Bethoc, Prioress of Iona

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Records for Bethóc ingen Somairle

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Bethóc ingen Somairle

Birthplace: Of, Morven, Argyle, Scotland
Death: Priory Of Iona, Iona, Kintyre, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Somerled, king of the Hebrides and Ragnhildis Olavesdottir
Sister of Ragnall mac Somhairle, Lord of the Isles; Angus of Bute & Arran; Arran mac Somairle; Dullgallum mac Somairle and Dougal mac Somerled, King of the Isles
Half sister of Daughter of Somerled; Somhairle Og mac Somairle, King of Kintyre and of the Hebrides; Gilliecolum mac Somairle; Gillies mac Somerled and Gal "the Foreigner" mac Somairle

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About Bethoc, Prioress of Iona

It is unknown whether Bethoc had a secular career before becoming a nun.

Bethóc ingen Somairle[note 1] was a 13th-century Scottish prioress, considered to have been the first of Iona Nunnery. She was a daughter of Somairle mac Gilla Brigte.

In about 1203, Bethóc's brother, Ragnall mac Somairle, founded the Benedictine Iona Abbey. Sometime afterwards, he founded the Augustinian nunnery on Iona. The precise foundation date of the Benedictine and Augustinian houses are unknown.[2] According to the Book of Clanranald, Bethóc was a "black nun", while the History of the MacDonalds states that she was prioress of Iona.[2] That Bethóc was associated with Iona, as claimed by these clan-traditions, is corroborated by an inscribed stone on Iona. In about 1695, Martin Martin described the Gaelic inscription to have read "Behag nijn Sorle vic Ilvrid priorissa" (which translates as "Prioress Bethóc, daughter of Somairle, son of Gilla Brigte").[4] The transcription was still legible in the 19th century.[2][note 2]

It has been suggested that Bethóc was the original owner of the Iona Psalter, now preserved in the National Library of Scotland.[2] The psalter appears to have been illuminated in Oxford, in the 13th century.[1] If it was indeed intended for an Ionan prioress, it is uncertain if the psalter ever made it to Iona.[6]


  • Bethóc appears in modern English-language secondary sources under various names: Beatrice,[1][2] Bethag,[2] and Bethoc.[1][3]
  • In the early 19th century, the inscription was recorded to have read "Behag Niin Shorle vic Ilvrid Priorissa".[5]
  1. Perkins, Kim (2006), "Bethoc (Beatrice), daughter of Somerled", in Ewan, Elizabeth; Innes, Sue; Reynolds, Siân, The biographical dictionary of Scottish women: from the earliest times to 2004, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0 7486 1713 2. – via Questia (subscription required); p. 34.
  2. McDonald, Russell Andrew (1995), "Scoto-Norse kings and the reformed religious orders: patterns of monastic patronage in twelfth-century Galloway and Argyll", Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies (The North American Conference on British Studies) 27 (2): 187–219, JSTOR 4051525; pp. 208–209.
  3. Sellar, William David Hamilton (2004), "Somerled (d. 1164), king of the Hebrides and regulus of Argyll and Kintyre", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26782, retrieved 5 July 2011. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  4. Sellar, William David Hamilton (1966), "The origins and ancestry of Somerled", The Scottish Historical Review (Edinburgh University Press) 44 (140), JSTOR 25528658; p. 129.
  5. Sellar, William David Hamilton (1966), "The origins and ancestry of Somerled", The Scottish Historical Review (Edinburgh University Press) 44 (140), JSTOR 25528658; p. 129 fn 7.
  6. Higgitt, John (2000), The murthly hours: devotion, literacy and luxury in Paris, England and the Gaelic west, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-8020-4759-5; p. 278.
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Bethoc, Prioress of Iona's Timeline

Of, Morven, Argyle, Scotland
Priory Of Iona, Iona, Kintyre, Scotland