Scottish History: Struggle for the Scottish Throne – Malcolm III to David I
The death of both King Malcolm III and his designated heir Edward at Alnwick in November 1093, as well as Margaret who might have been able to keep the remaining family together, soon thereafter, led to the usual succession quarrels. Malcolm’s brother Donald Bán came out of the woodwork (or wherever he had spent the last twenty or so years) and claimed the throne. Since primogeniture was not yet established in Scotland, he had a valid right to it, and he got the backing of those Scots who didn’t like the strong English element at Malcolm’s court.
The remaining sons of Malcolm and Margaret were forced to flee to England, to William Rufus. One can only imagine what they thought about having to seek shelter with the man who indirectly was to blame for their father’s and brother’s death. Moreover, while William took them in generously enough, he already was backing a Scottish king-to-be against the anti-English Donald Bán: Duncan, Malcolm's eldest son with Ingibjorg. William Rufus had fred Duncan from his status as hostage when he came to power in 1087, but Duncan, thoroughly Normanized, prefered to stay at William’s court. Duncan also cemented his position in Northumbria by marrying the granddaughter of Earl Gospatric, Octreda. Since they already had children in 1094, the marriage must have taken place earlier - an attempt of William to already groom Duncan as successor to the Scottish throne when his problems with Malcolm III increased?
So Duncan went north with the support of several Norman and Northumbrian nobles, and accompagnied by Edgar Ætheling and probably the Margaretsons as well. He managed to oust Donald Bán, but since William needed his army in Normandy (where his brother Robert kept causing trouble) and the Scottish lords would only accept him if he sent his English supporters home, Duncan had not the power to hold his position He ended up killed in late 1094, together with a number of his retainers; his wife and infant son fled to Northumbria, and Donald was back on the throne.
Another view of St.Margaret's Chapel
The area was also the place of David's castle that later got expanded and few of the old buildings remain.
At that point, Edmund must have decided he had better chances with Donald than with King William and changed sides. The sources are a bit unclear, but it seems Edmund was either proclaimed tanaiste or maybe even co-ruler of Donald for whom he held Lothian. William Rufus was very much not happy. He finally sent his brother on crusade with a bag full of money, to have him out of his hair in Normandy, and went back to the problems in Wales and Scotland.
He now backed Edgar, another son of Malcolm and Margaret (one brother had obviously entered orders, and Alexander and David were too young). Donald Bán and Edmund sided with Robert Earl of Mowbray who at that time had gone into full rebellion against William. Makes you wonder how Edmund felt about siding with the man responsible for his father’s death.
While King William fought Robert de Mowbray, eventually capturing him in Tynemouth and forcing Bamburgh to surrender in 1095, Edgar son of Malcolm, his brothers (David co-signed a charte in Durham; proof that he was in the north) and Edgar Ætheling dealt with Donald, though it took until September 1097 to gain the final victory. The sources disagree about Donald’s fate; the likeliest version is that he was captured an executed by Edgar. The whereabouts of Edmund are not sure; he may have died a monk in a monastery in Somerset. William of Malmesbury says that David captured Edmund, which would have been quite a feat for a thirteen year old.
With Donald dead and Edmund captured, Edgar was now King of Scots though dependant on the support of King William. He may even have become William’s vassal, but the only time we can trace him in England is in May 1099 when he carried the sword at William's annual crown-wearing in Westminster. Edgar made his brother Alexander tanaiste while David, still basically a teenager, went back south with William. We don’t hear of him again until 1100.
There followed a few years of peace under Edgar who obviously had less problems with the Gaelic nobles than Duncan. He also got involved in the politics on Orkney and made peace with King Magnus Barelegs of Norway, ceding the Hebrides to him - or basically confirming the fact that those islands were under Norse dominion anyway. The role of Scandinavia and Ireland at the west coast, especially the Hiberno-Norse alliances with the Welsh princes of Gwynedd was a constant source of concern for the Norman kings of England, and the kings of Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle, the Middle Ward
David meanwhile lived as a young, not very wealthy nobleman at the court of King William and joined the military and administrative education of other young men in the same situation. He likely also followed the itinerant king around in England and to Normandy, and got thoroughly acquainted with the AngloNorman culture, like Duncan did before. He may have thought to carve out a place for himself in that area, since his chance at a position in Scotland was slim.
Things took a different turn in 1100 when King William Rufus died of a hunting accident in the New Forest, and his younger brother Henry, until that moment landless and politically insignificant, snatched the crown, leaving poor Robert out again. One step to consolidate his power was a good marriage, and his choice fell on Edith, a sister to David and Edgar. As descendant from Alfred the Great, she would reinforce his claim to the English throne.
