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Origins of Prince Fergus
By Dr. Fergus Day Hort Macdowall of Garthland
From the establishment of the nation of Scotland by King Kenneth I (MacAlpin) with the help of Galloway in 843 until 1096 when our first recognized ancestor Fergus of Galloway was born, clear conclusions are "practically impossible" about the history of Galloway and its engulfing Strathclyde and Western Isles. the time was characterized by Gaelic (Irish) settlement but Viking rule in greater pre-Galloway, the bounds of which sometimes extended over the Western half of the Lowlands of modern Scotland. As Pictavia (Cruithintuath) then Albania and later Scotia, early Scotland initially contained neither the Lowlands nor the Northern Islands (the Orkneys and Shetlands, with Caithness and Sutherland) nor the Western Isles ("Sudreys" in Norse or "Innse Gall" in Gaelic). These islands and proximal mainland were dominated by the Norse (Norwegian "Finn gall" or white strangers) cadre of Vikings. The ruling Viking Northmen in Galloway, however, were alternately Norse, Danes, and Norse. Under them Galloway "was a power with which the kingdom founded by Kenneth, and the kingdom of the Northern English, always had to reckon".
An influx of Irish under Rueda (Riata) had returned with Scots of Galloway in support of Kenneth’s northward war of succession. These Cruithne (pronounced Creenie), which means Pict but here refers to old Ulster Irish of the same stock (perhaps driven across by the Romans), continued to populate Galloway. They were "fierce, ignorant and barbarically wild with a jurisprudence of ancient custom exercised locally by the hereditary Brehon (judge) on what later became baronial Mote-hills. The Irish and Scots law of tanistry called for the best qualified successor in the Chiefly family, and Brehon law required male ownership of and succession to land. The politics as in Ireland were tribal. Each tribe or "tuath" in Ireland or "cenel" (Cinel) among Scots was governed by an ordained, semi-sacred "king" chosen from the patriarchal family of the cenel, and this was not disrupted by invasion or conquest by outsiders. One of the several kings in a region was the "ruiri" or overking; and within a province such as Galloway these were subject to a sovereign called an "ollam ri" which made Galwegians compatible with overlordship by the Norse, Danes, and others. The arrangement still allowed the Scottish monarchy to occasionally assume a fourth tier of government corresponding to a "high king" in Ireland.
Initially, the alliance of the Norse with Kenneth I was evident among the honors given to Galloway for its assistance in the recovery of Scottish Dalriada and the crown of Pictavia from the Picts. Kenneth macAlpin gave his daughter, "a Galloway lass both by birth and kindred", to Olaf (Olave) a Norse chief of Galloway, who not long after was seated on the throne of Dublin by the assistance of the Galwegians. Olaf later captured Dumbarton in his unsuccessful claim to the Scottish throne when Kenneth died in 860.
The Danes invaded Galloway and Strathclyde to its North and East from Dublin in 870 and from Northumberland in 875. As a result of pressures by Danes, Saxons and Scots, a mass exodus to Wales was made by many of the Britons of the kingdom of Strathclyde which had included Galloway from the 6th century but was still separate from Cumberland South of the Solway. Further colonization of Galloway by Cruithne and Scots from the West probably succeeded these Cymric (Welsh) Celts. Another major event occurred in 937 when Aethelstan king of Saxons defeated a combined army of Danes, Scots under Constantin, Britons and Galwegians at Brunanburh in Dumfriesshire to reclaim Northumberland and Cumberland. In 975, however, Kenneth III of Alban (971-995) conquered and terminated the kingdom of Strathclyde under King Dunwallon (d. 974) and became nominal sovereign (high king) of Galloway as well. The possibility that Galloway had a separate king "Jacobus" in 973 was refuted by M’Kerlie, but the Danes were still there.
Occupation of all or part of Galloway and also the Western Isles by the Danes of Dublin ended in 989 with the death of Godred king of Man. He was Gofraigh macArailt, the Danish king of Innse Gall in Dalriata according to the Ulster Annals or in the "Dali" of the Nials Saga. The Norse Earl Sigurd II then asserted dominion over the Western Isles together with the entire Western half of Scotland. Danes who had been displaced from Northumbria westward as far as Galloway by the temporarily revived Angles and Saxons attempted to recoup under their king, Earl (or "Duke" in British accounts) Ronald the Dane of Galloway. He and his brother Sihtic retook Northumbria, but they unsuccessfully opposed Constantine III (995-997) who again nominally incorporated Galloway into Albany.
