Kenneth I of Scotland

Cináed mac Ailpín
King of the Picts
Reign 843–858
Predecessor See text
Successor Domnall mac Ailpín
Issue Causantín mac Cináeda, Áed mac Cináeda, Máel Muire ingen Cináeda, perhaps others
Father Alpín mac Echdach
Died 13 February 858
Buried Iona

Cináed mac Ailpín (after 800–13 February 858) was king of the Picts and, according to national myth, first king of Scots as Kenneth I of Scotland. Cináed's undisputed legacy was to produce a dynasty of rulers who claimed descent from him, and indeed, if he cannot be regarded as the father of Scotland, he can be regarded as the father of the dynasty which ruled that country for much of the medieval period.

King of Scots ?

The Cináed of myth, conqueror of the Picts and founder of the kingdom of Alba, was born in the centuries after the real Cináed died. In the reign of Cináed mac Máil Coluim, when the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba was compiled, the annalist wrote:

So Kinadius son of Alpinus, first of the Scots, ruled this Pictland prosperously for 16 years. Pictland was named after the Picts, whom, as we have said, Kinadius destroyed. ... Two years before he came to Pictland, he had received the kingdom of Dál Riata.

In the 15th century Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, a history in verse, added little to the account in the Chronicle:

Quhen Alpyne this kyng was dede, He left a sowne wes cal'd Kyned,
Dowchty man he wes and stout, All the Peychtis he put out.
Gret bataylis than dyd he, To pwt in freedom his cuntre !

When humanist scholar George Buchanan wrote his history Rerum Scoticarum Historia in the 1570s, a great deal of lurid detail had been added to the story. Buchanan included an account of how Cináed's father had been murdered by the Picts, and a detailed, and entirely unsupported, account of how Cináed avenged him and conquered the Picts. Buchanan was not as credulous as many, and he did not include the tale of MacAlpin's Treason, a story from Giraldus Cambrensis, who reused a tale of Saxon treachery at a feast in Geoffrey of Monmouth's inventive Historia Regum Britanniae.

Later 19th century historians such as William Forbes Skene brought new standards of accuracy to early Scottish history, while Celticists such as Whitley Stokes and Kuno Meyer cast a critical eye over Welsh and Irish sources. As a result, much of the misleading and vivid detail was removed from the scholarly series of events, even if it remained in the popular accounts. Rather than a conquest of the Picts, instead the idea of Pictish matrilineal succession, mentioned by Bede and apparently the only way to make sense of the list of Kings of the Picts found in the Pictish Chronicle, advanced the idea that Cináed was a Gael, and a king of Dál Riata, who had inherited the throne of Pictland through a Pictish mother. Other Gaels, such as Caustantín and Óengus, the sons of Fergus, were identified among the Pictish king lists, as were Angles such as Talorcen son of Eanfrith, and Britons such as Bridei son of Beli.[1]

Modern historians would reject parts of the Cináed produced by Skene and subsequent historians, while accepting others. Medievalist Alex Woolf, interviewed by The Scotsman in 2004, is quoted as saying:

The myth of Kenneth conquering the Picts - it’s about 1210, 1220 that that’s first talked about. There’s actually no hint at all that he was a Scot. ... If you look at contemporary sources there are four other Pictish kings after him. So he’s the fifth last of the Pictish kings rather than the first Scottish king."[2]

Many other historians could be quoted in terms similar to Woolf.[3]


Cináed's origins are uncertain, as are his ties, if any, to previous kings of the Picts or Dál Riata. Among the genealogies contained in the Middle Irish Rawlinson B.502 manuscript, dating from around 1130, is the supposed descent of Máel Coluim mac Cináeda. Medieval genealogies are unreliable sources, but some historians accept Cináed's descent from the Cenél nGabrain of Dál Riata. The manuscript provides the following ancestry for Cináed:

... Cináed mac Ailpín 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 ...[4]

Leaving aside the shadowy kings before Áedán son of Gabrán, the genealogy is certainly flawed insofar as Áed Find, who died c. 778, could not reasonably be the son of Domangart, who was killed c. 673. The conventional account would insert two generations between Áed Find and Domangart: Eochaid mac Echdach, father of Áed Find, who died c. 733, and his father Eochaid.

