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Legendary kings of Scotland

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Dornadilla, fourth legendary king according to George Buchanan; painting by Jacob Jacobsz de Wet the Younger in the commission from Charles II for Holyrood Palace.

The Scottish Renaissance humanist George Buchanan gave a long list of Scottish Kings in his history of Scotland—published in Latin as Rerum Scoticarum Historia in 1582[1][2]—most of whom are now considered by historians to be figures of legend, or completely misrepresented. The list went back around 1900 years from his time, and began with Fergus I. James VI of Scotland, who was Buchanan's pupil, adopted the story of Fergus I as his ancestor, and the antiquity of the line was emphasised by the House of Stuart.

Dynastic importance[edit]

The genealogy of Scottish kings, going back to Fergus mac Ferchar (i.e. Fergus I) and beyond, was in place by the middle of the 13th century when it was recited at the 1249 inauguration of Alexander III of Scotland.[3] In 1301 Baldred Bisset was involved in a hearing at the Papal Curia, on the Scottish side of the debate on Edward I of England's claims, and at least helped prepare material dealing with the mythological history that was being adduced as relevant, on both sides.[4]

Alexander III hears his genealogy; late medieval illustration of the Scotichronicon.

The question of the antiquity of the Scottish royal lineage, and even the details of the associated origin myth, became particularly significant from 1542 when Mary, Queen of Scots came to the Scottish throne. Buchanan alluded to Mary's long ancestry in his Epithalamium written for her 1559 marriage to Francis II of France.[5] In the period before Mary's betrothal, a marriage to Prince Edward, the future Edward VI of England, was much discussed. As part of that debate, the list of legendary kings of Britain became involved, in the form of the "Brutus myth", promoted by Edward Hall over the doubts of Polydore Vergil. Publicists on the English side of the argument, including John Elder, James Henrisoun, and William Lamb, had cast doubt on Scottish history.[6]

When James VI entered Edinburgh in 1579 the pageantry included a public posting of the genealogy of the Scottish kings; and when his son Charles I visited in 1633, portraits of 107 kings were displayed, some of which (by George Jamesone) survive.[7][8] Another series of 110 imagined portraits of the monarchs from the list was painted for Charles II by Jacob de Wet II, and hung in Holyrood Palace. The de Wet portrait collection later became a noted sight for tourists, for example as written about by John Macky, A Journey through Scotland.[9]

Historiography of Buchanan's list[edit]

While Rerum Scoticarum Historia was published only in the year of Buchanan's death, he had worked on it during much of his life. It was published with his De jure regni apud Scotos, first printed in 1579. Of the two works, the Historia for Buchanan served as a source of precedents on dealing with bad kings (tyrants in the list inevitably come to a sorry end at the hands of the people, in line with Buchanan's monarchomach position), while the De jure is cast as a humanist dialogue between Buchanan himself and Thomas Maitland, and concentrates on classical exemplars. Both works were dedicated to James VI.[10] King James came to regard the chronicles of Buchanan and John Knox as "infamous invectives".[11]

The king-list of the Historia was, therefore, in that work, only incidental to Buchanan's purpose in the book, whatever later uses it may have been put to. After the later scholarly work of Thomas Innes, this list was given little credence in its initial parts. It was, however, the culmination of centuries of development of king-lists for the Kingdom of Scotland. Much fictional material had been introduced into these lists by the humanist Hector Boece, writing half a century before Buchanan. Peter Hume Brown in his biography of Buchanan describes him as somewhat more sceptical than Boece in what he accepted as historical; but less so than John Mair, writing earlier.[12] Buchanan has been called inconsistent in his treatment of classical sources since his rejection of the legend of Gathelus does not extend to the early Scottish kings, who are equally unsupported by classical authors.[13]

Writers who perpetuated the Boece tradition, as put into form by Buchanan, included:

The antiquity of the line was attacked by William Lloyd, who argued that Scotland was not settled before the 6th century; George Mackenzie published the 1685 Defence of the Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland against Lloyd, and a sequel the next year against Edward Stillingfleet, who had given a sceptical account of Boece's history in Chapter V of his Origines Britannicae.[17][18] The work of Innes, which in effect terminated the scholarly debate, was published in 1729, but the tradition continued.