There was just one little problem. Edith had spent most of her life in nunneries and had on some occasions been seen wearing the veil. The sources – esp. those written much later – try to circle the problem quite nicely. He aunt made her, Edith told archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, to 'protect her from the lust of the Normans'; and her father had been very angry to see her with a veil when he visited her in Wilton on his way to Gloucester in 1094. She never wanted to become a nun and had never professed herself. If there’s any truth to her talk with Anselm, she must have been quite a spirited woman. There had also been negotiations in 1093 about her marrying Alan of Brittany Duke of Richmond, a marriage King William would never have agreed to since Alan held vast lands in the north, too, and the Scoto-Northumbrian connections and royal English blood of Edith would have made him too powerful.
In the end it was decided that Edith had not entered orders, and the marriage between her – now taking on the name Margaret – and Henry went ahead.
Glasgow Cathedral, the so-called Lower Church
A foundation of David, though the present buildings date from the 13th and 15th century
That changed David’s status from just another impoverished nobleman to ‘brother of the queen’. He soon came into the inner circle of Henry’s advisors. Moreover, King Edgar of Scots died in 1107. He had bequeathed David the lands and lordship of Cumbria, though Alexander, the new king, obviously was unwilling to hand over such a large and strategically important bit of land. It would take until 1113 before David could take up his inheritance.
Instead, he accompanied Henry to Normandy where the king had to deal with yet another rebellion. This time he defeated Robert for good at the battle of Tinchebrai (September 1106) and kept him prisoner until his death in 1134. David got some land in the Contentin and finally an independent income. One of his tenants was Robert de Bruce who would later play an important role as David's supporter. Soon thereafter, David was also rewarded with the Hallamshire lands in Yorkshire, where Henry redistributed the possessions of nobles who had supported Robert, which shows that Henry thought him capable of administering a strategically important fief.
1113 was a good year for David in other respects, too. King Henry arranged his marriage to the widowed Matilda of Senlis, the daughter of Waltheof of Northumberland and William the Conqueror’s niece Judith. With her came the lands of Huntingdon/Northampton, and the claim to the defunct earldom of Northumberland.
After Henry marched an army north to show Alexander that he better hand over Cumbria now, David became Prince of Cumbria and thus lord over lands that encompassed the old kingdom of Strathclyde (minus Galloway proper and Carlisle) and stretched all the way from Glasgow and the Solway coast of Annandale in the west, to Berwickshire in the east, and the Anglo-Scottish border in the south. That way Henry got a reliable ruler in an area that had been contested and potentially troublesome for a long time. In addition, David held Huntingdon and lands in Normandy.
View from Inchcolm Abbey to the Firth of Forth
Alexander stranded on the island and vowed to build a chapel, but it fell to David to fulfill that promise
Neither Alexander nor Edgar are easily to trace in their movements within Scotland and their rule gets overshadowed by David’s kingship, but there is no sign that any of both went into a formal feudal relationship with King Henry.
David held Cumbria independently, but was the vassal of his brother Alexander for southern Lothian and the Tweeddale, and vassal of King Henry for Huntingdon. The relationship between the brothers seems to have been rather formal. Alexander accompagnied Henry on a war in Wales to put down the rebellion of Gruffud ap Cynan, likely to get back into the good grace of the king. He also married Henry’s illegitimate daughter Sybilla.
In 1118, Henry’s wife Margaret (formerly Edith) died, but that did not change his relationship with David. David had a son with Matilda whom he named Henry in honour of the king. For a time it looked like David would be Prince of Cumbria and Alexander King of Scots, with sons to come, and perhaps Duncan’s son William in the line of succession as well. But in 1122, Sybilla died childless. Alexander had son named Malcolm, though, who will play a role later on. He is usually claimed to have been illegitimate.
There was a flurry of activities of Henry in the north in the years to follow. For example he received back Carlisle Castle from Ranulph le Meschin who became Earl of Chester instead, and had the castle fortifications strengthened. He also gave castles and land in Northumbria to other faithful followers, among them Eustace fitz John who married the daughter of Yves des Vescy and got Alnwick Castle. This has been interpreted as a growing dissent between King Henry and David, but is is more likely (according to Oram) that Henry wanted to secure the west coast which, as mentioned above, was threatened by the Irish and Norse, and to show enough of a presence to bully Alexander into naming David as tanaiste. And giving castles to followers was a perfectly normal practice - Eustace may even have been a friend of David; they were both members of the same group at court since David's youth.
Stirling Castle, the North Gate (14th century, with view to great hall),
The oldest surviving part of the castle though it already was a royal residence at the time of David.
