These events happened over 1000 years ago so what actually happened is difficult to piece together but from what we understand the events took place as follows.

The Battle of Mortlach took place in 1010 and was fought by King Malcolm Il against the invading Viking Danes led by Enetus (or Enecus) who was the General of the forces of Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn lived from 960 to 1014 and was King of Denmark, parts of Norway and later England.

Malcolm Il (or Mael Coluim mac Cinaeda) lived from 954 to 25 November 1034 and was King of Alba from 25 March 1005 to his death. Until Malcolm’s rule the crown of Alba had passed around the House of Alpin under the law of tanistry which meant that the extended family elected the successor. Malcolm changed all this by simply wiping out all competition to his own line within the family. He succeeded to the throne by killing Kenneth III and his son Giric at the Battle of Monzievaird, just north of Creiff and close to the current site of Glenturret distillery. Malcolm’s motivation was simple. He had three daughters and although his grandsons had married well their claim to the throne was not as strong as others within his family.

This was a difficult time for Malcolm. He had lost to the English led by Lord Uthred in 1006 at a battle near Durham. Malcolm had invaded England as he believed the English to be too occupied dealing with their own Danish invasion to oppose him but he was wrong. In 1009 Malcolm had fought the invading Danes and lost. He was wounded in the battle and was forced to leave the Danes occupying the Moray coastline. This left the Danes with a significant base of operations which was a significant threat to Malcoim’s Kingdom. The Spring of 1010 saw the Danes encroaching further up the river Spey. Using the river in flood they landed their boats, near what is now Dailuaine distillery near Carron, in significant force and even more worryingly for Malcolm the height of the river was such that the Danes could bring large enough boats to carry horses. He had to respond.

Malcolm had used the period since the previous battle well and was able to engage the invaders with a significantly stronger army than the one he had led the previous year. However, his army was largely made up of farmers formed as a levy or fyrd. They were poorly armed with axes or hunting spears and little battle experience. They made their camp towards the site of what is now Auchindoun Castle.

The Danes were a professional army, well trained and used to fighting. They were camped within Feishum Fort on the lower summit of the Conval hills where an entrenchment protecting their camp can still be seen today. This area was referred to into the 19th Century as the Danish camp. Although the Danish Vikings would have numbered in the hundreds they were outnumbered by Malcolm’s forces. From their vantage on the Convals they were aware of Malcolm’s approach. They started their battle rituals of dancing and mental concentration which crescendos into aggression for the attack, known as the Berserker and when complete they advanced to meet the Scots. The first clashes of the battle were near the site between Mortlach church and what is now Mortlach distillery. The Scots emboldened by their strength attacked

quickly and with speed. Enetus sent a platoon of archers to the right flank to kill the Scottish commanders. The Danes repelled the advancing Scots and the Scots suffered heavy losses. Three thains (or lords) were slain, Kenneth of the Isles, Dunbar of Lothian, and Graeme of Strathern. The Scots, seeing that a full ground attack was imminent fled along the black water and up the course of the Dullan. Malcolm was dragged back with them. Malcolm was able to stop the retreat at the monastery dedicated to St Molocus or St Moluag and gathered his remaining forces. It is said that at this point he kneeled in the graveyard of the church and prayed for the help of God and St Molag. The monks associated with the church and nearby monastery saw that Malcolm was a good Christian and with Malcolm’s promise to enlarge their church by spear lengths they joined Malcolm’s forces. This may have been Malcom’s intention all along and the monastery would certainly have been a target for the Danes as the church was relatively wealthy and they could expect to find treasure there.

At this time Christian monks were also renowned warriors. So, with their help and having now the advantage of higher ground the Scots re-engaged the Danes who were spread out due to the speed of their pursuit. The tide of the battle changed, possibly almost literally, as one account has the Scots damming the Dullan the night before the battle and setting it lose on the advancing Danes to divide their army into two and making them an easier target. So, this may all have been in Malcolm’s plan to lure the Danes to where Mortlach church now stands and the Dullan valley narrows.

Enetus was slain by the prowess alone of the king. It is said that Malcolm threw Enetus off his horse and strangled him. The Danes in their turn fly; but their rout is final and complete. They attempt to rally near to the old castle of Balvenie but this fails and Malcolm is victorious.

It is said that Enetus was buried with a huge and irregularly blue-black roundish stone over his grave which was brought from his homeland. Folklore has it that for many years after the elders of the area would meet at the grave every New Year to salute the grave with a dram. The stone was later rolled some distance away and made part of a fence about a field of corn. It seems that this stone then became known as the Aquavitae Stone as the men who struggled to move the stone were rewarded for their labour with a pint of whisky which they drank over the stone. The location of the stone has since been lost and it may have been broken up for building work during the 1860s. The rest of Enetus’ men are said to be buried in a square piece of ground covered in whin or gorse on the north-west corner of Tomnamuid some 120 yards directly south from his grave.

