The death of Malcolm III, Margaret and their designated heir Prince Edward threw political Scotland into a chaos of competing claims. There were multiple candidates, that being the way of Gaelic succession practice, but there were two we assume everyone had their eyes on. First was Duncan, Malcolm’s eldest son, by Ingebourg. Good Choice obviously, none of that nasty Saxon name stuff; but sadly not on site at the time of Malcolm’s death, and politically and culturally suspect because he was down at the English court, even though he didn’t need to be; he was there by choice for crying aloud.
The other one was Edmund, in his early 20’s, and eldest surviving son of Malcolm and Margaret. He seemed a good choice since he his candidacy reflected the strength of influence of his mother, Margaret at court.
However, there was a third, less obvious candidate, namely Malcolm’s brother Donal Ban. He was present, and he was re-assuringly Gaelic.
During Malcolm’s reign the focus had moved south into Lothian; all the fighting had been about Cumbria and Northumbria. Margaret had died at Edinburgh Castle, the new English allies at court were Lothian based such as Earl Gospatric who had been given lands in Lothian by Malcolm when he’d been kicked out of England. There seems to be a theme here; a king surrounded by an English wife, culture and children, favouring Lothian, territories facing England. It was a theme of which the traditional Gaelic leadership was probably not fond. It is important of course not to impose modern day sensibilities on the situation; so it’s not likely to have been like the modern day mathering between English and Scot; it’s much more driven by politics – here was a new faction which had snaffled up power influence and riches, and the folks who had been elbowed aside were understandably aggrieved, and ready to take some of it back. The focus might have moved southwards to Lothian, but political power was still focussed in the Tay Basin and north as it ever was, where the great Earls were based, and the royal estates, and there’s no suggestion that Gaelic culture was in retreat; there’s no indication that the expansiveness of the last century was going to change any time soon.
And so the Scottish elected the king’s brother, Donald the Fair, Donal Ban, to be their next king. Now that put the cat among the pigeons. And no doubt part of the deal was that the cuckoos in the nest, all the Edmunds and Edgars and Gospatrics of this world were no longer welcome, and should go and live with their precious English king. As so they went.
When they arrived at the court of William Rufus, no doubt full of outrage and pleadings, they found a pretender already preparing to challenge Donal for the throne – Duncan, of course. He was part of the Rufus household, as soon as he’d heard the news he’d asked his king for permission to claim his birth-right. Rufus could hardly believe his luck. One moment he was preparing for war against his northern neighbour, next moment here was a perfectly credible heir asking for his permission to go and make himself king of Scotland. I mean it was priceless; Rufus demanded that Duncan tie himself in suitable pledges of loyalty to him, wished him good luck and then got on with his life. Rufus could not lose; if Duncan failed, well there was no change, nothing was any worse; if Duncan succeeded, he was a man fully imbued with Norman culture after 22 years at William’s court, and he had just agreed that the right to Scottish kingship was something the English king had in his gift to bestow. Here we are then – hate it or loathe it, here’s an admission that the Scottish crown was held from the English.
In the absence of any practical help from his lord and master, I guess Duncan went round and gathered up every English and French adventurer he could find. Among whom would have been his brothers, notably the eldest two, Edmund and Edgar; it might well have included the heirs of earl Gospatric. Whoever; in the early days of 1094 off they went to win their fortune.
Now I must admit this sounds like a desperate adventure to me. A landless hopeful, with a rag bag of supporters taking on the might of an elected king; and an elected king with the support of the most powerful nobles of Alba, or at very least all of those north of the Forth. I know who my money would have been on, and it would not have been Duncan. But do you know, would you Adam and eve it, Duncan went and won, in May 1094 Donald was defeated and fled, and Duncan started his victory celebrations. Too soon young man; he hadn’t really won yet. While Scot, England and French were slapping each other on the back and celebrating, the Gaelic lords around Donald were back, minus Donald as it happens, I have no idea where he was at this point. This time the outcome was not so good, and Duncan’s supporters were on the receiving end of a beating; it maybe suggests that first time around Donald had been caught napping, though since Duncan stopped at Durham, for a bit of ceremonising and the first ever written Scottish charter to survive he can’t have had the most effective spy network.
