First King Of Scots Thought To Be A Pict

Roundup: Talking About History

Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 02 Oct. 2004

In 843AD, the kingdom of Scotland was created when Kenneth MacAlpine led an army of Scots to victory over the Picts.

There have even been calls for a field near Stirling where the battle is said to have been fought - which attracts scores of tourists from America and elsewhere - to be officially recognised by the Scottish Parliament as the"birthplace of the nation".

But a forthcoming book by St Andrews University historian Alex Woolf will claim that all the evidence suggests MacAlpine was actually a Pict himself and stories about him as a great Scottish war leader were made up in later centuries.

The expert in early Scottish history said contemporary sources referred to MacAlpine as"king of the Picts" and gave the same title to the four kings who succeeded him. He also said both Kenneth and Alpine were Pictish rather than Scottish names.

The first reference to a Scottish Kenneth MacAlpine fighting against the Picts comes about 400 years after he was alive and the supposed battle of 843AD is believed to be a much later invention.

Mr Woolf, whose book From Pictland to Alba: Scotland 789 to 1070 is due out next year, admitted there was little contemporary evidence about MacAlpine, but what there was supported his theory.

"The myth of Kenneth MacAlpine conquering the Picts and killing the King of the Picts - it's about 1210, 1220 that that's first talked about," he said.

"There's actually no hint at all that he was a Scot. Historians who work on this still tend to say that he was a Scot but add lots of caveats.

"The contemporary evidence does not make this at all clear. There's nothing at all that says 'King of the Scots' and there's no reference to a conquest of the Picts by the Scots.

"If you look at contemporary sources people called him King of the Picts and there are four other Pictish kings after him. So he's the fifth last of the Pictish kings rather than the first Scottish king."

The 19th-century historian Charles Roger claimed a standing stone at Airthrey near Stirling marked the site of the 843AD battle, saying it was"believed that it was reared to commemorate the total defeat of the Picts by the Scots, under Kenneth MacAlpine, and which led to the destruction of the Pictish kingdom." He added:"It is beyond doubt that the battle which finally overthrew the Picts was fought in this vicinity."

But Mr Woolf said the battle was" completely made up.""I don't think there's even a late medieval account that puts it there. The one place we know Kenneth MacAlpine is connected to is Forteviot where he died," he said.

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