Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

The Orkneys

Dorkain, Dorkaine, Dorkaines, Orcaine, Orcania, Orcanie, Orcany, Orchaine, Orkanie, Orkenise, Orkenye, Ortaine

The Orkney Islands are an archipelago located off the northeastern coast of mainland Scotland. The archipelago consists of about 70 islands.

Phyllis Ann Karr suspect that “Orkney” in Arthurian lore included more than simply the Orkney Islands – that it might include all Scotland south to Lothian.

Orkney is traditionally part of King Lot’s realm, though it is ruled by Gunvasius in Geoffrey of Monmouth and Souenas in the English Arthur. Sometimes, it is named as one of Arthur’s courts. The Vulgate Merlin seems to think it was a city in Lothian, one of Lot’s other kingdoms, or that it was next to Wales. A number of other continental romances also locate it in Scotland. In Merlin it is attacked by Saxons while Lot is leading a rebellion against Arthur. Lot returned and drove away the invaders.

According to the Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal, its name came from King Orcant, an early ruler and an ancestor of Lot. Orkney is in some text the surname of Gawain, Gareth, Agravain, and Gaheris.

In the last pages Chrétien de Troyes wrote, he has Orkney as a city where Arthur holds court. Chrétien’s Orkney lies two full traveling days (north of?) the area of Canguin and Orqueneseles, and seems to be on the mainland. This apparently puzzled Hilka, who noted that the Orkneys are islands, not a city – Orcanie.

The Orkney Islands | 0 to 800 AD

Prehistoric Settlements
Before 0 AD, the Orkney Islands were inhabited by prehistoric peoples who left behind significant archaeological sites. Notable among these is the village of Skara Brae on Mainland Orkney, a remarkably well-preserved Neolithic settlement dating back to around 3100 BC.

Pictish Influence
The Picts, a confederation of Celtic-speaking peoples, are believed to have been early inhabitants of the Orkney Islands. The Picts had a complex society, and their influence is evident in the region’s archaeological remains.

Norse Viking Settlement
The most significant historical change during this period was the arrival of the Norse Vikings in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. The Norse, led by figures like Earl Rognvald, began to establish settlements on the islands.

The Orkneyinga Saga, a medieval Norse text, provides an account of the Norse settlement and rule over the Orkneys. The saga tells of Norse chieftains, their exploits, and their relationship with other Norse leaders. The establishment of the Norse Earldom of Orkney is often associated with the figure of Sigurd the Mighty, who was a powerful Norse leader during the late ninth century.

The process of Christianization began with the arrival of Norse settlers. By the late eighth century, the islands began to adopt Christianity. Christian influences are evident in the construction of churches and the spread of Christian practices. The dedication of St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall in the twelfth century reflects the Christianization of the islands, as St. Magnus became a significant saint in Orkney’s Christian history.

Trade and Cultural Exchange, Rivalries and Conflicts
The Norse Vikings engaged in trade and cultural exchange with other Norse regions and European territories. Orkney’s strategic location made it a crucial center for Norse activities in the North Atlantic.

The Orkney Islands, due to their strategic importance, became embroiled in the power struggles of the Norse world. Rivalries among Norse chieftains and conflicts with neighboring regions, including Norway and Scotland, played out in the islands.

See also
Caithness | The Legend of King Arthur
Herlan | The Legend of King Arthur
Meliant | The Legend of King Arthur

Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval | Attributed to Wauchier of Denain, c. 1200
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal | 1220-1235
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Arthur | c. 1428
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470