Constantine II, or rather Constantín mac Áeda (Modern Gaelic: Còiseam mac Aoidh), was an early King of Scotland, known then by the Gaelic name Alba, who reigned between 900 and 943. The name The Kingdom of Alba is first used during his reign, with previous rulers having been kings of the Picts. This change of title from king of the Picts to king of Alba is part of a broader transformation of Pictland and the origins of the Kingdom of Alba. Constantine was the son of Áed mac Cináeda and grandson of Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín), who according to the national myth, was the first King of Scotland, despite never having such a title in his lifetime. Constantine is therefore Scotland’s 8th king according to most modern regal lists. He succeeded the throne following the death in battle of his cousin, Donald II.
It has been suggested that during the reign of Donald’s predecessors, Giric and Eochaid, both Constantine and Donald may have lived in exile in Ireland, where their aunt Máel Muire was wife of two successive High Kings of Ireland, Áed Findliath and Flann Sinna. Donald's reputation is suggested by the epithet dasachtach, a word used to describe a violent madmen and it is probable that he was killed fighting Vikings at Dunnottar, Aberdeenshire. Early in his reign Constantine was himself forced to deal with Viking attacks, as the Norse were driven out of Dublin in 902 by his uncles and made their way to the western coasts of Scotland, England and Wales. In 904, a battle at Srath Erenn between Constantine and these invaders is said to have resulted in a significant Viking defeat.
In 906 Constantine and Bishop Cellach met at the Hill of Belief near the royal city of Scone and pledged themselves that the laws and disciplines of the faith, and the laws of churches and gospels, should be kept pariter cum Scottis. The translation of this is contested, with propositions including that it should be read as “in conformity with the customs of the Gaels", relating it to the claims in the king lists that Giric liberated the church from secular oppression and adopted Irish customs or "together with the Gaels" suggesting either public participation or the presence of Gaels from the western coasts as well as the people of the east coast. Whatever it means it seems to have been an important step in the gaelicisation of the lands east of Druim Alban.
It would however be events to the south that would dominate Constantine’s reign. Dublin was retaken by the Norse in 917 and the following year Viking armies under Ragnall and Sihtric invaded Northumbria with the aim of retaking York. Constantine sent help and the combined Scottish / Northumbrian force met Ragnall’s army at the indecisive Battle of Corbridge in 918. Further south Edward the Elder had secured Mercia and so when the Sihtric struck there in 919 they were unable to make any gains. In 920 or 921 Edward convened a meeting of kings, in which according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ragnall, Constantine, Ealdred son of Eadwulf of Northumbria and Owain ap Dyfnwal of Strathclyde "chose Edward as father and lord".
Edward died in 924. His realms appear to have been divided with the West Saxons recognising Ælfweard while the Mercians chose Æthelstan. Ælfweard died within weeks of his father and so Æthelstan was inaugurated as king of all of Edward's lands in 925.
By 927 Æthelstan had seized much of Northumbria from the Norse and so his English kingdom became by far the greatest power in Britain and Ireland, perhaps stretching as far north as the Firth of Forth, in present day Scotland. John of Worcester's chronicle suggests that Æthelstan faced opposition from Constantine, Owain, and the Welsh kings and a short war was fought between the English and Scots, perhaps over the asylum the latter gave to the kin of the recently deceased Viking invader, Sihtric.
However, on 12th July 927 an agreement was made that Constantine, Owain, and the Welsh kings would not ally with Vikings and this seems to have been the case for the next few years. Apparently, Æthelstan stood godfather to a son of Constantine, probably Indulf, during the conference.
In 934, for reasons unknown, conflict between Constantine and Æthelstan broke out once again, with the latter marching north with a combined English and Welsh army. It is said that the army reached as far north as Dunnottar and Fortriu, while a fleet is said to have raided Caithness and Sutherland. No significant battles appear to have been fought though and a settlement appears to have been negotiated, with a son of Constantine given as a hostage to Æthelstan and Constantine himself accompanying the English king on his return south. On September 13th 934, Constantine acknowledged Æthelstan's overlordship.
In 937 however, together with Owain of Strathclyde and Olaf Guthfrithson of Dublin, Constantine invaded England. The combined Scottish, British and Viking force met Æthelstan at the Battle of Brunanburh (Dún Brunde), which is reported in the Annals of Ulster:
“…a great battle, lamentable and terrible was cruelly fought... in which fell uncounted thousands of the Northmen. ...And on the other side, a multitude of Saxons fell; but Æthelstan, the king of the Saxons, obtained a great victory.”
Brunanburh is often argued to be one of the most important battles in British history. It's been cited as the point of origin of the English nation, with historian Michael Livingston argue that:
"the men who fought and died on that field forged a political map of the future that remains [in modernity], arguably making the Battle of Brunanburh one of the most significant battles in the long history not just of England, but of the whole of the British Isles."
Æthelstan died on October 27th 939. He was succeeded by his brother Edmund, then aged 18. His empire collapsed in little more than a year, when Vikings from Ireland under Amlaíb Cuaran (Olaf Sihtricsson) seized Northumbria and the Mercian Danelaw. Consequently, Constantine’s conflict with the English kings came to an end.
In 940 Constantine abdicated the throne in favour of his nephew, Malcolm. It is rumored that this may have been involuntary, however Constantine is said to have been a devout king and he spent his retirement as an abbot, probably at St Andrews.
Constantine died in 952. Following the death of Malcolm two years later, his son Indulf would be crowned king. Constantine’s reign would prove hugely influential with the creation of a new form of Scottish kingship lasting two centuries after his death.
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