History Jar Challenge 14 – kings and queens of Scotland from Kenneth III

Royal Arms of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle

Kenneth III became king of Scotland in 997. He made it into the eleventh century but died in 1005 where upon he was succeeded by a cousin Malcom II who is often identified as Prince of Cumbria, demonstrating that the northern borders between England and Scotland were not as we would recognise them today. He died in 1034 and was succeeded by his grandson – Duncan.

Duncan I signals the start of the reign of the House of Dunkeld. He’d become King of Strathclyde in 1018, again demonstrating that the late tenth – early eleventh century was a time of shifting borders and the amalgamation of kingdoms. King Duncan as all G.C.S.E. students can tell you was bumped off by Macbeth. He became king in 1040 and was succeeded by his step-son who was killed in 1058 when King Duncan’s son took the throne.

Malcolm III is also known as Malcolm Canmore which apparently means “bighead” – there’s not much one can say to that other than to move swiftly on to him marrying a Saxon refugee who promptly became St Margaret of Scotland and filled the court with her Saxon friends and relations making her unpopular with the resident Scots. Malcolm was killed in 1093 near Alnwick – which is the History Jar’s opening gambit on the Anglo-Scots wars that continued intermittently and with varying degrees of ferocity until the beginning of the seventeenth century – not counting the reprise under a different guise in the Civil War in the middle of the century.

St Margaret – Edinburgh Castle chapel

Malcolm was succeeded by his brother Duncan III who usurped the throne from Malcolm’s son which is going to make the Duncan numbering somewhat complex at this point – don’t query it, just accept that in this instance Duncan III comes before Duncan II! He grabbed the throne on 13 November 1093 but was turfed off it by the rightful successor the following year – another Duncan. Malcolm’s son is identified as Duncan II because that’s the correct ordering genealogically. Duncan II having gained the throne promptly died meaning that in a game of musical crowns Duncan III became king once more, ruling north of the Forth/Clyde line whilst his nephew Edmund ruled south of the line. Both Donald and Edmund were deposed in 1097 by King Edgar – and then you wonder why I haven’t ventured into Scottish history very much!

The parents of both Edmund and Edgar were Malcolm and Margaret so at least the Crown stayed in the family. When Edgar died the crown passed to his brother Alexander I. History records him as Alexander the Fierce. He married Sybilla who was one of King Henry I’s illegitimate daughters. The couple appear to have had no children so when he died the throne was passed to yet another brother – David who became King David I in April 1124.

If you recall, the inter-marital links between the royal houses of Scotland and England were strong at this time. Henry I had married one of St Margaret’s daughters – Edith who changed her name to Matilda when she married to fit into the Norman court better. Alexander was married to Edith/Matilda’s step-daughter and David I was married to another member of the royal family – Matilda of Huntingdon who was William the Conqueror’s niece or put another way Henry I’s cousin. By right of his marriage to Matilda, David became the earl of Huntingdon which raises the problem of a Scottish king having to do homage to a king of England for his lands in England. And you can see why politics swiftly became very complicated. Most Scottish kings got out of the bind by swearing very specific allegiance to the king of England for their lands in England “saving their own” i.e Scotland wasn’t part of the deal.

David I ruled Scotland whilst England tore itself apart during The Anarchy. He took advantage of the warfare between Stephen and Matilda to reclaim parts of Cumberland which William Rufus had annexed circa 1092, doing building work on Carlisle Castle and eventually dying there in 1153. He was succeeded by his grandson, another Malcolm.

Malcolm IV is know rather unflatteringly to history as Malcolm the Maiden. He was only eleven when he became king. He died in 1165 and was succeeded by his brother William the Lion. He married into the English royal family as well. His wife Ermengarde was the great-granddaughter of Henry I by descent from yet another illegitimate child of the English king.

Their son became Alexander II in 1214. He also married into the English royal family to cement a treaty of friendship. He married Joan Plantagenet, the legitimate daughter of King John- there are two English Joans, this one and Joan Beaufort so be aware when you’re reading about Queen Joan that there were two of them at different times. They married in York Minster in 1221. Joan was only eleven at the time of the marriage. She seems not to have had a strong position at court where her mother-in-law was the power behind the throne. She ultimately returned home to England. The chronicler Matthew Paris suggests that the royal couple were estranged and it is perhaps fortunate for Alexander that Joan died enabling him to remarry. An annulment would have led at the very least to political difficulties.

