Now then you would be disappointed if a reign as important, lauded and magnified as that of David I had not occasioned a full and frank exchange of views, a healthy debate. And it is not my business to disappoint you, and therefore I shall not.
The main debate has been about the story of David’s reign as the replacement of the traditional Gaelic structures of Alba with the importation of a feudal society, culture and church characteristic of French Western Christendom, into at least part of David’s kingdom. It’s a transition which was sort of presaged, john the Baptist like, with Malcolm and Margaret’s advocacy of Anglo Saxon culture. As ever, such a simple straightforward story, like a large Gilliamesque foot descending from the clouds to squish the pre-existing society has lead to suspicious grunts, the odd moue [as in No] of dissatisfaction. The question has been asked if it would not be better to think less about a full scale importation of feudalism as in there you go pal, one feudal society for the use of, and more of Europeanisation – a response to the wider themes of European society that led to similar responses in Scotland, ably aided and abetted by David’s upbringing in the Anglo Norman world and household of Henry I. Would it be better to think not of Gael Vs Anglo Norman, but a process with some similarity to the creation of Alba over 2 centuries ago, the melding of different cultures and social models? That then is one debate – to squish or to smush that is effectively the question.
And there’s more than one debate, and the this second will be the object of the next episode. This is the story of David’s attempt to conquer and hold Northumbria and Cumberland. This has traditionally been painted negatively, firstly by contemporary chroniclers, who saw it as the most outrageous and cynical land grab, without a twinge of irony might I add, from a bunch of chroniclers living in England under the Norman kings. More importantly, it has been seen as, in summary, daft, by later historians, as an absolutely fruitless and doomed attempt to rewrite the borders of Britain which would lead Scotland into a political mire and inevitably drag the Scottish monarchy into a humiliating submission to England under a future king, William the Lion. Well, say more recent folk – really? I mean really, was it inevitably doomed? Didn’t David actually come jolly close to rewriting the map permanently?
Okey fineski, let us start with the accession of David I. We started last time actually as I remember, with David’s early life as a major figure in the household of Henry I, a man raised thoroughly immersed in Anglo Norman culture; supported by the English kings to a vast estate in Lothian and Cumbria, in Southern Scotland essentially, against the wishes of his brother the Scottish king. About how when he came to the throne at the age of 40, he faced therefore a challenge to his kingship in the form of Malcolm, the bastard son of Alexander I, in 1125, which although easily dispatched, like the effortless sound of leather on English willow as the best effort of the Australian fast bowler is despatched to the boundary rope, was nonetheless a warning of future struggles and the limitations of David’s power as he came to the throne – especially as Malcolm escaped David’s clutches, and rode off into the night to set himself up as a pretender.
David’s movements in the first 10 years of his reign tell an interesting story. During his brother Alexander’s reign his lands had all been in the south, in Lothian, and specifically he built himself a castle at a place called Roxborough in the borders, on the River Tweed. I promise that you will become very used to the name of Roxburgh – over the next few hundred years it will change hands many many times, it is in a key strategic decision. Roxburgh became David’s principle residence. Well, that’s fine you might say but it is very notable that David’s travel in his first 10 years is very restricted; he goes as far north as Fife, but no further. In addition, the men who surround him are almost exclusively his pals from the southern uplands. His first concerns were to continue to defend Scotland from the claims to supremacy of the ABY, trading in his friendship with Henry I, and he spends some time on reforming the church and endowing churches and monasteries – you guessed it, in the south. In early 1130 he was at Henry I’s court, acting as a judge; and his willingness to be with his old pal Henry was somewhat symptomatic of his reliance of his erstwhile master, who support it has to be said he was going to need. And while this was going on, his kingdom erupted into rebellion. And it was from the Gaelic north and west that the eruption erupted. It looks a lot as though in the first few years of his reign there was a significant gap between David and the great men of his realm on whom his rule depended.
