Open main menu

Wikipedia β

19th-century illustration of Saint Columba's conversion of King Bridei, by William Hole.

Bridei, son of Maelchon,[1] was king of the Picts from 554 to 584.


Historical sourcesEdit

Bridei, son of Maelchon, is first mentioned in the Irish annals from 558–560, where the Annals of Ulster report "the migration before Máelchú's son i.e. king Bruide".[2] The Ulster annalist does not say who fled, but the later Annals of Tigernach refers to "the flight of the Scots" before Bruide son of Máelchú" in 558. This has provoked considerable speculation in some cases as, in one version, the Annals of Ulster may associate this with the death of Gabrán mac Domangairt.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

Bridei is suggested to have been the son of Maelgwn Gwynedd by John Morris in his Age of Arthur, where he is referred to in passing as "... Bridei, son of Maelgwn, the mighty king of north Wales, ...".[4] Though the book has been a commercial success, it is disparaged by historians as an unreliable source of "misleading and misguided" information.[5]

Bridei's death is reported in the 580s, perhaps in the battle against Pictish rivals in Circinn, an area thought to correspond with the Mearns.[6] The king lists of the Pictish Chronicle agree that Bridei was followed by one Gartnait son of Domelch.

Political lifeEdit

As a contemporary, and one of the chief kings in Scotland, Bridei appears in Adomnán's Life of Saint Columba.[7] Adomnán's account of Bridei is problematic in that it fails to tells us whether Bridei was already a Christian, and if not, whether Columba converted him.[8] The recent archaeological discoveries at Portmahomack, showing that there was a monastic community perhaps as early as the late 6th century, may provide some support for the idea that Bridei was either already a Christian, at least in name, or was converted by Columba.

It is a matter of record that Bridei was not the only king in Pictland. The death of Galam — called "Cennalath, king of the Picts" — is recorded in 580 by the Annals of Ulster, four years before Bridei's death.[9] In addition, Adomnán mentions the presence of the "under-king of Orkney" at Bridei's court.[10] The Annals of Ulster report two expeditions to Orkney during Bridei's reign, or one expedition twice in 580 and 581.[11]

The chief place of Bridei's kingdom, which may have corresponded with later Fortriu, is not known. Adomnán tells that after leaving the royal court Columba came to the River Ness, and the court was atop a steep rock. Accordingly, it is generally supposed that Bridei's chief residence was at Craig Phadrig, which is to the west of modern Inverness and overlooks the Beauly Firth.

References in popular cultureEdit

Juliet Marillier's trilogy The Bridei Chronicles is written as a combination of history, fiction and informed guesswork regarding this king's rise to power and rule. Her novels also describe events in the life of Bridei III.


  1. ^ Other forms include Brude son of Melcho and, in Irish sources, Bruide son of Maelchú and Bruidhe son of Maelchon; for Bede his father is Meilochon.
  2. ^ An earlier entry, reporting the death of "Bruide son of Máelchú" in the Annals of Ulster for 505 is presumed to be an error.
  3. ^ The entry in question is AU 558.2; compare AU560.1 and AU560.2 where these are not associated and also AT559.2 and 559.3. For speculation, Morris, The Age of Arthur and was believed to have died in the 580's and was also known in his lifetime as the "Underking of Orkney', p. 182 ff.
  4. ^ Morris, John (1973), The Age of Arthur: a history of the British Isles from 350 to 650, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p. 192 
  5. ^ D. P. Kirby and J. E. C. Williams, "Review of The Age of Arthur", Studia Celtica, 10-11 (1975-6), pp. 454 – 486; "an outwardly impressive piece of scholarship", it went on to argue that this apparent scholarship "crumbles upon inspection into a tangled tissue of fact and fantasy which is both misleading and misguided".
  6. ^ Annals of Tigernach, s.a. 584; Annals of Ulster, s.a. 584. The entry in 505 mentioned earlier is approximately one 84-year Easter cycle misplaced. Bridei's death in battle in Circinn is in the Annals of Tigernach, s.a. 752, apparently misplaced by two cycles; see M.O. Anderson, pp. 36–37.
  7. ^ Life, I.1, I.10, II.33, II.35 and II.42.
  8. ^ Smyth, pp. 103–107 argues against conversion, Sharpe, pp. 30–33 is uncertain. Bede, III.4, writes that Columba did convert Bridei, which represents the belief a century after Columba's death rather than a contemporary view.
  9. ^ The Annals of Tigernach, AT578.2 and 581.3, disagree on the dates, but confirm the sequence.
  10. ^ Adomnán, Life, II.42.
  11. ^ As with the earlier report of the "migration" in 558 and 560, it is possible that the reports which provide more detail were glossed much later.


External linksEdit

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Traditionally Galam
King of the Picts
Succeeded by
?Gartnait II

See alsoEdit