Malcolm II (1005-1034) consolidated the kingdom of Scotia which was a third of modern Scotland, the Southeastern Highlands from the Forth to the Tay. He avoided conflict with the powerful Sigurd who held increasing sway over Galloway. In the Eastern Lowlands Malcolm acquired Lothian (Loadonea) by defeating the Northumbrians at the battle of Carharn in 1018. Malcolm did this with the assistance of Owen Galvus the last sub-king of Cumbria, who was also known as Eugenious or Eogan the Bald and died in the battle or shortly after it. "There is a considerable probability that Owen Galvus son of Domnall of Malcolm’s royal house was descended from Strathclyde’s king Dunwallon (the British form of the Irish Dovenal, Donal or Dowall) and the epithet Galvus may be considered as establishing a kind of connection with Galloway". From the Scotian view Cumbria included the ancient Strathclyde which had apparently lapsed to Sigurd’s control as an extended Galloway.
Sigurd (II, "The Stout", Earl of Orkney) was allied to Scotland by marriage in 1008 to Bethoc, a daughter of Malcolm II and his Irish wife, by whom Sigurd’s son Thorfinn "The Skullsplitter" was born in 1008. Sigurd was overlord of Galloway which was governed for him by Jarl Melkoff (Earl Malcolm, a Gaelic overking) probably from Cruggleton Castle near Whithorn in Wigtownshire. Sigurd was killed in 1014 when the Norse and Danes lost their final battle against the Gaels for the domination of Ireland, at Clontarf near Dublin. Thorfinn continued development under the protection of his Gaelic uncle Earl Gilli, a native king of Innse Gall who married Sigurd’s sister Svanlang and served as Sigurd’s lieutenant for the Isles. Thorfinn became the most powerful of Norsemen. He received the earldom of Caithness and Sutherland from his grandfather King Malcolm, succeeded to the Orkneys from his brothers and forcibly acquired Galloway when Malcolm died in 1034. He used it as his headquarters for summer offences (offensives). Apparently Suibne MacKenneth for a time ruled the Isles, probably after Earl Gilli, and also Galloway until killed when Thorfinn conquered Galloway and made his cousin Earl MacGill (son of Gilli)) his lieutenant there. Thorfinn defeated Malcolm’s other grandson and successor King Duncan and divided Scotland with MacBeth, Ri or Mormaer of Moray, after the latter slew Duncan to become King of Scotia (1040-1057). As a result Thorfinn possessed 9 earldoms in Scotland, the whole of the Sudreys and a large riki in Ireland. His wife was Ingibiorg, born 1015, a daughter of Finn Arnason king of Norway.
Following the efforts of Danish Earl Siward of Northumbria against MacBeth in 1054, which reclaimed Cumbria and Lothian for Duncan’s son Malcolm, and also after the release by Thorfinn’s death of his provinces to native rule, Malcolm III "Canmore" regained the crown of Scotland from MacBeth in 1057. He married Thorfinn’s widow to conciliate the Norwegian element in the country and to attract Sigurd’s territorially born hereditary chiefs. Two years after the conquest of England in 1066 by William Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror), Malcolm (III "Canmore") married Princess Margaret sister of Edgar (the) Aetheling the refugee Saxon crown prince of England. Paradoxically, Queen Margaret introduced Norman culture with the Church of Rome into Scotland. This led to the widespread development of Norman baronage in support of the reigns of her three sons Edgar, Alexander I and David I. Norse sovereignty in Galloway, however, was still exercised and based at Dublin until Norse Godred Crovan King of Man subjected both Dublin and Galloway to his rule. He also fended off King Malcolm of Scotland. Diarmid king of Danes and Innse Gall then took over Galloway as king of "Britons" until slain by the Irish in 1072. After this an Irish Donald ruled Galloway until the year Malcolm III died (1093) when King Magnus Bareleg of Norway took possession. Magnus was killed in Ireland in 1103 when King Edgar of Scotland was 31 years old. Prince David as English Earl of Cumbria was 19 and our forebear Fergus was 7 based on his age of 42 in 1138.
