My watch list  


Somerled (Old Norse Sumarliði, Scottish Gaelic Somhairle, commonly Anglicized from Gaelic as Sorley) was a military and political leader of the Scottish Isles in the 12th century who was known in Gaelic as ri Innse Gall ("King of the Hebrides").

Somerled first appears in historical chronicles in the year 1140 as the regulus, or King, of Kintyre (Cinn Tìre) when he marries Raghnailt the daughter of Olaf (or Amhlaibh), King of Mann and the Isles. The year 1153 saw the deaths of two kings: David I of Scotland and Olaf of Mann. There was much confusion and discord as a result and Somerled took his chance - making offensive moves against both Scotland and Mann under his brother in law Goraidh mac Amhlaibh.

A summoning was sent to Somerled Dougal - Somerled's own son by his wife, the daughter of the Manx king - to move so he might be "King over the Isles". In 1156 Goraidh was defeated in battle against 80 ships of Somerled's fleet and the two enemies partitioned the isles between them. Goraidh kept the islands north of Ardnamurchan with Somerled gaining the rest. However, two years following this Somerled returned to the Isle of Man with 53 warships. He defeated Goraidh again and this time forced him to flee to Norway. Somerled's kingdom now stretched from the Isle of Man to the Butt of Lewis.

Thus both Viking and Scot formed one people under a single lord and came to share a single culture, one way of life - they were to become a powerful and noted race known as the Gall-Gaidheal, literally meaning 'Foreign-Gaels'. It was upon the seas their power was situated under the rule of the Kings of the Isles yet new enemies arose in the east. The Stewarts made inroads in the west coast and eventually Somerled assembled a sizeable army to repel them. He advanced to the centre of the Stewarts' own territory, to Renfrew, where a great battle was fought in 1164. Much confusion surrounds the manner of the battle, and indeed whether a battle occurred at all, but what is certain is that Somerled was assassinated, after which his army retreated from the area.

Following the death of Somerled several powerful lords emerged from within his kingdom. The lordship was contested by two main families; that of Somerled and his descendants and that of the descendants of Goraidh mac Amhlaibh. During the 12th and 13th centuries the Scandinavian world saw much change in methods of rule and administration which ultimately resulted in more strongly centralized, unified kingdoms such as Denmark and Norway. However, this did not happen in the Kingdom of the Isles, which was instead absorbed into the greater Kingdom of Scotland, albeit its place in that state and the loyalty of its inhabitants to the King of Scots would remain peripheral and temperamental for centuries to come.

In 2005 a study by Professor of Human Genetics Bryan Sykes of Oxford led to the conclusion that Somerled has possibly 500,000 living descendants - making him the second most common currently-known ancestor after Genghis Khan. [1] [2] [3]

Head of State of the Isle of Man
Preceded by
Godred V
King of Mann and the Isles
1158 - 1164
Succeeded by
Ragnald III

See also

  • Lord of the Isles
  • Norse-Gaels
  • John MacDonald II
  • Scotland in the High Middle Ages


  • MacDonald, R. Andrew The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard c.1100–c.1336 (Tuckwell Press, 1997) ISBN 1-898410-85-2
  • MacPhee, Kathleen Somerled:Hammer of the Norse (NWP, 2004) ISBN 1-903238-24-2
  • Stiùbhart, Domhnall Uilleam Rìoghachd nan Eilean (Clò Hallaig, 2005) ISBN 0-9549914-0-0
  • Williams, Ronald The Lords of the Isles (Chatto & Windus, 1997) ISBN 1-899863-17-6
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Somerled". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE