After two successful reigns, Indulf came to the throne in 954 at a time when the Scottish kingdom was on the up. His reign marks a return to a period where we have short reigns and limited evidence but despite this, the few details we have about Indulf are surprisingly rewarding. Edinburgh, Vikings and a pride before a fall await. Click here to listen to his podcast episode or read on to find out more.
For a long time, there was no identifiable country called Scotland but rather a series of smaller kingdoms made up of different peoples in northern Britain. These all competed for dominance until the 840s, when Kenneth MacAlpin became king of the Scots and the Picts and began the process that would lead to the creation of Scotland.
However, this was by no means an easy process. The arrival of the Vikings in Scotland in the 860s and 870s caused serious instability, with Kenneth’s first son, Constantine I, suffering raids and occupation before being killed by the Vikings, while his second son, Aed, was overthrown after barely a year on the throne by infighting. Furthermore, much of what we would call ‘Scotland’ today remained separate. The islands were under the control of various Viking rulers while Glasgow and the south-west belonged to the British kingdom of Strathclyde and Edinburgh and the south-east to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom Northumbria.
Things took a turn for the better, though, with the accession of Constantine II in 900. He defeated the Vikings in 904 and kicked them out of Scotland, before later allying with them against the might of Athelstan, the English (Saxon) king who had imperial pretensions over the whole of Britainn. Constantine, along with his Viking and Strathclyde allies, fought for dominance in the Northumbrian capital of York before finally being defeated by Athelstan in 937. Constantine abdicated a few years later and his successor, Malcolm I, was to benefit from the untimely death of Athelstan, making an alliance with his successor, Edmund I, in which he was given overlordship of Strathclyde in return for helping the Saxons resist the Vikings. True to his word, Malcolm helped campaign against Eric Bloodaxe in York and finally Northumbrian independence came to an end under Saxon rule.
The Scottish monarchy in this period had a system of alternating the succession, so rather than the crown passing from father to son, it went between brothers before moving down to the next generation. As such, Indulf was not the son of Malcolm I but rather Constantine II. By Indulf’s reign, this relationship between the two lines was becoming more and more distant, now moving between cousins rather than brothers. We don’t know exactly when he was born, but it was probably at some point in the 920s, making Indulf somewhere in his 30s on his accession.
Other than reflecting that you have absolutely never heard of him before, perhaps the first that will strike most observers is that Indulf is not the most Scottish-sounding of names. Many historians have assumed that his name is of Scandinavian origin, which would make sense given the alliance his father made with the Vikings. Constantine II married his sister to a leading Viking and may himself have married a woman of Norse origin. However, an alternative explanation is that his name may be of Germanic origin – Hidulf. The –ulf ending implies Anglian descent and some have speculated that Constantine II might have married a noblewoman from Bernicia (the northern part of Northumbria), with whom he initially allied against the Vikings. Or, finally, the historian Alex Woolf has attributed the naming rights to Athelstan. In 927, Constantine and Athelstan met at Eamont Bridge near Penrith in an official ceremony on 12 July, at which Athelstan was said to have stood as godfather to Constantine’s son. However, if they had arrived a day earlier it would have been the feast day of St Hidulf, a Bavarian saint who contemporaries believed to be Scottish.
Unfortunately, there is not much evidence for Indulf’s reign. He is not mentioned by name in any of the English sources and little information is provided in the Scottish and Irish chronicles. As such, the best description of his reign is to be found in the Chronicles of the Kings of Alba, a short written account of all the Scottish monarchs from Kenneth MacAlpin to Kenneth II:
“In his time Edinburgh was evacuated, and abandoned to the Scots right up to the present day. A Viking fleet was destroyed off Buchan. He was killed by the Norwegians in Invercullen, and was buried in the island of Iona.” (CKA)
Not many words to go on but the words we do have are pretty impressive! The destruction of a Viking fleet is pretty impressive and he is, unfortunately, yet another Scottish monarch to meet a violent end (and indeed at the hands of the Vikings). However, perhaps the most fascinating part of this summary is the experience of Edinburgh. Although today Edinburgh is the capital of the Scotland, previously it was the northernmost part of Northumbria. This once mighty kingdom had been in significant decline for the last two centuries and the Lothian territory had become disputed territory as Scottish influence spread. It is likely that the Scots had been pushing south since the reign of Constantine II but it is with Indulf that for the first time we have Edinburgh and Lothian an acknowledged part of their territory.