Obviously this looked bad for our Duncan, but the sands of his luck had not quite run out – though had he known it they were pretty near the bottom of the glass. To Duncan’s relief, the Gaelic lords suggested that he should stay on as king, despite his latest defeat. On one condition – that he would boot out the remaining English and French supporters he’d brought with him. He wasn’t in the best negotiating position, and Duncan could hardly strip his friendship bracelets off fast enough, and his best best buddies were sent packing.
Sadly, it did him no good, what would it profit a man to win the whole world and lose his soul. We know nothing of the intricacies of all of this, but clearly Scotland was riven by factions, and in all the maelstrom it’s not clear now on whose support Duncan could rely; his natural English and French supporters were gone. Meanwhile unknown to him, one of his super loyal family members, namely Margaret’s eldest son, Edmund, Duncan’s half brother, had made contact with the exiled Donal Ban and stitched up a deal. For Edmund’s support, Donal would give Edmund a huge land settlement, and make him the Tanaiste. The deal was stitched, Donal returned. Duncan was murdered to stop all this to-ing and fro-ing, and Donal resumed the throne as Donald III. Edmund’s brothers and sisters fled back to England again, the phrase ‘Black sheep of the family’ on their lips. Good Golly Miss Molly, where will it all end? With them, incidentally, went Duncan’s son, William. This William will be a significant man. He would join up with another of the Canmore brood, David, and serve him loyally and effectively all his life. And from him would follow the MacWilliam family, a family with a claim to the throne. There will be blood, gentle listeners, there will be blood.
Anyway, Donald and Edmund clung on to power for 4 years. But in the south the other Canmore’s plotted, and they plotted with Edgar Aetheling, now reconciled with the English king William Rufus. In 1095 the revolt of Robert Mowbray brought Rufus north, and Edgar Aetheling ran an exploratory raid into Scotland on his behalf. The next oldest remaining son of Malcolm Edgar had been chosen as the next in line to the throne of Scotland – all were agreed that if they returned, Edmund was toast. Let us call Edgar Edgar Canmore to distinguish him from Edgar Aetheling; I am sorry, it is rare in live that there are too many Edgars around. But, this was a lovely, lovely negotiating position for William Rufus – I mean if you were Edgar Canmore, and had nothing, why would you not agree to the most outrageous demands? There’s duly a charter sealed at Durham again by Edgar Canmore. It includes this:
Son of Malcolm king of Scots, possessing the whole land of Lothian and kingship of Scotland by gift of King William my lord and by paternal heritage…
By gift of King William. By ‘eck, there’s a thing. There’s plenty in this for Edgar though – confirmation again that Lothian is fair dinkum Scottish.
In 1097, Rufus was ready, and his now loyal assistant Edgar Aetheling it was that lead the invasion into Scotland. The fighting was hard, apparently, but it was the Edgars than came out winners. Donal was blinded, just like a Byzantine Emperor, and died a couple of years later. Edmund, well Edmund, how awkward is that? Hi brother, sorry. There are conflicting reports of what happens; lets go with the one that has him spending the rest of his life as a monk in Somerset.
Edgar Canmore was now King of Scots. Margaret and Malcolm had done such a good job in the procreation department that he still had two younger brothers and 2 sisters. Alexander was the oldest, 19 years old, and therefore Alexander was accorded the role of tanaiste, heir, and given land and titles according to his dignity. David was just 12 at this point, and he was sent south to England. He was to be part of the household of the future English king Henry I; his sisters went with him, Edith and Mary.
So we have a new king in Edgar Canmore. Honestly, and without wanting to upset Edgar, it’s not a reign that set the world of Scottish history alight, though do put me right on this. One off the problems here is that with Edgar and his successor Alexander I, we are effectively in the anteroom of King David I, who has a long and very influential reign. In historical terms we don’t know very much about Edgar and Alexander, and we are all waiting for the really fun guy David to turn up at the party and put beer in the punch.
