PICTISH KINGLISTS:

Colbertine version of the Pictish Chronicle: King List MS-A from Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS Latin 4126

Pictish kinglists are exceedingly difficult to cross-reference and confirm, particularly as, once the Scots were in power in Forteviot (from c. AD843), annals were consistently adjusted–corrected, scored through and re-written–to reflect homage to the Scots and to glorify Dalriatan Scots lineage, to the detriment of the Pictish line.

Even as late as the Letter by the Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII (otherwise known as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath‘) in 1320, it was felt necessary to explain to the holy father how ancient was their ancestry and how famous was the nation of Scots–‘having expelled the Britons and entirely rooted out the Picts’.

Recent scholarship by remarkable historians, however– Marjorie O Anderson, David N Dumville and others–have added light to the darkness and within a relative framework of intermarriage between the reigning houses of neighbouring states at the time, a tentative list emerges.

A longer page with more detailed background can be found at Devorguila-page here.

As research and new knowledge produce results, these lists will be updated and revised. They are offered in the spirit of true academic thirst for knowledge and we hope that they will be received in the same light.

KINGS OF PICTS
While it is known that the journeys of Columba brought him to the fortress of Bridei son of Maelchon, king of the Picts, ‘near Inverness’, the extent of his dominion is not known. It may be that he ruled over the ‘Northern Picts’–as several annals from that time refer to the kingdom of the Picts as being divided by the range of the Mounth into northern and southern kingdoms.

On several occasions kings are referred to as ruling on ‘this’ side of the Mounth or on the ‘other’ side of the Mounth. Depending on where the Chronicle is being written at the time (either northern monastery at Fyvie or Kineddar or Deer– or southern monastery associated with Forteviot, Iona or St Andrews: Because no ‘original’ Chronicle of the Picts now survives–only 12thC copies–it is difficult to know which location is implied.

Forteviot cross commemorating Pictish monarch Custatin filius Forcus: his Latin name gives Pictish authenticity

Bridei is known to have died c. AD585.

617-633 Edwin King of Northumbria [Oswald, Eanfrith, Oswiu exiled in Pictland]
634-641 Oswald returned from exile, reigned as King of Northumbria
641-670 Oswiu reigned in Bernicia and from 655 over Northumbria
653-657 Talorgan son of Eanfrith (Northumbria) king of Picts
670-685 Ecgfrith king of Northumbria [672 Picts deposed Drust from kingship]
[672 Pictish army slaughtered by Ecgfrith]
672-693 Bridei son of Bili king of Picts [Adomnan became 9th abbot of Iona in 679]
681 Siege of Dunnottar (Kincardine)
682 Bridei laid waste the Orkneys
683 Siege of Dunadd and Dundurn (Perthshire)
685 Battle of Dunnichen Moss, called ‘Nechtansmere’; Bridei/Pictish army killed Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria
[Adomnan wrote his Law of Innocents and made visits to Pictish king in 697, d.704]
697 Tarachin (sic), Talorcan, king of Picts expelled from his kingdom
706-724 Nechtan son of Derile king of Picts (N and S)
711 Picts slaughtered by Northumbrians on ‘plain of Manaw’ (Clackmannan).
711 Nechtan requests Northumbrian architectural expertise in building a church ‘in the manner of Rome’, dedicated to Saint Peter–probable first church at Restenneth
717 Nechtan requests Columban ‘familia‘ return to Iona, leaving Pictish kingship in control of the Pictish Church
724 – 734 Nechtan retired to monastic life at Derile (Darley, Fyvie, Aberdeenshire); Drust ruled as successor
727 Oengus defeated Drust in three battles
728 Oengus defeated Alpin; Nechtan came out of retirement, defeated Alpin
729 Oengus defeated Nechtan who again retired, d. 734
729-761 Oengus I, son of Fergus, king of Picts
[735 death of historian Bede]
Oengus as overlord in Dál Riata, d.761
739 Oengus had Talorgan son of Drust drowned
750-752 Teudubr (?) son of Bili, king of Strathclyde, overlord of Picts
752 Battle of Asreth in Circenn (Mearns) between Picts; Bridei son of Maelchon died.
782 Dubh Talorc, king of the Picts on ‘this side of the Mounth’ died
789 Battle among Picts where Conall, son of Tadc escaped; Constantine victorious
802-806 Devastation of Iona by Vikings
811-820 Constantine, son of Fergus, king of Picts and of Dál Riata; founded Dunkeld–he is Pictish king commemorated on Dupplin Cross:Custatin filius Forcus
820-834 Oengus II, son of Fergus, king of Picts and of Dál Riata; founded Saint Andrews, buried in sarcophagus there
839 major victory by Vikings over Picts; death of Eoganan (Euan) son of Oengus–opportunity used by macAlpin for his takeover
c.840 Kenneth macAlpin king of Dál Riata
c.847 Kenneth macAlpin king of Scots and Picts – called himself King of Alba

KINGS OF SCOTS
858-862 Domnall (Donald I) king of Alba, brother of Kenneth
interregnum 862-880Constantin, son of Kenneth, king of Alba
ditto Aedth, brother of Constantin, king of Alba
880-889 Giric/Grig, brother of Donald mac Dunstan, king of Picts & Alba d. 889
because of his Pictish lineage, Giric/Grig ruled from Northern Pictland (St Cyrus in Mearns named after him)
He is founder of the Harbour of Aberdeen
900-943 Constantine II, son of Aedth, king of Scots
[937 after treaties negotiated with Northumbria, Constantine defeated at Brunanburh by Athelstan]
939 death of Athelstan
943-952 Constantine II retired to seclusion of St Andrews
943-954 Malcolm I, son of Donald mac Dunstan, king of Scots
954-962 Indulf son of Constantine II, king of Scots
[962-967 Culen macIndulf and Constantin macCulen interregnum with Dubh son of Malcolm and his
brother Kenneth II son of Malcolm 971-995]
967 Culen died at Cullen, Banffshire
966-1005 descendants of Constantine I excluded descendants of Aedth (son of macAlpin) from
kingship
Historical kings of Scots
997-1005 Kenneth III, son of Dubh and his son Girc joint rule
1005-1034 Malcolm II king of Scots
1034-1040 Duncan I, grandson of Malcolm II through eldest daughter Bethoc. It was through his grandfather Malcolm II’s line via Malcolm’s second daughter Doada that Macbeth claimed kingship in 1040
1040-1057 Macbeth, grandson of Malcolm II, king of Scots
1057-58 (6 months) Lulach, son of Gruoch, lady Macbeth, by Gillecomgan, king (died at Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire)
1058-1093 Malcolm III Canmore, son of Duncan I, king of Scots

