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The obvious explanation is that the succession was claimed by the most powerful individual at the time, and that there was no particular pattern or custom which governed the right to the throne.No evidence has been uncovered to support any hypothesis regarding any succession pattern of these early kings.A complete analysis of the differences in regnal years between the 16 different surviving manuscripts is set out by Duncan The nub of the problem with the available Scottish sources is that each succeeding manuscript contains more detailed information than the previous ones.The suspicion is therefore that later chroniclers supplemented the limited information available with bogus additions, for reasons which will be discussed further below.The only reference to succession practice which has been found is the report in the Chronicle of John of Fordun which states that King Kenneth II decreed a change to enable "the nearest survivor in blood to the deceased king to succeed".The move would obviously have been unpopular in the wider royal family, and King Kenneth was not powerful enough to carry it through, as shown by his murder in 995, alleged in the same source to have been committed by his collateral relatives.Reliable information now available about the early Scottish kingdom and its kings is therefore limited.
Nevertheless, this phenomenon of expanded information over time does not inspire confidence in the overall reliability of the data.
No Scottish chronicles survive for this period and references to Scottish affairs in English chronicles are infrequent, although more information is included in Irish chronicles.
In addition, the earliest confirmed Scottish royal charter dates from the reign of King Duncan II at the end of the 11th century, in contrast to the comparative wealth of charter evidence which has survived for Anglo-Saxon England.
As will be observed when studying this document, these different primary sources are mutually contradictory in many areas.
The major point of difference concerns the regnal years, which means that dating of the early Scottish kings is reliable only when it can be checked against outside sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.