On his death bed four years later Edgar left Scotland-proper to his brother Alexander I (1107-1124) and bequeathed the sovereignty of districts South of the Firths, including Lothian, Cumbria and Galloway, to David as Earl. Since the death of Owen Galvus, the Crown Prince of Scotland (now David) was sub-regulus of Cumbria which surrounded the landward side of Galloway, but greater Galloway spread into it. Cumbria South of the Solway had been annexed as Cumberland in 1092 by King William Rufus of England, and David needed the same Norman arms to control the wild Norse-Irish-Scottish-British country form the Solway to the Clyde. He maintained his court at Carlisle and surrounded himself with a retinue of Norman baronial comrades with whom he had been schooled in the courts of William Rufus and Henry I (Beauclerc). He progressively feudalized Cumbria and Galloway, and in the latter he made use of its native laws and similarly normanized native leader, Fergus.
The most likely advent of Fergus is that he was judiciously selected by David, perhaps initiated by Edgar and confirmed by Henry I, for training in the Norman courts at London and Carlisle as the potential solution for the peaceful control of Galloway. The English court had proved a valuable school for David and his brothers, and even for Malcolm III, and it was considered a training ground for future kings and governors. "Undergoing the same process was another young man, destined to be the first of a famous line of Lords of Galloway - Fergus". His similar role and status was made evident by his marriage, like that of Alexander I or Scotland, to a natural daughter of Henry I of England. According to his ardent following and the law of Galloway which he maintained, Fergus would have had to have been the tanistry-elected candidate of the old native governing families of Galloway territorially born to rule over the predominantly Irish-Scots population. Strathclyde connections would bridge the time of Norse alienation of Galloway from the crown, and blood ties to the Norse or to past Danish overlords were desirable for their peoples’ acquiescence.
This is partly confirmed by Dominica Legge’s interpretation of the Arthurian romance "Roman de Fergus", written by Guillaume le Clerc in Old French ca. 1200, probably in honor of the wedding of Fergus’ great-grandson Alan Lord of Galloway. Fergus’ father is said to have been a Viking (Soumilloit in French, or Somerled in Norse). Legge suggested that he was Sumarlidi Hauldr who was killed by Sweyn in 1156. Unless that date is wrong this identification is not likely, considering that Fergus would have been 60 years old at that time. This Sumarlidi would be little chronological improvement over Somerled king of the Isles and Argyll who was killed at Renfrew in 1164. The latter married a natural daughter of Olaf king of Man who was in turn Fergus’ son-in-law. Crawford supposed that Earl Malcolm of Galloway under Sigurd II was an ancestor of Fergus. McGill ventured that Fergus inherited the lordship of Galloway by descent from the first son of Thorfinn’s Earl MacGill of Galloway, and that Fergus’ contemporary Somerled of Innse Gall and Argyll was also descended from MacGill’s father Earl Gilli. The latter was not among Somerleds’ known paternal ancestors but could have been an ordained member of the same Cinel. Some descendants of Gilli lived in Cumbria just before David’s earlship. (Nigel) Tranter thoughtfully constructed the name "Fergus macSuibhne macMalcolm macGilliciaran of Carrich" and suggested that Fergus was elevated by David following their alliance to expel Hakon Claw of the Orkneys from Galloway. (P.H.) M’Kerlie was of divided opinion, for he said of Fergus, "There is every presumption that he was of Celtic origin, and held the lands of Galloway on the Celtic principle", yet he also said that Fergus was a "stranger" or "foreigner" and "of Norse origin", especially advanced and imposed on Galloway by David as Prince of Cumbria. M’Kerlie further stated, "it is just possible that Fergus, Lord of Galloway, of whose ancestry nothing otherwise is known, may have been a descendant of Earl Gilli, for the Norse element must have been strong in Galloway".
