Bridei may have been born as early as 616, but no later than the year 628. He was the son of Beli, King of Alt Clut. His claim to the Fortrean Kingship came through his paternal grandfather, King Nechtan of the Picts. Nennius' Historia Brittonum tells us that Bridei was King Ecgfrith's fratruelis, i.e. maternal first cousin. Bridei's mother was probably a daughter of King Edwin of Deira.
Bridei was one of the more expansionary and active of Fortrean monarchs. He attacked Dunnottar in 680/681, and campaigned against the Orcadian sub-kingdom in 682, a campaign so violent that the Annals of Ulster said that the Orkney Islands were "destroyed" by Bridei ("Orcades deletae sunt la Bruide"). It is also recorded that, in the following year, in 683, War broke out between Bridei and the Scots of Dál Riata under Máel Dúin mac Conaill and Bridei's Picts. The Scots attacked Dundurn in Strathearn. Dundurn was Bridei's main powerbase in the south, a great 'nuclear' hilltop fortress.The Scots apparently did not take Dundurn, and Bridei backed up with an attack on Dunadd, the capital of Dal Riata. We do not know if Bridei took Dunadd, but the presence of Pictish-style carvings of that time period in Dunadd may mean that he took and occupied Dunadd. The lack of reputable contemporary sources of this conflict means that not much is known about the Scottish-Pict war of 683. But it is clear that, from his base in Fortriu (or Moray), Bridei was establishing his overlordship of the lands to the north, and those to the south, perhaps putting himself in a position to attack the Anglian possessions (or overlordship) which existed in the far south.
It is very possible then that Bridei was regarded by Ecgfrith as his sub-king. The traditional interpretation is that Bridei severed this relationship, causing the invervention of Ecgfrith. This led to the famous Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685, in which the Anglo-Saxon army of Ecgfrith was annihilated. One Irish source reports that Bridei was "fighting for his grandfather's inheritance", suggesting that either Ecgfrith was challenging Bridei's kingship, or more likely given Bridei's earlier campaigns, that Bridei was seeking to recover the territories ruled by his grandfather in Fife and Circinn, but since taken by the English. The consequences of this battle were the expulsion of Northumbrians from southern Pictland (established through, for instance, the Anglian "Bishopric of the Picts" at Abercorn) and permanent Fortrean domination of the southern Pictish zone.
- Woolf, "Pictish matriliny reconsidered", pp. 160–162.
- M.O. Anderson, Kings and Kingship, p. 171, n 194
- Clancy & Márkus, pp. 166–168.
- Anderson, Marjorie O. (1973), Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Clancy, Thomas Owen; Márkus, Gilbert (1995), Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-0531-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Fraser, James E., The Battle of Dunnichen: 685 (Charleston, 2002)
- Woolf, Alex, "Dun Nechtain, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts", Scottish Historical Review 85(2006), 182-201.
- Woolf, Alex, "Pictish matriliny reconsidered." Innes Review vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 147–167. ISSN 0020-157X
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