Now I do not want to over egg the pudding, since it appears that as far as the idioms and sayings of the English language are concerned, over egging the pudding is the worst of crimes, though actually I am not sure what happens when a pudding is over egged. It is clear that David had support from some of the traditional, Gaelic lords of the Alban heartlands. You might remember that here we are talking broadly about an area around Fife, and the River Tay basin – so rather well north of Lothian. There is a Roya Council help by David at Dunfermline which is attended by five Gaelic earls during the period, and a similar meeting about reform of the church attended by Gaelic ecclesiastical lords. David had a clear right to the throne; he had a body of support for that very reason. But it is not clear that he had made the connections with his great men outside of his southern heartlands; it was not clear whether his failure to travel outside those heartlands was his confidence in his right, rule and support, or the opposite – because his control outside the south was little more than nominal.
That is not to say that the years immediately after 1124 were wasted; he started his church reforms, he continued to fight for the independence of the church in Scotland; and within this area he was ruling in the model of English and Norman forms, a model for his future. But in the first 10 years of his reign, it feels almost like a half reign, restricted in geographical scope, restricted in ambition.
His freedom, his ability to grow and expand was almost forced on him by events. Malcolm Mac Alexander had become a pretender, and he spent the years after his defeat in 1125 building his support. He looked for support on the edges of David’s kingdom – in the west and in the north. In the west he seems to have married into the family of one Gillebrigte, the ruler of Argyll; Gillebrigte himself was a little obscure but his son Somerled would be one of the greatest warlords of the western Isles after David’s death. To which we will come in the fullness, of course.
Malcolm also went north, to Moray, and hooked up with the mormaer of Moray, a man called Angus, a descendant of Lulach and the ancient house of the rulers of Moray. The last we’d heard of any note from Moray in the chronicles of the time was a revolt in 1085; since then, silence. It seems more than likely that Moray had been leaving David alone and vice versa. The Moray was in all probability in the theoretical control of the king of Alba – but in practical terms was all but autonomous. In addition to which Angus may well have considered himself the rightful king of Alba anyway; after all, he was Angus, commander of the armies of the north, grandson to a murdered adopted son of Macbeth king of Scotland, and he might well have been planning to have his vengeance in this world rather than the next, because it was Angus of Moray who stood foursquare behind Malcolm as the events of 1130 unfolded.
In 1130 the time appeared right; David was away in England with his pal Henry I. So Angus and Malcolm were able to cross the Mounth and into Angus before a royal army could come to meet them – commanded by David’s Constable, Edward, at a place called Stracathro near the east coast.
Now, if you take the English chroniclers at face value, this was a bit of a doddle – both battle and aftermath. But in the Annals of Ulster and a later speech invented for Robert Brus, there is the potential for a different truth. It looks more likely that Stracathro was a close run thing; that Angus counter attacked and the Scots died hard until at last Angus was killed and his army put to flight. Even then, Malcolm again escaped. And even now, it looks as though David needed to call on the English king for support, including ships, knights and soldiers. That after Stracathro followed an extended campaign from Carlisle in the South West to Moray in the north. The events are obscure, it is not clear how much support Malcolm had; but it may well have been extensive among the Gaelic lords. Because it was only after 4 years of campaigning in 1134 that Malcolm’s luck finally ran out, and he was run to ground in Galloway where he was captured, taken to David’s castle at Roxburgh, and thrown into a prison from which he was never to emerge. His sons, however, were not captured, and remained at large in the halls of lords of the western isles, waiting for their moment to come.
1134 then was to prove a turning point in David’s reign; it established his authority, it established his authority across the whole of his realm. It appears to have given him the confidence to pursue his English and Norman model outside his heartlands, and to push the boundaries of his control aggressively North, west, and after the death of Henry I, southwards.
