Now then everyone, how exciting is this, we have arrived at one of the many doormats of history. As we wipe our metaphorical feet and step over the threshold of this new room in the house of many rooms that is the history of Scotland, we are now surveying the cabinet of the Canmore dynasty, or the House of Dunkeld as it is also called. Actually we could have started with Duncan I in 1034, but I didn’t. Let me also tell me what I have done for you to help you understand the next 4 episodes. If you go to the website – the historyofengland.co.uk – you should be able to find 4 things; a regnal list for 1150-1295 – that is a list of Scottish kings, matched against list of other kingdoms like England, Norway that sort of thing. A family tree of the Canmores; a map of Scottish shires and earldoms, and a map of the royal burghs – both these last two you may not need until episode 17 actually. The way to find these things is to go to the podcast post on the website; and then down the right hand side you will see a list of all the resources available relevant to the podcast.
At this point I need to do some hedging of course, and apologise for using these old dynasty names which weren’t used by contemporaries and for dividing history into falsely drawn eras which suggest rather false discontinuities. So, sorry and all. But nonetheless, it’s a critical period in Scottish history, which sees Scotland become much more oriented towards western Europe and those shared European traditions and culture; while retaining and integrating her Gaelic and Norse heritage. Scotland enters into the period with no coinage and no towns, and will exit with a growing industry, cash based economy and international trade with the low countries. It’s a dynasty that starts with the defeat of Macbeth, and ends with the broken body of a young man lying at the foot of a cliff, with the menacing figure of Edward I of England waiting in the wings. I speak of the Wars of Independence of course, though we have 200 odd years to get through before we get there.
Last time we’d dealt with Malcolm’s disposal of Macbeth and his adopted son Lulach, and that by 1058 Mael Colium, or Malcolm III, had become the new king of Alba.
Malcolm married, well in all likelihood married, probably perhaps maybe married Ingebourg, who was possibly Thorfinn the Mighty’s widow, or maybe her daughter. We went for widow, possibly foolishly, but it doesn’t matter a lot except to note that Ingebourg will be dead and out of the way for Malcolm’s second wife Margaret by 1069; and that she will have two maybe three sons by her marriage to Malcolm. Her brood were Duncan, then Donald and then Malcolm, though Malcolm will not be troubling the scorer in our story. It is worth also mentioning that she’d had two sons by Thorfin back in Orkney days; her two earlier sons, Paul and Erlend ruled jointly in Orkney, and seemed to get on like a house on fire. I don’t mean that ironically, or in the Macbeth and Gille Comgain sense, I mean they appeared to be filled with the spirit of brotherly love. For the moment, all was therefore quiet on the northern front of Alba. Paul and Erlend’s children will be a great disappointment to them on the keeping of the peace sense, but that lies in the future. In the short term, you can put the Orkney Islands out of your mind. Part of the reason for that might well lie in a man called Máel Snechtai, the son of the murdered Lulach. Máel Snechtai appears at some point to have resurfaced in Moray, and taken advantage of all the proud heritage of local autonomy and claims to the throne of Alba; it could well be that Malcolm’s claim to rule over Moray was pretty nominal for the moment.
Of Malcolm we don’t know a vast amount physically; a long neck and a florid complexion apparently, and he acquires the Gaelic soubriquet Ceann Mor. Ceann Mor means Great Head, and I had always assumed, in so much as I assumed anything, that this was a clever way of saying Great Leader, Great Chief, and indeed this may well be the case. It seems though that there is line of thought that says no, it’s not a euphemism, he did in fact just have a big head, which of course is a lot less impressive. So I’m sticking with Great Leader.
Malcolm’s reign will have two big themes; one of those will arrive with his second wife, Margaret in 1070, so we’ll leave that for the moment. The other will be his obsession to fulfil the standard job description of medieval kings; to win glory and riches, to reward his followers. To do that he needed to win territory, to expand the borders of his kingdom.
To achieve this, Malcolm had broadly 3 choices; he could expand northwards – but then his relationship with the Earls of Orkney were happy and cemented by marriage to Ingebourg, so that was not an attractive prospect. He could go west young man, but the island kingdoms were a complicated and messy prospect, so that wasn’t that great either.
