The Conqueror and the Scots

Most people think that in the aftermath of 1066, having won the Battle of Hastings, that William the Conqueror was able to sit back on his newly acquired throne and twiddle his fingers – after all the story is the Conquest of England and that is usually where the topic stops if you are a school child.

However, William spent the rest of his life dealing with rebellions both in England and in Normandy. His neighbours in Normandy also assumed that if William was in England that the Norman border would make an easy target.

As a result of the various rebellions in England many of the Saxon nobility sought shelter at the Scottish court of Malcolm III. He ended up married to Edgar the Atheling’s sister Margaret in 1071 – who renowned for her piety became St Margaret. Edgar with his family arrived in Scotland in 1068 having previously submitted to William only to join with Gospatrick of Northumbria to rebel against William. According to legend the family was on board a vessel destined for the Continent, remember they were originally from Hungary before being invited by Edward the Confessor to return to England.

So far as Malcolm was concerned his marriage to Margaret gave him a claim to the English throne – stories tend to linger more on the romance of the fleeing princess rather than the potential for a land grab. It was an opportunity for Malcolm to expand his borders southwards during times when William had his hands full elsewhere. He celebrated his marriage by invading various bits of Northumberland and Cumberland. It is probable that he was looking to establish a secure border and annex Cumberland which the Normans had not yet got around to quelling aside from the easily accessible coastal areas.

In 1072 William, having dealt with the revolting Northerners, turned his attention to the Scots. He sent an army across the border as well as a fleet of ships. The Scots and the Normans met at Abernethy in Perthshire. Malcom lost the ensuing battle and he was forced to sign the Treaty of Abernethy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that Malcolm agreed to become William’s man and his son Duncan was handed over as surety for future good behaviour. Edgar was asked politely to leave Scotland and William gave Malcom lands in Cumberland – but which in reality did not receive the Norman stamp until the reign of William Rufus – and even then in times of trouble the Scots were quick to shift the border south. Just as an aside the Norman habit of giving Scottish nobility land in the north of England as a way of turning them into liege men did ultimately change the Scottish language and the politics of the region.

This all sounds very clear cut but the Normans did not successfully invade Scotland – Scotland remained firmly in the hands of the Scots – albeit a Scottish court which many felt was becoming anglicised by the presence of Margaret, her children by Malcolm and the assorted ragtag of Saxons who had sought shelter across the border.

Throughout this period there were skirmishes and battles across the borders between England and Scotland. In 1079 the treaty had to be re-imposed after a Norman army skirmished across the border in retaliation for Malcolm’s incursions into Northumberland.

The treaty broke down completely in 1093. Malcom was killed at the Battle of Alnwick on the 13th November and Margaret, apparently from grief, died on the 16th November. Malcolm was succeeded by his brother Donald.

One thought on “The Conqueror and the Scots

  1. A Norman ancestor William the lion was King of Scotland. Today we face it all over again if in fact Scotland is granted her wish to part company in union .We lost a good income of Bowmen rights and farms in Kendal side of mountains last time we made it own Kingdom.Even a a scholar I knew being top dog in anything had its problems. Never a clear run even for the Kings of England in general.

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