Kings of Scotland

The kings of Scotland number more than 30, if you start counting from the formation of the kingdom of Scotland until the time of the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Here is a list of all the kings of Scotland (and Mary, Queen of Scots), with a few comments on the more interesting ones. Still, who am I to judge who was interesting? Some of these early Celtic rulers could have been a laugh-a-minute at state banquets. But I’m going to skim through these anyway.

The Early Kings of Scotland

–from the formation of the Scottish kingdom

Kenneth I, MacAlpin, became in 843 first King of Scots. He defeated the Picts and united the country. So, amongst the kings of Scotland he is the one credited as the first to rule the united kingdom of Scotland. Important guy. Oddly enough, one former Pictish territory is still referred to today in the phrase ‘The Kingdom of Fife’. Kenneth and his successors as kings of Scotland were crowned at Scone near Perth. Look closely at this picture of the chapel that sits on top of the Moot Hill, Scone Palace, Perth.

The chapel at Scone on Moot Hill

The chapel at Scone on Moot Hill

At the bottom left of the chapel picture the wee square stone thing is a replica of the Stone of Scone (apparently). The kings of Scotland used to sit on a similar stone until King Edward I removed it in 1296. We only got it back in 1996. Or did we? Or was the real stone here all the time? Or is it still lost? Oh, don’t start me off. In fact, too late – I’ve gone and written a whole page on the Stone of Destiny now! Anyway, the early kings ended up buried on the island of Iona, sometimes called the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. (Some historians dispute the notion of the kingly burial place.)

OK, here goes with the list of kings of Scotland. Are you sure about this? You’ll only need to know these if you’re doing a school project on the Kings of Scotland or something. Or if the coffee by your keyboard is really hot. 

  • Donald I 860-63
  • Constantine I 863-77
  • Aodh 877-78
  • Eocha 878-89
  • Donald II 889-900
  • Constantine II 900-43
  • Malcolm I 943-54
  • Indulf 954-62
  • Duff 962-67
  • Colin 967-71
  • Kenneth II 971-95
  • Constantine III 995-97
  • Kenneth III 997-1005
  • Malcolm II 1005-34
  • Duncan I 1034-40
Sueno's Stone, Forres

Sueno's Stone, Forres

Well, I don’t know about you but there are some here I know little about. Whatever happened to Good King Duff, for instance? Actually, scanty original sources point to his being killed by the Scots themselves and that the famous Sueno’s Stone, in Forres, was erected as a memorial. Aha, the mystery of Sueno’s stone (pictured here). We’ll return to that another day….when I will try to get a picture of it that doesn’t show the reflection of the glass canopy they built round it to preserve it. (Damn these reflections…..)

Macbeth, 1040-57, killed Duncan in battle near Elgin, though the Shakespearian version of his accession to the throne is better known. Macbeth in turn was killed in battle with his successor at Lumphanan, north of Royal Deeside, between Banchory and Aboyne. The local woods are said to mark the battle site. Shakespeare’s version gives the setting as Dunsinane, in the Sidlaw Hills north-east of Perth.

Malcolm III: 1057-93 Known as Canmore (Gaelic Ceann-mor – great head or chief.) This king from the Celtic dynasty married a refugee Saxon Princess, fleeing from the Norman Conquest in England. Queen Margaret was the sister of Edgar, King Elect of England. Under her influence, the Royal court moved from Dunfermline to Edinburgh in the Lothians, which was disputed land, not under Celtic influence. Her chapel still stands as St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh Castle.

Margaret and Malcolm were buried at Dunfermline. Historians like to portray Margaret as a softening influence on Malcolm’s Celtic ways, making him drink French wine instead of home-brewed ale. (Aspirational, or what?) She was also terribly virtuous – obviously one of the boxes to be ticked if you’re going to become a saint.

Donald Bane 1093-94 (restored 1094-97). Increasing Anglo-Norman influence meant that Donald, brother of Malcolm, was the last of the Celtic Scottish kings to be buried in Iona, the island sacred to the kings of Scotland from the time of Kenneth MacAlpin. (They say.) Iona is still a place of pilgrimage for visitors – almost a ‘Mull must see’, I reckon. But make sure you take in the beaches on the west side of the island, not just the restored Iona Abbey (pictured below), worthy though it is.

  • Duncan II 1094
  • Edgar 1097-1107
  • Alexander I 1107-24

Iona Abbey, burial place of early kings of Scotland, they say. Ho hum…

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David I 1124-53. The door, as it were, having been opened by the saintly Queen Margaret, from about this king’s time onwards, new Anglo-Norman families were encouraged to settle in Scotland. From David through to William the Lion, this process of moving away from the old Celtic habit towards the feudal Anglo-Norman ways of organising society continued. King David I, for instance, ruthlessly suppressed rebellion by Celtic folk in Moray. After their defeat he granted lands to a Fleming called Freskin who built the original Duffus Castle, 5 miles north of Elgin, in the Norman style. The castle mound, called a motte, remains to this day as one of the best examples of its type in Scotland. The four great Border abbeys, Kelso, Dryburgh, Jedburgh and Melrose, also date from David’s time.

