest of Pictavia, the Scots from Dál Riada began to migrate en masse to the territories populated by the Picts. The list of Pictish kings concludes in 850, but the list of kings of Dál Riada also ends around the same time, meaning that the title ceased to exist. Also, Kenneth I and his administration moved to Pictavia. It is possible that the Scots moved to the region before the war, and it is also possible that such settlements played a major role in the selection of Scone as the kingdom's capital. Kenneth moved relics from an abandoned abbey on Iona, where it became impossible to live due to the constant Viking raids, to Dunkeld, which was the centre of the Church of Scotland in 848 or 849, according to The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba. The coronation stone was also moved from the island to Scone, for which it is referred to as the Stone of Scone. According to archaeological excavations, Forteviot was probably originally a royal residence, but the place no longer gets mentioned in the chronicles after the death of Donald I. The mass migration of the Scots to the east most likely led to the assimilation of the Picts. Although the Irish annals, dating to the late-9th century, mentions the title of King of the Picts, this does not mean that the Picts were still independent. The Pictish civil system and clerical laws were completely replaced by the Scottish legal system, and it is likely that similar changes were carried out in other spheres of the Pictish society. The Picts did not revolt against this assimilation process.[3][6][9][19]

The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba describes the events that had occurred during Kenneth's reign without specifying their dates. He invaded Lothian in the Kingdom of Northumbria six times. Kenneth captured the towns of Melrose and Dunbar and had burned them. The Britons from the Kingdom of Strathclyde attacked his domain and burned Dunblane. Furthermore, the Viking invaders raided Pictavia, ravaging the territories "from Clunie to Dunkeld".[3][20]

Kenneth also strengthened his power by arranging royal marriages with neighbouring states, marrying his daughters to the kings of Strathclyde and Ireland.[3][20] According to the Chronicle of Melrose, he was one of the first Scottish lawgivers, but his laws have not survived to this day.[21]

Death and succession[edit]

According to the Annals of Ulster, Kenneth died in 858. The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba states that he died in February in Forteviot due to a tumour. Historians suggest that this date might be 13 February. He was buried in Iona Abbey. As the succession in the kingdom was carried out in the form of tanistry, Kenneth's successor was not his eldest son, but his brother, Donald. Only after the death of Donald I, the sons of Kenneth, Causantín mac Cináeda and Áed mac Cináeda, successively inherited the crown. The Alpínid dynasty, which ruled Scotland until the beginning of the 11th century, was formed during this period.[3][7][22][23]

Contemporary Irish annals give Kenneth and his initial successors the title of King of the Picts, but do not call him the King of Fortriu. This title was only given to four Pictish kings who reigned in the 7–9th centuries. It is possible that the use of the title of King of the Picts was in reference to Kenneth and his immediate successors' claim to all of Pictavia, though there is very little evidence of how far their domain stretched.[3]


The name of Kenneth's wife is unknown. There is a hypothesis that she could have been a Pictish princess. Kenneth's children were:[7]

There is also a theory that the wife of Amlaíb Conung (r. 853–871), the King of Dublin was a daughter of Kenneth.[9]


  1. ^ Cináed mac Ailpín is the Mediaeval Gaelic form. A more accurate rendering in modern Gaelic would be Cionaodh mac Ailpein since Coinneach is historically a separate name. However, in the modern language, both names have converged.
  2. ^ Dál Riada was ruled by three royal dynasties. Cenél nGabráin ruled the southern part of present-day Argyll and a part of Antrim. The Loarn clan ruled the central provinces of the kingdom, while the Óengus clan ruled the islands within the realm.[2]
  3. ^ There are eight lists of the Pictish kings, which are based on two protographs labelled List One and List Two respectively.[14]
  4. ^ Edward J. Cowan, on the basis of handwritten versions of royal lists compiled in the 12th century, suggested that the description of the conquest of the Pictish kingdom existed in an earlier protograph, but for some reason it was later removed from the subsequent lists.[4]


  1. ^ Skene 1867, p. 83.
  2. ^ a b Fyodorov 2017, pp. 51–54.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Anderson 2004b, p. 1.
  4. ^ a b Fyodorov 2017, pp. 63–65.
  5. ^ CELT 2013, ¶1696.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Henderson 2004, pp. 115–121.
  7. ^ a b c d "Scotland, kings". Foundation for Medieval Genealogy. Archived from the original on 11 February 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  8. ^ "Kenneth I". Encyclopedia Britannica (onlayn). Archived from the original on 4 January 2019. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  9. ^ a b c MacKay 1892, pp. 437–439.
  10. ^ Anderson 2004a, p. 1.
  11. ^ a b c d Mackenzie 2003, p. 90.
  12. ^ Luxmoore, Jonathan (30 November 2016). "Scottish diocese hopes to be a faith refuge". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on 1 December 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  13. ^ "King Kenneth I". Undiscovered Scotland. Archived from the original on 12 December 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  14. ^ a b Henderson 2004, pp. 161–163.
  15. ^ Woolf 2007, pp. 87–93.
  16. ^ Dumville 2018, pp. 73–86.
  17. ^ Henderson 2004, pp. 72–74.
  18. ^ GRE 2005, p. 405.
  19. ^ Goring 2009, p. 661.
  20. ^ a b Mackenzie 2003, p. 94.
  21. ^ Fyodorov 2017, p. 80.
  22. ^ Fedosov 2014, p. 80.
  23. ^ Tytler 1920, p. 45.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Kenneth MacAlpin
Born: after 810 Died: 13 February 858
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Drest X
King of the Picts
Succeeded by
Donald I