Roberta’s Celtic Corner: Kenneth MacAlpin, King of all Scotland

Welcome back to my Celtic history corner, dear friends; this time, I’ll tell you something about a great medieval leader and warrior, Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpin), the man who united Scotland.

Kenneth McAlpine

Let’s go back to the 9th century, when Scotland is divided into two kingdoms: Fortriu, land of the Picts (descendants of the old Brythonic-Celtic tribe named Caledonians), in the East, and Dál Riada, land of the Scots (Gaels of Irish origin who had settled in Scotland a few centuries before), in the West.


Torridon (later known as Burghead) was the stronghold of the Picts, while Dunadd was the seat of the kings of Dál Riada; and the two rival groups fought each other for centuries about the rule over all of Alba, or Caledonia as the Romans had called it.


Then, an additional threat came in from the east: Viking raiders started attacking the coast of Fortriu and then of Dál Riada as well! The whole country had started falling into anarchy when, around the year 810, a son Cináed was born to Alpin II, king of Dál Riada, and his wife, a beautiful Pictish princess. Things didn’t go well for Alpin, though – he was beheaded by his own people for fighting with instead of against his wife’s people, the Picts.

So, in 841, Kenneth becomes king of Dál Riada – and soon he starts extending his rule over Fortriu as well, which at the time is being hit very hard by Viking raids. And he goes about it in a rather unsubtle manner: he has the pretender to the throne of Pictland, Drust X, and all the other members of his bloodline killed at a meeting in Scone. Kenneth can now claim the crown of all of Scotland.

Once he starts his reign over Alba, he turns into a wise and able ruler, though: he manages to unify the Gaels and the Picts against external enemies – the Vikings, and the Saxons down in Northumbria, which he invades numerous times.

Even though he travels around the country most of the time as kings usually do in those days, Kenneth sets up his capital in Scone; he has the old Stone of Destiny brought there, which had been the coronation stone of the kings of Dál Riada for centuries, and all the kings of Alba would be crowned on that stone until it was stolen by Edward I of England in 1296 and taken to London.

Stone of Scone

Kenneth, whose nicknames included ‘the Hardy’ and ‘the Conqueror’, died in 858 from a tumour; his death was lamented not only all over Alba, but also in Ireland with which Alba had a good relationship. His sons Constantine and Áed succeeded him, and the House of Alpin continued ruling Scotland until 1034, fighting off all attempts at a takeover by foreigners, were they Vikings or Saxons.

Who knows – had it not been for Kenneth MacAlpin, perhaps Scotland would never have developed such a strong and unique national character and such an important part as a preserver of Gaelic culture within the United Kingdom…

Scottish figures


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