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Life in the time of Cinaed Mac Alpin by Anna Chant #History #Scotland @anna_chant
the time of Cinaed Mac Alpin
Scotland in the 9th century was… well, to start
with it was not called Scotland. Much of what we now call Scotland was the land
of the Picts, while in the west was the Kingdom of Dal Riata, peopled by the
Scots and to the south was the Kingdom of Alt Clut or Strathclyde, as it came
to be known. For much of the population it would have been a basic existence,
living in small dwellings such as these crannogs, with agriculture very much at the mercy of the
Scottish weather. For the nobility life was less basic. The lochs and seas
then, as now, were fertile fishing grounds and they would have enjoyed the thrills
of the deer hunt.
But this was no isolated, cultural backwater.
There is evidence of trade with the rest of Europe at hill
forts such as Dunadd in Argyle, where the presence of a footprint on a rock
hints at an ancient kingship ritual.In carved stones, which survive to this day, we can see the
work of skilled craftsmen,while abbeys were centres of learning, the most famous being the abbey
founded by Saint Columba on Iona where the beautiful Book of Kells was at least
Today the Scottish countryside is the epitome of peaceful
tranquillity, but 9th century Scotland, like much of Europe, was
under Viking attack. It would be easy to imagine this as plucky Scots resolutely
standing up to the Vikings but the truth is more complicated. There is evidence
Cinaed Mac Alpin (Kenneth I) was at one point in alliance with Vikings, while his
brother and successor, Domnall (Donald I) is described as the son of a foreign
wife, suggesting that he and Cinaed were half-brothers, with his mother of
Norse origin. Cinaed’s son, Causantin (Constantine I) allied himself with the
Viking, Ivar the Boneless, in his conflict with King Artgal of Strathclyde.
These alliances aside, there are many records of raids on
the coastal settlements, including Iona and we can only begin to imagine the panic these must have
caused. Even those who never experienced it must have lived in dread of
The fears of the people proved to be well founded as the
Viking raids culminated in the shattering battle of 839, one of the bloodiest
ever fought on British soil. Both the Scot and the Pict king were killed as
were vast swathes of the nobility. And it was from this chaos that Cinaed Mac
I once, somewhat irreverently, described Cinaed as a ‘Dark
Age poster boy’ and perhaps it’s time to explain exactly what I meant. The term
‘Dark Ages’ has fallen out of favour with historians. Once it was used to
describe the brutal, ignorant time between the glories of ancient Rome and the
splendours of the Renaissance. We now know better. This was a time with its own
laws, learning and culture and was no more brutal than any other age including,
perhaps, our own.
But I like the term and use it to describe the era in its most
literal sense – dark as in ‘hard to see’, which it is. Crumbling ruins, archaeological
finds and medieval chronicles illuminate parts like candles in the darkness but
like candles, they throw up strange shadows and distortions, giving rise to the
many legends of the era. Cinaed Mac Alpin is an excellent example of this.
He is a historical figure, born around the year 810. Traditionally
he is believed to have been of both Pict and Scot descent, although the
identity of his mother is not known. Nor is that of his wife, the subject of my
first book. He likely became King of Dal Riata in 839, perhaps one of the last
kings to take part in the footprint ritual at Dunadd. He gained the Pict crown a few years later
when he was the first known king to be crowned at Scone, setting a tradition
which would last until Charles II in 1651. He also started an even longer
tradition when he brought the Stone of Destiny to Scone. This mysterious stone,
said to have been the pillow of the Biblical Jacob, continues to be used in
British coronation rituals to this day.
