Alba (Britain)


ALBA (Britain)    Or Alban or Albany

…from the Gaelic word ALBAINN for the island of Britain, a word that later became restricted in meaning to the lands north of the Forth-Clyde valley.  It was probably related to the Greek and Latin name of Albion for the island.

The name is used for the early Kingdom of Scotland, after Kenneth MacAlpin, the King of the Scots, became King of the Picts as well in 843.   That united Kingdom lay north of the Forth-Clyde region, though the western coastal lands, where the Scots had had their Kingdom of Dalriada, were falling under Viking control, and so were the northern coasts of Pictland.

King Malcolm II, who died in 1034, was described in death as King of Scotia, and we might say that the 11th century sees the transition from Alba to Scotland.

In the first place, the Kingdom had moved southwards by 1034.   The Kings of Alba had long had influence in the Welsh Kingdom of Strathclyde (in southwest Scotland and northwesternmost England) and they advanced southeastwards into Lothian, which had been part of Northumbria, during the 10th century.   Their control of the land extending to the lower Tweed was confirmed by the Battle of Carham in 1018.   In the same year Malcolm II’s grandson, Duncan, became King of Strathclyde (though this is now disputed) and in 1034 he succeeded his grandfather in Alba/Scotland.

That succession marks the second great change.   When they died the Kings of Alba were not succeeded by their sons but by brothers or cousins, their appointed heirs and the descendants of earlier Kings.   Such a succession ensured that the Crown passed to an adult, but it also meant the the tanaist – the appointed heir – was inclined to jump the gun and dispose of his predecessor.   Malcolm secured the succession for Duncan and in the year before he died killed cousins who could claim the succession.

Erskine Sanford as King Duncan with Roddy McDo...

Erskine Sanford as King Duncan with Roddy McDowall as Malcolm in Orson Welles’ controversial Macbeth (1948) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Duncan became King he was defeated and killed in 1040 and succeeded by MacBeth, the ruler of Moray and husband of Gruoch, who belonged to the family whose possible male claimants Malcolm II had disposed of.   MacBeth may well have been a descendant of the House of Alpin through his mother.   He was defeated and killed by Malcolm III, Duncan’s son, in 1057, but when Malcolm died in 1093 it was his brother, Donald Ban, who seized the throne.   He was temporarily displaced in 1094 by Duncan II, the son of Malcolm III’s first marriage, and finally overthrown in 1097 by the sons of Malcolm’s second marriage.

Donald Ban, the last brother to be preferred as King to a son, was the last Scottish King to be buried on the island of Iona, burial place of the Kings of Dalriada and Alba.

The name was later revived, as ALBANY, for a Royal Dukedom.

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