Duncan II died on the 12th of November, 1094, at the Battle of Monthechin.
Duncan was a bit of a doughnut. He was the first King of Scots to have been seriously influenced by the English, in the sense that he was probably more Norman-English than Scottish at the time he ascended to the throne. Of course, there had always been English interference in the affairs of Scotland, but that was usually invasion and intended conquest or some form of military intervention. Contrary to that sort of thing, the English influence over Duncan II, which effectively ushered in the beginning of the age of Norman-Scots, was peaceable. It stemmed from the fact that Duncan spent a large part of his life at the court of the Crimson King, William Rufus. And that had transpired, because Duncan’s father, Malcolm Canmore, Malcolm III, had to give up his son as a hostage for his good behavior as per the Treaty of Abernethy.
Duncan, was born around 1060 and was sent to England in 1072, when he would have been no more than twelve. Having been sent south at an impressionable age, Duncan then spent fifteen years in England, before he was released from his hostage status by the new King, William II, that being William Rufus, in 1087. However, he remained in England, soaking up the Norman culture, becoming a member of William’s court and being knighted by the English King. Back in Scotland, Malcolm III had produced quite a crop of sons and he probably didn’t miss his eldest so much as he was one of three sons by his first wife, whom he’d replaced with the (to be) ‘sainted’ Margaret when Ingebjørg died. Funnily enough, several of the six ‘Margaretsons’ possibly ended up in England, one of them being for sure David, who as David I, was responsible for further advancing the Norman influence in Scotland – for better or worse.
In 1092, relations between William Rufus and Malcolm Canmore began to break down, and whether or not that was due to William’s expansionist movements in Cumbria or to a dispute over Malcolm’s estates in England, the end result was war. As the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports, “Malcolm… gathered his army, and came harrowing into England with more hostility than behoved him”. Malcolm was accompanied by Edward, his heir-designate and the eldest of the ‘Margaretsons’, and by Edgar, the fourth of that litter. On his way back north, Malcolm was ambushed by Robert de Mowbray, the Earl of Northumbria, in an engagement that became known as the Battle of Alnwick, on the 13th of November, 1093. Malcolm was killed by Arkil Morel, the Steward of Bamburgh Castle, and Malcolm’s son Edward was mortally wounded in the same fight. Malcolm’s attack on England may have endangered Duncan’s life, but as he was no longer a hostage and indeed a pal of Rufus, that was never likely.
The question of who was to succeed Malcolm then arose. If Malcolm had been behind the Norman principle of primogeniture, his heir would have been Duncan, his eldest son. But the Scottish system owed more to the ancient Gaelic practice of tanistry and that was why Edward’s had been quite legitimately designated as Malcolm’s successor. With Edward having died, the process of tanistry meant the Crown was up for grabs and that led to Malcolm’s younger brother, Domnall Bán, Donald the White, being proclaimed Donald III, with support from Edmund, the second ‘Margaretson’. Donald was probably living in Scotland at the time, rather than having remained in exile at the court of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, the Earl of Orkney, and it is unfair to suggest that he usurped the Throne. He had as good a claim as his nephew Duncan. Also at that time, David the ‘Margaretson’ joined his half brother Duncan in England, but it is unclear if, for example, Edgar and Alexander did. Ethelred surely didn’t as he had become the Abbot of Dunkeld.
Now it was that Duncan, encouraged by his Norman cronies and his English education to a belief in primogeniture, gained the ambition to secure the Scottish Crown. With that purpose in mind, Duncan returned to Scotland, in the Spring of 1094, at the head of an Anglo-Norman army. However, there is no evidence that he was accompanied by the elder of his half brothers or whether any of them joined him when he arrived in Scotland. Duncan’s army was victorious as he easily defeated his uncle, Donald Bán, and his half brother, Edmund. By the end of May of 1094, Duncan had placed himself on the Throne as Duncan II. Duncan had received the tacit support of William II for the Scottish Crown, but as William had planned a campaign in Normandy, the Anglo-Norman army was withdrawn in the summer, leaving Duncan very exposed. Duncan had very little support north of the Forth and he was also seen as a puppet of William Rufus. Of course, his ‘englishness’ didn’t commend him to the Gaels and Scots.
Ultimately, his reign didnae last long as he and many of his Norman supporters, those who had remained with him in Scotland, were killed at the Battle of Monthechin, near Kincardine, on the 12th of November, 1094. Alison Weir, in ‘Britain’s Royal Family: A Complete Genealogy’, published in 1999, states that Duncan was “killed in action”. However, many stories circulate about his having been murdered by Máel Petair, the Mormaer of the Mearns, who was loyal to Donald Bán. Interestingly, Máel Petair, who appears in numerous sources and whose name means ‘tonsured one of [Saint] Peter’, is the only known Mormaer of the Mearns. After the death of Duncan II, Donald Bán and Edmund resumed their joint reign, but not for long as the merry-go-round continued to spin. Both were deposed in 1097, by Edgar, another ‘Margaretson’, who had his Uncle Donald blinded and imprisoned, and his brother Edmund sent to a monastery. Poor Donald died a broken man in prison at Rescobis, in Forfarshire, in 1099. Duncan II was buried at Dunfermline Abbey.