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Bridei I

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Title: Bridei I  
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Subject: Cuilén, Eochaid, son of Rhun, House of Óengus, Malcolm I of Scotland, Kenneth III of Scotland
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Bridei I

William Hole's imaginative 19th century depiction of Columba's "conversion" of King Bridei

Bridei son of Maelchon,[1] was king of the Picts from 554 to 584.

Bridei is first mentioned in Irish annals for 558–560, when the Annals of Ulster report "the migration before Máelchú's son i.e. king Bruide".[2] The Ulster annalist does not say who fled, but the later Annals of Tigernach refer to "the flight of the Scots before Bruide son of Máelchú" in 558. This has provoked considerable speculation in some cases as, in one version, the Annals of Ulster may associate this with the death of Gabrán mac Domangairt.[3]

As a contemporary, and one of the chief kings in Scotland, Bridei appears in Adomnán's Life of Saint Columba.[4] Adomnán's account of Bridei is problematic in that it fails to tells us whether Bridei was already a Christian, and if not, whether Columba converted him.[5] The recent archaeological discoveries at Portmahomack, showing that there was a monastic community perhaps as early as the late 6th century, may provide some support for the idea that Bridei was either already a Christian, at least in name, or was converted by Columba.

It is a matter of record that Bridei was not the only king in Pictland. The death of Galam — called "Cennalath, king of the Picts" — is recorded in 580 by the Annals of Ulster, four years before Bridei's death.[6] In addition, Adomnán mentions the presence of the "under-king of Orkney" at Bridei's court.[7] The Annals of Ulster report two expeditions to Orkney during Bridei's reign, or, as seems equally probable, one expedition twice, in 580 and 581.[8]

The chief place of Bridei's kingdom, which may have corresponded with later Fortriu, is not known. Adomnán tells that after leaving the royal court, by implication soon afterwards, Columba came to the River Ness, and that the court was atop a steep rock. Accordingly, it is generally supposed that Bridei's chief residence was at Craig Phadrig, to the west of modern Inverness overlooking the Beauly Firth.

Bridei's death is reported in the 580s, perhaps in battle against Pictish rivals in Circinn, an area thought to correspond with the Mearns.[9] The king lists of the Pictish Chronicle agree that Bridei was followed by one Gartnait son of Domelch.

Bridei is suggested to have been the son of Maelgwn Gwynedd by John Morris in his Age of Arthur, where he refers in passing and without authority, to "... Bridei, son of Maelgwn, the mighty king of north Wales, ...".[10] Though the book has been a commercial success, it is disparaged by historians as an unreliable source of "misleading and misguided" information.[11]

Juliet Marillier's trilogy The Bridei Chronicles is written as a combination of history, fiction and informed guesswork regarding this king's rise to power and rule. Her novels also describe events in the life of Bridei III


  1. ^ Other forms include Brude son of Melcho and, in Irish sources, Bruide son of Maelchú and Bruidhe son of Maelchon; for Bede his father is Meilochon.
  2. ^ An earlier entry, reporting the death of "Bruide son of Máelchú" in the Annals of Ulster for 505 is presumed to be an error.
  3. ^ The entry in question is AU 558.2; compare AU560.1 and AU560.2 where these are not associated and also AT559.2 and 559.3. For speculation, Morris, The Age of Arthur, p. 182 ff.
  4. ^ Life, I.1, I.10, II.33, II.35 and II.42.
  5. ^ Smyth, pp. 103–107 argues against conversion, Sharpe, pp. 30–33 is uncertain. Bede, III.4, writes that Columba did convert Bridei, which represents the belief a century after Columba's death rather than a contemporary view.
  6. ^ The Annals of Tigernach, AT578.2 and 581.3, disagree on the dates, but confirm the sequence.
  7. ^ Adomnán, Life, II.42.
  8. ^ As with the earlier report of the "migration" in 558 and 560, it is possible that the reports which provide more detail were glossed much later.
  9. ^ Annals of Tigernach, s.a. 584; Annals of Ulster, s.a. 584. The entry in 505 mentioned earlier is approximately one 84-year Easter cycle misplaced. Bridei's death in battle in Circinn is in the Annals of Tigernach, s.a. 752, apparently misplaced by two cycles; see M.O. Anderson, pp. 36–37.
  10. ^  
  11. ^ D. P. Kirby and J. E. C. Williams, "Review of The Age of Arthur", Studia Celtica, 10-11 (1975-6), pp. 454 – 486; "an outwardly impressive piece of scholarship", it went on to argue that this apparent scholarship "crumbles upon inspection into a tangled tissue of fact and fantasy which is both misleading and misguided".


  • Adomnán of Iona, Life of St Columba, tr. & ed. Richard Sharpe. Penguin, London, 1995. ISBN 0-14-044462-9
  • Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History A.D 500–1286, volume 1. Reprinted with corrections. Paul Watkins, Stamford, 1990. ISBN 1-871615-03-8
  • Anderson, Marjorie Ogilvie, Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland. Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, revised edition, 1980. ISBN 0-7011-1930-6
  • Smyth, Alfred P., Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80–1000. Edinburgh UP, Edinburgh, 1984. ISBN 0-7486-0100-7

External links

  • CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Cork includes the Annals of Ulster, Tigernach, the Four Masters and Innisfallen, the Chronicon Scotorum, the Lebor Bretnach (which includes the Duan Albanach), Genealogies, and various Saints' Lives. Most are translated into English, or translations are in progress.
  • Bede's Ecclesiastical History and the Continuation of Bede (pdf), at CCEL, translated by A.M. Sellar.
  • Tarbat Discovery Programme with reports on excavations at Portmahomack.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Traditionally Galam
King of the Picts
Succeeded by
?Gartnait II

See also

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