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Dunkeld Bridge

The Bishopric
The Reformation
Market Town
19th Century Gothic


The History Of Dunkeld

The Capital City

Dunkeld's time of greatest importance lies far back in tfle past, though even to the present day it holds its position as the gateway to the Highlands. In these peaceful times this only means that the place is attractive to the tourist and visitor, but once it gave Dunkeld a perilous and uneasy pre-eminence.

There are evidences of Bronze-Age culture round Dunkeld. There is a fine cup-stone on Birnarn Hill, and the King’s Hill near Craigiebarns is a Bronze-Age fort. Later the Picts occupied the country and the Romans built their chief Northern camp a few miles downstream. The Columban missionaries arrived here early, for St. Fintan set up his cell above Dunkeld, and St. Adamnam, the biographer of St. Columba, is said to have been the first Abbot; but Dunkeld’s greatest period in history began
in A.D. 844, when Kenneth MacAlpin united the kingdoms of the Picts and Scots, and chose Dunkeld and Scone for his joint capitals.

The Scots came from Ireland, and founded the Kingdom of Dairiata, which roughly corresponds to the county of Argyllshire. Kenneth MacAlpin was a descendant of their first king, Fergus Mor, but the royal house had intermarried with the Picts, the mysterious early inhabitants of Scotland, and after many battles, in which the Picts were often defeated, the contending kingdoms were fused in Alba. The union was the easier because both nations were Christian, and Christians of the same kind, the converts of St. Columba or of the Culdees, as the descendants of the Columban missionaries were later called. lona was the spiritual home of both peoples; but when Kenneth MacAlpin moved the bones of St. Columba from lona to Dunkeld, where a stone church had already been built by Constantine, the last Pictish King, Dunkeld became the spiritual as well as the political capital of Alba. Kenneth MacAlpin and his descendants did not hold Dunkeld undisputed. In 845 it was attacked by the Danes, who were defeated between Clunie and Dunkeld. They were more successful a few reigns later, for in 905 the town was taken and plundered. The Danish power was not broken till the Battle of Luncarty in 970, which, according to popular tradition, was won by the Hays, who derived their name and their early prominence from this occasion. Even then the Danes returned, for
Dunkeld was burned by them in 1027. The castle mound on the shores of Loch Clunie is traditionally supposed to be the site of Kenneth MacAlpin’s castle, and although archaeologists tell us that it is the remains of a Norman mote-and-bailey which must date from after the reign of
King David, it is possible that it was erected on an earlier site.

Dunkeld retained its importance as long as the house of MacAlpin remained, although the addition of Cumbria to the kingdom must have tended to draw the seat of the government further south. Malcolm the Second was the last of the male line of MacAlpin. His daughter Bethoc
married Crinan, a lay abbot of Dunkeld, and their son Duncan succeeded his grandfather. Every succession in the Kingdom of Alban appears to have been complicated by the difference of the Celtic and the Pictish laws. The Celtic succession was lineal, from father to son, and the Pictish either matri-lineal or from brother to brother, so that the uncle succeeded rather than the nephew. Duncan succeeded his grandfather through his mother.
His reign was short and stormy. He had to do battle against the Danes at Culross and again at Perth, where he conquered them, though, it is said, by a shabby strategem. His kinsman Macbeth, another claimant to the
throne, had supported him at the beginning of his reign, but afterwards rebelled, killed him and seized the throne. Duncan’s Seat, a mound at the side of Birnam Hill, is commonly associated with King Duncan, though some say that it has taken its name from a later cattle thief.

Macbeth ruled well and successfully for seventeen years, and was then conquered by Duncan’s son, Malcolm Canmore, who had long been an exile in England, and brought Saxons and Normans to help him, and Norman notions with them. Malcolm’s army marched by the Sma’ Glen to Birnam, and crossed by Dunkeld on its way to Dunsinane, Macbeth’s chief stronghold, taking with them, it is said, the green branches from Birnam Wood to conceal their numbers from the enemy. All manner of
picturesque legends have grown up around this story, and in some of them Macbeth has been swelled to giant’s size, but Shakespeare has made Holinshed’s version the most familiar in the modern world. With the coming of Malcolm, grandson of Dunkeld’s Abbot though he was, the prestige of Dunkeld began to dwindle. His second wife, Margaret, was devoted to the Church of Rome, Augustinian friars began to replace the Culdees, the primacy of the Church shifted to St. Andrews, and the political capital became Abernethy and then Dunfermline. Malcolm's Sons were as pious and as Normanized as their mother, and Dunkeld. though still an important bishopric, lost its pre~eminence as a city.

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