Malcolm kept his promise to enlarge what is now Mortlach Church. The 24-foot extension (3 spear lengths) is still identifiable. It is also said that there were three holes exactly of the shape of skulls in this additional part of the Mortlach church where the heads of three Danes of distinction had, as Sir John Sinclair in 1796 wrote in his The Statistical Account of Scotland with “too barbarous a triumph”, been originally built in the wall. Sir John Sinclair goes on, “at whatever time, or in whatever way, three skulls may have first been put there, there they surely were and, not longer than about 30 years ago, was the last of them picked out, and tossed about by the school boys”. Some things never change.

The obelisk on the banks of the Dullan is said to have been erected to mark the victory. The Battle Stone is certainly a late Pictish symbol stone of green slate, and does probably date from the mid 11th century. It is a Class Il stone, which means it bears Christian symbols on one side and more traditional Pictish symbols on the other. In this case the stone has an incised Celtic style cross, a pair of fish monsters, and a beast on one side, and a serpent, ox skull, bird, dog, and horseman on the other. The stone stands about 1.75 metres high (just over 5.5 feet), and can be found beside the path in the lowest part of the graveyard. The Battle Stone is only one of two Pictish stones at Mortlach. The other, probably older, is in the church vestibule. This second stone has an incised carving of a beast, possibly an elephant, and a curved symbol which may represent a brooch.

From time-to-time relics of the battle have been found in the surrounding fields. Some of these were used by the local Juvenile Society on their annual boys walk which dates back to 1835. Unfortunately, most of these weapons have long since disappeared but the society’s website does have pictures of parades with the boys carrying the weapons.

Soon after the battle the Danes left the country but the story does not stop there. But Malcolm still had to secure his kingdom. The Danes made two more invasions into Scotland. The Danish chieftain Camus invaded Angus near the site of Affleck Castle, which is just northeast of Dundee, and was slain in the process. The final attempt to invade was made in Buchan near Slains Castle on the coast in Aberdeenshire and the chieftain of that area routed the invaders.

In 1014 the Danes signed a treaty with Scotland which meant that they would no Ionger invade ending a century of warfare and securing Scotland as an independent country. Some might say that the Danes found it much easier going in England, Ireland and Normandy and therefore would not risk the fiercer resistance they faced in Scotland. This treaty was strengthened by the marriage of one of Malcolm’s daughters to the Norse Earl Sigurd of Orkney, who was of Norwegian descent, and it is Suggested, had been part of the invading Danish army in 1010. This reflects the mixed make-up of the invaders who were probably drawn from many territories across North-Eastern Europe – anyone wanting to fight for land and or treasure. Malcolm made an alliance with the King of Strathclyde and they went on to win a significant victory in 1018 over the Northumbrian English and Lord Uthred at the Battle of Carham, on the River Tweed, further securing his Kingdom. Malcolm was much respected by his contemporaries. The Irish Annals refer to him as “honoured among all men”. To his name was added the Gaelic epithet “Forranach” meaning destroyer which demonstrates the turn-around in his in fortunes starting with the Battle of Mortlach. He was the first to reign over the extent of land equivalent to modern Scotland.

Malcolm’s reign finished badly. Malicolm’s ally, King Owen of Strathclyde died without heir at Carham. Malcolm tried to install his grandson Duncan on the throne of Strathcylde and also named him king of Cumbria. This displeased the Britons who marched north seizing Lothian and led to Malcolm’s assassination by his own nobles at Glamis on 25 November 1034 ending the ancient house of Macalpine. He was buried in the graveyard at St Oran’s chapel on the Isle of lona. Malcom’s daughters had married well and it looked like his legacy was still secure. The Earl of Sigmund of Orkney went on to bring much of Caithness and Sutherland in to the Scottish kingdom. One, Bethoc, married Crinan, the Abbott of Dunkeld and their son Duncan, who’s installation as King of Cumbria led to Malcolm’s death, went on to succeed Malcolm as Duncan l of Alba and the House of Dunkeld was born. The third daughter married Findlaech, the sub-king of Moray. But their son, Macbeth, later killed Duncan at the Battle of Pitgaveny, near Elgin, and became King Macbeth at Scone in 1040. But that’s another story.

Sources:
The Scotsman’s library: being a collection of anecdotes and facts.. By James Mitchell
The Topographical, Statistical and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland: 1 -Z (1856
The Statistical Account of Scotland: Drawn up from the communications of the ministers of the different parishes. By Sir John Sinclair. Volume 17. 1796
The History of Scotland, from the Invasion of the Romans till the Union with England. By Daniel Macintosh. 1821