What exactly does establishing his authority mean? Well, as we’ll discuss next week, it involves the good old traditional jack boot thing, marching off to war and all that, no one could accuse David of being a fudgel. But according to tradition it also involved the wholesale import of feudalism into Scotland, along with a bunch of colonising families. By feudalism, we mean, incidentally, the grant of land in return for military service, as I am sure you know. By colonising families, we include David I’s pals from his erstwhile life in England and campaigning with Henry I in Normandy. One of these, to give you an example was a man called Robert de Brus. Robert was an important supporter Henry, and after Henry had made himself safe in Normandy at he battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, de Brus was showered with land in Northern England. As we mentioned last week, as soon as David was crowned at Scone in 1124, almost his first act was to grant de Brus extensive lands in Annandale in SW Scotland. All of this has led to a story of the good ‘ole Gaelic culture being forced out by these horrid imports.
One of the problems is to understand the nature of lordship and power in the kingdom of Alba which David inherited. The traditional view has been to talk about a stratified society organised into territorially based kinship groups, without being terribly clear about what that means in practice; and the evidence for these kinship or tribal groups being concentrated in clearly defined territories is also lacking. The other is that there were probably a variety of different models across Alba; we’ve already see from Cinead MacAilpin’s period that Alba as an amalgam, of different traditions and cultures.
One of the social models for which there is some evidence comes from the Book of Deer, an 11th century manuscript with 12th century annotations about land grants to and by the monastery. The notes seem to record a social hierarchy – roughly, of king – Mormaers and toisech, or local lords. It seems highly likely though, that this was not necessarily a universal model either. In these pages we have spoken of fully civil societies which may well have dominated the west and north west, the Highlands and Islands, otherwise characterised as a free peasantry; flat societies of peasants in full possession of all their rights, who would need to come together to agree laws and make judgements. This is an arrangement that has been painted in rose and sepia as the good old days of freedom and universal availability of Cheesecake. In fact, it’s pretty clear that such societies had their heirarchies every bit as much as others. Slavery was an integral part of Scottish society into the 13th century for example – the raids of Scottish raiders into England during the days of Malcolm III and David I refer to the taking of slaves. Social status might depend on wealth and personal influence, built through a network of clients. In such a social set up, inheritance might play a much lesser part, since status would depend on success as a patron -lordship might often be personal rather than heritable.
One of the other features of such a flat society was the problem of ultimate authority and law. Although a common law does emerge during Medieval Scotland, there are a number of law codes from diverse cultural traditions operating well into the 15th and 16th centuries. Actually while we are on law, even in the heartlands of Alba, legal penalties were based largely on compensation according to social rank rather than set fines for particular crimes, and there was no concept of the king’s peace. Since there was no ultimate authority in these free peasant communities that were recognised by all, there was no single authority that could enforce a single law code, or even make consistent and coherent judgments. This was an opportunity for the kingship of the Scots; while their physical power might be remote from the highlands they were ever present as an authority of ultimate appeal and reference. Their legal rights might on occasion seem like a dead letter in daily practical terms, but as the opportunity came, they were the vehicle by which Scottish monarch could assert their dominance and make their authority real – because in the end they were needed. In addition, as we have said, the King of Scots might be remote, but their courts were a constant attraction to young men and sons of lords seeking their fortune, where they met each other in the king’s household and therefore formed a centralising, unifying force.
In the heartlands of the Alban kingdom, so, in Eastern and central Scotland, there is greater evidence of royal structures, and there’s a rather nice map on the website which illustrates it, or I think it’s rather nice anyway. It shows two structures that complement each other – royal shires and the Mormaers or Earls.
Most of the Scottish Shires will have been established well before Malcolm III came to the throne. Broadly speaking, they are combinations of royal estates gathered together under the control of a royal official, the Thane. This sounds nice and simple, but of course nice and simple is a phrase rarely used in connection with medieval land structures, because within shires there does appears to be land owned by other chieftans, toisechs, or earls. But broadly speaking, the shires form the heartland of royal power. Now I can imagine all of your worried frowns, I can hear the confused rubbing of chins – shire, thane – aren’t these Anglo Saxon words? And indeed you have a point; how is it that a structure derived from Pictish and Gaelic Alba acquired such Anglo Saxon terminology? The only explanation out there seems to be a rather vague, hand-wavy theory talking about the importation of English terminology after the 10th century. But the main point to remember is that it is nothing like the English system of shires – these are multiple royal estates under an official, not administrative divisions of the whole kingdom.