Further reading:
The Pictish Symbol Stones of Scotland (RCAHMS) ed. Iain Fraser 2008
Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 by Alfred P. Smyth 1989
The Sculptured Stones of Scotland (2 vols) John Stuart, 1856
The early Christian monuments of Scotland: a classified illustrated descriptive list of the monuments with an analysis of their symbolism and ornamentation. JR Allen and J Anderson, 1903

©1998-2011 Friends of Grampian Stones Editor: Marian Youngblood

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The Pictish stronghold of Duffus near Elgin had its own stone Peterkirk in Nechtan's time

The Pictish stronghold of Duffus near Elgin had its own stone Peterkirk in Nechtan's time

If Pictish sagas were unearthed from oblivion into which they descended after AD843 ‘union’ with the Scots, Nechtan highking of Picts, last in the Heroic Age of Pictish warriors, anointed leader of his people, evangelizing monarch, would top the bill.

In a reign of  less than 30 years (706-729) he brought deliverance to his land from Dark Age beliefs, dissolved petty rivalries and united his nation through church, wealth and powerful alliances. He was one of few Pictish royals to die in his bed (732).

Just south of the border with Pictland, Anglian church historian Bede wrote a contemporary account during Nechtan’s reign. He died within three years of the great king. Contemporaneous Annals written at Iona are particularly detailed at this time too; so accurate sources are not lacking. Bede was a meticulous researcher, especially in ecclesiastical matters, and Nechtan was considered both spiritually and socially enlightened by the Anglian church.

Class II Monymusk cross-slab Pictish carved stone of 8thCentury

Class II Monymusk cross-slab Pictish carved stone of 8thCentury

In the last quarter of the previous century, prior to Nechtan’s modernizing ways, two of the most powerful northern nations fought a battle which was to be a cultural watershed: Nechtansmere (AD685) was fought on Pictish soil at Dunnichen Moss near Forfar in southern Pictish heartland; a Pictish victory and death in battle of Anglian king Ecgfrith put an end to Northumbrian interference in Pictish affairs. The only small outpost of Anglian religious education at Abercorn-on-Forth closed and its monks retreated to Northumbria. The two nations returned to relatively amicable relations until the end of the century.

Six years later Nechtan was to take the throne.

He came from impeccable matrilineal succession of the Royal house. He was connected to Bridei son of Beli (c.672-93) who had fought ‘for the inheritance of his (maternal) grandfather’ at Dunnichen when Nechtan was an impressionable child at court.  So the cataclysmic turnaround of affairs which resulted, of great Northumbria having to hand back part of conquered Pictland to the Picts, must have made a deep impression on him.

When he came to the throne in 706, following his brother Bridei son of Derile (697-706), Nechtan son of Derile was well-versed in power, knew ecclesiastical ropes and how to wield them and understood the importance of allying himself with Rome.  By contrast, the rustic, colonial Celtic church of Columba centred on Iona was fumbling along traditional lines, unaware of major changes happening with its powerful neighbor. In addition to works of its celebrated founder, Iona was famous for one other historical gem, without which we would all be lost in the Dark Ages. Iona kept a series of remarkable Chronicles.  

For the most part these were written contemporary accounts of major incidents and alliances of the great nations which made up ancient Britain: from Cornwall in the south, through ancient Wales, Man, Anglesey, Dunbritton (Dumbarton), Strathclyde, Anglia (Northumberland) and Prydein (Pictland).  Many copies were made and originals are now lost. It is accepted within historial circles that each ‘nation’ had its own chronicle and  an original Pictish Chronicle existed as a separate series of documents held at Pictish church centres like Deer, St Andrews and in the Pictish capital, Forteviot.  None survives.

While not available to us until recopied in the 12th century, the ancient origin legend of the kingdom of the Picts is preserved in an Irish quatrain:

‘Morsheimer do Cruithne clainn raindset Albain i secht raind; Cait, Cé, Cirig, cétach clann Fib Fidach, Fotla, Fortrenn Ocus is o ainm gach fir dib fil for a fearand.’

‘Seven of Cruithne’s children divided Alba into seven divisions; the portion of Cat, of Cé, of Cirig a warlike clan, the kingdoms of Fife, Fidach, Fotla and Fortriu; and the name of each of them remains upon his land.’

Stone arch from royal Pictish palace at Forteviot

Stone arch from royal Pictish palace at Forteviot

These were sub-kingdoms of Nechtan’s great realm.  In the north, Cat (Caithness), Cé (Mar and Buchan) and Fidach (Moray and inland Banff); south of the Mounth: Cirig became Magh Circenn, the plain of the Mearns; Fib (Fife), Fotla (Atholl) and centre of the court, Fortriu (Forteviot). By contemporary standards, it was a massive kingdom to administer and rule.  
 
Nechtan’s childhood included education at court by monks from the highest monasteries of the day. He was fluent in all northern British dialects and learned Gaelic on visits to Iona, which he maintained through contact with a Columban familia of monks who attended his brother Bridei’s court. An enclave persisted from the time Anglian Abercorn mission returned south of what became the permanent border. In spite of Abercorn’s closure, good relations were maintained with the Anglian church through contact with Northumbrian Jarrow. This was a clever device allowing the Pictish court to be fully informed on church doctrine via both outlets: Iona created a ‘celtic’ connection with the Irish church; Northumberland provided a direct line to Rome.

Within five years of his accession, Nechtan decided to ask his powerful Northumbrian neighbours – descendants of those who fought and lost in 685 – for advice on how to go about building stone churches throughout his kingdom, along the lines of those already spreading in Anglia, ‘in the manner of Rome’.

