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Like it’s neighbor to the south, Scotland has a long history of monarchy that is partly clouded in myth and legend and it is only as you progress during the centuries do you come upon more credible and documented history. Similar to England the country was divided into many kingdoms and sub-kingdoms. The main and warring kingdoms were the Kingdom of the Picts, Kingdom of Del Riata and the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Each of these regions have a rich and vast history that I could never do justice in this simple post. Many of these regions began as tribal clans that grew to take over certain regions. The early history of Scotland is that of clans becoming regional kings that were later absorbed by much larger and more powerful regional kings from other clans. A series on each of these kingdoms is warranted!

An example of some thriving sub-kingdoms othjer than the larger main three kingdoms is the kingdom of Cait, which is now Caithness in northern Scotland. Cait was, according to Pictish legend, founded by Caitt (or Cat), one of the seven sons of the ancestor figure named Cruithne. After the death of its last king, Taran mac Entifidich, in 697, it was absorbed into the larger Kingdom of the Picts. There were at least seven other small sub-kingdoms within the the broader Pictish kingdom. These sub-kingdoms are…

Ce, situated in modern Mar and Buchan, Circinn, perhaps situated in modern Angus and the Mearns.
Fib, the modern Fife, known to this day as ‘the Kingdom of Fife.’ Fidach, location unknown, but possibly near Inverness. Fotla, modern Atholl. Fortriu, cognate with the Verturiones of the Romans; recently shown to be centred around Moray. More small kingdoms may have existed. Some evidence suggests that a Pictish kingdom also existed in Orkney.

Here is some information on the three main Scottish kingdoms:

Kingdom of the Picts: A Pictish confederation was formed in Late Antiquity consisting of a number of f tribes. It is not known how and why this Confederation was formed but some scholars have speculated that it was partly in response to the growth of the Roman Empire. Succession to the kingship of the Picts was confusing and complex. Kings who had fathered sons were not frequently succeeded by their sons, not because the Picts practised matrilineal succession, but because they were normally followed by either their own brothers or cousins, more likely to be experienced men with the authority and the support necessary to be king. The tradition of monarchy had not yet adopted the concept of primogeniture. So instead of leaving the crown to your son a king would leave the crown to the best able male to support the kingdom. In these days when wars between tribes was a common occurrence you needed a king who could rise to the task.

The style of kingship changed considerably during the centuries of Pictish monarchy. Earlier kings had to be successful war leaders to maintain their authority. This lead to a style of kingship that became rather less personalized and more institutionalized during this time. Bureaucratic kingship, where the king was concerned with laws and justice was still far in the future and it would not commence until Pictland transformed into the Kingdom of Alba.

Kingdom of Strathclyde: Strathclyde was originally known as either Cumbric: Ystrad Clud or Alclud, was one of the early medieval kingdoms of the Britons in the Hen Ogledd. (Hen Ogledd is a Welsh term used by scholars to refer to those parts of what is now northern England and southern Scotland in the years between 500 and the Viking invasions of c. 800, with particular interest in the Brittonic-speaking peoples who lived there). The kingdom developed during the post-Roman period. It is also known as Alt Clut, a Brittonic term for Dumbarton Castle, the medieval capital of the region. It may have had its origins with the Damnonii people of Ptolemy’s Geography.

Kingdom of Dál Riata (also Dalriada or Dalriata) was a Gaelic kingdom that included parts of western Scotland and stretched to northeastern Ulster in Ireland, across the North Channel. In the late 6thearly 7th century it encompassed roughly what is now Argyll and Lochaber in Scotland and also County Antrim in Ulster. To its east and north was Pictland, with whom it was often in conflict. The inhabitants of Dál Riata were often referred to as Scots (Scoti in Latin). Scots was a name originally used by Roman and Greek writers as a name for the Irish who raided Roman Britain. As time passed the name Scots came to refer to any Gaelic-speakers, whether from Ireland or elsewhere. They are referred herein as Gaels, an unambiguous term, or as Dál Riatans.

The kingdom reached its height under Áedán mac Gabráin (r. 574-608), but its growth was checked at the Battle of Degsastan in 603 by King Æthelfrith of Northumbria. Serious defeats in Ireland and Scotland in the time of Domnall Brecc (d. 642) ended Dál Riata’s “golden age”, and the kingdom became a client of Northumbria, then subject to the Picts.

Next week we will examine the Kingdom of Alba and unifying the Kingdom of Scotland.