Anyway, Edgar; the sort of super summary was that here’s a bloke oriented towards the English and the French, who took precious little interest or notice in, well, anything really, but particularly in his Gaelic heritage and the Islands and Atlantic coast; who insofar as he was noted for anything, was noted for a massive endowment of the church in Durham. The endowment reflected his interest in Norman culture, and may have been an attempt to influence the great and the good of the north to support an extension of his and Scottish influence southwards. It has been noted that the Bishopric at St Andrews was not filled for all his reign, with the assumption that he just couldn’t be bothered to find anyone. Coupled with Edgar’s submission to William, and his attendance on him in 1099 at a ceremony in Westminster, the Edgar’s reputation as sort of emotionally absent from Gaelic Scotland is complete.
The assessment is difficult to argue with because we know almost nothing of Edgar’s reign domestically. But there are some suggestions that the assessment is a little unfair, and that in some after life somewhere Edgar is wandering around with a cup of tea and a bun complaining to anyone who will listen that it really wasn’t like that. There are probably a few of those up there actually.
The major event that troubles Edgar’s reign is in the west, where as we briefly mentioned last time, a new empire among the Islands had arisen. I avoided the name of the relevant warlord, since we have so many names, but now I feel obliged to name said warlord as Godred Crovan. Against Godred, William Rufus continued to re-inforce Carlisle and Cumbria south of the Solway, hardening the border with Scotland. Meanwhile in the Northern Isles, in the Orkney Islands, remember Paul and Erlend, who seemed to get on so well. Well, their families did not, their sons argued and squabbled like fury, and the result was the collapse of Orcadian power.
But Godred’s mini empire collapsed into chaos under pressure from the Irish, and into the war zone walked another name – Magnus Barelegs the king of Norway. He dealt with the Orkney island situation by sending Paul and Erlend back to Norway, and taking their sons Haakon Paulsson and Magnus Erlendsson with him on a campaign round the western isles and all the way down to the Isle of Mann, establishing in one great maritime campaign, a Norwegian Empire stretching all the way round Scotland’s north and west. He also actually ended up on the Scottish mainland, forcing Galloway to submit to him – which is a good time to remind you that modern SW Scotland is still not part of the Scottish kingdom at this point. So this new Norwegian Empire looked pretty scary to both Edgar and to England. At one point Magnus even intervened in North Wales, defeating a Norman army there. At this point Edgar is supposed to have found himself a white hanky, waved it furiously and the legend is that he signed a treaty with Magnus Barelegs, renouncing all Scottish claims to islands west of Scotland in exchange for peace. The basis of the agreement was that Magnus would have every island a ship could reach with its rudder set. Now we know that the Vikings love a bit of sneak, and here we have a bit of high quality tricksiness. Magnus had his burly Vikings haul his ship over the narrowest part of the Mull of Kintyre, thereby winning Kintyre for his empire. So look, here we have the substance of the accusations at Edgar – you just don’t care about the Gaelic heritage, you have just signed away your interest in much of what was Dal Riada.
Well, the thing about Kintyre has all the hallmarks of a later reinvention. All this stuff comes from much later Saga’s and look like an attempt to bolster the claims of the Norwegian king of those times, rather than reflecting reality. It is entirely likely that this agreement in 1098 never happened. In addition, it looks likely that Edgar took an active interest in the affairs of the north, stitching up a deal with Magnus Erlendsson to support his claims to Cathness and Ross. As it happens, Magnus and his cousin Haakon manage for a while to emulate their fathers Paul and Erlend and rule the Orkney Islands jointly; until you get another classic piece of Viking trickery again in 1117; Magnus Erlendsson sailed to an island for a bit of negotiation with the agreed two ships. Cousin Haakon Paulsson turned up with 8, and not so that he could bring more presents with him for his cousin. Magnus took refuge in Egilsay Church, but predictably was hauled out and killed by the Cook, as it happens. This achieved Martyrdom for him, and he is remembered not just as Magnus the Earl, but as St Magnus, the St Magnus that gives his name to a wonderful church at the end of the old London Bridge, and is definitely worth a visit. So the point here is that it’s unlikely he gives away his rights to the Islands; and he was clearly intervening in the north of his Gaelic kingdom.