Alexander III succeeded his father in 1249. He was only eight at the time and on one occasion during his childhood was kidnapped during a power struggle between two noble families. He married in 1251 another English bride sent north to represent parental interests and keep the peace. Margaret was the daughter of King Henry III of England. Henry III didn’t help things when he tried to make Alexander recognise Henry as his overlord. In 1262 Alexander took charge of his kingdom and got round the overlord thing by swearing loyalty to Henry III “saving my own lands” as in what’s in England I am loyal to you for but what’s in Scotland’s mine! Margaret died in 1275. Unfortunately both the couple’s sons died and their daughter Margaret had married Eric II of Norway following Alexander’s attempt to remove the Scandinavians from the Western Isles.

Alexander remarried to ensure that he had a son but was so keen to see his bride that he rode off into a dark and stormy night. His horse threw him and to make matters worse his granddaughter, known as the Maid of Norway, who now inherited the Scottish crown died on her way from Norway to England. Some sources say seasickness whilst others speculate that it was food poisoning.

Thirteen claimants to the throne now emerged – which was not good news which ever way you looked at it.

Initially the Crown was claimed by the House of Balliol in the person of King John. He was the great-great grandson of King David I. He was chosen to become king of Scotland by King Edward I of England who had been asked to referee the situation. John’s wife, for those of you with enquiring minds, was part of the extended Plantagenet family. The situation gave Edward I an opportunity to promote claims of English overlordship – so King John did not necessarily win friends and influence people with his promotion to the kingship – there were also, of course, many other peeved claimants who cheerfully overlooked that genealogically by right of the first born, it was John who should be king.

Robert de Bruce was the next claimant and his claim was that he was closest to the throne by “proximity of blood.” Or put another way he might have been further away in terms of primogeniture i.e. there were older sibling family lines but he was higher up the family tree e.g. if a son survived then that son should inherit rather than a grandson even if he was the heir of the first born.

To cut a long story short John abdicated in 1296. There was an Interregnum without anyone on the throne. Then Robert Bruce seized the throne.

Robert Bruce became King Robert I. He was succeeded by his son David II in 1328 but was then overthrown in 1332 by Edward Balliol who fancied his chances despite his father having abdicated. David II regained the throne the same year but there was another throne swap in 1333 and 1334 and 1335 and 1336 – think of it as an arm wrestling contest where first one then the other seems stronger – David ruled until 1371 when he died. He had no children so was succeeded by his nephew Robert Stewart.

The House of Stewart in the form of Robert II took the throne in 1371. He died in 1390 having produced many children. His son John became king but to avoid confusion…seriously…became Robert III. His son became James I in 1406 which was unfortunate as he was a prisoner of the English at the time.

James I married Joan Beaufort, the daughter of the Earl of Somerset, granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It was a royal love story. He wrote her a poem and dropped roses out of his window for her to find. When they returned to Scotland James was eventually assassinated and Joan took a bloody vengeance on the men who’d killed her husband.

Their son became James II when he was seven years old. Joan was marginalised after her second marriage. James II was killed on 3rd August 1460 when a canon exploded during the Siege of Roxburgh during an attempt to remove it from English custody. James III was nine years old and was assassinated in his turn in 1488. He was succeeded by his son James IV who married Margaret Tudor the eldest daughter of King Henry VII. James was killed by his royal brother-in-law’s army at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September 1513. His head and body are probably buried in separate locations having been carried back to London – which possibly didn’t help Anglo-Scottish relations very much let alone sibling ones.

James V was just seventeen months old when he became king of Scotland. he ruled until his own death after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. He allegedly turned his face to the wall when he heard the news of the Scottish defeat saying of his new born daughter that the crown came with a lassie and would go with one. His demise resulted in the so-called “Rough Wooing” with Henry VIII forcibly attempting to marry off his sister’s granddaughter – the infant Mary Queen of Scots – to his own son Edward. The Scots arranged a marriage with the French dauphin and sent their queen to France where she remained until Francis died and she returned home.

Mary , queen from seven days old, married for a second time to Henry Stuart. Henry’s father Matthew Stewart decided he liked the French spelling of the name better for those of you wondering about the difference in spelling – same family – fashionable Matthew. Henry, styled Lord Darnley from birth was the grandson of Margaret Tudor from her second marriage which meant that Mary’s son James who was born on 19th June 1566 had a double dose of Tudor blood. His grandmother Margaret Douglas (Margaret Tudor’s daughter by her second husband) had been born on the English side of the border when Margaret Tudor had fled Scotland – so the Darnley side of the equation were English born and English subjects so not legally debarred from inheriting English titles.

More importantly James VI of Scotland as he became was male, with a direct Tudor bloodline and by 1603 had his own heir and a spare. Following the death of Elizabeth I who died without naming an heir James was invited into England to become James I of England.

