The House of Alpin
Named after King Alpin II of Dalrida The House of Alpin brought together the crowns of the Scots and the Picts – King Alpin had previously been called ‘King of the Picts and Scots’, as well as King of Dál Riata (Dalriada). He reigned from around 833-840. King Alpin II was the first tribal leader on record and held land in Kintyre, and in Northern Ireland. From evidence which exists he appears to have died in a battle against the Picts in Galloway. Legend says he was married to a Pict princess which allowed his son Kenneth to unite the the Kingdoms, that of the Pictish and Celtic thrones. With the Picts succession went through the female line.
King Alpin’s son Kenneth I formed this new Kingdom of Scotland. Kenneth mac Alpin or Kenneth MacAlpin or King Kenneth I became the first King of this new Kingdom of Scotland. Years later during the reign of Donald II the King was titled ‘The King of Alba’.
From the rule of Donald I the House of Alpin followed the ancient Celtic law of Tanistry, meaning that the Royal family selected the next successor to be King. This chosen successor would act like a Regent so if the King was away on business this person would take over. It was a very practical answer to the problems of the time; low life spans meant that very few men lived into their old age not leaving an adult descendant. The later tradition of the Kingship going to the oldest son which we still see today wouldn’t have worked then as it would have left the Kingdom in the hands of children. At that time it was different and arguable better structure. Tanistry came to a savage end with Malcolm II who wanted to ensure that the succession remained in his own branch of the House of Alpin by killing most of those who might have a claim from elsewhere within the family.
While King lists have survived, little is known about them as individuals until the 36th king, Kenneth, son of Alpin.
The capital of Dalrida/The Kingdom of Scotland was at Dunadd, near Kilmartin Glen in Argyll. This spot has been occupied since the Iron Age and is one of the most famous historic sites in Scotland, a spectacular hill fort and the probable site of where the Kings were inaugurated during the time of The House of Alpin.
Dunadd was founded by Fergus Mot in about AD 500. It was a complex fortification defended by four lines of walling on different levels. These structures appear to have been built between AD 500 and 1000. Objects found in excavations show us that it was a site for fine metalwork. The basin and the footprint may have been used in the inauguration of the Kings of Dalrida. The most remarkable feature is a series of carvings on a rock slab neat the summit. There is the figure of a boar near the outline of a footprint, and a rock-cut basin.
Could it be that the footprint symbolically married the Kings to their land? There are late Medieval descriptions about this kind of inauguration.
On the same rocky outcrop is an incised boar. There is also ogham script running beside it. The real meaning of these carvings are unknown and the script a complete mystery – a language lost in the mists of time.
The Kings of The House of Alpin