Somerled (d. 1164) was a mid 12th century warlord who, through matrimonial alliance and military conquest, rose in prominence and seized control of the Kingdom of the Isles. Little is certain of Somerled's origins, although he appears to have belonged to a Norse-Gaelic family of some substance. His father, GilleBride, may have ruled Argyll, and appears to have conducted a marriage alliance with Malcolm, son of Alexander I, King of Scotland, and claimant to the Scottish throne. Following a period of dependence upon David I, King of Scotland, Somerled first appears on record in 1153, when he supported his nephews, the sons of Malcolm, in their revolt against the newly enthroned Malcolm IV, King of Scotland. Following this unsuccessful rebellion, Somerled appears to have turned his sights upon the kingship of the Isles, then ruled by his brother-in-law, Godred Olafsson, King of the Isles. Taking advantage of Godred's faltering authority, Somerled participated in a violent coup d'état, and seized half of the kingdom in 1156. Two years later, he defeated and drove his brother-in-law from power, and Somerled ruled the entire kingdom until his death.

Somerled was slain at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164, during an invasion of mainland Scotland, conducted by a massive force drawn from throughout and outwith his kingdom. The reasons for his attack are unknown, and although it is possible that he wished to nullify Scottish encroachment, the scale of Somerled's venture suggests that he nursed greater ambitions. On his death, Somerled's vast island kingdom disintegrated, although his sons managed to retain much of the southern Hebridean portion. Compared to his immediate descendants, who associated themselves with reformed religious orders, Somerled may have been something a religious traditionalist. In 1164 he attempted to persuade Flaithbertach Ua Brolcháin, Abbot of Derry, the head of the Columban monastic community, to relocate from Ireland to Iona. However, Somerled died that year without achieving the reunification he sought, and decades later his descendants oversaw the obliteration of the island's Columban monastery. The oldest surviving building on the island, St Oran's Chapel, dates to mid 12th century, and may have been constructed by Somerled or his family.

Traditionally imagined as a Celtic hero, who vanquished Viking foes and fostered a Gaelic renaissance, contemporary sources instead reveal that Somerled operated in and belonged to the same Norse-Gaelic cultural environment of his maritime neighbours. Through his wife, Ragnhild, daughter of Olaf Godredsson, King of the Isles, a member of the Crovan dynasty, Somerled and his descendants were able to lay claim to the Kingdom of the Isles. A later mediaeval successor to this kingdom, the Lordship of the Isles, was ruled by Somerled's descendants until the late 15th century. Regarded as a significant figure in 12th century Scottish and Manx history, Somerled is proudly claimed as an patrilineal ancestor by several Scottish clans. Recent genetic studies suggest that Somerled has hundreds of thousands of patrilineal descendants, and that his origins may lie in Scandinavia.

Read more about SomerledSources, Origins, Emergence, Conquest of The Isles, Rule and Ecclesiastical Patronage, Death, Aftermath, Legacy, See Also

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