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The Kingdom of the Isles comprised the Hebrides, the islands of the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Man from the 9th to the 13th centuries AD. The islands were known to the Norse as the Suðreyjar, or "Southern Isles" as distinct from the Norðreyjar or Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland. The historical record is incomplete and the kingdom was probably not a continuous entity throughout the entire period. The islands concerned are sometimes referred to as the "Kingdom of Mann and the Isles", although only some of the later rulers claimed that title.[Note 1] At times the rulers were independent of external control, although for much of the period they had overlords in Norway, Ireland, England, Scotland or Orkney. At times there also appear to have been competing claims for all or parts of the territory. The islands involved have a total land area of over 8,300 square kilometres (3,205 sq mi)[Note 2] and extend for more than 500 kilometres (310 mi) from north to south.
Viking influence in the area commenced in the late 8th century, and whilst there is no doubt that the Uí Ímair dynasty played a prominent role in this early period, the records for the dates and details of the rulers are speculative until the mid-10th century. Hostility between the Kings of the Isles and the rulers of Ireland, and intervention by the crown of Norway (either directly or through their vassals the Earls of Orkney) were recurring themes.
Invasion by Magnus Barelegs in the late 11th century resulted in a brief period of direct Norwegian rule over the kingdom, but soon the descendants of Godred Crovan re-asserted a further period of largely independent overlordship. This came to an end with the emergence of Somerled, on whose death in 1164 the kingdom was split in two. Just over a century later the islands became part of the Kingdom of Scotland, following the 1266 Treaty of Perth.
The orthography of the rulers' names is complicated as Old Norse and Gaelic were both spoken throughout the region for much of period under consideration. Thus a single individual might be referred to as Rognvaldr in Icelandic sources, Rag(h)nall in Gaelic, Reginaldus in Latin and perhaps "Rognvald" or "Reginald" in English language sources.[Note 3]
During this period the historical record is particularly sparse and these early entries must be considered as somewhat speculative.
|Ruler of the Hebrides||Dates||Title||Notes|
|Unknown father of Thórir||848||King of Viking Scotland||According to the Orkneyinga saga Rognvald Eysteinsson had a number of sons including Ivar and Thorir the Silent, Ivar being killed in battle during Harald Fairhair's expedition to the west. According to Irish sources Thorir was the heir of a king of "Viking Scotland" who took an army to Ireland in 848.|
|Gofraid mac Fergusa||d. 853||Lord of the Hebrides||The Annals of the Four Masters calls him toisech Innsi Gall.[Note 4]|
|Gofraidh||pre 872–873||King of Lochlann||Father of Amlaíb Conung and Ímar|
|Ímar||873||King of the Norwegian Vikings of the whole of Ireland and Britain||May have succeeded his father briefly|
|Amlaíb Conung||873||King of the Northmen/King of the Western Sea[Note 5]||Ímar's brother|
|Ketill Flatnose||c 890–900||King of the Isles||The earliest certain written references to Ketill are from the sagas written 200 years or more after his death. Unlikely to have been ruler of Mann and may have ruled in the mid, rather than late ninth century.[Note 6]|
|Unknown||c 900–941||Possibly ruled by Uí Ímair dynasts Ragnall ua Ímair (d. 920/1) who ruled Mann, Sitric Cáech (d. 927), Gofraid ua Ímair (d. 934) and Amlaíb mac Gofraid (d. 941) as Kings of Dublin.[Note 7]|
It is also possible that Eiríkr, King of York from 947–948 and 952–5, was a ruler in the islands at some stage in the mid-10th century. Eiríkr is believed by some authorities to be synonymous with the saga character Eric Bloodaxe, although the connection is questioned by Downham (2007), who argues that the former was an Uí Ímair dynast rather than a son of Harald Fairhair. A raid on Northumbria in 949, the purpose of which may have been either to support or oppose the kingship of Amlaíb Cuarán is described as predam albidosorum idem nannindisi in the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba. Alfred P. Smyth translated this as "the raid of the men from beyond the spine of Britain, that is, of the islands."