He was aware of the strategic nature of his request.  As a powerful ally, not only would his wish be fulfilled, but by spiritually kneeling before Rome, he was joining a European alliance of other wealthy and powerful nations.

Bede’s superior, Abbot Ceolfrith of the Jarrow monastery, responded volubly, subsequently sending architects to Nechtan to assist in his nationwide reform.  They helped build the first Peterkirks, revolutionary buildings in stone named, like the citadel in Rome, after the first apostle of the Roman Christian mission.  They served to create another schism with Iona, whose missions were rustic, country constructions of earth and rubble.

These stone structures were to become the first network of Peterkirks throughout Pictland, many of which survive at least in name: from St Peter’s at Restenneth in Forfarshire through the Mearns (Meigle, Tealing); over the Mounth (dividing mountain range between present Kincardine and Aberdeenshire) into Mar and Buchan, foundations to Peter were placed at Glenbuchat, Peterculter, Aberdeen (Spittal), Fyvie, Peterugie (Peterhead), Deer, Rathven-in-Enzie (now Buckie), Bellie, Essil-Dipple, Duffus, Drumdelgie and Inveravon.

Because they were made of stone, in contrast with earlier turf cells, they were in the later vernacular called ‘fite kirks’ (white, as in gleaming stone) and two of these survive – albeit altered – at Tyrie in Buchan and Rayne in the Garioch.

Along with his request for physical assistance, Nechtan asked for guidance in the correct calculation and maintenance of Easter tables. This question had been a matter of stigma among northern kings since the religious controversy at the 664 Synod (gathering) in Whitby (present Yorkshire) nearly 50 years before. Columban Iona maintained calculations by an antiquated calendar, a lumbering process which sometimes had east and west celebrating on wildly differing dates; Anglian Northumbria was more modern, calculating according to tables approved by popes in Rome.

Essentially papal calendars were never going to celebrate alongside the Jews: Easter had to be after spring equinox, but separate from Passover. Easter for the Picts was obviously a festival which was going to catch on, accustomed as they were to sacred seasonal celebrations. A wave of new religion spread like wildfire through a nation only recently converted in pockets by wandering monks.

The North did not have to wait long for Iona. It ‘converted’ officially in 716. By then Nechtan was already in full progress: Roman tables were in use, stone churches were being built nationwide in the name of Peter; Pictish monks now wore the ‘Roman’ tonsure; all the Pictish king had left to do was to thank his southern neighbours politely for assistance and, equally politely, ask the Columban monks at court to leave.

In his first decade as king he consolidated a strong alliance, formed the matrix of a new religion for all his peoples, and, because with religion came learning, initiated a process to educate at least the Pictish upper classes, thus making his kingdom a superior Christian power. If he had retained the Columban familia at court, its monastic simplicity would have continued to relate religious matters to ‘conversations with God’. By introducing a building programme, Latin instruction via the church and the correct way to celebrate the highest festival of that religious body, he elevated his nation into the light, but a light which he as supreme ruler controlled.

It was a brilliant concept by a northern king to spread religion by secular means.

Significantly, 175 years later, when Scots ruling dynasty was struggling with an essentially Pictish concept it had inherited in its takeover – that of power of ‘lord over church’, king Giric (c.889) made history by ‘liberating’ the Church which was ‘under servitude up to that time, after the fashion of the Picts’.

Later Cistercian monastery at Deer in Buchan built on Pictish foundations

Later Cistercian monastery at Deer in Buchan built on Pictish foundations

Nechtan’s new wave relied heavily on his nobility for its introduction: in his large but scattered nation wherever there was a lordly stronghold, there would be a private chapel; if no foundation already existed dedicated to British holy men of the previous century’s wave of wanderers, a stone church would appear in Peter’s name – the new fashion.

Copying out Easter tables and sacred Latin texts became the norm in schools for the educated. A Latin Pictish chronicle appeared. Previously the sole domain of Irish and Welsh monasteries, it contained a Pictish king-list celebrating and chronicling Nechtan's royal line which Anglian, Welsh and Irish chroniclers were quick to copy. But, with the new wave came something which Picts across the land understood. The message was carved in stone.

Class II cross-slabs date from Nechtan’s reform: either mounted warriors conversing with angels, or the cross carefully fused with pre-Christian symbols which were familiar, the message was clear: landed Pictish aristocrats are following in the ways of Christian heroes – and you can too!

In Nechtan’s second decade as king, centres for carving the sophisticated new imagery sprang up everywhere: in Angus there is a cluster of class II stones (Meigle, Aberlemno, Brechin); the new religion took hold at centres around the Moray Firth: at Rosemarkie – a former Peterkirk – and at Kineddar-Spynie near the great Elgin stronghold of Duffus which also had its own Peterkirk. There at least 26 fragmentary slabs have been found. An equal number were found at Tarbat-on-Beauly within monastic walls.

Conservative Cé, the Aberdeenshire provinces of Mar and Buchan, seem to have held out the longest: with only the merest scattering of cross slabs within a huge proliferation of (class I pre-Christian) symbol stones.

Exceptionally, it was at Deer in Buchan within that conservative culture that monks produced the exquisite calf-vellum sacred pocket gospel called the Book of Deer, now in an English museum.

A number of Pictish holy men play a rôle in Nechtan’s great plan. After all, Latin was not exactly a language the countryman was going to pick up spontaneously. Bede says Nechtan promised to introduce Latin usage for his people ‘insofar as their remoteness from the Roman language would allow.’ So it was essential his bishops – already fluent in Latin – were completely familiar with Pictish patterns of speech.

St Fergus's 'teaching' cross-slab at Chapel of St.Fergus,Dyce in Pictish Cé, present Aberdeen

St Fergus's 'teaching' cross-slab at Chapel of St.Fergus,Dyce in Pictish Cé, present Aberdeen

Gone were the days before 585 when Irish Columba had needed an interpreter to speak to king Bridei son of Maelcon at the Pictish court in Inverness. Nechtan used Picts to speak to Picts.

