King of Scotland (971-995)
Born ? Died 995

Kenneth was the son of Malcolm I ruler in 943-954 and brother of Dub who ruled 962-966, but his immediate successor was Culen Ring son of Indulf who had driven Dub into exile in 966. However Cue Ring got himself and his brother Eochaid mac Indulf killed by Rhydderch map Dyfnwal son of the king of Strathclyde, which allowed Kenneth the opportunity to gain the throne.

His first action on becoming king was to ravage Strathclyde, no doubt in revenge for the earlier killing of his predecessor Culen Ring. As the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba says;

He immediately plundered Britain in part. Kenneth's infantry were slain with very great slaughter in Moin Uacoruar.1

Having suffered defeat at the hands of the Strathclyde Britons he turned his attention to England, and raided Northumbria, before deciding to wall the banks of the Forth presumably to defend himself either from retribution from the Northumbrians or further punishment at the hands of Strathclyde.

The next year he raided England once again and carried off the son of the king of the Saxons2.

In 973 he was amongst a number of British rulers whose presence was recorded at the second coronation of Edgar at Bath where he acknowledged Edgar as overlord. According to the chronicler Roger of Wendover in his Flores Historiarum in the year 975 Kenneth paid homage to Edgar in return for which he received "all of the land called Lothian" between the Tweed and the Forth rivers on condition that he respect the customs of the English that lived there. Some Scottish sources dispute this account suggesting that it was invented to 'cover-up' the later conquest by Malcolm II of Lothian, although there would have been nothing unusual in such an arrangement in the context of tenth century English politics.

It seems that however, in around the year 994, that he broke the peace and attempted an assault on England once more which resulted in his defeat and the consequent loss of control over Lothian.

There exists a romanticized tale of how he died, in which one Finella, saddened by the loss of her son at the hands of Kenneth , determined on revenge and is said to have set a trap for Kenneth. She set about preparing a room in the centre of which was a statue holding a golden apple and whose walls were adorned with tapestries behind which were hidden a series of loaded crossbows. By offering Kenneth the apple as a symbol of friendship, she was able to persuade him to enter the room and take the apple, at which point the crossbows all fired and killed him outright.

As the Chronicle of Melrose recalls of Kenneth;

The son of Malcolm, four and twenty years.
It was he who was destroyed at Fettercairn by the crossbow.
Felled by the treachery of Finella the daughter of Cuncar
.

Which does seem rather an overcomplicated method of arranging an assassination. In reality Kenneth was indeed assassinated in 995 at Fettercairn, Kincardineshire but most likely at the hands of Constantine, the son of Culen Ring who succeeded him as Constantine III.

This was simply another act in a long dynastic struggle which occupied a great deal of Kenneth's attention, in which he tried to ensure that the succession fell upon his son rather than the descendants of Aed mac Kenneth mac Alpin. It was for this reason that he killed Culen Ring's brother Olaf mac Indulf in 977, but Culen's son had his revenge in 995.

He was buried on the island of Iona, the traditional burial place of the rulers of Scotland.


NOTES

1The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica refers to this as the "river Cornag" but as to where that is I do not know.

2 Which should be understood to mean the son of the Lord of Bamburgh, Eadulf Evilchild rather than the ruler of Wessex-England.


SOURCES

Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain (Seaby, 1991)

Articles on Kenneth II from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica at http://69.1911encyclopedia.org/K/KE/KENNETH_2_KINGS_OF_THE_SCOTS_.htm
and the Offical Web Site of the British Monarchy at http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page89.asp

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