|Ruler of the Hebrides and Mann||Period of Rule||Title||Notes|
|Amlaíb Cuarán||c. 941?–980||King of the Isles (and possibly King of Mann)||Amlaíb was later King of Dublin and succeeded Amlaíb mac Gofraid as King of Northumbria in 941 and died on Iona in 981|
|Maccus mac Arailt||980–?||King of the Isles||Said to have been "brought under subjection" by Edgar the Peaceful, King of England who died in 975|
|Gofraid mac Arailt||?–989||King of the Isles||Brother of Maccus mac Arailt|
|Gilli||990–?||Jarl||Operated under Sigurd the Stout, Earl of Orkney & Mormaer of Caithness. Married to Sigurd's sister. Sigurd himself was a vassal of the King of Norway.|
|Ragnall mac Gofraid||?–1005||King of the Isles||Son of Gofraid mac Arailt|
|Sigurd the Stout||1005–1014||Earl of Orkney & Mormaer of Caithness||Vassal of the King of Norway|
|Einar Sigurdsson*?||1014–1016?||Joint Earl of Orkney||Thomson (2008) suggests Einar rangmunnr may have inherited his father's territories in the Hebrides.[Note 8]|
|Håkon Eiriksson*||1016–1030||Ruler of the Suðreyar||Possibly as a vassal of Cnut the Great|
|Olaf Sigtryggsson*||1030?–1034||King of Mann and many of the other islands of Denmark||Son of Sitric Silkbeard and grandson of Amlaíb Cuarán|
|Thorfinn the Mighty||c 1035–c 1058[Note 9]||Earl of Orkney & Mormaer of Caithness||Vassal of the King of Norway|
|Ímar mac Arailt*||c 1045?||Ruler of Dublin and possibly Mann. In 1045 Ímar crushed the Ulaid in a raid on Rathlin which may be evidence that he also controlled Mann at this point.|
|Echmarcach mac Ragnaill*||1052–1061||King of Mann||Probably ruler of both Dublin and Mann prior to 1052, when he was expelled from the former by Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó. Possibly son of Ragnal mac Gofraid and thus possibly a King of Innse Gall as well.[Note 10]|
|Murchad mac Diarmata*||1061–1070||King of Dublin and Mann?|
|Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó||1070–1072||King of Dublin and the Isles||Father of Murchad, but who ruled after him over Dublin "and, one assumes, Man"|
|Godred Sitricson||?–1074||King of Man|
|Fingal Godredson||1074–?||King of Man||Son of Godred Sitricson|
|Godred Crovan||1079–1094||King of Dublin and the Isles||Son of "Harald the Black of Ysland"|
|Possibly Lagmann Godredsson||1095–1098||Eldest son of Godred Crovan. Whether Lagmann began his reign before or after Magnus Barelegs's arrival is not known for certain.[Note 11]|
Various rulers have been identified as ruling Man, but not the Isles as a whole. The Isle of Man may have fallen under Norse rule in the 870s, and paradoxically they may have brought the Gaelic language with them. The island has produced a more densely distributed Viking Age archaeology than anywhere else in the British Isles, but the written records for this time period are poor.
|Rulers of Mann||Period of Reign||Title(s)||Notes|
|Otir||912?–914?||Jarl and "Master of the Isle of Man"||Possibly as a vassal of Ragnall ua Ímair|
|Ragnall ua Ímair||914 to 921?||?||Defeated Bárid son of Otir in a naval battle off Man in 914|
|Gothfrith ua Ímair[Note 12]||pre 927 to?||Father of Amlaíb|
|Amlaíb mac Gofraid[Note 13]||pre 935 to 941||King of Northumbria and possibly King of the Isles[Note 14]||After the death of Athelstan in 939, Edmund ceded Northumbria to Amlaíb. Married a daughter of Constantine II.|
There then follows a period when it is likely that the Western Isles and Mann were jointly held by rulers of the House of Ímar (see above). Downham (2007) suggests Lagmann Godredson may have "wielded power in Man" and possibly even have been king but was expelled sometime after 1005, perhaps by Brian Bóruma. This may indicate that the Earls of Orkney did not control Man itself in the early 11th century. Echmarcach mac Ragnaill and his successors certainly did control Mann, but the extent of their rule over the islands of the Clyde and the Hebrides is not clear. Óláfr mac Lagmann (or Lagmainn) is recorded as having been killed at Clontarf in 1014, fighting with "warriors from the Hebrides".
|Rulers of Mann||Period of Rule||Title||Notes|
|Lagmann mac Gofraid||?–1005||"King of the Swedes"||Possibly a son of Gofraid mac Arailt[Note 15]|
|Ottar||d. 1098||Jarl||Earl of "one half of Man"|
The period 1095–1098 seems to have been politically unsettled, culminating in a Manx civil war between the north and south of the island. A battle at Santwat between the northerners under Jarl Óttar and the southerners under Macmaras (or MacManus) in 1098 resulted in the deaths of both leaders.