Subsequently, John Pinkerton and William Forbes Skene contributed to the study of the king-lists. Reference works continued, however, to copy Buchanan's list, and the mythological history took many years to drop out of circulation, persisting in print as factual well into the 19th century (for example the fourth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1810), the Encyclopædia Perthensis (1816),[22] the London Encyclopedia (1829), and the individual kings in reference books by George Crabb[23] and John Platts[24]).

Legendary content[edit]

See list of Scottish monarchs for the view of contemporary historians of Scotland. The first historical figure in Buchanan's list is Caratacus. The rediscovery of the works of Tacitus prompted Boece to include this well-attested figure from the period of the Roman occupation of Britain.

The last legendary figure is more complex to discuss. The kings in the list from about the 6th century (in the Fifth Book of Buchanan) onwards may have some relationship to historical figures in the Kingdom of Dalriada, extending in present-day terms from western Scotland to part of Ireland. See list of Kings of Dál Riata. But the Kingdom of Scotland (i.e. Alba) was not a historical reality until Kenneth MacAlpin created it in the year 843, and what was said about his predecessors in the list by Buchanan may have little historical foundation.

The list of Kings of the Picts includes other historical figures reigning in parallel with the Dalriada kings, in other areas of what is now Scotland. The critical Essay (1729) of Innes, while demolishing the king-list going back to Boece, substituted in part kings of the Picts, and is now regarded as questionable in its own way. Innes was a Jacobite and concerned therefore to lay emphasis on legitimacy of descent and primogeniture.[25]

Legendary kings (Buchanan), BC[edit]

Numbering (Buchanan) Name Accession date (Buchanan) Alternate names Comments
1 Fergus I 330 BC The first king of Scotland, according to the fictitious chronology of Boece and Buchanan. He is said to have come to Scotland from Ireland about 330 BC to assist the Scots already settled in Scotland against the joint attack of the Picts and Britons. He is then said to have gone back to Ireland to quell disturbances, and to have been drowned in the passage off the rock or port which got the name of Carrick Fergus from him. According to John Fordoun, Andrew of Wyntoun, and most of the earlier genealogical lists of Scottish kings, the same account is given of the settlement of the Scots from Ireland by a King Fergus, son of Ferchard. According to other lists, Ferchard or Feardach, the father of Fergus, was the first and Fergus the second king.[26]
2 Feritharis 305 BC Ferithais (Bellenden)[27] Brother of Fergus, and in Buchanan's view elected king.[28]
3 Mainus 290 BC
4 Dornadilla 262 BC Dorvidilla (Bellenden)[27] The identification of Dun Dornaigil as Dornadilla's castle is mentioned in Itinerarium septentrionale (1726) by Alexander Gordon.[29] Dorvidilla, in Boece, was fond of hunting dogs, and made laws regulating hunting.[30]
5 Nothatus 232 BC Nathak (Bellenden)[27] In legend, killed by Dovallus; a story adopted by Clan Macdowall for their ancestry.[31]
6 Reutherus Reuther (Boece),[32] Rewthar (Bellenden)[27] Claimed as the eponym of Rutherglen.[33]
7 Reuthra Rewtha (Bellenden)[27]
8 Thereus
9 Josina Josyne (Bellenden)[27]
10 Finnanus Fynnane (Bellenden)[27]
11 Durstus
12 Evenus I
13 Gillus
14 Evenus II
15 Ederus
16 Evenus III
17 Metallanus According to Boece, he received Roman ambassadors.[34]

Legendary kings (Buchanan), Caratacus to Eugenius I[edit]