Although later traditions provided details of his reign and death, Cináed's father Alpín is not listed as among the kings in the Duan Albanach, which provides the following sequence of kings leading up to Cináed:

Naoi m-bliadhna Cusaintin chain,   The nine years of Causantín the fair;,  
a naoi Aongusa ar Albain,   The nine of Aongus over Alba;  
cethre bliadhna Aodha áin,   The four years of Aodh the noble;  
is a tri déug Eoghanáin.   And the thirteen of Eoghanán.  
Tríocha bliadhain Cionaoith chruaidh,   The thirty years of Cionaoth the hardy,  

It is supposed that these kings are the Caustantín son of Fergus and his brother Óengus, who have already been mentioned, Óengus's son Eóganán, as well as the obscure Áed mac Boanta, but this sequence is considered doubtful if the list is intended to represent kings of Dál Riata, as it should if Cináed were king there.[5]

The idea that Cináed was a Gael is not entirely rejected, but modern historiography distinguishes between Cináed as a Gael by culture, and perhaps in ancestry, and Cináed as a king of Gaelic Dál Riata. Cináed could well have been the first sort of Gael. Kings of the Picts before him, from Bridei son of Der-Ilei, his brother Nechtan as well as Óengus son of Fergus and his presumed descendants were all at least partly Gaelicised.[6] The idea that the Gaelic names of Pictish kings in Irish annals represented translations of Pictish ones was challenged by the discovery of the inscription Custantin filius Fircus(sa), the latinised name of the Pictish king Caustantín son of Fergus, on the Dupplin Cross.[7] Other evidence, such as that furnished by place-names, suggests the spread of Gaelic culture through Pictland in the centuries before Cináed. For example, Atholl, a name used in the Annals of Ulster for the year 739, has been thought to be "New Ireland"


Compared with the many questions on his origins, Cináed's ascent to power and subsequent reign can be dealt with simply. Cináed's rise can be placed in the context of the recent end of the previous dynasty, which had dominated Fortriu for two or four generations. This followed the death of king Eógan son of Óengus of Fortriu, his brother Bran, Áed mac Boanta "and others almost innumerable" in battle against the Vikings in 839. The resulting succession crisis seems, if the Pictish Chronicle king-lists have any validity, to have resulted in at least four would-be kings warring for supreme power.

Cináed's reign is dated from 843, it was probably not until 848 that he defeated the last of his rivals for power. The Pictish Chronicle claims that he was king in Dál Riata for two years before becoming Pictish king in 843, but this is not generally accepted. In 849, Cináed had relics of Columba, which may have included the Monymusk Reliquary, transferred from Iona to Dunkeld. Other that these bare facts, the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba reports that he invaded Saxonia six times, captured Melrose and burnt Dunbar, and also that Vikings laid waste to Pictland, reaching far into the interior.[8] The Annals of the Four Masters, not generally a good source on Scottish matters, do make mention of Cináed, although what should be made of the report is unclear:

Gofraid mac Fergusa, chief of Airgíalla, went to Alba, to strengthen the Dal Riata, at the request of Cináed mac Ailpín.[9]

Cináed died from a tumour on 13 February, 858 at the palace of Cinnbelachoir, perhaps near Scone. The annals report the death as that of the "king of the Picts", not the "king of Alba". The title "king of Alba" is not used until the time of Cináed's grandsons, Domnall and Causantín.

Cináed left at least two sons, Causantín and Áed, who were later kings, and and at least two daughters. One daughter married Run, king of Strathclyde, Eochaid being the result of this marriage. Cináed's daughter Máel Muire married two important Irish kings of the Uí Néill. Her first husband was Áed Finnliath of the Cenél nEógan. Niall Glúndub, ancestor of the O'Neill, was the son of this marriage. Her second husband was Flann Sinna of Clann Cholmáin. As the wife and mother of kings, when Máel Muire died in 913, her death was reported by the Annals of Ulster, no usual thing for the mysogynistic chronicles of the age.


  1. ^ That the Pictish succession was matrilineal is doubted. Bede in the Ecclesiastical History, I, i, writes: "when any question should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race, rather than the male: which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day." Bridei and Nechtan, the sons of Der-Ilei, were the Pictish kings in Bede's time, and are presumed to have claimed the throne through maternal descent. Maternal descent, "when any question should arise" brought several kings of Alba and the Scots to the throne, including John Balliol, Robert Bruce and Robert II, the first of the Stewart kings.
  2. ^ The Scotsman, 2 October, 2004, "First king of the Scots ? Actually he was a Pict."
  3. ^ For example, Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 107–108; Broun, "Kenneth mac Alpin"; Forsyth, "Scotland to 1100", pp. 28–32; Duncan, Kingship of the Scots, pp. 8–10. Woolf was selected to write the relevant volume of the new Edinburgh History of Scotland, to replace that written by Duncan in 1975.
  4. ^ Rawlinson B.502 ¶1696 Genelach Ríg n-Alban.
  5. ^ See Broun, Pictish Kings, for a discussion of this question.
  6. ^ For the descendants of the first Óengus son of Fergus, again see Broun, Pictish Kings.
  7. ^ Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp.95–96; Fergus would appear as Uurgu(i)st in a Pictish form.
  8. ^ Regarding Dál Riata, see Broun, "Kenneth mac Alpin"; Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 111–112.
  9. ^ Annals of the Four Master, for the year 835 (probably c. 839). The history of Dál Riata in this period is simply not known, or even if there was any sort of Dál Riata to have a history. Ó Corráin's "Vikings in Ireland and Scotland", available as etext, and Woolf, "Kingdom of the Isles", may be helpful.