In Irish mythology the Outer Hebrides were the home of the Fomorians, described as "huge and ugly" and "ship men of the sea". They were pirates, extracting tribute from the coasts of Ireland and one of their kings was Indech mac Dé Domnand (i.e. Indech, son of the goddess Domnu, who ruled over the deep seas). Indech is also mentioned in the Cath Maige Tuired along with Balor grandson of Nét, his rival and who may have been the king of the Inner Hebrides. Together they "gathered all the forces from Lochlainn westwards into Ireland to impose their tribute and their rule over them."
Various later rulers such as Gebeachan are also mentioned in early sources as having a role of some kind over unspecified areas of the northern part of the Kingdom of the Isles.
|Rulers of the Hebrides||Date||Title||Notes|
|Indech mac Dé Domnand||pre 9th century?||King of the Fomoire|||
|Balor grandson of Nét||pre 9th century?||King of the Hebrides|||
|Gebeachan||937||King of the Islands||Died whilst fighting with Amlaíb mac Gofraid at Brunanburh|
|Conmael mac Gilla Airi||980||Tributary King of the Gall||Fought with Amlaíb Cuarán at Tara|
|Ruler of the Hebrides & Mann||Period of Reign||Title||Notes|
|Magnus Barelegs||1098–1102||Possibly King of the Isles||Direct Norwegian rule|
|Sigurd Magnusson||1102–1103||Direct Norwegian rule||Nominal control by under-age son of Magnus Barelegs|
|Lagmann Godredsson||1103–1110||Eldest son of Godred Crovan|
|Domnall mac Taidc Uí Briain||1111–1112||Regent during the minority of Olave the Red||Nephew of Muirchertach Ua Briain. Expelled by the Islesmen.|
|Olave the Red||1112–1152||Son of Godred Crovan|
|Godred the Black||1154–1156||King of Man and the Isles||Son of Olave the Red|
|Somerled's sons & Godred the Black||1156–1158||Rulers of the southern islands and of Mann and the North Isles respectively.||Somerled's sons were Dubgall, Ragnall and Aonghas|
|Somerled||1158–1164||Lord of Argyll||Son-in-law of Olave the Red, his origins are otherwise obscure.|
Godred the Black's dictatorial style appears to have made him very unpopular with the Islesmen, and the powerful barons of the isles began plotting with an emerging and forceful figure – Somerled, Lord of Argyll. When Godred heard of this he engaged Somerled's forces in the naval Battle of Epiphany in 1156. There was no clear victor, but it was subsequently agreed that Godred would remain the ruler of Man and the northern Hebrides, whilst Somerled's young sons would nominally control the southern Inner Hebrides, Kintyre and the islands of the Clyde under their father's supervision. Two years later Somerled's invasion of the Isle of Man caused Godred to flee to Norway, leaving the former as undisputed ruler of the entire realm.
Following the death of Somerled in 1164 Godred re-took possession of his pre-1158 territories in Mann and the north and the southern isles were distributed amongst Somerled's sons as had been previously agreed: Dubgall received Mull, Coll, Tiree and Jura; Islay and Kintyre went to Ragnall; Bute to Aonghas, with Arran possibly divided between him and Reginald. The Chronicle of Man and the Sudreys lamented that Somerled's marriage to Ragnhildis, daughter of Olave the Red, had been "the cause of the ruin of the whole kingdom of the Isles".