One of them, Bishop Fergus, attended Rome in 721 to sign decrees, presumably on his king’s behalf. This saint features both south and north of the Mounth: as patron of Glamis at the centre of cross slab carving in Forfarshire; but, as we know him, patron of Moy in Moray, St Fergus in Buchan and, most significantly, Dyce which has one of the few magnificent cross slabs in Aberdeenshire. CÈ was conservative, not pagan. The simple cross was already understood.

Nechtan’s Golden Age had begun and it looked as if it might continue forever.

 

Pictish legacy in museum case

Pictish legacy in museum case

 For a nation proud of its heritage, its oral tradition and roots – supported by faithful descendants in all corners of the globe – we Northeast Scots are remarkably careless with it.

In part this stems from a history of being conquered. But suppressed belief and myth have a way of being treasured: a precious relic to be hidden from secular eyes.

While great historical documents may have been lost in centuries of ‘acquisition’ or political manipulation by other cultures, there is an element of keeping knowledge of the Dark Age dark – maintaining in recesses of the mind secrets rehearsed in saga and song known – at least in the historical Pictish era – to all.

This was a people glad to be left behind in AD410 when the Romans walked out, left to themselves in a rich land with its own ancient culture.

Trajan's Column in the Forum, Rome

Trajan's Column in the Forum, Rome

Picture a Roman legion – battle invaders some time in the mists of Iron Age forays into the north – pitched overnight in the Banffshire plain of Deskford below the Hills of Durn and the Bin; picture them waking to find raging Picts tearing downhill towards them, men and women screaming, hair flying, blowing their great boar-headed battle-horn, the carnyx, to terrorise and disperse the invading army. No record tells of this battle in Roman annals, but the carnyx, itself immortalised in Roman pictorial carvings, like Trajan’s column in the forum at Rome, is a symbol of what the civilized world had to deal with on these colonial jaunts, and survives to tell a tale.

Carnyx or battle horn of the Picts found at Deskford, Banffshire

Carnyx or battle horn of the Picts found at Deskford, Banffshire

Presently housed in Edinburgh’s Museum of Scotland, this carnyx is the only one of its kind, found in 1839 by the Burn of Deskford three miles inland from the Moray Firth (the North Coast) nearly 2000 years after it last sounded in battle.

By 368, just thirty years before Roman withdrawal from Britain, Ammianus Marcellinus describes tribes of the Priteni [Picts] split into two by the Mounth: northern Dicalydones and Verturiones in the south. To Roman authors, Priteni-Britanni were linguistically just another people of Prydein. By the post-Roman Dark Age, Caledonians had re-possessed their northern forests, the Fortriu people rich lands of Perth and Fife.

Swab tests for DNA were compiled in 2001 for a BBC programme on the influence in Northeast Scotland of Scandinavian genes. This is almost like testing in Huntly for a Roman gene. Apart from the line of one or two Cruden Buchan descendants and, possibly a fortunate ‘Dane’ who may have survived the 1004 battle of the bloody pits on Gamrie More, Buchan and Mar are singularly free from the after-effects of viking summer warriors.

It is said our coastline, unlike the unfortunate West, was less conducive to lying offshore because its flat plain offers no concealment to ships and its appearance is extremely un-fjord-like.

Although still untaught in schools, few deny knowing that Kenneth mac Alpin, c.AD843, united the kingdoms of Picts and Scots. Fewer seem aware that his dynasty – so bold and so desperate for fertile plains – carefully perpetuated the title of those he deposed, calling themselves Kings of Picts for another sixty years.

Alongside Pictish lands they annexed Pictish Law – a remarkable piece of diplomacy which survives in the basis of Scots law today.

Between the fifth and seventh centuries, the great forests of the Northeast were the domain of kings – Stocket, Kintore, Deer – a resource which ensured royal entertainment [the boar hunt] and feasts [deer and lesser animals] for warriors and entire communities, as well as wealth of timber and grain.

While none but the lordly burned wood in the fireplace of the great hall – most people cast peat for fuel – bounty of the forest [as kindling] was available to all. This convention remains today in the understanding between tenant farmer and landowner/laird that while he may not cut down trees, all windfall is his.

At least two royal strongholds survive.

These are not small domains like those confirmed in later medieval charters to royal burghs, but whole estates crowned by forests, nourished by rivers and centred round the ‘castle-hill’ [Brit.caer] of a noble family: in the south the Kingdom of Fife points to the king’s mound – Cinrimonaid [St.Andrews] made famous by Constantin king of Picts [789-820]; in the north the Kingdom of Forgue with its Place of Ferendracht – ‘place’ in old Scots indicating a ‘peel’ or fortified mound of the heroic age.

There are others.

Inland our earliest placenames give fairly good timelines, where the castle-hill [Brit/Pict. caer, castell] usually denotes early-historic occupation of the pre-Scotic ‘Pictish period’, e.g. Kintore, Inverurie, with attendant royal chapels [Lat. capella, Welsh/Brit. eglys]- in the Northeast often seen in the telltale ‘chapelton’ within ancient church boundaries but separate from the later parish church. Compare rath/roth element, e.g. Rathmurriel, Rothney in Insch, which derive from 12th century settlements, as of Flemings [Flinders] at Leslie.

Second early element Brit. eglys, easily identified south of the Mounth like Ecclesgreig in Mearns, ‘church of Giric’, is more elusive farther north but does occur.  There is one on the Banff coast – conveniently close to Pictish stronghold Dundarg – Strahanglis Point, ‘point of the valley of the church’.

Another clue to Pictish Christian foundations is the presence of a circular enclosed burial ground, like the one at Deskford within the precinct of the medieval laird’s Tower; at Fordyce on the North Coast where the remains of a Pictish tower dedicated to St. Talorcan stands there is another; and at Tullich in Aboyne one remains where the former church was dedicated to St. Nathalan [died 679].

There are delightfully archaic, short, stubby single-syllable names in the language too, to satisfy our yearning for earliest beginnings.

It helps to remember that the parish system, discarded by modern mapmakers, usually transmits a clear layout of medieval churchlands, themselves descended from earlier chapels attached to Pictish strongholds.

