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Kingdom of the Isles

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The Kingdom of the Isles was a semi-autonomous state under the suzerainty of Norway from the 9th to the 13th Century. It varied in size from time to time as land was won and lost and the title varied depending on the land held. It is unlikely to have been known as a Kingdom until the Norse Crown lost control of the "Kingdom" in the 12th Century. McDonald[1] states of Raghnall mac Gofraidh: "Some of his successors were grandly styled Rex Manniae et Insularum, 'King of Man and the Isles' ", implying the title had not been used prior to that time, i.e. the early 13th century and there is no apparent record of such in early Norse Sagas.

Rather it seems more likely that the "Kingdom" comprised two, or more, parts, each held by a Jarl. Two appear consistently; as the Suðreyjar, or "Southern Isles", which was run, varyingly , from Mann, Dublin or possibly Islay, and as distinct from Norðreyjar or "Northern Isles" of Orkney, Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and Skye, run out of the Orkneys. There are records in both the Orkney Saga and the Chronicles of Man and the Isles of Jarl's noted in the Hebrides, both inner ad outer, and Viking (Raider) Lords being autonomous and operating throughout the region from time to time. The Kingdom comprised of the Norse holdings of the Orkney, Shetland, Hebrides, Skye, parts of Argyll, islands of the Clyde, Isle of Mann, parts of Ireland, Wales and England from time to time. However, certainly by the 12th Century, Orkney and Shetland were held directly to the Crown in Norway.

The historical record is incomplete, and the kingdom was not a continuous entity throughout the entire period. The islands involved have a total land area of over 8,300 square kilometres (3,205 sq mi) and extend for more than 500 kilometres (310 mi) from north to south.

The history of the Kingdom is recorded in many of the "Sagas" and, particularly the Suðreyjar, at least in regards to the Crovan Dynasty is concerned, is recorded in Chronica Regum Manniæ et Insularum (Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles). The Norðreyjar, certainly that relating to Orkney and Shetland, is recorded in the Orkneyinga saga, a Norse saga written around 1230 by an unknown Icelandic author.

The Norse Kingdom of the Isles is generally regarded as having ended with the marriage between Ragnhilda Olafsdottir and Somerled with the consequent split of the kingdom between his sons and separation from Norway. The Kingdom finally ended as a result of the Treaty of Perth in 1266 with much of the territory becoming part of the Kingdom of Scotland and the remainder held as an Earldom to Norway. Orkney and other parts of Norðreyjar remained with Norway until the 15th Century.

Contents

Rulers of the Kingdom

9th and early 10th centuries

Kings of Mann and the Isles

Name Period Title Notes
Thórir d: 848
Gofraid mac Fergusa d: 853
Gofraidh of Lochlann
Ímar
Amlaíb Conung d: 874
Ketill Flatnose d: 880
Ragnall ua Ímair d: 920-21 ruled Mann
Sitric Cáech d: 927
Gofraid ua Ímair d: 949
Amlaíb mac Gofraid d: 941
Amlaíb Cuarán ruled 941-980


Late 10th and 11th centuries

Kings of Mann and the Isles

Name Period Title Notes
Maccus mac Arailt ruled 980 -
Gofraid mac Arailt ruled -989
Gilli ruled 990 -
Ragnall mac Gofraid d: 1005
Amlaíb Conung d: 874
Gudrød Kvithand?Crovan d: 1095

Late 11th to 13th centuries

Kings of Mann and the Isles

Name Period Title Notes
Magnus Olafsson 1098–1102 King of Norway Direct rule by Norway
Sigurd Magnusson (The Crusader) 1102–1103 King of Norway Direct rule by Norway
Lǫgmaðr Guðrøðarson 1103–1110 Doesn't appear with title Eldest son of Godred Crovan
Domnall mac Taidc Uí Briain 1111/1112 Regent during the minority of Óláfr Guðrøðarson Nephew of Muirchertach Ua Briain. Expelled by the Islesmen.
Óláfr Guðrøðarson 1112-1153 King of Mann and Isles Son of Godred Crovan
Guðrøðr Óláfsson 1154-1156 King of Mann and the Isles Son of Óláfr Guðrøðarson
Somerled's sons & Guðrøðr Óláfsson 1156-1158 Kingdom split
Somerled 1158–1164 Lord of Argyll Son-in-law to Óláfr Guðrøðarson

Óláfr Guðrøðarson was a popular king and the Kingdom was at relative peace during his reign. Brought up, like David I of Scotland, by Henry I of England, he was strongly influenced by the English court, introducing many popular reforms. Latin became the language of court during his reign. He was murdered by his nephews, in 1153, while his eldest son, Guðrøðr Óláfsson, was in Norway giving allegiance to the Norwegian court. The resulting retribution was fierce, even for the day, giving Guðrøðr Óláfsson the nickname "the Black". Guðrøðr Óláfsson, also known (in Gaelic) as Gofhraidh mac Amhlaíbh, faced a dynastic challenge, one which he lost, from his brother-in-law, Somairle mac Gilla Brigte, Lord of Argyll, whose son, as a grandson of Óláfr, possessed a claim to the throne. Late in 1156, Guðrøðr and Somaile fought an inconclusive sea-battle and partitioned the kingdom of the Isles between them and, in 1158, Somairle defeated Guðrøðr, forcing him to exile.

Guðrøðr appears in the kingdoms of England and Scotland before returning to Norway. In 1160/1, he distinguished himself in the Norwegian civil wars and was at the final downfall of Ingi at the Battle of Oslo. Guðrøðr made his return to the Isles in 1164, in the aftermath of Somairle's defeat and death at the hands of the Scots at the Battle of Renfrew. However, although he regained the kingship itself, the territories ceded to Somairle in 1156 were retained by the latter's descendants.

Kings of Mann and the North Isles (from 1163)

Kings of the South Isles (from 1163)

Sources

  1. McDonald, R. Andrew (2007) Manx Kingship in its Irish Sea setting, 1187—1229: King Rognavaldr and the Crovan dynasty. Dublin. Four Courts Press. ISBN 978-1-84682-047-2. Page 42.





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