Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gregory the Great

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GREGORY the Great (d. 889), Grig, king of Scotland, was the seventy-third king according to the fictitious chronology of Fordoun and Buchanan, but according to Skene's rectified list, the fifth king of the united kingdom of Scone, which Kenneth MacAlpine founded in 844. He succeeded in 878 Aed, the brother of Constantine and son of Kenneth MacAlpine, who after a short reign of one year was killed by his own people. With Aed the sons of Kenneth were exhausted, and instead of his grandson Donald, the son of Constantine, being taken as king, Eocha, son of Run, king of the Britons of Strathclyde, and the son of Constantine's sister, was made king, according, it is suggested, to the old custom of Pictish succession in the royal house through females. Eocha or Eochodius, was under age, and Gregory was associated with him, according to the Pictish ‘Chronicle,’ as his guardian (‘alumpnus ordinatorque Eochodii fiebat’). The word ‘alumnus,’ though more usually meaning a foster-child, was also in late Latin applicable to a guardian, ‘Qui alit et alitur alumnus dici potest.’ The father of Gregory was Dungaile, and it is supposed that he also was, like Run, of British descent, which may account for the omission of his name from the Albanic Duan and the ‘Annals of Ulster,’ which treat chiefly of the kings of Scottish or Dalriadic origin. Apart from the statement that he and his ward were expelled from the kingdom after a reign of eleven years, the earliest version of the Pictish ‘Chronicles’ gives no information as to Gregory except the fact of the expulsion, and that an eclipse of the sun occurred ‘in the ninth year of his reign, on the day of St. Ciricius’—his patron or name saint for Ciricius is the form this ‘Chronicle’ uses for the name of Gregory. Such an eclipse there in fact was on 16 June 885, the day of St. Ciricius, which was the seventh or the eighth year of Gregory's reign, so that, allowing for the discrepancy of one or two years, the period of his accession is thus confirmed. Later chroniclers have added two facts to our scanty knowledge which seem to be consistent with the probable course of this reign. Gregory is said to have brought into subjection the whole of Bernicia and the greater part of Anglia (Chronicles of Picts and Scots, p. 288), or, as the later thirteenth (p. 174) and fourteenth century ‘Chronicles’ of the Scots (p. 304) express it, Hibernia and Northumbria. There seems no foundation for the alleged Irish conquest, nor for that of nearly the whole of England at a time when Alfred was winning his victories over the Danes. But it is possible that Northumbria, or that part of England, which was then also suffering from divided rule and the Danish incursions, may have been in part subdued by this Scottish king. Simeon of Durham states that during the reign of Guthred, son of Hardicnut, the Dane who succeeded Halfdene as ruler in the north of England, and whose capital was York, the Scots invaded Northumbria and plundered the monastery of Lindisfarne.

The other fact recorded as to Gregory in the ' Chronicle ' of the thirteenth century is that ' he was the first to give liberty to the Scottish church, which was under servitude up to that time, according to the constitutions and customs of the Picts.' This is one of those tantalising entries which we feel almost sure conceal a fragment of authentic history, but leave much room for conjecture as to what that fragment is. The view of Skene, that it refers to the Scottish clergy being then freed from secular services and exactions, seems more probable than that of Mr. E. W. Robertson, that it indicates a transfer of the privileges of the church of Dunkeld to that of St. Andrews. That in some form Gregory was a benefactor of the church is certain, and accounts for the epithet of Great given to him by the later chroniclers and historians, and perhaps for the dedication of the church of Ecclesgreig in the Mearns in his honour. Mr. Robertson, following some of the later 'Chronicles,' assumes that Gregory continued to reign, along with the next king, Donald, the son of Constantine, for seven years, and that his reign therefore lasted till 896. But this is inconsistent with the earliest ' Chronicle of the Picts and Scots,' which distinctly states that he was expelled, along with his ward Eocha, and names Donald as their successor. According to the same class of authorities he died at Dunadeer, and was buried at Scone. But the place of his death is not really known. Some chronicles place it at Donedoune, which Chalmers identified with Dunadeer in Gareoch, although Skene identifies it with Dundurn, a fort on the Earn.

Buchanan, as usual, amplifies even the amplifications of Fordoun; but all that is known with reasonable certainty of this king is contained in the above narrative, mainly taken from Skene.

[Chronicles of the Picts and Scots; Robertson's Scotland under her Early Kings; Skene's Celtic Scotland, vol. i.]

Æ. M.