ALBA AND THE UNITED SCOTLAND
Alba is the ancient and modern Gaelic name for the country of Scotland.
Kenneth MacAlpin (c. 810 – 858; Cinaed mac Ailpin) was king of the Picts and the first king of Scotland. The myth called ‘MacAlpin’s Treason’ tells how Alba was born when the Dalriadan Kenneth MacAlpin conquered the Picts. However, modern studies dispute Kenneth’s Dalriadan roots and consider Kenneth and his successors to be Pictish Kings. Kenneth’s son Constantine had the ‘Series Longoir’ written to show his family’s claim to the throne of a united Pictland. The triumph of Gaelic over Pictish and the change from Pictland to Alba is placed in the half-century reign of Constantine mac Aeda. The reasons are not known.
At first this new kingdom corresponded to Scotland north of the Rivers Forth and Clyde. Southwest Scotland remained under the control of the Strathclyde Britons. Southeast Scotland was under the control from around 638 CE of the proto-English kingdom of Bernicia, then of the Kingdom of Northumbria. This portion of Scotland was contested from the time of Constantine II and finally fell into Scottish hands in 1018, when Malcolm II pushed the border as far south as the River Tweed. This remains the south-eastern border to this day (except around Berwick-upon-Tweed).
Scotland, in the geographical sense it has retained for nearly a millennium, completed its expansion by the gradual incorporation of the Britons’ kingdom of Strathclyde into Alba. In 1034, Duncan I, who had been appointed to the (Briton) Crown of Strathclyde some years earlier, inherited Alba from his maternal grandfather, Malcolm II. With the exception of Orkney, the Western Isles, Caithness and Sutherland, which had come under the sway of the Norse, Scotland stood unified.
Macbeth, the ‘Cenel Loairn’ candidate for the throne whose family had been suppressed by Malcolm II, defeated Duncan in battle in 1040. Macbeth then ruled for seventeen years before Duncan’s son Malcolm III, more commonly known as Malcolm Canmore (Scottish Gaelic: Ceann mor meaning ‘Big Head’), overthrew him and, after killing his step-son Lulach, became king.
The Black Scots
A curious aspect of this early history concerns various stories around Kenneth.
King Kenneth was also known as ‘Kenneth the Niger’ or Kenneth Dubh, a surname which means ‘the black man’. It is a matter of history that many seafaring warriors were North African, travelled via Iberia into Europe, and joined in many cultures and held power and position. Niger Val Dubh lived and reigned over certain black divisions in Scotland, and some histories state that a race known as ‘the sons of the blacks’ succeeded him. (e.g. see JA Rogers, Sex and Race).
Kenneth III was king of Scotland from 997 to 1005. He was the son of King Dubh (Dub mac Mail Choluim – 962-967), fourth cousin of the previous king Constantine III, and first cousin of his successor Malcolm II. Kenneth was the last king of Scotland to succeed to the throne through the tanistry system, whereby the succession was shared between two family lines and the dying king named his successor from the other family line. This system led to constant struggle between the ruling families and was abandoned. Kenneth and his son Giric were both killed at Monzievaird, Tayside in 1005. His first cousin Malcolm succeeded him and abolished the tanistry system by killing all of his male descendants. However Kenneth had a granddaughter, Gruoch, via his daughter Boite, whose first husband was Gillacomgain. They had a son called Lulach. She then married King Macbeth I of Scotland (becoming Lady Macbeth). On the death of Macbeth her son via her first marriage, Kenneth III’s great grandson, succeeded to the throne, to become King Lulach of Scotland. According to this history, the blood of Kenneth flows through the royal houses of Scotland.
Whether Dubh meant black or dark, as in north-African / southern-European, we may never know for sure. But the story captures a curious fact about the Gaels from Gallicia – some were dark and have left many traces in Irish, Welsh and Scots clans.