M’Kerlie again contradicted himself by saying that because Fergus brought monks from England and abroad rather than from the Irish church to occupy his new religious houses, "He was clearly of the Norman Race". (James) Affleck subscribed to this view by writing, "It is quite evident from the career and actions of Fergus that he was not a Gallovidian by birth, but one of the many Norman favourites by whom David was surrounded." The replacement of the Celtic Church by that of Rome was, however, part of the policy of Norman feudalization of King David who also behaved as a Norman without being one. David as Earl of Galloway imposed these conditions on Galloway as he did on the rest of Scotland after he became king. Even Somerled founded Saddel-Abbey for Cistercian monks. Fergus’ name was of course Gaelic and he gave his sons Saxon names. (Wentworth) Huyshe referred to Fergus as "probably of Norse-Galwegian descent", (Sir Hubert) Maxwell mentioned "Fergus, of the line of Galloway princes or native rulers", and (John F.) Robertson recently stated, "Fergus had no Norman blood in him. He was of Galloway stock, his ancestors having been some of the Norse-Galwegian overlords of the province."
It is clear that King David I of Scotland and King Henry I of England recognized the native descent of Fergus Lord of Galloway whom the monks of Holyrood Abbey called Prince Fergus. This is proclaimed by his Arms which were presumably claimed by him and granted by King David, a blue field charged with a white (silver) lion rampant later crowned by King Henry. This proves Fergus’ paternal descent from the Cinel Comgall in Cowal and its islands, one of the four principal families of British Dal Riata and the one to which King Kenneth macAlpin belonged. No Norse parentage was represented in Fergus’ Arms; unlike the combination of the same lion and field with the Hebridean royal galley (lymphad) in the Arms of his contemporary Somerled king of the Sudreys under Norway and sub-king of Argyll under Scotland. The Oriel-Innse Gall heritage of Somerled is known to have had an old Dalriadic connection, and his famous progenitor Godrey son of Fergus, Lords of Oriel and the Isles, brought over from Ireland the Airgialla in support of his son-in- law Kenneth macAlpin.
In "Roman de Fergus" Fergus’ mother is only described as "a very noble wife" whom Legge suggested "may have been of the old royal line of Argyll", to give him a Scots connection with his supposed Viking father. The remaining requirements for unity and peace in Galloway would be met, however, if Fergus’ mother were an heiress of the native leaders of greater Galloway including old Strathclyde then within Cumbria under David. In this region the last of this line of provincial kings was Owen Galvus ‘MacDowal’ descended from the same royal house as Malcolm Canmore who was in turn the last king of Scotia in direct descent in the male line from the founder of the Scottish dynasty Kenneth macAlpin. As Owen’s great-grandson (chronologically) Fergus would have been allied to David by kinship as he was later to both Henry I and to David again by marriage. This idea may be treated as a working hypothesis, but it is pertinent to note that Owen’s Dunwallon line had our Gaelic family name. The Cumbrian origin of our eponym was also indicated by suppositions that Dunegal of Stranith, Chief of Nithsdale with the castles of Morton and Dumfries in the time of David I, was one of the Dougalls or M’Dowalls of Galloway. His grandson Dovenald was one of the Galwegian leaders who substituted for Fergus at the battle of the Standard, which was indicative of an alternative tannistic choice within the same governing Cinel. This border region would give some credence to the statement that Fergus was also of Saxon descent.
Family claims that the ancient lords of Galloway were MacDowalls were often supported by historians from the mid-16th century (Leland, Dugdale), through (Alexander) Nisbet’s statement of 1742, "The old Lords of Galloway were of this name (McDowall)", to the present when Kevan McDowall cited, "Fergus Mac dubh Ghael (MacDouall) - Fergus of the clan of Black Gaels -. M’Kerlie also stated, "We have generally found some basis for nearly every Galloway tradition", yet he considered this one erroneous because Fergus and his successors are only known to have used their Galwegian territorial appellation such as "de Gallouyia." Sir Herbert Maxwell said, however, "Fergus and his descendants may have been of the sept of clan MacDouall, and yet, from their conspicuous position, have never found it necessary to use the name as a distinction." After the division of old Galloway into Carrick and Galloway between Fergus’ grandsons, the stirps of Fergus’ son Uchtred in Galloway and designated MacUchtraig in the Annals of Ulster. This would not abrogate another Irish patronymic, or matronymic, for Fergus evidence of which is now lacking. Fergus may have had connections with the Dubh Gall race of Vikings in the West on his father’s side, but there is a fair chance that he represented the clan of Dowall in the East at least through his mother. This Dovenal line of Owen Galvus cants back to our ancient family legend about Dovallus of Galloway who was allied to the Scoto-Irish long ago. The connection with the sub-kingdom of Cumbria could have been responsible for the gorging of the Dalriadic lyon with a crown, an oft-cited and matriculated family tradition, before the lion was capped with a crown. Fergus, which in Gaelic means "the chosen man", was in fact the allegorical Dovallus or leader of Galloway in his own time.