Malcolm IV 1153-65 Known as ‘The Maiden’ from his celibate life and gentleness, obviously not a characteristic usually noted in the kings of Scotland. The big woose.

William I ‘The Lion’ 1165-1214 Associated with the symbol of Scotland, the heraldic ‘Lion Rampant’. He is one of the kings of Scotland who reigned longest, though in his old age he still must have been spry enough to clamber into a boat when a mighty flood on the River Tay washed his castle away in Perth during the winter of 1209-10. He escaped and probably thought ‘That does it, from now on no more mottes and wooden castles for me….and, Zounds! I do believe I’m the first Scottish monarch ever to speak a text link!’

Alexander II 1214-49

Alexander III 1249-86. He brought a time of peace to Scotland. He stopped Norse expansion plans by defeating them at the Battle of Largs in 1263. During Alexander’s reign, security and peace was maintained by a new type of castle. There was a changeover from the ‘motte and bailey’ style of fortress, with wooden defences on top of a mound, to more substantial stone structures. Several survive today in Scotland with traces of 13th century work, for example, Rothesay, Skipness, Castle Sween and several others.
There was, however, a small problem. King Alexander was childless, never a good idea for the kings of Scotland. However, he had a new(ish) wife, Yolande de Dreux. He left her in Fife to attend to business in Edinburgh. It was the late winter of 1286 and the weather was bad. There were no gritters out, mostly because there were no roads. However, he was determined to get back to her that night and ordered a reluctant ferryman to get him north across the estuary of the River Forth. Then, outpacing his bodyguards in the darkness of the night, he rode ahead, the old devil, but was killed by a fall from his horse on the cliffs near Aberdour in Fife. A memorial by the roadside marks the spot.

The crown passed to his grand-daughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway. Later, she was to die before reaching Scotland from Norway – as perhaps loosely told in the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens. This left several claimants in Scotland as well as the ambitious King Edward I of England. (He was particularly ambitious because Alexander III’s first wife, Margaret of England, had been Edward’s sister – another example of intermarriage between the royal houses of Scotland and England.) In short, things were getting really messy.

The English Edward was asked to mediate in the dispute of succession. He chose John Balliol who swore fealty to him. Edward invaded in 1296 after the Scots persuaded the weak Balliol to side with France in a French/English dispute. The many fortifications that were besieged by English forces included Dunbar and Dirleton Castle in East Lothian. Linlithgow and Stirling likewise fell into Edward’s hands. Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness and Kildrummy Castle, near Alford, were also of importance and King Edward himself stayed at Lochindorb Castle south of Nairn, as well as many other Scottish castles. It was to free the land from this English domination that the Scottish Wars of Independence were fought, culminating at the Battle of Bannockburn, in 1314.

Scottish Kings

– from Bannockburn to the Union of the Crowns.

The Scottish kings, after Bannockburn especially, didn’t seem to be the most fortunate of monarchs. Encounters with sharp pointy weaponry or bad luck with exploding ordnance and/or inheriting the Crown at a young age didn’t help. Marrying into the royal houses of England and France further complicated the picture.

The line of Scottish kings towards the end of the 13th century was interrupted and then influenced by the involvement of the English King Edward I and his aspirations to subdue Scotland. So, the line continues…..

  • Guardians ruling in the name of Margaret, Maid of Norway 1286-89
  • (Interregnum 1289-92)
  • John Balliol 1292-96
  • (Interregnum 1296 1306)
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Robert I (or) Robert the Bruce (1306-29) Step forward into this line of Scottish kings a hero and opportunist from a powerful Scottish family (originally Norman – Bruce is from Brix, a place in Normandy). Though at one stage a ‘bought man’ of the English King Edward, he rose in rebellion against English domination. The story of the Battle of Bannockburn which ultimately regained Scotland’s independence for almost four centuries is told at the new Bannockburn Centre on the outskirts of Stirling. (The first link mostly features the PR agency who handled the Bannockburn account in 1314. I don’t know why I got distracted. The second link is all about how the National Trust for Scotland thought it politically a good idea to be even-handed.) Anyway, there’s a statue of King Robert I, the most famous of the Scottish kings, pictured here on the esplanade of Stirling Castle, as well as at the Rotunda at Bannockburn itself.

Bruce’s daughter Marjorie married Walter the High Steward of Scotland whose son Robert II became the first of the ‘Stewarts’ in 1390, founding a dynasty of Scottish kings that was to last for the next three hundred years.

(David II, who ruled between Robert the Bruce and Robert II, was Marjory’s brother. He died childless. The crown then passed to his nephew, ie Robert II and hence started the Stewart line.)

  • David II 1329-71
  • Robert II 1371-90 ‘The Stewarts'
  • Robert III 1390 -1406

James I 1406-37 First of the ‘nae luck’ Jameses, perhaps – he spent much of his childhood in captivity in England – held to ransom. After that he was assassinated at Perth, at a Dominican Friary, by a group of conspirators including the Earl of Atholl, his son Sir Robert Stewart, the King’s Chamberlain, and the actual assassin, Sir Robert Graham, who bore a grudge after being banished at the beginning of James’s reign.