Time for a cold compress and a lay down in a darkened room?….

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.

Edgar the Atheling

Edgar_the_ÆthelingEdgar is Edward the Exile’s son born in 1050 or 1051.  On his father’s death in February 1057, probably by poisoning, he and his great-uncle King Edward (the Confessor) became the last remaining male descendants of Cerdic (essentially the founder of the royal house of Wessex) – hence the Atheling title meaning of ‘noble  or royal blood.’ As such Edgar was an appropriate candidate for the English crown.  King Edward took Edward the Exile’s family into the English court and cared for them.  Had Edward lived a little while longer Edgar might have been the natural heir to the crown just as his father had once been viewed in a similar way.

On King Edward’s death in January 1066 Edgar was a contender for the throne. Initially he was supported by the Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Witan (council) which met to select the king.  However, across the Channel, Duke William of Normandy was making his own claim to the crown based on his relationship with Edward, promises made and a certain well-known oath made by Harold. In reality a youth without experience either leading men nor of war was not an ideal choice for a country about to be invaded.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings the Witan selected Edgar to replace King Harold who famously died during the battle. Technically Edgar rather than King Harold was the last pre-conquest king of England but he was never crowned and besides which spent most of the nominal two months he was king on the run from Duke William.  Eventually he submitted to William in Berkhamstead in December 1066.

Edgar lived in William’s court where he was well treated but was, understandably,  kept by William as a hostage to his new subjects good behaviour.  He went to Normandy with the duke in 1067 but when he returned in 1068 he became involved with the earls Edwin and Morcar once more and soon found himself up to his neck in insurrection.  He fled to Scotland very soon afterwards – unlike the folk of York who had to live with the consequences of William’s irritation.

However, Edgar did have a secret weapon that kept him firmly on the political map – his sister Margaret, blogged about in an earlier post, who’d won the heart of King Malcolm (Canmore) of Scotland when the Atheling’s family fled to Scotland in 1067.  Malcolm agreed to support Edgar in his bid for the English throne.  They didn’t have long to wait.  In 1069 the people of the north rose against William once more – history repeated itself.  Edgar fled once more into Scotland.  This process was repeated once more by which time everyone must have been heartily fed up – there wasn’t much left in some parts of the North either.  The Domesday Book shows a marked drop in the value of rents from pre-conquest to post-conquest revenues in many parts of Yorkshire.  Though as with everything there are two sides to every story. One of William’s sidekicks – a chap called Alan the Red- who’d acquired rather a lot of real estate probably ensured his own lands weren’t terribly badly ‘harrowed’.  Not withstanding this salient point it is always worth mentioning that William the Conqueror was allegedly troubled on his deathbed by his unfriendly actions in the north (its a good story anyway though not necessarily fair to William.)

Eventually King Malcolm III signed the Treaty of Abernethy (1072) and that was the end of Edgar’s Scottish sojourn. The Atheling was forced to seek protection from King Philip I in France – Edgar was not a lucky lad.  En route to his new host he was shipwrecked and had to flee back to Scotland.  Malcolm sat his brother-in-law down and had a long chat with him then waved Edgar over the border into England into William’s hands.

The Conqueror treated the troublesome atheling well. He received a pension of £1 a day from 1074 onwards.  Clearly the relationship between Duke William and Edgar must have eased further over time because Edgar went to South Wales campaigning on William’s behalf. He was present at William Rufus’s coronation, went on diplomatic missions for William II and became embroiled in the unseemly squabble over the English crown that raged between William and his elder brother Robert.

In the end Edgar sided with Robert once too often after having spent most of his adult life steering difficult political waters to remain on good terms with everyone.  William Rufus is the king who had the unfortunate accident with an arrow in the New Forest. The English crown should have gone to his brother Robert (known as Curthose) but, hey, little brother Henry was right there while Robert was abroad.  Having got his hands on the crown and the royal treasury he did what anyone would do in the circumstances…became King  Henry I.

Edgar, who had been on a crusade with Robert was at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106 – it didn’t do Robert much good- he was captured and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  On the other hand Edgar was welcomed back to court by Henry I who had handily married Edgar’s Scottish niece Edith.  Edith – who clearly wanted to win friends and influence people dropped the Saxon Edith and became the Norman Matilda.

Edgar died in 1125 having spent his latter years away from court. He was probably due a few quiet years!

