House of Dunkeld

The so-called House of Dunkeld, in Scottish Gaelic Dùn Chailleann (meaning Fort of the Caledonii or of the Caledonians), is a historiographical and genealogical construct to illustrate the clear succession of Scottish kings from 1034 to 1040 and from 1058 to 1290.

It is dynastically sort of a continuation to Cenél nGabráin of Dál Riata, "race of Fergus", as "house" an originally Celtic concept to express one of the two rivalling leader clans of early medieval Scotland, whose founding father is king Fergus Mor of Dalriada. This Ferguside royal clan had rivalled the crown (of Dalriada, then that of Alba) against the Cenél Loairn, the later House of Moray for the preceding four or more centuries. The Cenél nGabráin were represented by the so-called House of Alpin before Dunkeld.

Sir Iain Moncreiffe made the case that Crínán of Dunkeld actually belonged to a Scottish sept of Irish Cenél Conaill royal dynasty, a branch of the Uí Néill.[1] This of course would not exclude his descendants from also being a (female line) continuation of the Cenél nGabráin through Bethóc.

Genealogically the Dunkeld dynasty is based on Duncan I of Scotland being of a different agnatic clan to his predecessor and maternal grandfather Malcolm II of Scotland. However, sociohistorically, the reign of Duncan's son Malcolm III of Scotland, which happens to coincide with the start of the centuries-long period of strong influence from the southern neighbour, the Kingdom of England, has been seen as a more important place to start.

Time and features

During the time of the so-called House of Dunkeld, succession to the Scottish throne evolved towards primogeniture instead of the Irish-Celtic tradition of tanistry and the Pictish traditions (whether they were matrilineal or not). Although the contemporaries did not have a common name for these monarchs, they were a family who formed a hereditary kingship.

Distinctive characteristics of the developments of society during this dynasty:

  • Scotland was more influenced by outlanders than it had been earlier, or was to be under the kings of the House of Bruce and House of Stuart. The kingdom was between two established powers: the Kingdom of England and Norway. Quite a many Scottish king was to do homage to English monarch, and on other hand, Vikings controlled the Hebrides, Caithness, the Isle of Man and the Orkney Islands. The common goal uniting the usual policies of kings of this dynasty was to balance between the two neighbours, sometimes allying to have some outside support (France in the Middle Ages). Wars were fought in both fronts, but also alliances and treaties were made with both.
  • Many Norman lords and institutions were brought to Scotland, especially after the Norman conquest of England; by the end of the period, both had been in Scotland for centuries. The tribal polity evolved to a medieval feudal society, adopting legal traditions from Rome, and the elite evolved to become broadly "Frankish" in custom, a change strengthened by the immigration of (Anglo-Saxon) English, Normans and French.

The so-called Dunkeld dynasty rose to rule in a time when the kingdom was fragmentary, under increasing outside threats, and some monarchs started to initiate more centralized government.

The Dunkelds came to power after the two centuries of civil unrest under the House of Alpin. The first king of this new dynasty was Malcolm III of Scotland who determined that succession would be to the eldest son, not according to the rules of tanistry. This political decision reduced the conflicts inside the Royal family. The Dunkelds consolidated Scotland's' union and independence as a kingdom, despite several skirmishes with the neighbouring England. The fall of the House of Dunkeld began in 1286, when Alexander III died in a horse riding accident. The king had no living sons, only one three year-old granddaughter, Margaret, princess of Norway. Fearing the influence of king Eric II of Norway, her father, and another endless civil war, the Scottish nobles appealed to Edward I of England. Margaret was betrothed to the future Edward II of England, but died shortly afterwards on her arrival to Scotland.

The dynasty ended at a time when immigrant-originated feudal families had reached material level almost as high as the kings and the beneficiaries of feudal system desired to better guarantee their positions, rights and properties. Even at cost of national independence.

Following the end of the Dunkelds, Scotland fell in the First Scottish War of Independence against England.

Kings of the House of Dunkeld

On Alexander III's death his granddaughter Margaret (Maid of Norway) was recognised as "right heir", as had been agreed in Alexander's lifetime, but she was never inaugurated as Queen of Scots.

See also: History of Scotland - Scottish monarchs family tree


  1. ^ Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, The Highland Clans. Part II. 1982. p. 236

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