Prince Fergus de Galloway was born about 1090 in Carrick, Ayrshire, Scotland. He died in 1161 at the Abbey of Holyrood, Edinburgh, Scotland and is buried there. His wife Princess Elizabeth was born about 1095 in Talby, Yorkshire, England, the daughter of King Henry I of England and Sibyl Adela Lucy Corbet of France.
The following Histories in turn cite original sources:
Affleck, James. Loch Fergus. The Transactions and Journal of Proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. N.S. XXI: 182-194. 1910.
Anderson, Alan Orr. Early Sources of Scottish History. Vol. II. 750 pp. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh. 1922.
Anderson, Marjorie O. Kings & Kingship in Early Scotland. 310 pp. Scottish Academic Press. Edinburgh. 1980.
Balfour Paul, Sir James. The Scots Peerage. Vol. IV. David Douglas, Edinburgh. 1907.
Crawfurd, George. Macdowall of Garthland. MSS. 167 pp. 1727.
Huyshe, Wentworth. Grey Galloway. Its Lords and its Saints. 150 pp. David Douglas, Edinburgh. 1914.
Legge, M. Dominica. Some notes on the Roman de Fergus. Dumfries and Galloway Transactions. XXVII: No. 1, Article 6. 163-172. 1948-1949.
Legge, M. Dominica. The father of Fergus of Galloway. Scottish Historical Review. 43: 86-87. 1664.
Macdowall, F.D.H. The MacDowalls of Galloway - the legend. The MacDowalls of Galloway. I (No. 1: 8-10. 1985.
Macdowall, F.D.H. Heraldry. The MacDowalls of Galloway. I (No. 1): 13. 1985.
Mackenzie, Rev. Wm. The History of Galloway. Vol. I. 544 pp. John Nicholson, Kirkcudbright. 1841.
Mackenzie, Sir George of Rosehaugh. The Science of Herauldry. 98 pp. Heir of Andrew Anderson, Edinburgh. 168.
Maxwell, Sir Herbert. A History of Dumfries and Galloway. 411 pp. W. Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh. 1896.
McDowall, J. Kevan. Carrick Gallovidian. H. McCririck, Publ., Ayr. 1947.
McDowall, William. History of Dumfries. 916 pp. Adam & Charles Black, Edinburgh. 1867.
McGill, J.M. A genealogical survey of the ancient lords of Galloway. Scottish Genealogist. Vol. II, No. 2: 3-6.
M’Kerlie, P.H. History of the Lands and their Owners in Galloway. Vol. I, 53 pp., 1870; Vol. II, 508 pp., 1877; Vol. V, 457 pp., 1879. William Patterson, Edinburgh.
Nisbet, Alexander. A System of Heraldry. Vol. I. 440 pp. New Edn. William Blackwood, Edinburgh. 1816.
Reid, R.C. Introduction. Wigtownshire Charters. R.C. Reid, Ed. Scottish Historical Society. 1960.
Robertson, John F. The Story of Galloway. 210 pp. J.H. Maxwell Ltd., Castle-Douglas. 1963.
Sellar, W.D.H. The origins and ancestry of Somerled. Scottish Historical Review. 45: 123-142. 1966.
Skene, Wm. F. Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban. Vol. I. 509 pp. 2nd Edn. David Douglas, Edinburgh. 1886.
Tranter, Nigel. David the Prince. 367 pp. (Coronet Books) Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., London. 1980.
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