So, it was southwards he was to look. In the west, it is probably Malcolm who had finally snuffed out the British kingdom of Strathclyde’s independence and brought it within the kingdom of Alba. But somewhere along the way, Strathclyde seems to have been split in two; a land grant by Siward, the English Earl of Northumbria suggests that Cumbria, the southern part of the old Kingdom of Strathclyde, had come into English hands. So – Malcolm wanted it back. Meanwhile we had his eyes on Northumbria – or at least the northern part, Bernicia, the area between the River Tweed and Tees.
This calls for a quick geography lesson since we’ll keep referring to these rivers. There are three main rivers that run into the North Sea, east coast of Northumbria; the furthest north, which forms the current border with Scotland at Scotland’s South East corner is the River Tweed, with the principal stronghold of Berwick. Then go southwards 60 miles or so and you come to the second River, the Tyne, famed for Newcastle upon Tyne, yet to be built at our point in the story, and the eastern end of Hadrian’s wall. Then go another 40 miles down the coast and you’ll come to the River Tees. So, Tweed, Tyne Tees in that order from the north. All the land between those the Tweed and Tess should be, in the gospel according to Malcolm, part of Scotland.
His first chance came in 1061, so he didn’t hang around. Now it just so happened that the Earl of Northumbria by 1061 was a Godwinsson, Tostig Godwinsson, brother of Harold, you know arrow in the eye bloke. Tostig and Malcolm got on, and had sworn mutual and everlasting brotherhood, which made it difficult for Malcolm to come south and potentially meet him in battle and cut him into small pieces, not traditionally a feature of everlasting brotherhood. But in 1061, Tostig went to Rome; and while the everlasting brother was away, Malcolm visited his lands, along with fire, sword and slaughter. After burning Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Malcolm returned by Cumbria, making the point presumably that Cumbria was his too.
And then of course in 1065 Tostig was banished by his brother Harold; and then the balloon went up, and Harold Hadrada invaded with Tostig into the north, along with, incidentally, Paul and Erlend from the Orkney Islands. Plus some other fat bloke with a bad haircut invaded from Normandy. In 1060 I needn’t tell you the rest.
Now there is nothing so attractive than watching your enemies descend into chaos. So Malcolm kicked back and watched the chaos, and waited for the right moment. And 2 years later in 1068, the opportunity he was looking for fell into his lap, when a group of right royal visitors from England arrived at his court, accompanied by the new Earl of Northumbria Gospatric, soon to be in revolt against the Conqueror. The royal visitors were Agatha and her brood – Edgar, Margaret and Christina. Agatha who, I hear you say?
Agatha was the widow of Edward the Exile the son of Edmund Ironside, the rightful king of England who had fought Cnut to a standstill back in 1016, and then been shot though the bottom while attending to nature’s call. Edward the Exile had fled to Hungary, where he and Agatha and their family had lived. Then King Edward the Confessor had recalled them probably intending Edward the Exile to become his heir, and so they’d come back – only for the Edward formerly known as the exile to die in 1057. The son of the Prince formerly known as the Exile was Edgar, and he had actually been declared king by the Witangemot in 1066, but he was just 15, and the absence of an army had been a serious shortcoming when faced with the army of the Norman bloke. So, hence why he had now in 1068 fled to the north, hopefully to welcome and safety and to raise rebellion. His sister Margaret was probably 14 or 15 at the time. By all accounts, Malcom noticed Margaret; though Margaret appears to have been more interested in her plans to dedicate her life to God, and enter a monastery.
Now it’s not known what happened at this meeting, and often it’s just presented as a sort of lucky chance before the main event, since Edgar left to make trouble further south soon afterwards. But it is entirely possible that at this first visit a deal was hatched. This could well be the chance for which Malcom was waiting.
Because in 1069, an insecure William was still struggling and largely failing to subdue the North; rebellion by Edgar and the leaders of the north supported by a large Danish fleet. Further south a rising was also in the offing in the Fenlands. So in 1070 Malcom finally moved and this time he probably intended to have and hold Northumbria, and annex it to the Scottish throne. And so he raided and killed and pillaged his way through Northumbria. It’s been remarked that burning and killing your potential subjects was not away to endear them to you, but Malcolm, nor indeed any other lord, were much interested in endearment. Malcolm was demonstrating that Northumbria’s current lords could not protect them, and they should get themselves a new one, one that could protect them. Someone whose name began and ended with an M might be an idea. This was a bad time for the north; a few months earlier, William had swept along the vale of York laying waste and murdering his subjects with such brutality that even the Conqueror’s remarkably resilient conscience would be troubled at his death.