By the seventh century Pictish kings were fully Christian, educated from youth in the cultural milieu of a monastery. In the centuries before gaelic became a court language, it was the language of the Irish Scot [Americans have a convenient term for these Ulstermen: Scots-Irish]. More significantly, it was the language of Irish monastics, keepers of annals, copiers of sacred texts, educators of the nobility.  

It is no accident that Iona came into prominence following the ministry of saints like Columba [d.597] and Adamnán [d.704].

It was common ground for education of young nobles of all ‘four’ peoples of Britain, according to Northumbrian cleric Bede writing at the end of the seventh century – Angles, Britons, Picts and Scots. By 690, there was a long tradition of wandering British monks, educated in the Irish church, returning to convert the peoples of their homeland.

Patrick, interestingly, is one of the few Britons who took the Christian message to Ireland [mid-fifth century].

British Ninian, d. c.432, supposed founder of Whithorn in Galloway, is credited with inspiring several Pictish clerics of Northeast tradition. Drostan, Medan and Colm are sixth century saints, giving their names to foundations at Deer/Insch, Pitmedden/Fintray and St.Coombs respectively.

Finnian and Brendan, both mid-sixth-century travellers, spread the word and their names to churches planted throughout Pictland; Brendan, known as the wanderer, did his conversions by sea; his name in Banffshire is Brandan or Brangan where his dedications run along the North Coast.

Ethernan patron of Rathen in Buchan died, according to Irish annals, in 669 ‘among the Picts’. He is arguably the patron of Banchory-Ternan [contra Brev.Ab where he is called St.Ternanus] and of Kinnernie.

A contemporary Briton celebrated in southern Pictavia was St. Serf whose dedication at Culsalmond is rare north of the Mounth. St.Sair’s Fair was held here near Colpy until well after the Reformation. His other foundation was Monkeigy [Keithhall], near Inverurie.

Marnan, 7thC patron of Aberchirder-Marnoch and Leochel, Lumphanan was celebrated long after his death with Marnoch Fair.

Adamnán, ninth abbot of Iona and friend of High Kings, visited Forglen and Aboyne.

Pictish church boundary stone marked with a cross, Afforsk, Inverurie

Pictish church boundary stone marked with a cross, Afforsk, Inverurie

Recent research suggests that portable crosses – roughly circular stones like pillows carved with a simple cross and pre-dating the eighth century [class II] Pictish cross slabs – were the hallmark of these holy men. Their reach was far indeed. These compact Christian amulets surface in Aberdeenshire, temptingly close to early foundations: cross-inscribed stones [with no other ornament] appear at Aboyne, Afforsk, Banchory, Barra, Botriphnie, Bourtie, Clatt, Crathes, Culsalmond, Deer, Dyce, Ellon, Fintray, Inverurie, Kinnernie, Logie-Coldstone, Logie-Elphinstone, Monymusk, Ruthven and Tullich. A saint’s well to baptise converts, invariably lies close to such foundations. After they died, their relics – ranging from pillows of stone to crozier and bell – were treasured by the community.

A Fintray legend persists that St. Medan’s head was kept, wrapped in beaten silver, until melted down to make a communion cup for the reformed kirk. The head of the saint was kept at Banchory where t’Ernan’s bell, the ‘Ronnecht’ did not survive the Reformation; t’Ernan was patron of Findon, Arbuthnot and Slains.

Pictish ogham inscription on the back of a late 8th century carved stone

Pictish ogham inscription on the back of a late 8th century carved stone

One further legacy is the former pagan alphabet – ogham – carved in stone, reintroduced by early pilgrims as means of explaining Christian doctrine to the illiterate. Some of the few examples in the north [Newton, Dyce, illus.] have a clear fish-tail shape which had meaning to a populace venerating the salmon, carved liberally on pre-Christian Pictish [class I] symbol stones,  yet denoting the fish symbol of Christ, Gk. Ikthos. It served as stopgap until the art of [class II] cross slabs in the next century heralded nationwide conversion under King Nechtan who was to drag his kingdom out of the Dark Age and shine a light in early medieval Europe. ©Marian Youngblood

Brev.Ab = Breviarium Aberdonense (Edinburgh 1510; reprint Spalding & Maitland 1854)

Further reading:

Farmer, D.H. [ed] & Sherley-Price, L [trans] (1990)

Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin-Universal) Macquarrie A. (1997) The Saints of Scotland: essays in Scottish Church History AD450-1093 Edinburgh Sharpe, R. [ed] (1995)

Adamnán: Life of Columba London

Smyth, A.P. (1984) Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 Edinburgh

 

 

 


 

Pictish high king, sub king and priest

Pictish warlord and monk follow the High King in procession, under the watchful feet of an eagle

When Nechtan, high king of Picts, began his religious overhaul, the young king had the fire and zeal of an evangelist which was to transform his kingdom from the Forth to the Pentland Firth. There had been a small awakening in his brother’s reign: Bridei son of Derelei held a council in 697 when Iona abbot Adamnan first proposed, not only that women should be spared the horror of battle, but that the Celtic church come into line with Rome on the date of Easter. Adamnan died before he could persuade his own Iona community to adopt the change. But Nechtan took the baton and ran.

Throughout Pictland, new monasteries were set up, sometimes, as at Turriff, on the foundations of the old, where Celtic observance was replaced by the ‘new’ Roman calculation and, for monks,  their hair cut in the tonsure of a crown. Others, like Rosemarkie and Tarbet may well have been completely new foundations. Curitan (Boniface) of Rosemarkie was a strong supporter of Adamnan (abbot of Iona and Columba’s biographer) at the 697 council held at court. He continued to support Nechtan’s initiative. Maelrubai (‘Maree’) had founded the huge settlement at Applecross in Wester Ross, dying there in 722 at the age of 80. His influence was widespread, did not conflict with the royal strategy, and stretched east to Keith, where his Sammareve’s Fair was [and is still – Keith Show] held annually.
Deer, because of its extreme antiquity, may have changed systems several times. It is certainly known that in the late ninth century – 150 years after Nechtan’s time, it was in Gaelic-speaking hands, because notes in the margins of the gospel Book of Deer written in early Scots Gaelic describe land grants to the monastery,including Biffie and Pitfour which still exist. * Deer has a presumed sixth-century origin; its founder Drosten, a Pict, was probably schooled at a western seaboard monastic house or in Ireland. Deer will have had a ‘Celtic Christian’ flavour;  converted to Nechtan’s Roman regime from 706 and then after 889, been ‘Celtic’ again during the Scots reworking of the Church along the lines of Celi Dé (Culdee) simplicity.

Some older foundations continued celebrating individual saints of the previous regime, like Auchterless (Donan); others, like Monymusk, where Nechtan may have placed a new foundation at Abersnithock [1211 ‘Eglismenythok’] sprung up alongside monasteries celebrating the (then) greatest saint of the catholic church, and Nechtan’s national patron, Peter. The greatest Peter foundation north of the Mounth was at Fyvie. This makes no sense on ecclesiastical grounds, but may reveal much when Nechtan’s own background is unravelled.

It has traditionally be assumed that Nechtan of Derelei was a ‘southern’ king like many of his predecessors. But unlike them, his lineage has never been clearly identified. Even with insight into the Pictish law of succession through ‘sisters of kings’, historians have had difficulty placing him.

Contemporary Irish succession depended on ‘tanist’ rules, where brother succeeded brother, followed by the sons of each. This worked well in a medieval society where it was important to have adult males on the throne. Irish kings then came from only two ruling families. Pictish succession was similar – with the proviso that where there was doubt, the chosen monarch should come through the female line.  For several hundred years no known king of Picts was followed by his son: always by his brother or his sister’s son. One exception occurs in the short reign of Uuen son of Unuist (837-839, Unuist having himself been king 820-834) at the height of conflict with macAlpin, exacerbated by Norse raids, when the Picts seem not to have had living heirs through the female line from which to choose.

Sadly, lack of written sources, combined with suppressed historical ‘knowing’ within Pictland who the leading families were, leaves only a bare-bones king-list of names in the format ‘Bridei son of Beli’. At a time when ruling families throughout the northern kingdoms intermarried, it gave information on the father of the king to Pictish subjects who already knew who the mother was; but gives us no information whatsoever on the female royal line.

Nechtan and his brother were from the same lineage as Bridei son of Beli who fought and won at Dunnichen (Nechtansmere) in 685 and possibly kinsmen to an earlier Nechtan. Many historians assume that Dunnichen conceals within its name ‘Dun Nechtain’ an implied royal seat near Forfar. But ‘Derelei’ is the stumbling block. Mrs Anderson (1973) even suggested ‘of Derelei’ might mean the female line, because it occurs nowhere else in the Pictish lists.

There may be another route to enlightenment.

Nechtan was an energetic, inspired king. Stone churches sprang up throughout his kingdom in the first half of his reign. He ruled through peace and chose to retire or ‘enter monastic life’ in 724, trusting his heir Drust to continue his vision. This did not happen. Drust fought with his brother Elpin, civil war broke out with kinsman-claimant Onuist, and even after Nechtan came out of retirement to attempt reconciliation Onuist eventually won kingship in 729.  Battles of this civil war are all recorded in contemporary Pictish and Irish chronicles. Iona chronicle seems particularly interested in Pictland at this time. Onuist, called by the Irish Oengus, went on to rule for 30 years, many of them as overlord over the Dalriata Scots, so interest shown by Iona is understandable. However Pictish battles which resulted in Oengus as High King were not being fought in the south. They occur almost exclusively on the Mounth or north of it. So, does this mean the old High King had retired to a monastery in the north?

Two especially important entries in the Annals of Ulster are:

AU 729.2 Bellum Monith carno. . .stagnum Looghdae inter hostem Nectain et excercitum Oengusa –  familia Oengusssa triumphauit;

AU 729.3 Bellum Dromo Dergg Blathuug. . .inter Oengus et Drust regem Pictorum et cecidit Drust

AU describes a battle on the Cairn o Mount pass near the headwaters of ‘Loch Dye’ which become the Water of Dye flowing north into Feugh and Dee.  Nechtan’s warriors (hostem) are detailed and Oengus won.

The pass was as strategic then as now in maintaining communication between  the Mearns and the country of Dee, Don and Deveron beyond. Not only did Oengus triumph, according to the entry, but he also killed the tribute-gatherers of Nechtan. This caused conflict as Nechtan depended on his established hierarchy of princelings and landed lords to bring in tithes which funded his court even in retirement.

**The second battle, on 12th August, describes Drust as ‘king of Picts’ killed by Oengus.  AT 729 Tighernach annals record the same battle as the wreck of ‘thrice fifty ships of the Picardaich’ off cape ‘Ross Cuissini’, Troup Head; inland are Cushnie and Little Cushnie. This is a short distance from Dundarg coastal fort called by AU ‘Blathuug’, ‘rich in grain’. The presence of (Drust’s) fleet offshore in such numbers is an indication of Pictish wealth and might of the times.

Nechtan is not mentioned again until c.732 when he died, again in retirement. It is significant that Oengus did not kill him, although he went on to kill every one of his potential rivals in subsequent decades, as well as several Scots princes. Nechtan, it would seem, was venerated. He had unified the kingdom. He was allowed to live out his life in contemplation.  So where did he die?

Built on a Pictish mound, with 13thC core, made grand in 16thC additions, Fyvie Castle's royal domain is now under NTS guardianship

Built on a Pictish mound, with 13thC core, made grand in 16thC additions, Fyvie Castle

Fyvie Castle, once a royal domain, now in guardianship of NTS

Fyvie Castle, once a royal domain, now in guardianship of NTS

Placenames around Fyvie are highly interesting. Certainly in the high medieval, Fyvie as a royal domain was where charters were given royal seals and signatures. It had all the trappings of a royal seat: rich lands stretching over three parishes, an earlier stronghold (modern ‘Montrose’s camp’) abandoned when the grand fortalice was built on the present ‘Castle Dale’; forests and ‘fine woods’, fishing streams and a well-guarded position over Ythan and  Formartine.

