Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Malcolm Canmore, Malcolm III

Malcolm III, King of Scots, known as Malcolm ‘Canmore’, died on the 13th of November, 1093, in the Battle of Alnwick.

Malcolm Canmore was the man who killed Macbeth, not the Macduff Mormaer of Fife as represented in the reprehensible tragedy of yon Wullie Shakespeare. That was a travesty of a tragedy, which deserves no place in historical record. The real story is arguably much better than Oor Wullie’s play, with plenty of infighting and power struggles as well as intimations of murder. Malcolm Canmore defeated and killed Macbeth in battle at Lumphanan, in Aberdeenshire, on the 15th of August, 1057. The following year, he was also responsible for the death, in suspicious circumstances, of Lulach, Macbeth's stepson, who had taken over Macbeth’s throne. Order had been restored, you might say, with Malcolm then having ultimately succeeded to the Throne previously held by his father, Duncan I, whom Macbeth had defeated in 1040. Talk about a merry-go-round; it makes you dizzy working it out. To add to the mix of murky dealings that Shakespeare drew upon, there was the ‘Prophecy of Berchán’, which described Duncan I as ‘the man of many sorrows’, and the fact that Macbeth was killed on exactly the same date in 1057 as his adversary and predecessor, Duncan I, in 1040 – the 15th of August.

When Macbeth assumed the Throne and became King of Scots in 1040, Malcolm and his younger brother, Domnall Bán, were still children. As a result and according to John of Fordun, they left Scotland with their mother when she fled after her husband’s death. That was probably a good idea as Macbeth may well have sought to ‘remove them from the equation’. He certainly would’ve if he’d listened to Shakespeare. Depending on whom you believe Duncan married, depends on where his wife was likely to have taken her offspring to safety. Either Northumbria, if he married a niece of Earl Siward Biornsson of Northumbria, according to Fordun (14th Century), revamped by Skene (1872) and supported by James Young (1884), or Orkney if he married a Gaelic quine called Suthen, according to the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba (12-13th Century) and supported by A. A. M. Duncan (2002). Another solution was offered some time ago by E. William Robertson, which was that the safest place for Duncan's widow and her children would’ve been with her or Duncan's kin and supporters in Atholl. It’s debatable how safe Atholl would’ve been, since Macbeth’s influence, albeit centered on Moray – the ancient Pictish Fortriu or the Uerturiones as recorded by the Romans – covered a good deal of Scotland. The Orkney link doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny, despite Malcolm’s having taken as his first wife, Ingebjørg Finnsdottir, the widow of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, the eldest son of Sigurd Hlodvirsson, who was the Earl of Orkney at the time. Why would Malcolm’s mother flee to the court of the father of a man who was culpable, along with Macbeth, in the death of her husband?

Malcolm ‘Canmore’ mac Duncan was born around 1031 and although he ascended to the Throne of Scotland on the 17th of March, 1058, he wasn’t crowned until the 25th of April, 1058, at Scone Abbey, in Perthshire. Malcolm is said to have founded the dynasty of the ‘House of Canmore’, otherwise known as the ‘House of Dunkeld’, which lasted two hundred years, until succeeded by the ‘House of Bruce’, briefly, before the rise of the ‘House of Stewart’ (which became ‘Stuart’), with the death of David II in the 14th Century. Some contest the ‘founding of a dynasty’ part, suggesting it his more to do with the propaganda of his youngest son David, and his descendants, than with any historical reality, but by definition, Malcolm was the progenitor and, therefore, the founder. Part of Malcolm’s legacy is coloured by his having married Margaret, the great-niece of Edward the Confessor, in 1070. She had fled to Scotland with her brother, Edgar the Atheling, who was the Anglo-Saxon heir to the English throne who had been denied his birthright by the untimely appearance of William the Conqueror in 1066. As a result of his marriage to Margaret, Anglo-Saxon, rather than Gaelic, became the first language at the court of the High King of Alba and that very court then became the court of the King of Scots as Malcolm III was the first to be called ‘King of Scotland’ in his own time.

Malcolm spent the next several years being a thorn in the side of the Normans who had conquered England. His court was full of English exiles and between them, they raided deep into Northumbria and Cumbria. William I quickly became fed up with that and marched north to deal with the disturbance. By the 1072 Treaty of Abernethy, Malcolm was forced to submit to his authority and agree to his son Duncan becoming a hostage in England. That treaty should perhaps be seen as very significant in the history of Scotland as it provided the basis for later claims of dominance of the English throne over the Scottish throne. It did, however, also grant Malcolm power over most of the territory in Cumbria that he had expanded into, admittedly in return for swearing allegiance to William I. Later, in 1079, and undeterred, despite the danger to his son’s life, Malcolm again raided into England, but was repulsed. Then again, in 1091, after the succession of William II, William Rufus, in 1087, Malcolm once more stepped across the border to defend what he saw as his rights. Rufus came north and captured Carlisle and, on that occasion too, Malcolm had to accept second best.

Finally, in 1092, relations between William Rufus and Malcolm Canmore came to a head and broke 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. Malcolm’s eldest son from his second marriage, Prince Edward of Scotland, was mortally wounded in the same battle.

Malcolm was buried at Tynemouth, but in 1115, in the reign of his son Alexander, he was exhumed and reburied in Dunfermline Abbey alongside his wife, Margaret.


  1. The reign of Malcolm Canmore (1057-1093) brought Scotland into closer connection with western Europe and western Christianity.

  2. The reign of Malcolm Canmore (1057-1093) brought Scotland into closer connection with western Europe and western Christianity.