The story of Finella who killed a Scots king

Den of Finella by St Cyrus. Picture by John Rutherford.
Den of Finella by St Cyrus. Picture by John Rutherford.
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She was a mother and a huntress who murdered Kenneth II to avenge the killing of her son, leaping from a waterfall to evade her own capture.

What ever then happened to Finella, daughter of Cuncar, Mormaer of Angus, has never been known but her audacious scheme to kill the king in a crossbow plot has endured for more than 1,000 years.

The woman who killed the king. Finella, daughter of Mormaer of Angus, who reigned during the 10th Century. Woodcut by artist Sheila MacFarlane.

The woman who killed the king. Finella, daughter of Mormaer of Angus, who reigned during the 10th Century. Woodcut by artist Sheila MacFarlane.

The spot where she jumped, in 995, has been known since as the Den of Finella.

Near St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire, the falls drop around 65 feet under thick, towering woodland with the den below shrouded in folklore and mystery. Rare orchids flower here, for no particular reason.

Artist Sheila MacFarlane is amongst those who have been drawn into the story of Finella. What started out as research to inform an art work has become a long held interest in her story.

Ms MacFarlane, who lives around a mile south of the waterfall, said Finella’s son Crathlinthius was killed after a “carry on” at her father’s castle, where he had turned up with friends.

His death was ordered by the King after he failed to arrive at Scone to explain himself, it is believed.

She said: “Kenneth did try hard to instil law and order and he was quite into punishing people if they misbehaved, It is said he had 30 thieves hanged from a tree, just by example.

“The king sent for him to present himself at Scone and own up to his behaviour. Probably scared, he took off for the West Coast, where the king’s men found him and killed him.”

While some believe Finella planned to kill Kenneth after falling in with a group of conspirators opposed to his succession plans, others are firm that it was her personal loss that powered her plot.

While pretending to forgive the monarch, she invited him to her home, thought to be a cottage near Fettercairn, to view a new piece of weaponry,

But in preparation of his arrival, Finella had a crossbow sprung, poised and waiting in one the room - which was triggered when she opened the door to let him in.

The King died, and Finella fled.

Ms MacFarlane said: “She got all the way to the waterfall, pursued by the king’s men. There are stories of her walking across the top of the trees. I think that is perfectly possible, If you are small and light you could move through them like that.

“She jumped from the waterfall and there are various theories about what happened next, that she was bashed to pieces on the rocks. Nothing was heard of her after than. But one story is that she left and went to Ireland.”

Ms MacFarlane completed two large woodcuts inspired by the Den of Finella. One shows her in the waterfall, and another amongst the treetops. Both were bought by Aberdeen Art Galleries last year.