Two final bits of defence for Edgar is that it appears he sites his court in the traditional heartlands of Gaelic rule, in the Tay basin; and that these days it seems agreed that he did appoint a Bishop of St Andrews, it’s just that the records haven’t survived. There rests really the case for the defence; which leaves us with the super summary that Edgar the not quite as idle as we thought he was.
There is one other thing I should mention before moving on to his successor; the use of Latin in royal iconography is now on its way to becoming standard, and with it the use of the names Scots and Scotland to sit alongside and begun to overtake the Gaelic Alba. Edgar’s seal bore the effigy and inscription Imago Edgari Scottorum Basilei. The image of Edgar, King of Scots.
Edgar died at Edinburgh, in 1107. Can I just say one more thing in defence of Edgar? He died in his bed, and in Scotland this is something of a badge of honour for its kings. Obviously, it’s a personal triumph for Edgar, but also it’s a symbol of stability for the whole realm, and therefore is a public triumph. Well done Edgar for re-establishing order and stability.
Edgar did not appear to have married let alone had children, and so the tanaiste Alexander, his younger brother, therefore assumed the throne. We are still in the anteroom of David I, which is annoying, but also slightly justified. But whereas Edgar has been firmly identified as a happily accepting English overlordship and going along with the whole shebang without complaint, Alexander was clearly rather more chippy about such an idea. The feature of his quite long reign, 17 years from 1107 to 1124, is an attempt to bring Scotland out from under this cloud of English supremacy which seemed to have descended on it since the disputed succession in 1094. It’s tricky, because the ties between the Scottish and English royal houses were now closer than ever. In 1100 Henry I came to the throne, after the unfortunate meeting between Rufus and an arrow. Henry immediately married Edith daughter of Malcolm and Margaret and sister therefore to Alexander; Edith changed her name to Matilda to sound nice and Norman, but in fact of course Henry married her precisely because he was pitching himself as the answer to the AS prayer, the candidate of reconciliation. Because although there wasn’t a free election in the offing for a few hundred years, Henry did have trouble, with his brother Robert challenging his accession to the English throne from Normandy. And then also as part of these English links, the youngest of the Canmore brothers, David, had been part of Henry’s household since 1097, and was quite clearly Henry’s pal.
Alexander started with the premise that none of this was necessarily healthy for Scotland. Nothing wrong with friendship, obviously, but friendship between two equals. So there is no sign that when Alexander came to the throne he recognised this idea that his kingship came from the hand of the king of England. Unfortunately, his younger brother David had also become part of the problem. Edgar’s will stipulated that David be given Strathclyde as an appanage. An appanage is a kind of feudal term for a bunch of land and its rights given away almost entirely, less subject to the normal right due to the king. Not only was this a vast amount of territory, but David actually wanted more the cheeky monkey; I am told that younger brothers called David can be demanding, though I could not confirm such an outrageous accusation. Frankly, Alexander wasn’t keen. Aware that Henry stood it the wings, Alexander didn’t say no, but nor did he make any progress towards actually handing over any land at all, including Strathclyde.
Cross and grumpy though David no doubt was about this, he could not get anywhere with it; Henry could only give intermittent help, as he spent his time establishing his own rule in England. But in 1113, 6 years into Alexander’s reign, something happens. Essentially, it’s a bit like the school playground. David says I want. Alexander says can’t have, and I’m bigger and stronger than you so nerks. So, David goes and gets his big mate, and Alexander is reminded of the realities of life. It could even be that military intervention was threatened by Henry and David. In 1113, then, David comes into his inheritance; and not just into his inheritance as defined by the will, but he gets all the extra he whined for too – so it’s Strathclyde and its Lothian. And actually the Strathclyde part David rules almost as the sole ruler, like a prince, or maybe at least like a Marcher Lord – he even called himself Prince of the Cumbrians. As part of the agreement, Alexander also gets an English wife – Sibylla, one of Henry I’s many, many illegitimate children. This was an honour, there’s no suggestion that Sybella’s illegitimacy disbarred her from the marriage market – but equally it was an honour Alexander would have likely had no opportunity to refuse. Although there is no record, it seems entirely likely that Alexander was also required to make some sort of submission. He had been brought to heel. And from Henry’s point of view, he now had a pal in David whose lands stretched across the northern side of the border with Scotland.