James II 1437-60. Crowned when he was six years old, later he was killed by a bursting cannon at siege of Roxburgh Castle, south west of Kelso. Only faint traces survive today of this castle (and of the nearby once important early Royal Burgh which gave its name to the county). Today’s Floors Castle is close to the site and a holly tree in its grounds is said to mark the spot where James II met his death.

James III 1460-88. Scotland reached its present day shape on the marriage of this James – as Orkney and Shetland were part of the dowry of James’s wife Margaret, daughter of King Christian I of Denmark and Norway, who owned the islands. James III is traditionally said to have been more interested in arts and culture than warfare – he is associated with an episode called ‘bell the cat’ when one of the nobles, Archibald, Earl of Angus, took it upon himself to hang the King’s favourites (a selection of low-born folk) from the bridge at Lauder near present-day Thirlestane Castle. Eventually, James was murdered after his defeat at Sauchieburn near Falkirk and buried at Cambuskenneth Abbey by the River Forth at Stirling. The Stewart line of Scottish kings really didn’t have a lot of luck, did they?

James IV 1488-1513 Sometimes called the best-loved of the Stewarts, he was a ‘Renaissance Man’ in a literal sense: witty, intelligent and, well, it couldn’t last, could it? Nope, taking up arms in support of a French quarrel (as part of the ‘Auld Alliance’) he led the largest Scottish army ever assembled over the Border to death and utter defeat at Flodden Field. (Again – see what I mean?)

The gardens at Falkland Palace, Fife, hunting lodge of the Stuart monarchs

The gardens at Falkland Palace, Fife, hunting lodge of the Stuart monarchs

James V 1513-42. Hardly two years old when his father died at Flodden, this monarch is associated with many building works of the Renaissance, among them the Palace at Stirling Castle, with its extraordinary facade, richly carved with figures (one of whom is said to represent the king himself) and gargoyles. Also of note is Falkland Palace, favourite seat of James V and likewise showing French Renaissance styling of the exterior. The king died here, sick in mind and heart after another defeat, this time at Solway Moss. His new daughter, Mary, was just a few weeks old…….

A famous saying about the Stewarts is associated with him. On hearing the news of his daughter’s birth he said that it came with a lass and would go with a lass – a reference to Marjorie, daughter of King Robert (the Bruce) and progenitor of the Stewart line. As it turned out, he was wrong, for a few more generations….

Mary, Queen of Scots 1542-1587

Scottish kings is a not altogether accurate term, as one of the most famous Scottish monarchs was Mary, Queen of Scots, born at Linlithgow Palace, into an unstable and factional Scotland – so unstable, in fact that Mary, Queen of Scots was taken to Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith on the southern edge of The Trossachs for safety. Dumbarton Castle was her departure point for France, when she was aged 6 years. Educated in France, she returned to Scotland, already widowed, in 1561. The Protestant Reformers actively opposed her Catholicism. For the next seven years her stormy reign took her to many parts of Scotland. She journeyed through her kingdom on stately ‘progresses’ visiting abbeys, great castles and grand houses. Other places have less happy associations as rebellion grew and she sought refuge in some of Scotland’s most dramatic fortresses.

Loch Leven Castle, island fortress associated with Mary, Queen of Scots

Loch Leven Castle, island fortress associated with Mary, Queen of Scots

Notable among the profusion of places associated with her are: Hermitage Castle near Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders, where Mary made her famous ride from Jedburgh (where there is a Queen Mary’s House) to visit her wounded lover Bothwell; Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh where the plot to murder her second husband Darnley was hatched (Mary is also associated very closely with Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse); Stirling Castle where Mary spent much of her early childhood; Dunfermline Abbey and Palace where Mary stayed in 1561 and where her grandchild King Charles I was born; Loch Leven Castle near Kinross, island prison of Mary (as pictured here); Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, north of Pitlochry, where Mary was entertained in 1564 with a deer hunt. Lochmaben, Crichton, Hailles, Tantallon, Crookston, Huntingtower, Glamis, Edzell and Dunnottar are just some of the other Scottish castles which she visited. Glenluce, Whithorn, Dundrennan, Balmerino, Arbroath and Beauly are some of the abbeys and priories at which she stayed.

Rebellion finally forced her to flee to England to face nearly twenty years of imprisonment and eventual execution.

James VI 1567-1603. He ruled Scotland only, as the last of the Scottish kings, then became King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1603 to 1625. He started as a pawn in the political struggle that followed Mary’s abdication. He became king of England in 1603 as he was a descendant of James IV and his English wife Margaret Tudor. After the royal court moved to London the king only came back to Scotland once, in 1617.

The King’s move to London is known as the Union of the Crowns and it signified the period when Scotland was no longer independent. This state of affairs started with the Union of Parliaments in 1707 and may end at some point in the 21st century.