Despite a lack of evidence, there is a strong suggestion that Indulf knew what to do with a sword. His nickname, An Ionsaighthigh, means “The Aggressor” and this is borne out by the events of his reign. The acquisition of Edinburgh is a major coup for Indulf’s CV, as is condemning the Vikings to a defeat. In contrast to previous reigns, Indulf probably came up against traditional raiding parties rather than invading kings, but nevertheless he appears to have defeated one attack in Buchan (the south-west of his territory in Dumfries and Galloway) before then inflicting another defeat in the Battle of the Bauds (near Invercullen on the north tip of the east coast). Walter Bower, the medieval chronicler, provides a colourful description of Indulf’s victory in his delightfully named Scotichronicon:
“At last one day when, as it happened, the raiders were spread out in detachments laying waste the countryside, the king set up an ambush in a hiding-place not far from the shore, for he happened to be there with a few men at that time. While the raiders had dispersed and scattered themselves in companies over the fields and villages, he rushed at speed against them with loud shouts and, after most of them had been killed, he forced the rest to seek a remedy in flight.” (Walter Bower, Scotichronicon)
It is not clear whether Indulf had to exert himself militarily to take control of Edinburgh, or if it was a gradual process that was acknowledged by treaty during his reign. Perhaps if his mother was of Bernician origin, he may have been accepted as ruler by the local population due to his regional ties. More seriously, although victorious against the Vikings, he does also come to a sticky end, which by Walter Bower’s description is perhaps a tad comical:
“Finally, high-spirited as he was, having unfortunately thrown away his weapons so that he might pursue the runaways more swiftly, he was struck in the head by a dart out of one of the ships, and died that night.” (Walter Bower, Scotichronicon)
So apparently, having defeated the Vikings, Indulf got over-excited, threw his weapons away and went charging after the fleeing Vikings, at which point the Viking equivalent of Phil ‘the Power’ Taylor took him out with a dart! This does seem like the kind of thing that you could imagine a drunk Viking getting up to, “Shhh”ing his shipmates as they drew up alongside the weaponless Indulf before conducting a darts match using Indulf’s head as the target.
While Indulf lacks a major battle to catapult him into the greats of Scottish history, his military record is pretty good. The acquisition of Edinburgh and a defeat against the Vikings deserves good points, albeit the latter ended in his death.
Score = 11/20
Unfortunately, we have almost nothing to go on here. There is the vague suggestion that perhaps the death of his predecessor, Malcolm I, may have been influenced by Indulf’s supporters, but this is really pretty spurious. In reality, there is no evidence of any scandal.
Score = 0/20
In Indulf’s favour, we have the acquisition of Edinburgh. Admittedly, we are still a long way from comedy festivals and Hogmanay, but as a legacy this is undeniably a tick in Indulf’s favour. Also, the Prophecy of Berchan (a long poem rather cunningly written after the events it seeks to predict), gives him a favourable write up: “A good king will again take Scotland…Joy to Scots through him; both the people and the church.”
Other than these little titbits, we don’t have any real evidence of good works by Indulf. There is evidence that he exiled one Bishop Fothad, potentially a supporter of Malcolm I and so hinting at the divisions that would soon threaten to tear Scotland apart. Although he defeats the Viking raiders, Walter Bower describes the impact of their raids before they could be stopped and their return (not seen since 904 in Scotland) would hardly have been welcome:
“He was troubled by Danish and Norse attacks on both the east and west coasts of the country. Sailing in a fleet of fifty ships, with piratical savagery they repeatedly devastated, now the southern regions of the kingdom, now the northern. While the king was striving to confront them in the north, the outcry of the people proclaimed that they were laying waste the south.” (Walter Bower, Scotichronicon)
Despite acquiring Edinburgh, we have no real evidence of Indulf doing much to improve the lives of his subjects and his reign does see the return of Viking raiders for the first time in half a century, albeit on a small scale that he ultimately defeats.
Score = 4/20
Indulf was king from 954to 962, a reign of 6years which, when converted into a score out of 20 (where 20 is the longest reign of all the monarchs), gives him a total of 2.77.
Indulf has three legitimate surviving children that we know of, which when converted into a score of 20 gives him a total of 6.67.
Total Score = 24.44
There is very little evidence to go on with Indulf, but what little there is does at least allow us to make a case for him having the Rex Factor. He acquires Edinburgh and the Lothian territory, which marks a significant increase to Scotland’s territory as well as a major legacy for the future. Furthermore, he defeats the Vikings in battle. Unfortunately, the lack of a major battle to capture Edinburgh makes this achievement less impressive, particularly as it still appears to be a debated territory for the next few reigns. The Vikings he defeated were not of the significance of previous armies and he himself did not survive the battle, condemning him to a small and largely forgotten reign.
Our Verdict: No, despite a couple of very impressive lines on his CV, Indulf does not give us enough to go on for him to join the illustrious monarchs on the Rex Factor mountain.
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