You’ll know that I do love a nice discussion of land units, oxgangs, yardlands, rapes, hides, Kentish sulungs and yokes all that, so this is a good time to mention that a rather more comfortably Gaelic land unit was the Davoch, which has traditionally been seen as a unit of land measurement, linked, like the hide, to how much the land could produce rather than a strict physical description. However, the latest thinking seems to suggest that both davoch and shire are evidence of a structured organisation imposed on the land to help its inhabitants work together and thrive as a community; for example, davochs often have a variety of different land types, you know – lowland, woods, pasture, upland that sort of thing – integrating the different types of resources a community would need.
Well that’s all very interesting, though you can probably dismiss all that as simply twatling, and concentrate on the point that with all the qualifications, Scottish shires indicate the heart of Scottish royal power; but by no means do they cover all of the Alban kingdom, not even the core of Alba. Much of the rest is either the kind of nominal or distant lordship suggested by the free peasant societies we discussed a moment ago – or by the rule Mormaers.
We’ve discussed the troubling lack of definition of the word Mormaer before – competing theories suggest either a semi royal meaning for the word, or suggest tribal leaders, or royal officials or provincial magnates. But whatever the detail, what’s agreed on is that they have a military role, and that they are subject and responsible to the king – if they were once royal, they no longer are. It’s also generally believed that Gaelic Mormaers are directly equivalent to their medieval successors, the Earls.
There’s then been the danger of a bit of backwards thinking. Along the lines of, well look, we kind of know what an earl is don’t we – they sit at the top of society below the king, they are big butch and bolshy, their power is based on their relationship with the king and, crucially, landed wealth, and the Earldom is passed on to children by inheritance. And so hey, that must be what these Gaelic earls were like.
This is probably a mistake, particularly before the time of David. Firstly, the nature of lordship often seems to have been much more based around rights on the Irish Gaelic model, than on land. So the lord might in fact be relatively poor, or certainly not overwhelmingly wealthy; but he held legal rights and judicial responsibilities, he operated an effective network, of clients, he had the right to make financial levies. The 12th & 13th century Earls of Angus were really not that well endowed, with land that is to say, similar to the Mormaers of Fife, and for such a central, crucial place in the kingdom that seemed super strange. But it would be explained if land was not the basis of the Earl’s power – his jurisdictional rights and his client network were what made the difference.
Also, another difference to them down south was that the Earls or Mormaers do not seem to have been strictly a heritable position; but look there you are, sitting around twiddling your thumbs, and one of your council comes in and says well look, king, there’s a vacancy for the Earl of Preston, or let’s use a real example, the earl of Angus – who shall we appoint? If the king wants an effective earl of Angus, he’s going to pick a man who has good connections and client base. And who would that be? Well, most likely to be the son of the previous bloke, the son of the previous Godfather if you like. In this way both Earls and indeed Thanes tend to move towards hereditary transfer, and the appointment rights of the king become more and more theoretical.
One more point about the Earls and thanes and that map I Rather liked. Essentially the shires are focussed on the east coast and the Tay basin, and all the way up to Moray – we’ll talk about Moray. And then in an arc to their west some of the earldoms sweep from the Firth of Forth northwards to Aberdeen and Buchan on the North east coast. I exaggerate for effect, but it looks awfully like a royal heartlands in Gowrie and Angus with a defensive crescent of more remote Gaelic lords. All of this incidentally is absent from Lothian and the highlands and north West. The structure reflects the heritage of Pictland and Alba.