|Kings of Mann||Norse name||Gaelic name||Period of Reign||Title||Notes|
|Reginald||Unknown||Unknown||1164||No record||Half-brother of Godred the Black|
|Godred the Black||Guðrøðr Óláfsson||Gofraid mac Amlaíb||1164–1187||King of the Isles||Re-instated|
|Ragnvald||Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson||Raghnall mac Gofraidh||1188–1226||King of the Isles||Son of Godred the Black|
|Olaf the Black||Óláfr Guðrøðarson||Amlaíb mac Gofraid||1226–1237||King of Mann and the Isles||Half-brother of Raghnall mac Gofraidh|
|Óspakr-Hákon||Gille Escoib mac Dubgaill||1230||King of the Suðreyjar||Son of Dubgall mac Somairle?|
|Gofraid Donn||Guðrøðr Rögnvaldsson||Gofraid mac Ragnaill||1230||Son of Raghnall mac Gofraidh|
|Harald Olafsson||Haraldr Óláfsson||Aralt mac Amlaíb Duib||1237–1248?||King of Mann and the Isles||Son of Olaf the Black|
|Ragnvald Olafsson||Rögnvaldr Óláfsson||Ragnall mac Amlaíb||1249||King of Mann and the Isles||Son of Olaf the Black, his rule was brief|
|Harald Godredsson||Haraldr Guðrøðarson||Aralt mac Gofraid Donn||1249–1250||King of Mann||Son of Gofraid Donn and grandson of Raghnall mac Gofraidh|
|Magnus Olafsson||Magnus Óláfsson||Mágnus mac Amlaib||1252–1265?||King of Mann and the Isles||Son of Olaf the Black|
In a precursor to 1263, Norwegian forces invaded in 1230 in response to dynastic struggles amongst Godred the Black's descendants. The Chronicle of Lanercost states that a Norwegian fleet sailed down the west coast of Scotland with Óspakr-Hákon, who had been appointed "King of the Suðreyjar" by the King of Norway (and who may have been a son of Dubgall mac Somairle). His forces took Rothesay Castle, hacking through the walls with their axes. The Eirspennill version of Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar states that the fleet then sailed to Kintyre where Óspakr-Hákon fell ill and died. Olaf the Black then took control of the fleet, and led it to the Isle of Man. He and Gofraid Donn, the son of Raghnall mac Gofraidh, divided the kingdom between themselves, with the latter retaining Mann, and the former controlling the northern islands. A short time later Gofraid Donn was slain, possibly on Lewis.
On 30 May 1249, Ragnvald Olafsson was slain in a meadow near the Church of the Holy Trinity at Rushen by a knight named Ívarr, along with several of the knight's followers. The Chronicle of Lanercost states that he had reigned for only 27 days. Harald Godredsson then seized the kingship, although he was summoned to Norway the following year and effectively dispossessed. Magnus Olafsson was the last of the Norse kings to rule Mann, which was absorbed into the Kingdom of Scotland on his death.
|Rulers of the Hebrides||Gaelic name||Period of Reign||Title||Notes|
|Dugald||Dubgall mac Somairle||1164–c1175||King of the Isles||Son of Somerled|
|Ranald||Ragnall mac Somairle||1164–1207||King of the Isles||Son of Somerled|
|Duncan||Donnchadh mac Dubgaill||? – c. 1244?||King of the Sudreys||Son of Dubgall mac Somairle|
|Dugald Screech||Dubgall mac Dubgaill||?||King of the Sudreys||Son of Dubgall mac Somairle|
|Somerled||Somairle mac Dubgaill||? – 1230||King of the Sudreys||Probably a son of Dubgall mac Somairle|
|Ruari||Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill||1207?–1247?||King of the Isles||Son of Ragnall mac Somairle|
|Ewen of Argyll||Eóghan||1248–1263||King of the Sudreys||Son of Donnchadh mac Dubhghaill|
|Dugald MacRuairi||Dubhghall mac Ruaidhri||1249–1266?||King of the Sudreys||Son of Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill|
The 1780 Anecdotes of Olave the Black (which are based on Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar) state that there were 3 Sudreyan kings all existing at one time who were "of the family of Somerled" and who were "very untrue to King Haco". It is not entirely clear which three kings are being referred to. They include Dubgall "Screech" mac Dubgaill and his brother Donnchadh and either Eóghan of Argyll who "was king afterwards" or possibly an unknown "relation of theirs, called Somerled, [who] was then also a King in the Sudreys". This Somerled, who died in 1230, may have been a brother or cousin of Dubgall and Donnchadh.
Ragnall mac Somairle's son, Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill may have been the "king of the Isles" who was recorded in the Irish chronicles as having been killed fighting against the English at the Battle of Ballyshannon in 1247. Ruaidhri's direct descendents Dubhghall and Ailean, who ruled Garmoran and the Uists are generally not given titles by Scottish sources. However the Icelandic Annals recorded for the year 1249 that: "Dubhghall took kingship in the Sudreys." Norse sources also refer to kingship being held by Eóghan of Argyll, although this was rescinded by King Haakon when he refused to participate in the latter's expeditions against Scotland.