Kings of Scotland – job for deluded, keen on Divine Rights

The early Kings of Scotland didn’t die in their beds often. It wasn’t a job with secure prospects, as Macbeth soon realised. Standing next to exploding cannons, plus encounters with sharp pointy things and also marrying English spouses. Bad ideas, all of them. Here’s a list of Scotland’s monarchs.

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, until the toffs old out.

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.

The chapel at Scone on Moot Hill
The chapel at Scone on Moot Hill.

Look at this picture of the chapel that sits on top of the Moot Hill, Scone Palace, Perth.

It shows a wee square stone thing that is, apparently, a replica of the Stone of Scone.

The kings of Scotland used to sit on a similar stone until the invading King Edward I of England 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 where the real Stone of Destiny could be 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.)

A list of the Kings of Scotland

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. Here we go…

  • 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

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.

Oh no – he’s married an English wifie

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.

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

Iona – burial place of the Kings of Scotland. Probably.

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, worthy though it is.

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

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.

Motte and Bailey, a great defensive double act

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 in the Norman style, 5 miles /8 km north of Elgin.

Duffus Castle, Moray
There’s the motte and there’s the castle on top – but a stone one, not a wooden one. This is why the north wall (right of centre) is tipping over and slowly making its way down the slope – and the south side has enough cracks and broken lintels to give a property surveyor nightmares. Nope. With subsidence like this you’d never get a mortgage.

The castle mound at Duffus, 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.

Even in his relatively 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, was followed by…

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.

A tragic fall, on a night-time ride

There was, however, a small problem. King Alexander was childless, never a good idea for the kings of Scotland. But wait, 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 road-gritters out, mostly because there were no roads.

However, the wee devil was determined to get back to his wife 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 – but was killed when he fell from his horse on the cliffs near Aberdour in Fife. A memorial by the roadside marks the spot.

Things got messy for Scotland’s kings

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.

(Remember, the one with the ‘skeely skipper’ and the ‘cork-heeled shoon’ etc. Och, you must have learned it at schoool?)

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.

Lochindorb Castle
Lochindorb Castle, a ruined fortress on a bleak loch island on a bleak spot on a bleak moor, was a temporary lodging of King Edward I of England as he attempted to subdue the uppity Scots. Did I mention it’s bleak here?
Whatever you do, don’t get King Edward of England involved…

The English King Edward I 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. 

King Robert I 'The Bruce'
King Robert I of Scotland glowers out from Stirling Castle.
Arbroath Abbey
The Abbey here gave its name to the Declaration of Arbroath a letter or appeal signed by the great and good in 1320 and asking Pope John XXII to get the English off their backs (roughly speaking).
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)

Robert I ‘The Bruce’ (1306-29) 

(Drum roll SFX) 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, Bruce 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 Bannockburn Centre on the outskirts of Stirling. (By the way, I wouldn’t take either of these pages too seriously, OK?)

(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 about a stonking Scottish victory.)

Anyway, Bruce’s daughter Marjorie married Walter the High Steward of Scotland. His 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

Next came the…

The ‘Nae Luck’ Jameses, Kings of Scotland
Flodden Memorial
The Flodden Memorial near Branxston, Northumberland, England. The last ‘mediaeval’ battle in Britain, the Scots were truly thumped, and King James IV killed.

James I 1406-37 First of the ‘nae luck’ Jameses – 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 Roxburgh 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’ .

This was 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?

King James IV – literally, the Renaissance Man…

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 Scots were ahead at half-time but threw it away in the second half.

Falkland Palace
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 is the Palace at Stirling Castle, with its extraordinary façade, 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 – James V – 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.

This was 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 really an 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.

The nation was 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.

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

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.

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).

Then there is 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.

Huntingtower Castle, Perth
Huntingtower Castle, Perth – one of the many Scottish castles with Mary, Queen of Scots connections.

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.

The last of the Kings of Scotland

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 no longer had her own monarch.

The Union of Parliaments in 1707 followed on and, as a working arrangement, seems likely to end at some point in the 21st century. Probably soon.

Who can say if an independent Scotland will want or acknowledge a king, queen or royal family? Time will tell.

So, there was Mary Queen of Scots. She sat on the throne. Later, there was her descendant, Prince Charles Edward Stuart. He didn’t.