Into this then came David with his alien experience and alien friends, and apparently imposed an English Norman feudal structure on the Gaelic lords once he had established his authority in 1134 after 10 years of his reign, and with his support propped up by Henry in England. Or that’s the story.
Like most simple stories, it is a far too simple explanation. It was been pointed out that actually there is precious little evidence from David’s reign of this strict form of feudalism, the grant of land in return for military service. The idea makes sense – the idea being that providing fully armoured knights was simply too expensive for the crown, and so they parcelled out the resources required to individuals so they could provide it – outsourcing, if you like.
But many of the grants David makes do not specify any such quota of service, and in the grants that are made for specified military service, there is little consistency.
Although there are clearly a lot of French colonists in David’s southern regions of Lothian, there seems to be an absence in the North and west – prompting the theory of a restricted growth of feudalism which met an impenetrable barrier of Gaelic practice, a limit to David’s effective lordship, leading to feudal and non feudal regions of Scotland. And the only Earldom which can be shown to have been brought into a feudal relationship before 1150 was Fife – none of the others did so within David’s reign, and it’s further evidence that the progress of feudalisation was piecemeal and gradual.
There is no doubt though that David’s reign saw a large influx of foreign knights into Scotland, and that these arrivals were encouraged by both David and his immediate successors, and would change the nature of the Scottish kingdom. In a famous phrase a historian called GWS Barrow called Scotland a land for second sons – a country open and welcoming to the scions of noble families from England, Brittany, Normandy, Flanders. They brought with them European culture and to some degree feudal practices. But the story does not need to be the imposition of and Anglo French feudalism and culture lock stock and barrel; nor does it need to be a face off between polar opposites. Unsurprisingly, the process was much more piecemeal than that. The process was not one of colonisation like the Norman conquest in England – rights and relationships with Scottish peasants usually stayed the same. And the rights of lordship very often remained much more along the Gaelic model – lordship based on jurisdictional rights rather than on military service – essentially there was both a range of models that suited each local circumstances, and an amalgamation of Gaelic, English and European practices.
In this way once again, just like the MacAilpin monarchs, it is a process of assimilation. There might be many ways a Norman knight, for example, became part of David’s realm; it might be that a native overseer of royal land was replaced by a foreigner on a hereditary basis; it might be that David simply inserted a new layer of lordship between king and local lords; or it could be that old chestnut and favourite, by marriage. Marriage worked both ways of course – not just incomer marrying into a local family; Gaelic families also married into the circle of families around the king, maintaining their status and relationship with him. In this way assimilation over time moved structures of power away from a horizontal kin based system to the more vertical feudal structure; and we begin to speak of lordship in a very similar way as elsewhere in Europe, of lord, castle, church, monastic foundation. But it is a uniquely Scottish mix, with a noble class that was a mixture of incomers and Gaelic lords.
As lordship and the ruling class began to change, so did the Scottish economy begin to shift. We are now firmly into the medieval warm period, with its positive impact on the viability of arable both on higher land and further north. Population levels began to increase, and in the early 12th century documents appear recording assarts, i.e. rights granted for the clearing of formerly unused land – more land was coming into production, greater pressure was placed on resources. Social organisation in many areas began to shift towards a more communal, village-like structure.
The greater viability of crops allowed some movement from purely subsistence farming towards the surplus production of cereals. And the movement both created and was encouraged by one of David’s other signature dishes as it were – the creation of royal burghs.
Prior to David’s reign, there had been no native coinage in Scotland; trade would be either exchange, or in kind, or bullion or indeed foreign coinage. David’s invasions after 1134 would give him access to silver and to the expertise of mints in England, and from 1136 the first Scottish coins were struck, harmonised with English coins and weights.