There is no direct evidence that Alexander blamed his brother for all of this, or hated him for it. But David is entirely absent from Alexander’s inner circle for the rest of his reign; nor was he designated as Alexander’s heir. In his ‘Life of David king of Scots’ the contemporary chronicler Alred of Rievaulx claims that Alexander hated and persecuted his younger brother. Now, while there’s no more evidence than this that Alexander seethed with fury and resentment at being strong armed by his younger brother and his big mates, I for one believe Alred’s story and indeed if I was Alexander I would have persecuted my younger brother, for which purpose of course, younger brothers were invented.
It seems more than likely that Alexander’s Gaelic lords were no happier than Alexander about all of this There is just the odd indicator that supports this this; one of which is a Gaelic poem that goes;
It’s bad what Mael Colium’s son has done
Dividing us from Alexander
he causes like each king’s son before
The plunder of stable Alba
Now none of this mattered too much in 1113 since Alexander of course was to have a son, surely; he already had an illegitimate son called Malcolm. And Alexander was no fool; he recognised that he must just grit his teeth and smile happily at Henry, and hopefully he’d be left alone. And when he had to, he collaborated with Henry; for example, when once again the western seas boiled with war from Ireland; Magnus Barelegs had died in Ireland, and now Irish and Hebridean warlords struggled for control. Alexander collaborated with Henry, and even in 1114 went on campaign with him into Northern Wales. But he watched, and waited, and did what he could to keep Scotland strong and independent.
In this he may have had his work cut out; he later acquired the nickname ‘the fierce’ and one chronicle records that he reigned ‘with very great effort’. We do know that in 1116, there seems to have been a rebellion in Moray, which Alexander crushed, chasing the rebels into Ross.
But more positively, he sought always to build up the prestige of the Scottish monarchy; there must be no suggestion that Scotland’s monarchy was inferior in any way to those southern softies. His strategy to enhance the prestige of his monarchy was in association with church.
To do this he had two routes. The first lay in the status of the Bishopric of St Andrews. Alexander both drove reform of practice through St Andrews to continue to bring his church into line with Roman practice; and he bid to the Pope to have the Bishopric elevated into an Archbishopric. The idea was that Scotland should have its own Archdiocese, with Bishops of Scotland reporting into St Andrews; and to do this he needed the Pope’s approval. This was not entirely new – Scottish kings had made the claim before; but Alexander took it on anew.
This doesn’t sound like a biggie does it? Well it was. In fact all the pressure was the other way, from England, to confirm the supremacy over all of Northern Britain to York. In England, there was a continuing argument about who was top dog in the church in England; Canterbury claimed to be the Primate of all Britain. The other Archbishopric, York, not only denied such a claim to supremacy, but also asserted that they held the obedience of all bishops north of the Humber – including the Scots. The Primacy of England one was a tricky thing, but in claiming supremacy over Scotland, the ABY, Thurstan had history on his side, this was what had been ordained centuries before by the Pope. So unsurprisingly, the poor old pope was being lobbied by the ABY and Henry as well.
Unsurprisingly the Pope was not keen to support the claims of the smaller Scottish monarchy, but Alexander resolutely refused to allow his Bishops to accept the supremacy of the ABY. The matter would eventually be resolved long after Alexander’s death; while the pope never felt able to create a new Archbishopric, York’s supremacy was not recognised, and St Andrews in 1213 acquired the status of the church’s ‘special daughter’, and in effect did indeed became an Arch Bishop of Scotland.
The other route to royal prestige was in the foundation of Scone Priory. Scone of course was the ancient site of the inauguration of the kings of Alba, and was a royal residence too. In 1115, Alexander brought Augustinian canons to Scone in a new foundation; Scone became even more strongly a symbol of Scottish royal authority, strengthened by a priory clearly associated with Gregorian reform and Roman practice.
