From Pictland to Alba: 789 - 1070

From Pictland to Alba: 789 - 1070

From Pictland to Alba: 789 - 1070

From Pictland to Alba: 789 - 1070

Excerpt

Land and People: Northern
Britain in the Eighth Century

In or around the year 1140 Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Cambridge, composed a history of the English. He took as his model and inspiration the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation written some 400 years earlier by the Northumbrian monk Bede. As part of his introductory material Bede had described Britain as being inhabited by four nations speaking five tongues: the Britons; the English; the Gaels; and the Picts; each of whom had their own language. The fifth language was Latin which united the four nations in their study of the Christian scriptures. Henry of Huntingdon copied this passage into his own introduction but then added: 'but we see that the Picts have now been wiped out and their language also is totally destroyed so that they seem to be a fable we find mentioned in old writings.' The purpose of the present book, volume two of the New Edinburgh History of Scotland, is to explore the changes that had taken place between the time Bede wrote and the time at which Henry wrote. Central among the issues to be investigated will be the mystery of Pictish ethnonemesis, their disappearance as a distinct people, a phenomenon which Henry of Huntingdon was the earliest observer to note. The narrative will take us from the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the eleventh century, and will encompass the Viking Age when Scandinavian warriors and settlers transformed so much of northern Britain, and which saw the emergence of the kingdom of Alba which the English called Scotland. It is in the course of this period that a kingdom that can unambiguously be said to be ancestral to modern Scotland first emerges, although the kingdom of the Scots would not reach its present extent until the 1460s, about four hundred years after our narrative closes.

D. Greenaway, ed., Henry Archdeacon of Huntingdon: Historia Anglorum (Oxford,
1996), I.8, 24–5.

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