Malcolm certainly got as far as the River Tyne, since there at the monastery of Monkwearmouth he met the English royal exiles again at the monastery there. He might well have told them hat he was abandoning his attempt; because the northern rebellion was faltering in the face of William’s fury, the Danish fleet was making no headway and would soon leave and sail south. The rebellion had failed. In compensation he offered Edgar and his family a home in Scotland – but the disappointed rebels refused – they were back off to the continent to nurse their broken dreams.
At this point the wind intervened; no sooner had Malcolm got home than he discovered that the English royals had indeed set off for the continent, but had instead been blown in the other direction, and ended up in Scotland, in the Forth. What happened next would have an enormous impact on Scotland’s orientation. The ASC picks up our story
Then began King Malcolm to yearn after the child’s sister, Margaret, to wife; but he and all his men long refused; and she also herself was averse, and said that she would neither have him nor any one else, if the Supreme Power would grant, that she in her maidenhood might please the mighty Lord with a carnal heart, in this short life, in pure continence. The king, however, earnestly urged her brother, until he answered Yea. And indeed he durst not otherwise; for they were come into his kingdom
That probably need a bit of translation, it’s not going to win any prizes for clear English. Essentially Malcolm persuaded Edgar to allow him to marry Margaret, although Margaret would have preferred to become a nun. In a purely business sense, Malcolm ad made a pretty canny decision. Margaret brought with her a claim to the English throne, which would be particularly strong should Edgar die childless. He had won an unlimited wild card and permit to interfere in English affairs sand get his Northumbria and Cumbria for Scotland. But Malcolm appears also to have been smitten
The king therefore received her, though it was against her will, and was pleased with her manners, and thanked God, who in his might had given him such a match.
Ok, I’m prepared to believe that this isn’t necessarily the language of love and would make slightly disappointing reading on a Valentine card, but Malcolm was most certainly smitten, and slightly in awe of Margaret. For poor Margaret, bought and sold and forced into a marriage for which she had no enthusiasm, there were to be compensations – she was at least to be given the opportunity and power to fulfil a mission close to her heart.
We know more than normal about Margaret, and also about her daughter Edith as it happens, Edith commissioned a biography, the Life of St Margaret, probably written by Turgot, a Bishop of St Andrews. As you know biography from this period is very rare indeed, and there was an ulterior motive here for writing the book – which was to have Margaret made a saint. So, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Life is not a hard-hitting expose taking you behind the scenes to expose the sordid reality of the rich and famous. But there are reasonably large parts of the biography that can be corroborated; and it worked. Margaret would become a Saint, and Scotland’s only royal saint.
So although the marriage of Malcom and Margaret worked from the practical angle, in the end it seems to have done also from a personal basis. Margaret’s passion, was for her religious life, and for the religious life of her country, and she was at least to get a full chance to exercise her enthusiasm. Her piety may have been encouraged by her early life in exile, following her father. Because in Hungary, she would have been at the Hungarian court when Christianity was being introduced for the first time, and maybe it was that passion which inspired her.
Margaret was determined to ensure that the practice of religion was carried out in Scotland according to proper practice; but she also possessed a deep personal piety, reflected in her self denial and the rigor of her observances. It was often noted that she was not healthy due to the extremity of this self denial, while at the same time she had to carry out the traditional roles of Queen. But in this she was equally committed to her duty; and if the first duty of the Queen was to produce an heir, Margaret succeeded in spades, giving birth to 6 sons and 2 daughters. Another duty was to intervene with the king to allow him to offer mercy for his subjects without losing faith, she pleaded for and protected the many English slaves brought back from Northumbria in chains. And slightly incongruously, she also took seriously the need for the magnificence of the royal court to reflect on the strength and achievements of the king. So despite her personal piety and self denial, she also wore the full ceremonial gear and insisted on the same for those around her. As we have often noted, conspicuous consumption for a king and Queen and their court was not a hobby but a duty.