St Margaret of Scotland

margaretMargaret, the sister of Edgar the Atheling, was the child of Edward the Exile  and Agatha, a German princess.  She was born in Hungary in 1046.  When Edward the Confessor took the throne he invited the last of the Royal House of Wessex to return from their exile.  Edward, Agatha and their children – Edgar, Margaret and Christina cam back to England but Edward died in suspicious circumstances shortly after their arrival.

Edgar submitted to William the Conqueror but became involved in a rebellion in 1068.  His family fled England.  They initially, possibly, intended to return to Hungary but bad weather drove their vessel to Scotland where Margaret married the King, Malcolm Canmore at Dunfermline Abbey in 1069.  Incidentally Canmore translates according to Alison Weir as ‘big head.’

The widowed king who was aged about forty loved his young Saxon bride and trusted her advice.  Queen Margaret became known not only for her piety but also for her learning. Malcolm could not read but such was his love for his wife that he would send her books to be ornamented with covers of gold.  She wielded so much power that she changed the way that the Scottish court behaved and dressed.  She bought the sophisticated continental behaviour of her childhood to Canmore’s court which included closer links with the Roman Catholic church.  During this time Mass was said in Latin in Scotland rather than Gaelic.  She was also the patron of Benedictine monks who arrived on Scottish shores for the first time.  Malcolm allow this wife to support the church and to guide the policies as to its practice.  She supported monks, hermits and spent much of her time and money providing charity to the poor and to orphaned children.

Inevitably relations with William of England were difficult.  Malcolm took advantage of the difficulties that William faced in his early years to extend the border of Scotland south so that it included most of Cumberland.  Malcolm was killed at the Battle of Alnwick along with Margaret’s eldest son Edward in 1093.  She died three days after receiving the news of her bereavement in Edinburgh Castle which was being besieged by Malcolm’s brother Donald Bane on 16th November. Margaret’s remaining sons escaped from the castle in a thick mist along with the body of their mother which they carried to Dunfermline Abbey where it was buried as she had wished.  It was she who’d commissioned the ferry that crossed the Firth of Forth taking pilgrims to the abbey.

Margaret bore Malcolm Canmore  eight children including Edward.    Her daughter Edith married one of William the Conqueror’s sons (King Henry I) and took on the Norman name Matilda.  Her other daughter Mary married the Count of Boulogne and her daughter (Margaret’s granddaughter married King Stephen becoming yet another Queen Matilda.)  One son, Ethelred, became the Abbot of Dunkeld while four more sons became kings of Scotland in their turn – Edmund, Edgar, Alexander I  and  David I.

For further information including St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle the Freelance History Writer http://thefreelancehistorywriter.com  has a great entry about the life and times of a Saxon Princess who became a queen and a saint.



Edward I and Alexander III

Prior to the death of Alexander III of Scotland in 1286, relations between the two kingdoms had been amicable.  Alexander III of Scotland was married to Edward’s sister Margaret – not in itself a guarentee of peace , just look at Henry VIII’s relationship with his brother-in-law James IV of Scotland.  Certainly Edward shared Alexander’s grief when on  Alexander’s eldest son, also named Alexander, died aged 20 without children.

The Scottish king’s younger son had died in 1281, and his daughter, Margaret, in 1283, leaving him with an infant granddaughter, also called Margaret, living in Norway.  The grieving king had not only lost his sons he’d also lost his wife in 1275.  After ten years as a widower he remarried.  There was, after all, a need for an heir.


Jedburgh Abbey

Alexander married Yolande de Dreux at Jedburgh Abbey and then famously charged out from a council meeting into a dark and stormy night to be with his young bride.  He fell from his horse and was killed.  His only heir was his granddaughter Margaret, The Maid of Norway.  She was just three years old. Her mother, also called Margaret wife to King Eric II of  Norway, had died giving birth to her.

In September 1290, The seven-year-old Queen of Scots left her home in Norway but died en route to Scotland of sea sickness.  With her died an arranged marriage to Prince Edward of England and a stable relationship between the two kingdoms.

There were now many competing claims to the Scottish throne.  In 1292 Edward agreed to oversee the selection between competing claims to the Scottish throne, on condition he is acknowledged as Lord Superior of Scotland. Thirteen competitors were narrowed down to two.  In the end  John Balliol was selected rather than Robert Bruce.  Balliol did homage to Edward I of England following in the footsteps of Malcolm Canmore who had sworn fealty to William the Conqueror but it gained King John no popularity in Scotland.

The stage was set for rebellion by King John’s subjects and war between the two nations – a war that would shape the landscape and people of the border region for centuries to come.

For more information:




Ridpath, George. (1979) Border History. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press

Sadler, John. (2006) Border Fury England and Scotland at War 1296-1568. London: Pearson Education Ltd