Why I chose to write about Kenneth Mac Alpin and his wife is a question I find hard to answer, other than to say why not Kenneth Mac Alpin? The main reason I find it hard to answer is that I can’t actually remember the moment I decided to start this book. My original victims were a much later Scottish King and Queen, but somehow during my research, I got distracted and ended up in the 830s and 40s with this man and his unknown wife.
One thing that inevitably attracts me to historical and indeed fictional characters is if they are the underdogs. Now, this is a phrase that most certainly shouldn’t be applied to Kenneth. Quite the opposite. He was one of the most powerful men in Britain in his time, possibly the most powerful. However in historical terms he is, perhaps, a bit of an underdog, particularly when compared with that other ninth century figure, Alfred the Great. Most people have heard of Alfred, not so many have heard of Kenneth. In my children’s British history book, Alfred has two pages, Kenneth has two lines.
If Kenneth is a historical underdog, his wife is even more so. She barely gets a mention in Kenneth’s history, other than to say that he married a Pict princess. She is not unusual in that. Countless women of that time have been simply written out of history. But every time I read something about Kenneth founding a dynasty, that would rule Scotland, I wanted to scream “he didn’t do it alone”!
Perhaps it was this more than anything that drew me to this story. I wanted to know who this woman was, whose descendants ruled both Scotland and England. Of course, we can never really know. We get glimpses into Kenneth’s character. He was ruthless, cunning and probably quite brutal, a fearless and perhaps charismatic leader, yet there was something of the diplomat about him as well. He hated the Vikings but was probably not averse to using them if they could bring him some advantages. But for the Pict woman he married, there are no such glimpses. She probably married young, while still a teenager. Possibly as young as thirteen or fourteen. We know how many children she had that survived into adulthood, but that is it. The rest is guesswork.
We don’t even know at what point she entered Kenneth’s story and it is highly probable that her involvement in some of the events in this book is exaggerated. But exaggerated and romanticised or not, here, at last, is her story – the account of the rise to power of Kenneth (Cinaed) Mac Alpin, from the point of view of the woman at his side. However, one thing I will stand by is her part in Kenneth’s fish trick. There’s definitely a woman’s touch there. Nothing will convince me he made that on his own!