When Aed came to the Scottish throne in 877, the country was in turmoil. His brother and predecessor, Constantine I, had been killed by the Vikings after a decade of trying to avoid being killed by the Vikings. The country had suffered the Vikings at their plundering, raiding, slaving, massacring pomp and it would take a strong ruler to set things right – could Aed be that man? Well…no, but read on anyway for the most unmemorable memorable reign in history or click here to listen to his podcast episode!
Kenneth MacAlpin had created a new ruling dynasty, controlling the two kingdoms of the Picts and the Scots (from Dal Riata) while his brother, Donald I, had extended the Scottish law code over both territories.
This success, however, was challenged in the 860s by the arrival of marauding Vikings during the reign of Constantine I. Facing the might of saga heroes such as Olaf the White and Ivar the Boneless, Constantine made a deal with the Vikings which seems to have consisted of persuading them to attack the nearby Britons of Strathclyde instead, resulting in the destruction of their capital (Dumbarton Rock) and the assassination of their king (Artgal).
For Constantine, the “keep your head low” tactic looked like paying dividends when he killed Olaf and lived to see the death of Ivar the Boneless and Ivar’s brother, Halfdan. However, in 877 the tactic was severely and fatally compromised when Constantine was defeated and killed in battle.
Aed’s Life and Reign
Details about Aed’s early life are rather lacking but we do know that he was the son of Kenneth MacAlpin (and so would have been known as Áed mac Cináeda). Kenneth died in 858 and Aed did manage to produce a son, so it’s likely that he was born no later than the mid-850s. He was given the epithet Aed of the White Flowers or alternatively Aed the Wing-Footed (or White-Footed depending on how the source is read!) This perhaps implies that Aed was speedy on his feet, but will this be of help in his reign?
In the chaos of Constantine’s death, Aed succeeded his brother in 877. Constantine had a son but the rules of succession were loose in this period and usually an adult brother was preferred to a junior son.
In describing Aed’s reign, it is impossible to improve on the account of the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba. This chronicle provides short accounts of the reigns of the monarchs from Kenneth MacAlpin to Kenneth II and was written in Scotland, probably completed in the 11th or 12th century – a few centuries after the reigns but a crucial source nevertheless. And here is what it has to say about Aed:
Áed held the throne for one year. The shortness of his rule has bequeathed nothing memorable to history; but he was killed in the town of Nrurim.
…and that’s it! Poor Aed was dead in 878, having apparently accomplished nothing of any note whatsoever.
The Death of Aed – Who, How, Why?
Other sources provide more insight into the circumstances of his death. The Annals of Ulster claim that Aed was killed “by his own companions”, suggesting that this was a betrayal among his own household rather than being set upon by Vikings. Andrew of Wyntoun goes further and identifies his assailant as being Giric, who ambushed and killed Aed in Strathallan (and potentially goes on to steal the throne). Unfortunately, when it really mattered Aed was not so wing-footed after all!
So Aed was ambushed and killed by his own men (probably Giric – either in person or by his orders) but why? Unfortunately, we cannot really answer this question other than to speculate. Aed’s reign represents the start of a lost decade in Scottish history in which very little at all is recorded. Possibly, Aed’s death should be seen in the context of the difficulties suffered by Constantine I – maybe there was a power vacuum in which Aed failed to reassert control and was bumped off by an ambitious man on the make. Alternatively, his assassination could suggest disillusionment after a decade of suffering under the Vikings – men like Giric probably came to court from the west coast to escape Viking privations and may have lost faith and patience in Aed after a year of ineffective rule. Either way, Aed’s reign was over.
Reviewing the Reign
Let’s be honest, Aed is not going to score well! In fact, there’s almost nothing we can say about him for most of the factors:
- Battleyness – At most, we know of one skirmish in which Aed participated…unfortunately, Aed may only have become aware of this when he found a sword sticking into his back! Therefore, he scores 0/20
- Scandal – Killing a king is certainly scandalous…but Aed was the king being killed, so can hardly be blamed! Therefore, he scores 0/20
- Subjectivity – We have no evidence of any positive action and his assassination probably represents his total failure to rule well. Therefore, he scores 0/20
Well he does rule! We don’t know the months, but if we’re generous then we can call 877-78 one year (and that is consistent with the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba)
Score = 0.35/20
Surprisingly, despite achieving absolutely nothing of any note whatsoever, Aed does at the very least sire a son (the future Constantine II)! Some histories have credited him with having a second son, namely Dyfnwal II of Strathclyde (aka Domnall mac Áeda). However, this is now contested and it is probably more likely that this is a different Aed (perhaps a king of Ailech) rather than our Aed’s son. It is impossible to be sure, but we’re only giving Aed credit for the one son.
Score = 2.22/20
Total Score = 2.57
Ah, poor Aed! He almost has a chance of getting the Rex Factor thanks to the glorious statement “bequeathed nothing memorable to history” and coming pretty close to a score of 0…but ultimately he gives us nothing to go on and by having a son and lasting a year makes his (incredibly poor) score too high to be so bad it’s brilliant. It’s a no for Aed, he does not have the Rex Factor.
However, we can’t help but be amused by the quirk of such a short reign and the fact that his is so memorably unmemorable, so in honour of Aed we have adopted the hashtag #RememberAed – he may have done absolutely nothing worth remembering, but by the same token he is now worth remembering!
What do you think – does Aed deserve the Rex Factor? Vote in our poll below and tell us what you think!