David continued to administer his lands and serve king Henry at court and, at times, in Normandy where Henry kept being obliged to put down rebellions. But everything changed when Alexander died unexpectedly in 1124, and David, the youngest son of Malcolm III and Margaret of Wessex, found himself King of Scots. He had left the country as child and probably was not at all acquainted with the Gaelic culture of the majority of its people. William of Malmesbury called him ‘more courtly' than his brothers, he had 'rubbed off all the tarnish of Scottish barbarity.'
Nevertheless there seems to have been an overall acceptance at first; David was of royal blood after all, an experienced warrior and administrator. And since he had the backing of King Henry, a refusal may have meant war. David was crowned King of Scots in Scone in May 1124. The coronation ceremony seems to have been alien to him, used to the more religious Norman ceremonies, but in the end David could be convinced to undergo the secular ritus.
David bought William fitz Duncan, the son of his older half-brother, off with the promise of tanistry since his own son was still too young, and maybe other concessions as well. William would be content with his position during David's reign (maybe he was not the ambitious type). A first attempt of Malcolm, the illegitimate son of Alexander who had a claim according to Scottish law and the backing of some conservative Gaelic chiefs, was repelled by David's more experienced army, though Malcolm himself escaped.
Remains of the Royal Guesthouse in Dunfermline Abbey
One of David’s first acts as king we can trace in documents is a feudal transaction: he gave the Annandale to Robert de Bruce. It actually may have been a confirmation of an act from 1122. The charte is signed only by Norman noblemen, among them Eustace fitz John; there is none of the Gaelic magnates on the list. Bruce also held lands in Yorkshire from King Henry.
David would come to prefer to live in the southern, more Anglicised part, of his kingdom, with the centre at Roxburgh and a new abbey at Kelso. While he took interest in elevating Dunfermline from priory to abbey, he cannot be traced to having spent much time north of the Firth of Fourth, the ancient heartlands at Dunkeld and Scone during the first years of his reign. This may partly be due to the incomplete information about his itineraries, but it seems that he felt most secure in Lothian and Strathclyde. We can find a number of chartes and grants for that area, fe. he elevated the status of Edinburgh, Stirling and other places to burgh (some sort of market and administration centre); a concept new to Scotland.
One of David’s interests was to create an unitary ecclesiastical authority for his realm, independent of the Archbishop of York. After all, the Church owned land, or got grants from him, and David wanted to have men on that land he could rely on. He ran into some trouble with the papal legate because the bishops John of Glasgow and Robert of St. Andrew refused to swear obedience to Archbishop Thurstan of York (this was the time of expanding papal authority and the investiture controversy in Germany that ended with Concordat of Worms 1122 ). But David managed to get the backing of King Henry, and finally the legate and the pope had to give in and the bishops got consecrated in 1127.
There may have been a connection with the sinking of the White Ship in 1120, insofar as Henry after the death of his only son William Adelin and his childless second marriage was eager to have the succession of his daughter Matilda confirmed. David was the first great lord of the realm, in his position as Earl of Huntingdon and King of Scots, to swear the oath and set an example at the meeting in London January 1127, thus earning Henry's gratitude. David also may have accompagnied Henry to Normandy to put down yet another rebellion in 1124, this time led by Robert’s son William Clito.
Dunfermline Abbey, the Refectory
The Church issue settled, David went into founding new churches and monasteries, among them Melrose and Inchcolm. He also succeeded in having Dunfermline elevated from priory to abbey, and this time we can trace some Gaelic bishops and magnates in the witness list, among them the 'earls' (earl is an AngloNorman representation of a Gaelic title, perhaps mormaor or rí) of Ross, Fife, Strahearn, Mar, and Maddad of Atholl, David’s kinsman.
The next years David seems to have been mostly in Scotland, but since he also held a position at the English court, he served there as justiciar in spring 1130 and was present at the dedication ceremony for the new cathedral in Canterbury. He also needed to administer his Huntingdon lands. David was back in Scotland in summer 1130; at that time his wife died (she is sadly neglected in the sources and historiography and we know little about her).
But some of the Gaelic lords thought that a more ‘Scottish’ king might be the better choice. The rí Angus of Moray who was related to the family of MacBeth’s wife (he was the grandson of Lulach who was killed together with his step-father MacBeth by Malcolm III) put forth his claim. Among his supporters was Malcolm, Alexander’s son – I assume he spent the time after his escape among the Gaelic nobility, and his mother may have come from that group as well. They used David’s absence to move south.
The man to deal with Angus’ rising was one Constable Edward, whom Oram has identified as a descendant of Eadric Streona of Mercia. Edward brought Angus to battle at Stracathro where Angus was killed together with a large part of his army, but Malcolm escaped again, and according to the Annals of Ulster, Edward's / David's army suffered considerable losses, too.