Cinaed was certainly a man of war, a formidable warrior who
invaded Northumbria several times, yet he was also the man who founded Dunkeld
Abbey and brought the relics of Saint Columba there for protection. He appears
to have been a successful and popular king with his death from natural causes recorded
with sorrow in 858 in the Annals of Ireland.
with his host lives no longer there is weeping in every house; there is no king of his worth under heaven as far as the borders of Rome
But Cinaed was not just a historical figure. He is also a
king of legend. He is The Hardy! The Conqueror! The Uniter! With his reputation
for uniting the Picts and Scots and with Scottish monarchs numbered from him,
he can claim to be Scotland’s founding father, a title which I am sure would
have bemused the real man.
His legends range from the glorious: He is said to have
fought alongside his grandfather, King Eochaidh the Venomous, at the Battle of
Athelstanford where the cross of Saint Andrew appeared in the sky to unite the
Picts and Scots.
To the bloodthirsty: Mac Alpin’s Treason is one of
Scotland’s Black Dinners, where Cinaed is said to have treated his rivals to
some boozy revels before disposing of them in a brutal fashion.
To the bizarre: Did he really use fish skins to disguise
himself as an angel to command his lazy warriors to obey him?
Can there be truth in any of these legends? The answer to
that is lost to time, but this is Scotland, the land of kelpies and selkies,
where even today people scan the dark waters of Loch Ness, hoping for a glimpse
of a fabulous beast. Surely anything is possible!
A nation everyone
remembers, a woman everyone forgot...
(Women of the Dark Ages
was present at the birth of a nation.
descendants sit on the British throne to this day.
history does not even record her name…
ninth century Britain, the Picts and the Gaels are fighting for supremacy over
the North. In one of their rare truces Baena, a young Pict woman is reluctantly
married to a Gael warrior, son of one of the great Chiefs of Dal Riata.
behind her family and the Pict lord she had hoped to marry she travels west to
the household of Alpin, where she is viewed with suspicion by many of her new
kin. The collapse of the truce and the indifference of her husband leaves her position
in her new land increasingly vulnerable, as war breaks out once again. Forced
to forget her Pict heritage, she fears the day when she will have to make an
agonising choice between the victory of her husband or her father.
journey will take her from the splendours of the Fortress of Dunadd to the
tranquillity of the sacred Isle of Iona, where even greater danger lurks as the
terrifying Norsemen plan their own attacks. However it seems her hardest battle
will be to win the heart of her husband, the brave, cunning and often ruthless
Cinaed as he fights his way towards a destiny that could be greater than anyone
man known to history as Kenneth Mac Alpin
An excerpt from
Kenneth's Queen - the recent marriage of Cinaed to his Pict bride is not going
She stood with her head bowed while Cinaed
looked impatiently at her. Sighing, he reached out and took her hand. Baena was
unable to help her reaction at his touch. She flinched and Cinaed dropped her
hand, a look of rage spreading across his
“Ah, yes. I know your tastes run to a very
different man,” he started in a low, angry voice. “But there shall be nothing
of that nature here. I will not have my name disgraced. If you do not behave
with honour and propriety at all times, you will be punished in full accordance with our laws. I trust you
Baena nodded fearfully, although she had no idea
how their laws stood on such matters.
“It is clear to me that you were allowed to run
wild back in your land. That is now at an end. Here we work hard and you will
be expected to bear your share. I will have no man say that the Lord Cinaed has
a lazy, slattern for a wife.”
Baena’s resentment built up at the injustice of
his words. She had never shirked her duties and was no stranger to the hard
work needed to keep these great forts running.
Cinaed folded his arms and looked at her with
narrowed eyes. “I have indeed made a very poor bargain. From this day you will strive harder to please me.”
Anna Chant is a writer and mother of three from Torbay,
South Devon. She grew up in Essex before moving to Yorkshire to study history
at the University of Sheffield. In 2015 inspired by her love of history and her
Scottish ancestry, Anna started writing her first book. Kenneth’s Queen, the
tale of the unknown wife of Kenneth Mac Alpin, was published the following
year. Anna has fallen in love with the Dark Ages and especially the part played
by the often forgotten and uncelebrated women of the era. She plans to tell the
stories of as many as possible!