All of this of course, would be for Alexander’s heirs. But in 1122, Sibylla died, and after 9 years of marriage the pair had produced no heirs. Scottish politics were transformed, and once more poor Alexander was subjected to the realities of power – Henry forced him to recognise David as his heir. Maybe Alexander still expected this not to be an issue – surely he would remarry and have children. But 2 years later, in 1124 aged 45, Alexander died, without having done either.
The accession of David I has been represented as seemless and uncontroversial; but the reason for that is the nature of the chroniclers, pretty much all of whom are based in Norman England; and because David’s reign is relatively long and successful, its genesis is bathed in a rosy light. In fact, his accession was fraught with danger and the path towards the stone of destiny at Scone was yellow with banana skins.
First of all, there was who he was. Yes, he was the son of a bone fide king of Alba, Malcolm III. But he had also forced himself into vast estates in the south of the kingdom through the offices of a foreign king; he had forced his brother into submission to the same foreign king. As we have seen all of this had not made him popular with the Gaelic lords in the heart of Alba. In addition, Alexander had clearly not trusted him, and David had lived much of his life away from Scotland.
David’s friendship with King Henry had made him rich and powerful. Much of this came about through the traditional route of a fabulously advantageous marriage – to Maud the Countess of Huntingdon in 1112; this brought David the honour of Huntingdon, with lands in Northamptonshire, Huntingdon and Bedfordshire. David was therefore a major English magnate even before he was Prince of Cumbria or king of Scotland.
His entire cultural outlook was of Frankish chivalry and Christianity from the English court, and he brought with him a household of Frankish knights – his first grant as king was recognised only by these men, not a traditional Gael among them. Basically, there was much for the nobility of Scotland to distrust. But surely there were no alternatives anyway?
Well, there’s a question for you. David was tanaiste, had been designated the heir, and therefore there’s no doubt he had the best claim. But it was a claim that could be challenged. The most obvious alternative was William, the son of Duncan, the bloke I told you to remember earlier. William had a good claim whether you looked at it from a Gaelic or Norman inheritance point of view. He was experienced, old enough, he was the oldest descendant of the royal line of Malcolm Canmore since Duncan had of course himself been the eldest son. Now, William did not challenge David, and indeed would remain his loyal servant; but it could be that he had to be taken to one side and offered a deal first. David had but one son as it happens, Henry, and maybe William was content with being next in line after that – who knows if Henry would live long; and he was to be favoured with high office and influence throughout David’s reign. It could well be, um, bribery essentially.
The other potential challenger was Alexander’s bastard son Malcolm. We assume he’s a bastard because all the chroniclers tell us he was – all the Norman and English chroniclers that is. Even if he was, he could be a magnet for Gaelic resistance to this new, Anglo Norman king.
David’s cultural dissonance did not take long to appear – in fact it appeared as soon as he came forward to be crowned. The Scottish inauguration ceremony was firmly secular; the stone of destiny emphasised the connection of the monarch to the land, there was no holy oil and all of that. David objected and have to be pushed into it by his churchmen – for David it was all very alien, very non Christian. And he was unnerved, and disapproving.
It was not a good start. And while at Scone, David granted a vast estate to one of his followers, one Robert de Brus in Annandale in the SW of Strathclyde; this was the charter witnessed only by David’s Frankish friends – where were the Gaelic lords? Had they not even been at his inauguration?
The reaction to David’s accession did not take long to appear; in 1125, Malcolm the bastard raised his standard and challenged David’s right to the throne. It is not known who his supporters were, and David defeated the challenge seemingly without great pain – but the severity of the danger is difficult to know due to, once again, the bias of the chroniclers. David was at very least on probation.
Next time then, we’ll have two episodes on one of Scotland’s most influential king’s, whose reign transforms Scotland – David I; at the time of speaking, the next History of Scotland is planned to be on 11th of March. Next week we will be in Ireland on the Shedcasts talking of the Fair Geraldine, and then 2 weeks afterwards we’ll be in Wales talking about Katharine Rhys, or Howard, or Countess of Bridgewater who has a truly fascinating history. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the history of Scotland, thank for all your support and see you next week.