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Lord of Galloway

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Lords of Galloway

Before Scotland

The map, sourced from Agnew's work, illustrates the relative position of the various tribes influencing Galloway in about the middle of the 8th Century. It was at this time that the Saxon held lands of Northumbria were starting to feel the impact of the "Viking" incursions. Before 800 the Saxons had all but disappeared from Galloway. The invaders, called the Galls,[1] burned and pillaged along all coasts of Scotland and Ireland. They "overran other districts" as fierce wolves, killing not only sheep and oxen, but choirs of monks and nuns," in Galloway, and there alone, they entered into the closest fellowship with its people, sought their daughters in marriage, and enrolled their sons in their martial ranks." The Norse recruited the Galwegians, enthusiastically it seems, as raiders of the Irish shores. Irish annalists termed them "the foster children of the Norseman," and within a generation of the unholy alliance, Macferbis the Sennachy describes the Galloway Picts as "a people who had renounced their baptism, and had the customs of the Norsemen" ; and bad as those Norsemen had been, the "Gallgaidhel"[2] were worse.

When Kenneth MacAlpin came to power and was crowned king of the united Picts and Scots at Scone in 844 it was, without doubt, supported by the Galwegians. Kenneth cemented his alliance with the district by giving his daughter to a Gallgaidhel or Norse chief of the district, Olaf or Amlaiph. There is no question that the Galwegians assisted "Olaf" in the invasion and capture of Dublin and elevated the daughter of Kenneth to Queen on the throne of Dublin. In 852 they invaded Ulster and although initially successful were eventually defeated with "many prisoners remaining in the hands of the victor, with whose heads he formed a ghastly ornament for the palisades of his (the Ulster King) stronghold".

By 924 the Galwegians were powerful enough to hold off a Saxon invasion, under Edmund the Elder, from Northumbria and challenge the King of Scotland (Constantine).

By 1000, although still independent, Galloway acknowledged the King in Norway as the overlord. The local Viking "Jarl" was Thorfinn and he resided in Galloway and had married a local lady, although likely already of mixed bloodlines, Ingibiorg. By 1070 the Vikings empire had started to collapse. In Galloway there is notice of the death of Sweyne in 1034 and of Diarmait in 1072 (both recorded as Kings). The lineage to Fergus is not clear although he was likely born about 1080.[3]

The Lords of Galloway

On the assumption to the throne, in 1124, by David, Scotland was once again united after years of Civil War. David acknowledging the support of Galloway alludes to their unique status in his speach "All good men of my whole kingdom — Scottish, English, Anglo-Norman, and Gallovidians". With David came the Normans and Flemish that had supported him and these occupied his lands in Northumbria. Also with David came Feudalism.

The ruler in Galloway was Fergus. A man of considerable status he was already married to the daughter, Elizabeth, of David's mentor and supporter, King Henry I, of England. Fergus was also brother in law to King Alexander, David's brother, through his marriage to Henry's sister, Sybilla.

Agnew records that "Fergus was a ruler of great force of character, and decidedly in advance of his age; he carried out great changes, social and political, all in the direction of sound progress, with a firm hand and a princely liberality which well entitle him to be remembered as enlightened and patriotic. Feudalism, which he may be said to have introduced, was much more calculated to ensure strong and settled government than the customs of Tanistry".

His line was the last to appear on record as Kings of Galloway. It will die out in the male line in Alan, Lord of Galloway who dies in 1234 without male heir. The Lordship of Galloway, by feudal law, passing jointly to his three daughters, and the Constableship of Scotland, acquired through marriage, to the husband of the eldest, Heleun (Ellen). John de Balliol, through his marriage to the second sister, Dervorguilla, acquiring the estates of Galloway.


  1. Gaelic for foreigner
  2. Skene, Celtic Scotland, also notes that during the latter years of Kenneth's reign, a people appear in close association with the Norwegian pirates, are termed 'Gallgaidhel'. The name was certainly first applied to the people of Galloway. It seems to have been applied to them by the Irish Annals, under the rule of 'Gall' or foreigner.
  3. Fergus is known to have died very old, at Holyrood in 1161, yet source material does not place his birth before 1080 (wikitree records it as 1078). His daughter Affrica married Olave the Swarthy, King of Man, the date unrecorded; but his reign of forty years commenced 1102, and their son, well advanced in life (Godred), succeeded his father in 1142. Hence Fergus's marriage may be placed between 1107 and 1112.

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