Thanages do not always follow boundaries of earlier earldoms or kingdoms, but there is some evidence of continuity.  In 1212, Marjorie, only daughter of the last ‘Celtic’ earl Fergus of Buchan married William Comyn, the king’s justiciar, bringing Buchan into the royal fold.  The former thanage of Conveth (Inverkeithny) was granted to Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan by Alexander III; and before 1292 John Balliol granted to earl John Comyn  ‘terra theinagii de Fermartyn et de Dereleye’ – the thanages of Formartine and Dereley.  Darley lies within a mile of Rothiebrisbane where two fragmentary Pictish stones were discovered – now embedded in Fyvie kirk.  Darley is to this day pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable. It is listed along with lands in the ‘barony of Formartyne’ in a royal charter of 1503 granted to George Meldrum: ‘lands of Mekill Gurdess, Blachree, Badichale, forest of Kynnawale, fine woods called colloquially Wodend, Litill Gurdess, le Common Lone (Camaloun), Haldaw, Derley, Petty, le Park de Five’ etc.

Nechtan was ‘of Dereley’ or ‘Derelei’.  When baptised in c.706 he is said to have granted ‘the place of his baptism, with the whole of its parish… for the service of Christ’s pilgrim servants… on the river… Gobriah in Pictland.’  Gourdas has been identified in placename terms as Brittonic, close to Pictish and Old Welsh ‘Gwerid-fas’, meaning the stance of men of the Forth (fas=stance or stronghold). Gordonstown shows the same name but with -town added, so ‘stance of men-of-Forth’s town’, duplication or tautology. It is possible that ‘Gobriah’ of Nechtan’s baptism is the closest Pictish word to Gourdas known. There is nearby Gower wood (O.S. Craig-an Gobhar),  and the occurrence in 1405 of an eglis name – Trareglys (Turaraich) which usually indicates an eighth-century church foundation connected with Nechtan’s reform.  The prominence of the monastery at Monkshill with its church-related names is well known.  Fyvie had more than its fair share of chapels, each with its holy well: Peter and Paul in the kirkton, Paul at Easterton; others at Ardlogie, Woodhead of Fetter Letter and St John’s.   Alone, none makes much impact, but taken together, are we seeing one of the earliest royal residences of Pictish kings?  ©2002 Marian Youngblood

Further reading:

Anderson, M. ‘Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland’ (1973)

Watson, W.J. ‘The Celtic Placenames of Scotland’ Birlinn reprint (1993)
Pictish king, courtier and priest under the claws of an eaglecanticle III: 

When Nechtan, high king of Picts, began his religious overhaul, the young king had the fire and zeal of an evangelist which was to transform his kingdom from the Forth to the Pentland Firth. There had been a small awakening in his brother’s reign: Bridei son of Derelei held a council in 697 when Iona abbot Adamnan first proposed, not only that women should be spared the horror of battle, but that the Celtic church come into line with Rome on the date of Easter. Adamnan died before he could persuade his own Iona community to adopt the change. But Nechtan took the baton and ran.

Throughout Pictland, new monasteries were set up, sometimes, as at Turriff, on the foundations of the old, where Celtic observance was replaced by the ‘new’ Roman calculation and, for monks,  their hair cut in the tonsure of a crown. Others, like Rosemarkie and Tarbet may well have been completely new foundations. Curitan (Boniface) of Rosemarkie was a strong supporter of Adamnan at the 697 council held at court. He continued to support Nechtan’s initiative. Maelrubai (‘Maree’) had founded the huge settlement at Applecross in Wester Ross, dying there in 722 at the age of 80. His influence was widespread, did not conflict with the royal strategy, and stretched east to Keith, where his Sammareve’s Fair was [and is still – Keith Show] held annually.

Deer, because of its extreme antiquity, may have changed systems several times. It is certainly known that in the late ninth century – 150 years after Nechtan’s time, it was in Gaelic-speaking hands, because notes in the margins of the gospel Book of Deer written in early Scots Gaelic describe land grants to the monastery, including Biffie and Pitfour which still exist. * Deer has a presumed sixth-century origin; its founder Drosten, a Pict, was probably schooled at a western seaboard monastic house or in Ireland. Deer will have had a ‘Celtic Christian’ flavour;  converted to Nechtan’s Roman regime from 706 and then after 889, been ‘Celtic’ again during the Scots reworking of the Church along the lines of Celi Dé (Culdee) simplicity.

Some older foundations continued celebrating individual saints of the previous regime, like Auchterless (Donan); others, like Monymusk, where Nechtan may have placed a new foundation at Abersnithock [1211 ‘Eglismenythok’] sprung up alongside monasteries celebrating the (then) greatest saint of the catholic church, and Nechtan’s national patron, Peter. The greatest Peter foundation north of the Mounth was at Fyvie. This makes no sense on ecclesiastical grounds, but may reveal much when Nechtan’s own background is unravelled.

It has traditionally be assumed that Nechtan of Derelei was a ‘southern’ king like many of his predecessors. But unlike them, his lineage has never been clearly identified. Even with insight into the Pictish law of succession through ‘sisters of kings’, historians have had difficulty placing him.

Contemporary Irish succession depended on ‘tanist’ rules, where brother succeeded brother, followed by the sons of each. This worked well in a medieval society where it was important to have adult males on the throne. Irish kings then came from only two ruling families. Pictish succession was similar – with the proviso that where there was doubt, the chosen monarch should come through the female line.  For several hundred years no known king of Picts was followed by his son: always by his brother or his sister’s son. One exception occurs in the short reign of Uuen son of Unuist (837-839, Unuist having himself been king 820-834) at the height of conflict with macAlpin, exacerbated by Norse raids, when the Picts seem not to have had living heirs through the female line from which to choose.

Sadly, lack of written sources, combined with suppressed historical ‘knowing’ within Pictland who the leading families were, leaves only a bare-bones king-list of names in the format ‘Bridei son of Beli’. At a time when ruling families throughout the northern kingdoms intermarried, it gave information on the father of the king to Pictish subjects who already knew who the mother was; but gives us no information whatsoever on the female royal line.