  • John Bannerman, "The Scottish Takeover of Pictland" in Dauvit Broun & Thomas Owen Clancy (eds.) Spes Scotorum: Hope of Scots. Saint Columba, Iona and Scotland. T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1999. ISBN 0-567-08682-2
  • Dauvit Broun, "Kenneth mac Alpin" in Michael Lynch (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Oxford: Oxford UP, ISBN 0-19-211696-7
  • Dauvit Broun, "Pictish Kings 761-839: Integration with Dál Riata or Separate Development" in Sally Foster (ed.) The St Andrews Sarcophagus Dublin: Four Courts Press, ISBN 1-85182-414-6
  • Dauvit Broun, "Dunkeld and the origins of Scottish Identity" in Dauvit Broun and Thomas Owen Clancy (eds), op. cit.
  • Thomas Owen Clancy, "Caustantín son of Fergus" in Lynch (ed.), op. cit.
  • A.A.M. Duncan,The Kingship of the Scots 842–1292: Succession and Independence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7486-1626-8
  • Katherine Forsyth, "Scotland to 1100" in Jenny Wormald (ed.) Scotland: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, ISBN 0-19-820615-1
  • Sally Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots: Early Historic Scotland. London: Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-8874-3
  • Máire Herbert, "Ri Éirenn, Ri Alban: kingship and identity in the ninth and tenth centuries" in Simon Taylor (ed.), Kings, clerics and chronicles in Scotland 500–1297. Dublin: Fourt Courts Press, ISBN 1-85182-516-9
  • Donnchadh Ó Corráin, "Vikings in Ireland and Scotland in the ninth century" in Peritia 12 (1998), pp. 296–339.
  • Alex Woolf, "Constantine II" in Lynch (ed.), op. cit.
  • Alex Woolf, "Kingdom of the Isles" in Lynch (ed.), op. cit

Further reading

For background on Early Historic Scotland, Sally Foster's, Picts, Gaels and Scots (revised edition, 2005) offers a broad and accessible introduction, while Leslie Alcock's Society of Antiquaries of Scotland monograph Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD 550–750 (2003) offers more detail. No recent history of Early Historic Scotland is available; Alex Woolf's Pictland to Alba: Scotland, 789–1070, in the New Edinburgh History of Scotland series, is to be published in 2007. The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001) contains valuable articles by expert contributors, but is very poorly organised.

Preceded by:
King of Picts
(or Alba)

Succeeded by:
Domnall mac Ailpín
Monarchs of Scotland (Alba)
Traditional Kings of Picts: (Legendary Kings) | Drest of the 100 Battles | Talorc I | Nechtan I | Drest II | Galan | Drest III | Drest IV | Gartnait I | Cailtram | Talorc II | Drest V | Galam Cennalath | Bruide I | Gartnait II | Nechtan II | Cinioch | Gartnait III | Bruide II | Talorc III | Talorgan I | Gartnait IV | Drest VI | Bruide III | Taran | Bruide IV | Nechtan IV | Drest VII | Alpín I | Óengus I | Bruide V | Cináed II | Alpín II | Talorgan II | Drest VIII | Conall | Caustantín | Óengus II | Drest IX | Eogán | Ferat | Bruide VI | Cináed II | Bruide VII | Drest X
Traditional Kings of Scots: Cináed I | Domnall I | Causantín I | Áed | Eochaid | Giric | Domnall II | Causantín II | Máel Coluim I | Idulb | Dub | Cuilén | Cináed II | Amlaíb | Cináed II | Causantín III | Cináed III | Máel Coluim II | Donnchad I | Mac Bethad | Lulach | Máel Coluim III | Domnall III Bán | Donnchad II | Domnall III Bán | Edgar | Alexander I | David I | Máel Coluim IV | William I | Alexander II | Alexander III | First Interregnum | John | Second Interregnum | Robert I | David II | Edward | David II | Robert II | Robert III | James I | James II | James III | James IV | James V | Mary I | James VI* | Charles I* | The Covenanters | The Protectorate | Charles II* | James VII* | Mary II* | William II* | Anne*
* Also Monarch of Ireland and England

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