The strength of her passion, energy and intellect won the king’s support. Malcolm was clearly in awe of her ability to read and of her religious knowledge; Margaret used that awe to take religious reform to her new kingdom. Malcolm’s admiration comes across in little intimate stories, like the way he held her books open for her while she read. He was frequently at her side in her mission such as acting as a translator as she addressed the Scottish churchmen.
The support was important, because there was clearly the potential for resentment. One of Margaret’s objective was to bring the practice of the Scottish church into line with that of Rome. So you can see the danger – a foreign princess, and a Saxon one at that, driving out comfortable Celtic practices with newfanglement into the church and monastery. All out brothers.
So she presided over many councils to bring doctrinal and liturgical practice into line with those of Europe. She was also to found a Benedictine monastery alongside the church at Dunfermline, magnificently built in the latest Romanesque architectural style.
Margaret’s influence has been presented as the re-invigoration of a native Celtic church, sunk in torpor, decadence and conservatism, swept away by the vitality and dynamism of Continental practice. It’s been presented conversely as a deliberate assault on a vibrant Gaelic culture by a royalty whose heads had been turned by alien Saxon outsiders, which through their children would lead to a more thorough invasion and colonisation by Anglo Normans and their culture.
Both these views have been moderated more recently. Firstly, it’s accepted that Margaret’s impact has been somewhat bigged up; Turgot was trying to have her made a saint, so moderation was not in his interests. It is likely that Margaret was not able to fundamentally and decisively transform practice in the Scottish church in such a short time; though she fulfilled an important symbolic and cultural role in starting the process of reform. It also seems to be true that Margaret was not simply a Roman zealot, sweeping into her new realm telling everyone they’d been doing it all wrong the idiots. She clearly deeply admired and support many elements of the Gaelic tradition. In particular, she supported the communities of ascetic clergy, the Celi De, scattered throughout Scotland, made donations to the Céli Dé of Loch Leven, and tried to restore the church at Iona.
So she was a fan, a reformer rather than an iconoclast. And she was also part of a much wider, European process of reform; of the Cluniac monastic reform which had started in Europe over a century before, and of the more recent reforms of Pope Gregory VII. The same process was going on south of the border too, sweeping away Saxon traditions and practice.
While this places Margaret in context, it is quite clear that she was an exceptional figure. For example, during the conferences into which she brought the leaders of the Scottish church, she is seen as an authoritative religious leader. We see her posing formal questions and carrying out what were called sententiae. These are Latin words that accompany a formal process carried out by teachers, carrying out an interrogation and providing answers based on scripture and religious texts. These were normally the preserve of the celibate, male ecclesiastical elite; Margaret was accepted in this world as an expert and leader.
Whatever her achievements, Margaret and her family were not popular at court – they were surely never going to be. They introduced a new, alien clique, elbows digging and shoving as they forced a path and a space for themselves at court. Malcolm’s children would all have Saxon names and Norman Names Edward, Edmund, Ethelred, Edgar, Alexander, Edith, Mary and David. Not a Mael Colium or Bethoc to be seen. Malcolm was seen to be indulging in foreign military adventures, to support this greedy new family; it could not fail to create resentment among the traditional Gaelic nobility.
Entranced by his wife, that was not Malcolm’s concern. Taking Cumbria and Northumbria into the Scottish realm was, and there was no leader so Gaelic that would have challenged such an aim. We should also temper the picture of a new faction at court with the reality of Malcom’s kingship. This was no colonisation or wholesale change of practice and governance such as would begin under his son David. Malcolm led a very Gaelic Alban kingdom in the tradition of his forefathers. The armies he led south were not feudal armies based on military service in return for land; they were a combination of levies raised by his Mormaers, and his own household men – much more Harald Godwinsson than Billy the Conq. Malcolm’s realm was based on the Celtic model of personal lordship, Malcolm was a king very much in his Gaelic tradition.
Malcolm would have been a reasonably content bunny in 1071; although he’d not won Northumbria in 1070 he’d brought back booty and slaves, he’d held onto southern Cumbria again, and got out before the going got too hot. But to misquote the Corrs he was neither forgiven nor forgotten by the Norman Sauron in his White Tower. In 1072 the Conqueror came north, And he came with a few thousands of his closest friends, with mail and sword and horse.
