Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Picts

Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Picts

By Alex Woolf

Bile ós Chrannaibh: A Festschrift for Willliam Gillies, edited by Wilson McLeod et al. (Perthshire, 2010)

Introduction: It is with some surprise, perhaps, that one notes that of all the historians who commented upon the disappearance of the Picts in the course of the Middle Ages it is Geoffrey of Monmouth whose analysis comes closest to that of historians working on the problem in recent times. In Book Four of his History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey concludes his account of the arrival of the Picts in Britain with the statement, ‘but enough of the Picts, since it is not my intention to write either their history or that of the Scots who are descended from them and from the Irish.’ Geoffrey, whose History is frequently dismissed as a mixture of fantasy and folklore built upon a very selective reading of the already meagre narratives provided by Gildas, Bede and the Historia Brittonum, appears to share the view that the Scots of his own day were the product of assimilation and inter-marriage between the Picts and the Gaels of an earlier age espoused by contemporary scholars such as Geoffrey Barrow and Dauvit Broun, whose use of the term ‘Picto-Scottish kingdom’ to describe the cultural identity of Alba between the late ninth and the early twelfth century lays particular emphasis on this mixed heritage in the process of Scottish ethnogenesis.

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