Friday, 13 April 2018

Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Anna Chant

Aye, ken it wis like this...

My Friday series continues, where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm again delighted to welcome a new guest, Anna Chant. I love learning about what makes someone choose a particular time period, and hope you like that, too.
Anna Chant

I also love being part of a community of authors who enjoy the mystery of research and the pathways that some piece of information may lead to. I'm totally steeped in my own chosen period of Scottish history, but I'm also fascinated by other eras that are in a wee box in my head that's labelled "some day soon".

The period Anna writes about is also one of those that's not easy at all to find out about- yet there is evidence out there on the ground...but I'll let Anna tell you about that!

You're very welcome to my blog, Anna. Please tell us what the catalyst was for your historical choices.

How the series began

Women of the Dark Ages is the series I never intended to write. Although I have always loved medieval history, I preferred the later period, so when I first decided to write a historical novel, my subject was a fifteenth century Scottish queen.

A historical novel has to start with a lot of research. I love the research stage. To me, this is like a treasure hunt as I never know what I will find. And if you start clicking internet links on Scottish royalty, sooner or later you find one man – Cinaed (Kenneth) Mac Alpin.

Being a great procrastinator, it was far more interesting to read about this warrior king, than to continue my actual research and what I found out was fascinating. The more I read, the more obvious it became that my fifteenth century novel was not to be. My new idea was a series on Scottish queens, beginning at the beginning with the wife of Cinaed Mac Alpin – Kenneth’s Queen.

Dunadd Hillfort
Courtesy of Anna Chant
My next task was to find out more about her. But here I met a major stumbling block. Virtually nothing is known about her. Not even her name. She might never have existed at all except Cinaed had four children he could not have produced alone! I nearly abandoned the idea but something about the unknown woman intrigued me. How could a woman who helped to found one of the most important dynasties of the era be simply erased from history?
Looking back, this was the moment Women of the Dark Ages was born, from my wish to tell the stories of the often forgotten and uncelebrated women of the era. There are currently five books in the series, each one a stand-alone novel. They span the sixth to the tenth centuries, Scotland to Rome, celebrating the part these women played in the tumultuous events of the era.

The background to Kenneth’s Queen

In the ninth century, Scotland was not known as Scotland. Instead there were smaller kingdoms such as the Pict realm, taking up the bulk of the land, the Kingdom of Dal Riata in the west, ruled by the Gaels, while to the south was the Kingdom of Strathclyde. With little in the way of written records we get glimpses into their lives in the form of archaeological finds and intricately carved Pict stones. There are also remains of their dwellings such as Dunadd Hillfort, one of the settings of ‘Kenneth’s Queen’.
Dunadd Footprint
Courtesy of Anna Chant

There you can still see enigmatic carvings, including a footprint in the rock, hinting at an ancient coronation ritual where the king became one with his land.

Between these kingdoms there would have been fights, probably mostly in the form of skirmishes and cattle raids but at times there would be alliances. The legend of the Battle of Athelstanford tells of how the Picts and the Gaels were fighting against the Angles, when the cross of Saint Andrew appeared in the sky to unite them, bringing them victory against all odds. Leading the Gaels was King Eochaidh the Venomous and fighting alongside him, it is said, was his grandson, Cinaed Mac Alpin. But these were not the only people fighting over the land, for ninth century Scotland, like elsewhere in Europe, was under Viking attack.
Iona Abbey Courtesy of Anna Chant

The Isle of Iona today is a scene of idyllic tranquillity but in those days of Viking raids it was a very different story. The Abbey of Iona was raided several times by Vikings as were other locations along the west coast and the northern islands. But again, there were also alliances. There are hints Cinaed was in such an alliance. His son, Causantin (Constantine I) definitely was. Cinaed’s brother, Domnall, (Donald I) is described as ‘the son of a foreign wife’ suggesting he may have had a Viking mother and was therefore Cinaed’s half-brother. In ‘Kenneth’s Queen’ this provided an additional level of drama to the family with tensions and rivalries which go beyond the normal sibling dynamics.

Terrifying as the Viking raids were, it was only to get worse, culminating in a devastating Norse attack in 839. This battle wiped out huge swathes of the Pict and Gael nobility, including both kings, but it was from this catastrophe that Cinaed Mac Alpin climbed to power.

Cinaed the Hardy, the Conqueror, the Uniter is a historical figure, although not completely so. He appears to have been a respected and successful leader with his death in 858 recorded with grief in the Annals of Ulster

Because Cinaed with many troops lives no longer
there is weeping in every house;
there is no king of his worth under heaven
as far as the borders of Rome

Yet his place as Scotland’s founding father owes at least as much to legend as it does to history.
Graveyard at Iona Courtesy of Anna Chant
possibly the resting place of Kenneth MacAlpin
Among the legends of valour there are also dark tales of trickery and bloodstained treachery.  This was, after all, the birth of Scotland, bloody and brutal as births often are. But although her descendants sit on the British throne to this day, on the life of his Pict wife, both history and legend are silent.

Kenneth’s Queen is her story.


Anna- Thank you for sharing this great post with us today. You've reminded me so much of my visits to both Dunadd, and to Iona, made not so long ago (2016)
Like you my climb up to Dunadd Hillfort was a memorable one. Whether, or not, the footprint in the stone was made for kingly coronation rituals seems immaterial when your own foot is right beside it. While walking that pathway into the fort, as in your photo above, it was easy to imagine a thriving community inside the walls. It's a place with an amazing outlook across the landscape, though I believe in the Dark Ages it was pretty swampy, and not as accessible as it is now.

And it's also easy to see why Iona is such a well visited place. I'm not a at all religious, but I was filled with a sense of long history and reverence that potentially many of those ancient kings and monarchs are buried in that graveyard.

Thank you so much for coming today, Anna, and very best wishes with your series. It's one that I'll be making a start on soon, since I've now got Kenneth's Queen loaded and onto my kindle queue! 

My own post about a very nice but windy Dunadd visit is here: 

and for Iona (And more of Dunadd if you scroll down) try here

p.s. Here's another photo Anna's sent along for us to enjoy! 

Dunadd Hillfort



  1. This is fab! I love Scottish history. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! And a big thank you to Nancy for hosting me! Anna


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