Intrigue In Pictish Strathearn



After the defeat at Mons Graupius in AD 82 , the Caledonian tribes ( the emerging Picts ) in all probability co existed with the Roman occupiers of Strathearn . Archaeological opinion and the lack of evidence of any confrontation between the two clearly indicates that Strathearn or Fortren was more or less at peace . Remember that after Mons Graupius , Roman presence existed , off and on up until about 380 AD . At its peak Roman armed strength was considerable possibly reaching some 20 000 armed soldiers in or about the Gask Ridge . This is some three times the number of inhabitants of Crieff in the early part of the 21st Century ! The logistics of providing the ordinance for these troops must have been considerable and would have provided adequate opportunity for the entrepreneurial Picts ! The arrival of the 5th century in Strathearn saw the Pictish inhabitants going from strength to strength as the dominant Kingdom of Pictavia .

Kenneth mac Alpin came to Strathearn and took over the Pictish Kingdom of Fortren/ Fortriu between 839 and 844. He was a Scot of Dalriadic origin from the branch of Cenel Gabrain . ( Dalriada was basically modern Argyll on the west coast of Scotland ). Why he ended up as king is not quite clear ! There was precedent in that Scots had previously occupied similar positions. He took up his kingship at the Palace of Forteviot which lay at the confluence of the Water of May and the River Earn to the east of Dunning here, in Strathearn. The tales that emerged after his death were numerous and basically unsubstantiated. It was said that he had seized power in an illicit coup. The account of his reign in the book Berchan’s Prophecy states that he purged the Pictish nobility in a single act of treachery- at perhaps the first but not the last “ black dinner “ in Scottish history. Extra colour was given to the story when it was stated later that traps had been set under the benches for the unsuspecting Pictish nobles. It is clear however that Kenneth has now been recognised as first King of the Scots. During his reign he invaded Lothian six times . In turn the Britons raided as far as Dunblane whilst the Danes got as far north as Dunkeld. It was however only after his death that the regnum of the Scots moved to Forteviot. Although Kenneth claimed to be King of Scotland his rule in fact covered the southern Pictish Kingdoms of Fortren itself, Fib or Fife, Circenn and Atholl. His influence was indeed less than his Pictish predecessors , Kings of Fortren , namely Constantine and Oengus. At this time the Pictish kingdoms north of the Mounth probably moved out of his domination. He was an ambitious but somewhat unsuccessful warlord.


In 849 the relics of St Columba were moved to Dunkeld from Dalriada in the West. This is significant as he was the Patron Saint of Dalriada. Scone became the centre Fortren and the place where Scots Kings were to be crowned. St Andrews in Fife as the name suggests was the centre of veneration for St Andrew and had been established a century earlier during the reign of Constantine.


One of the complexities of following the so called “ King line “ in Pictish genealogy is that the Picts followed what is termed Tanastic succession . This Celtic law of succession saw the crown being passed down to strongest or most suitable male from the immediate family . It was not until 1034 and the death of Malcolm ll that things changed .Without exception grand sons and cousins or sometimes brothers succeeded rather than sons. Life was short. Of the 14 between the death of Kenneth in 858 and 1034, no fewer than 5 reigned for 5 years or less and a further 4 survived less than 10. The politics of this period still involved the minor Kings of Scots and Picts as well as the Dumbarton Kings of Strathclyde. Strathclyde had become a subservient kingdom to MacAlpin’s based in Strathearn. Things were precarious in the extreme . The Britons had inflicted defeat on them at Abercorn near the Forth. Another threat had arisen from the Viking Kingdom based in York. Politically Kenneth MacAlpin showed a degree of political astuteness by chosing a varierty of names for his sons , Pictish, ,Roman, Gaelic and Scandinavian. ( ie Constantine, Aed and Olaf. )

Kenneth Macalpin had in the 830s aligned himself with the Viking King of the Hebrides. Constantine ll married off his daughter to Olaf lll Norwegian King of Dublin as Kenneth had done before him. Viking ( Danish ) York was played off against Norwegian Dublin. In 866 Olaf King of Dublin attacked and laid waste much of Pictavia . Four years later he sacked Dunbarton the Briton’s capital after a 4 month siege. He attacked Galloway and the north of England , slayed a Saxon king and returned to Dublin with 200 ships and countless slaves and booty. In 869 , the Pictish Chronicles record that Fortren was ravaged and plundered by the Danes and carried off hostages. In 874 his successors laid waste the North of Scotland including Caithness, Moray Ross and Sutherland. A year later he was defeated and the lands recaptured. In 877 , Constantine was killed at a battle with the Danes in Fife. The armies clashed at Dollar. In 889 , Harold King of Norway captured the Western Isles. Orkney and Caithness come under Norwegian “ jarldom “.

In 900 , Danes pillaged east coast of Scotland and Donald King of Scots was slain at Dunotter. At this time the tower at Abernethy was constructed.In 903 , the Danes again attacked Fortren but were beaten by the local men thus fulfilling the “ Prophecy of St Berchan “ :

“ By him shall be attacked the powerful house
Ah, my heart ! on the banks of the Earn,
Red shall be the colour of the house before him,
He shall fall by the men of Fortrenn . “

Legend states that the Men of Fortrenn went into battle with the crozier of St Columba as its standard. This was the last of the attempted Scandinavian invasions of Mac Alpin’s realm.


In 997 Kenneth IV came to the throne. Called Grim or Donn ( brown) he fought a civil war in Strathearn with Malcolm son of the previous Kenneth lll who was king of Cumberland and laid claim to the Scottish throne. He invaded Strathearn in 1004 and the sides clashed at Monzievaird , probably on the south side of Ochtertyre. Kenneth was slain and Malcolm ll became King. The OS map ( ref NN 823 287) shows the site to the east of Loch Turret and it is called Cairn Chainachan or the cairn of Kenneth .


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