The coinage was to some degree a symbol of increasing trade – and also of course everyone likes having their head on a bit of silver, it looks good. The burgh was another. Before the 12th century there would have been small local markets and temporary fairs, but nothing like the large town or burgh was known. In David’s reign about 16 burghs appeared for the first time, with their charters based almost entirely on the charter of the English burgh of Newcastle upon Tyne; the standing start to Scottish burghs by David gave Scottish burghs a much greater uniformity than in England. Their locations depended on a range of factors; it might be close to a monastic foundation, it could be a frequent location of the king’s court – Roxburgh, Edinburgh, Berwick. Usually, it was economic – meeting places of routes and rivers, or particularly on the east coast. The towns brought with them more settlers – Flemings in particular, and the settlers brought with them capital and skills; they also brought expertise and access to trade networks; so, 2/3rds of Scottish trade was carried in foreign ships for example – mainly Flemish. While by modern standards of course the towns were tiny they started that process of enabling the development of the rural economy, they linked into that small but increasing proportion of agriculture carried out for profit, they converted goods into cash. It’s important to note this is early days of course; it would not be until later in the 13th century that the customs dues from foreign trade became a significant earner for the crown.
The symbols of the Burgh were the tollbooth, charging merchant and farmers who wanted to trade; the Market Cross, and the parish church. Which brings us to yet another feature of David’s reign – his continuation and acceleration of the reform of the Scottish Church. Because it is under David that the network of Parish churches began to be established.
Just like the discussion about lordship and power, there’s really no need to explain church reform in terms of old and tired Celtic traditions vs sparkling new English and Norman practice. As we’ve noted under Malcolm and Margaret, the existing Celtic church was far from torpid, and received encouragement from Margaret as well as new foundations; and the reform should also be seen as part of the European wide process of Gregorian reform. None the less, David’s role was critical, in building on and accelerating Margaret’s work.
There are few Parish churches documented before 1100, but presumably there were some, probably emerging first on monastic or Bishop’s episcopal estates; or as in 1105 at Ednam, by private lords such as Thor the Long in this case. Parish churches emerged for many reasons, at many different times in different places. But as David reformed the Episcopate through his reign, almost exclusively appointing foreign Bishops when sees fell vacant, one of the first tasks of the reforming Bishops was to establish a parish network in their diocese, and this the network grew much more quickly. It was supported by David’s assize which insisted on and embedded the teind, the 10th, the church tax as it were. Often it was the lay lords that enabled this, providing a parish church to support their estates.
Ironically, reforming Popes through the 12th and 13th centuries would rather frown on this involvement of the laity, as part of the continual reform to separate the church from the control of lay lords; and so much of what is known about the spread of parish churches is when a lay lord grants away their right to appoint the local priest, as part of that process of separation. Normally, they then chose to give that right of appointment to a monastic foundation – and rather remarkably, 70% of parish churches came under the control of a monastery by the mid 13th century and 86% by the 16th Century. Monasteries often held on to much of the teind, the church tax and the legacy therefore was often poor, under funded priests and a drag on church revenues.
But that is for some future episode; for the moment the network grew. Alongside this growth was David’s advocacy and founding of monasteries of the new European orders based on Roman practice. David’s taste was pretty eclectic; while Alexander I had favoured Augustinian Canons, David encouraged the foundation of 11 monasteries of Tironensians, Augustinians, and Cistercians. The scale of the undertaking was truly revolutionary, buildings of unprecedented scale and grandeur; on a rather more prosaic note maybe, one of the more memorable moments of the regular drive north of my youth was rounding the corner into Jedburgh to be faced by the remaining towering façade of the Abbey. This dramatic acceleration of monastic foundation came about very much from David’s advocacy – but it was accompanied by both support and acceptance from across the nobility, it was not seen as an unwelcome imposition.
So look, there we are; if nothing else had happened in David’s reign he would have been known as one of Scotland’s most influential monarchs anyway. But there was more, much more. His success in defeating Malcolm’s rebellion would give David the confidence and support he needed to expand Scotland’s borders and increase the strength and reach of royal authority; and the death of his old master Henry I in England, leaving a disputed succession would give him an opportunity worthy of regal dribble. And it is of that dribble we will speak next time.