Moray Firth (photo taken through the bus window)
After that, David took more attention to the north and brought Moray firmly into the fold of the kingdom. He gave some of earl Angus’ land to Dunfermline and had a church built at Urquhart (which was a nice trick since Angus’ family could not well claim church lands). There is also the curious case of William fitz Duncan who is claimed to be the ancestor of the MacUilleim and married to a woman of Scottish royal blood, likely of the Moray family and descendant of Lulach, with whom he had a son, Domnall. But what we know of him is his marriage to Alice de Rumilly, a northern-English heiress, in 1137. Yet a prior marriage and children born of it would well be possible. Also, the time of William’s assumed connection with Moray coincides with the coming of age of David’s son Henry, which would have made William’s position as tanaiste moot. David may have compensated him with a position in Moray. William is given the title ‘earl’ only in later sources, but that doesn’t mean he could not have been a lord of Moray (since David certainly would not have wanted him to use the title of rí).
It is only after William focused his interests on his wife’s northern English lands that David took hold of Moray himself and enfeoffed men in his entourage with parts of it – the oft-cited Normainzation of Scotland. It was acutally less dramatic than it is often stated since the Normans wanted arable land, while the Gaelic chiefs and farmers wanted grazing lands for their cattle, and those are found in different places. There likely was a good deal of co-existence, and certainly intermarriage.
Caithness and Orkney had a more loose connection with King David’s influence, for example by marriages. David married his kinsman Maddad of Atholl to Margaret - yes, I know *sigh* -, the daughter of Hakon Pálsson, Earl of Orkney in 1134, and he held some sort of formal overlordship over Caithness that did not mean much actual power. Those alliances still led to a stable relationship for several years until the power balance shifted with the arrival of Jarl Rognvald from Norway and the death of Hákon Palsson, likely by Rognvald's hands, in 1136. David would rearrange alliances then (see this post), but the Orkney / Caithness history is a topic of its own.
View from Urquhart Castle to Loch Ness
The Castle is younger than David's time, but there already was a settlement.
The situation in the west was complicated as well. I’ve already mentioned that the ever changing Hiberno-Welsh-Gaelic alliances were a cause for concern for the kings of England and Scotland. David was involved in the mess already as Prince of Cumbria, and his enfeoffment of Annandale to Robert de Bruce may date from that time.
Malcolm got part of his support, and a place of exile, in that area. He married a daughter of the semi-legendary Gillebrigte rí of Argyll and father of Somarled (Somhairle), who would become one of the key players in the Western Isles. Though the relationship can not be simply interpreted along the lines Norman versus Gaelic culture; two ambitious men whose lands happened to share a border met in David and Somarled, and there was bound to be trouble.
King Henry had a hand in west coast politics, too. He married one of his illegitimate daughters to Fergus of Galloway; and Olaf Godredsson of Man spent some time at his court when the Norse ousted his family. Later, Olaf would side with King Stephan rather than Matilda and David, and marry his daughter to Somarled, but since he in turn was married to Efraic, daughter of Fergus of Galloway, his alliances ran both ways, to put it politely. :-)
The marriage of Malcolm with Somarled’s sister must have taken place sometime around 1130 since his sons were adults when they rebelled against King Malcolm IV in 1153. Even with the battle of Stracathro won, the fugitive Malcolm and his western allies caused David trouble for several more years. What we can infer from the information given by Ailred of Rievaulx and the Annals of Ulster is that the fight against Malcolm involved the combined use of land forces, obviously led by Robert of Bruce, and a fleet (courtesy of Fergus of Galloway maybe?) and in the end, Malcolm was captured by treason. He would spend the rest of his days as prisoner in Roxburgh Castle. Somarled accepted David as overlord but else was still a more or less independent ruler of his island realm. But he sent troops to fight alongside David at Northallerton in 1138 (as did Fergus of Galloway).
Another of David's foundations (the photo is a scan of an old one I took 1998).
When King Henry I died in December 1135, David had solidified his position in Scotland well enough that he could become a player in Northumberland with the backing not only of his Anglo-Norman lords and retainers but also a considerable following from the Gaelic parts of his kingdom.
Frank Barlow: The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216. 5th edition, Edinburgh 1999
Robert Bartlett: England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225. 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2003
Richard Oram: David, The King Who Made Scotland. Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2004
Richard Oram: Domination and Lordship, Scotland 1070-1230. The New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Edinburgh 2011
Ian W. Walker: Lords of Alba, The Making of Scotland. Sutton Publishing, 2006
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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