Malcolm followed the time honoured Scottish strategy which with the odd exception would prove their strategy whenever folks came to visit from south of the border, and prove a pretty successful one at that – they ran away. This is not cowardly running away, this is kingly, noble, strategic running away; time after time the English would demonstrate that with an effective naval presence, maintaining supplies across the Forth was almost impossible. It makes Athelstan’s achievement all the more impressive – and of course he did indeed have a navy with him. William followed, and he followed, and he followed. Eventually, close to Abernethy in Perthshire Malcom’s diplomatic feelers began to get the right response, and Malcolm met with William to talk.
The resulting Treaty of Abernethy is rather lost in the mists of time and were probably misrepresented by later English chroniclers; I should note that the evil Sassenachs fell into the habit of calling it eh Submission of Abernethy, which gives the whole thing rather more of a spin. Critical to this was the line that Malcolm did homage to William for Scotland; this was a later imposition of feudal relationships on that which was agreed at Abernethy. In fact all that was noted at the time was that Malcolm became William’s man- a personal relationship, with no territorial relationships. While Malcolm got no change out of his claims for Cumbria south of the Solway nor for Northumbria, he did implicitly get acceptance of his ownership of northern Cumbrian, or Strathclyde as we might call it, and for Lothian; and remember, the acquisition of Lothian for Scotland is itself pretty recent. But there was a price to pay. Edgar Atheling – he had to go, royal Alban shoe must be applied to Saxon buttock. And Malcolm’s first born, Duncan, his eldest son by Ingebourg, he must go back to the English court as a hostage.
It would be a while before Malcolm tried again. He did indeed kick Edgar out as the Conqueror demanded, but 1074 Edgar returned to ask for help. This time Malcolm refused; and persuaded him to make his peace with William, which Edgar did. Malcolm sat by and watched Waltheof, the last AS Earl make his final despairing revolt against the Norman jackboot, and made no move to intervene or take advantage.
But he had simply been waiting for the right opportunity. And it came in 1079, William had left for Normandy, leaving the Bishop of Durham in charge in the north. Malcolm gathered his army, descended with fire and fury, and installed a client lord in Cumbria south of the Solway. The Bishop dithered, Malcolm returned home with his plunder, and the infuriated inhabitants of Northumbria turned on the Bishop and killed him.
Once again Malcolm’s bit of fun did not go without reaction; this time William sen his half brother Odo and his son Robert north. The same pattern was followed; after a bit of judicious running away the obligatory agreement was reached, this time in Falkirk. The agreement at Falkirk basically confirmed Abnernethy. But, it ignored Malcolm’s southwards extension of influence in his last raid; so it could even be read as accepting Malcolm’s gains, implicitly setting the border as far south as the Tyne, so it was a bit of a steal as far as Malcolm was concerned. However, the significant stuff happened afterwards. Robert built a castle, one of those symbols of Normal oppression at Newcastle upon Tyne, this was when Newcastle was indeed a new castle, just as this was the time when the New Forest was indeed, new. And two Normans were installed in the top jobs in the North – a Norman Bishop of Durham; and a Norman Earl of Northumbria.
When the Conqueror died burst in 1087, Malcolm took the opportunity take another inch by omission – not going south to offer his hands to William Rufus; by implication, all those treaties and agreements were to Malcolm’s view personal, and now the slate was wiped clean. This despite the fact that Rufus had tried to placate Malcolm by releasing Duncan and sending him back to Malcolm with full honours. You might remember Duncan was sent as a hostage all the way back in 1072 so he’d been at the English Court a long time, probably a significant portion of his life through his formative years. It was all going Malcolm’s way – it was, sadly, to be the high point. Interestingly, it’s not clear that Duncan came north with any enthusiasm; he continues to pop up at the English court, so he clearly went back there. It could be that he’s Malcolm’s eyes and ears at the English court; or it could be that father and son did not see eye to eye, and Duncan saw his life in the south. And indeed, Malcolm was to name Edward, his eldest by Margaret, as his heir, his tanaiste, rather than Duncan, who was of course his first born. It suggests there was a problem.