Nechtan and his brother were from the same lineage as Bridei son of Beli who fought and won at Dunnichen (Nechtansmere) in 685 and possibly kinsmen to an earlier Nechtan. Many historians assume that Dunnichen conceals within its name ‘Dun Nechtain’ an implied royal seat near Forfar. But ‘Derelei’ is the stumbling block. Mrs Anderson (1973) even suggested ‘of Derelei’ might mean the female line, because it occurs nowhere else in the Pictish lists.

There may be another route to enlightenment.

Nechtan was an energetic, inspired king. Stone churches sprang up throughout his kingdom in the first half of his reign. He ruled through peace and chose to retire or ‘enter monastic life’ in 724, trusting his heir Drust to continue his vision. This did not happen. Drust fought with his brother Elpin, civil war broke out with kinsman-claimant Onuist, and even after Nechtan came out of retirement to attempt reconciliation Onuist eventually won kingship in 729.  Battles of this civil war are all recorded in contemporary Pictish and Irish chronicles. Iona chronicle seems particularly interested in Pictland at this time. Onuist, called by the Irish Oengus, went on to rule for 30 years, many of them as overlord over the Dalriata Scots, so interest shown by Iona is understandable. However Pictish battles which resulted in Oengus as High King were not being fought in the south. They occur almost exclusively on the Mounth or north of it. So, does this mean the old High King had retired to a monastery in the north?

Two especially important entries in the Annals of Ulster are:

AU 729.2 Bellum Monith carno. . .stagnum Looghdae inter hostem Nectain et excercitum Oengusa –  familia Oengusssa triumphauit;

AU 729.3 Bellum Dromo Dergg Blathuug. . .inter Oengus et Drust regem Pictorum et cecidit Drust

AU describes a battle on the Cairn o’ Mount pass near the headwaters of ‘Loch Dye’ which become the Water of Dye flowing north into Feugh and Dee.  Nechtan’s warriors (hostem) are detailed and Oengus won.

The pass was as strategic then as now in maintaining communication between  the Mearns and the country of Dee, Don and Deveron beyond. Not only did Oengus triumph, according to the entry, but he also killed the tribute-gatherers of Nechtan. This caused conflict as Nechtan depended on his established hierarchy of princelings and landed lords to bring in tithes which funded his court even in retirement.

**The second battle, on 12th August, describes Drust as ‘king of Picts’ killed by Oengus.  AT 729 Tighernach annals record the same battle as the wreck of ‘thrice fifty ships of the Picardaich’ off cape ‘Ross Cuissini’, Troup Head; inland are Cushnie and Little Cushnie. This is a short distance from Dundarg coastal fort called by AU ‘Blathuug’, ‘rich in grain’. The presence of (Drust’s) fleet offshore in such numbers is an indication of Pictish wealth and might of the times.

Nechtan is not mentioned again until c.732 when he died, again in retirement. It is significant that Oengus did not kill him, although he went on to kill every one of his potential rivals in subsequent decades, as well as several Scots princes. Nechtan, it would seem, was venerated. He had unified the kingdom. He was allowed to live out his life in contemplation.  So where did he die?

Placenames around Fyvie are highly interesting. Certainly in the high medieval, Fyvie as a royal domain was where charters were given royal seals and signatures. It had all the trappings of a royal seat: rich lands stretching over three parishes, an earlier stronghold (modern ‘Montrose’s camp’) abandoned when the grand fortalice was built on the present ‘Castle Dale’; forests and ‘fine woods’, fishing streams and a well-guarded position over Ythan and  Formartine. Thanages do not always follow boundaries of earlier earldoms or kingdoms, but there is some evidence of continuity.  In 1212, Marjorie, only daughter of the last ‘Celtic’ earl Fergus of Buchan married William Comyn, the king’s justiciar, bringing Buchan into the royal fold.  The former thanage of Conveth (Inverkeithny) was granted to Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan by Alexander III; and before 1292 John Balliol granted to earl John Comyn  ‘terra theinagii de Fermartyn et de Dereleye’ – the thanages of Formartine and Dereley.  Darley lies within a mile of Rothiebrisbane where two fragmentary Pictish stones were discovered – now embedded in Fyvie kirk.  Darley is to this day pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable. It is listed along with lands in the ‘barony of Formartyne’ in a royal charter of 1503 granted to George Meldrum: ‘lands of Mekill Gurdess, Blachree, Badichale, forest of Kynnawale, fine woods called colloquially Wodend, Litill Gurdess, le Common Lone (Camaloun), Haldaw, Derley, Petty, le Park de Five’ etc.

Nechtan was ‘of Dereley’ or ‘Derelei’.  When baptised in c.706 he is said to have granted ‘the place of his baptism, with the whole of its parish… for the service of Christ’s pilgrim servants… on the river… Gobriah in Pictland.’  Gourdas has been identified in placename terms as Brittonic, close to Pictish and Old Welsh ‘Gwerid-fas’, meaning the stance of men of the Forth (fas=stance or stronghold). Gordonstown shows the same name but with -town added, so ‘stance of men-of-Forth’s town’, duplication or tautology. It is possible that ‘Gobriah’ of Nechtan’s baptism is the closest Pictish word to Gourdas known. There is nearby Gower wood (O.S. Craig-an Gobhar),  and the occurrence in 1405 of an eglis name – Trareglys (Turaraich) which usually indicates an eighth-century church foundation connected with Nechtan’s reform.  The prominence of the monastery at Monkshill with its church-related names is well known.  Fyvie had more than its fair share of chapels, each with its holy well: Peter and Paul in the kirkton, Paul at Easterton; others at Ardlogie, Woodhead of Fetter Letter and St John’s.   Alone, none makes much impact, but taken together, are we seeing one of the earliest royal residences of Pictish kings?  ©2002-9 Marian Youngblood

Further reading:

Anderson, M. ‘Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland’ (1973)

Watson, W.J. ‘The Celtic Placenames of Scotland’ Birlinn reprint (1993)