Numbering (Buchanan) Name Accession date (Buchanan) Alternate names Comments
18 Caractacus
19 Corbredus I
20 Dardannus
21 Corbredus II Galdus
22 Luctacus Lugthacus (Boece)[32] Boece says some of his crimes must go unmentioned (and then mentions them).[35]
23 Mogaldus Mogallus (Boece)[32]
24 Conarus
25 Ethodius
26 Satrael Satrahel (Boece)[32]
27 Donaldus I Boece makes him the first Christian king.[32]
28 Ethodius II
29 Athirco Athircon, son of Echodius (James Ussher)[36]
30 Nathalocus A usurper killed by a servant, a story which was the subject of an 1845 poem by James Clerk Maxwell.[37]
31 Findochus Findocus (Boece)[32]
32 Donaldus II
33 Donaldus III
34 Crathilinthus Crathlinthus (Boece)[32]
35 Fincormachus
36 Romachus
37 Angusianus
38 Fethelmachus Fethelmacus (Boece)[32]
39 Eugenius I Evenus I Thought to have possibly been the same person as Eochaid Muinremuir father of Erc of Dalriada

Buchanan's Fifth Book, Fergus II to Kenneth II[edit]

Numbering (Buchanan) Name Accession date (Buchanan) Alternate names Comments
40 Fergusius II Fergus II, Fergus the Great See Fergus Mór.
41 Eugenius II Evenus II
42 Dongardus 452 Domangart See Domangart Réti.
43 Constantine I 457 Polydore Vergil (Anglica Historia, 1555) gives from here a succession close to Buchanan.[38]
44 Congallus I 479 See Comgall mac Domangairt.
45 Goranus 501 Gabhran Goranus,[39] Conranus (Boece).[32] See Gabrán mac Domangairt.
46 Eugenius III 535 Father of St Kentigern; see Owain mab Urien.
47 Congallus II 558 Convallus (Boece).[32] See Conall mac Comgaill.
48 Kinnatellus 574 Kynnatillus (Boece),[32] Cumatillus,[40] Amtillus.[38]
49 Aidanus 575 See Áedán mac Gabráin
50 Kennethus I 605 Kenneth I Keir (Boece)[32] See Connad Cerr
51 Eugenius IV 606 See Eochaid Buide.[41]
52 Fearchair I[42] 626 Ferquart[38] See Ferchar mac Connaid
53 Donaldus IV 638 See Domnall Brecc
54 Ferchardus II[43] 652 Ferquhardus I (Boece),[32] Fearchair Fada. See Ferchar Fota.
55 Maldvinus 670 Malduinus (Boece)[32]
56 Eugenius V 690 See Eochaid mac Domangairt.[41]
57 Eugenius VI 694
58 Amberkelethus 704 Ambirkelethus (Boece),[32] Ainbhealach, Ambercletus in Polydore Vergil.[38][44] See Ainbcellach mac Ferchair.
59 Eugenius VII 706 Likely duplicates Eugenius VI.[41] Also see Eochaid mac Echdach
60 Mordacus 723 See Muiredach mac Ainbcellaig.
61 Etfinus 730 Ethfinus (Boece)[32] See Áed Find
62 Eugene VIII 761 See Eógan mac Muiredaig.[41]
63 Fergus III 764 See Fergus mac Echdach
64 Solvathius 767 Selvach.[45] See Selbach mac Ferchair and the legend of Sholto Douglas.
65 Achaius 788 See Eochaid mac Áeda Find. Also supposed to have concluded a treaty with the Emperor Charlemagne[46]
66 Congallus III 819 Convallus II (Boece)[32] See Conall Crandomna but at a great chronological distance.
67 Dongallus 824
68 Alpinus See Alpín mac Echdach.
69 Kennethus II See Kenneth MacAlpin.

Sixth Book, later kings[edit]

  • (73) Grig/Gregory the Great: see Giric


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External links[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Fergus I". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.