Rufus was in no position in 1087 to take a trip to the north, struggling for supremacy with his brother Robert. But while Malcolm might have been feeling smug, he shouldn’t have been. Scotland and the North West was on the Rufus to do list, and not just because of Malcolm’s passive aggression. In the Irish sea a new sprig of the old Ui Imarr dynasty had emerged as a new power. Neither Malcom nor Rufus would have enjoyed seeing a new power emerge in the Irish sea – it threatened North West England, it threatened Galloway and Cumbria. Rufus encouraged his new Norman lords in the north into a more active and aggressive policy of settlement; moving north of the Tyne, and southern Cumbria. So Malcolm would have been feeling increasingly threatened when in 1091 who should turn up at the Scottish court like a bad penny but the Queen’s brother Edgar Aetheling?
Edgar was unhappy; he’d stitched up a deal with Billy the Conq, things had gone pretty well, and then Rufus had reneged on the deal. Let us suppose Margaret now waded in on her brother’s side, and together with his worries about Norman encroachments, Malcolm was pushed over the top, he called on his Mormaers, gathered his household warriors and headed for the fortress that dominated the north – Durham. Laying siege to a fortress was a new development – you have to think it meant that Malcolm had finally decided he would take and hold Northumbria, that it was now or never. He had some time because Rufus was in Normandy, but taking castles was not a talent of armies with no siege train, and before it could fall, Rufus was back with an army. Although Malcolm raised the siege and retreated a way, it seemed as though this time there might be fighting, because Malcolm turned and the two armies faced each other. Enter Edgar Aethling and Rufus’s brother Robert, who rode out from their respective camps and followed Churchill’s dictum that jaw jaw is always better than war war. And yet again things were patched up, the old treaties were confirmed, Edgar was welcomed back into Rufus’s embrace. Everyone was happy, extraordinary really.
Except this time Rufus was just playing for time and messing with Malcolm’s head. Almost as soon as the agreement was sealed, Rufus started breaking it. He marched into Cumbria, and built a castle at Carlisle; as far as Malcolm was concerned this was now Scotland. Malcolm assumed there was some misunderstanding and it seemed in 1093 as though Rufus agreed; come down to Gloucester and talk, he said. Malcolm set off in a leisurely way; on the way he stopped at Durham, being involved in the ceremony laying the foundation stones of Durham Cathedral. No need to panic.
Except it was the perfect time to panic. Into Gloucester rode Malcolm full of confidence, into the bustling English court. The response he got astounded him; William had changed his mind. He had better things to do than speak to the Scottish king, such as watching the mud dry on his shoes and a heavy bout of sleeping on his throne and playing frisbee with his crown. Sorry, not at home. If Malcolm wanted to discuss anything, he could submit his case to the English court just like any other baron.
Now this was a straightforward honest to goodness insult, pretty much a declaration of war; Malcolm was not to be treated like a king, but just like any other of Rufus’s men. Malcolm was livid, returned straight way to Scotland, called for his warriors, for his horse and for his eldest son. Sadly his eldest son, Duncan was not around because, awkwardly, he still preferred the court of William Rufus, but instead Margaret’s eldest son Edward stepped forward, and after all he had been nominated heir. Malcolm and Edward set out to wreak his vengeance on the poor old Northumbrians as they rode towards Alnwick their vision was covered by a red mist, the red mist of fury.
Which meant that they did not see a bunch of Norman knights led by earl Robert of Northumbria. It could be that Malcolm assumed they had come to talk, since among the ambushers was one Arkil Morel, described by the ASC as his ‘spiritual Brother’. Spiritual Brother or not, Morel slaughtered father and son.
Back in Edinburgh, Queen Margaret was ill, worn out by a life of austerity. So when her second son Edgar, not yet 20 years old, came to tell her that her husband and eldest son were dead it was too much for her. She was dead within 3 days.
Right, so this is categorically not good news for the people of Scotland, and in fact it falls into the bad news category. I mean who is supposed to be king now then, huh? If we are going by the Gaelic rules of Tanistry, then it would be …oh, Edward, but sadly he’s just been slaughtered. OK then, let’s go for primogeniture, oldest son. But is that Duncan, oldest son of the previous queen, and anyway he’s down living with the enemy Rufus. Or is it the next in line from the tanaiste, Edward’s next brother Edmund? Or maybe someone completely different – like a more experienced man. Enter Donald the Fair, Donal Ban, the king’s brother.