Malcolm II, King of Alba, died on the 25th of November, 1034.
King Malcolm II was the last of the ancient line of the House of mac Alpin and he got a good press from the contemporary accounts; the ancient ‘chronicles’ and ‘annals’ of Gaeldom. The ‘Irish Annals’ refer to him as being “honoured among all men” and the ‘Prophecy of Berchán’ (a 12th Century retrospective, rather than the obvious) referred to him as “Forranach” (“the destroyer”). Other accounts record that he was “skilled in brandishing the sword and hurling the spear” and that he was a “victorious warrior in battle”. He was ‘Ard Rí Alban’ or High King of Alba and the first King to reign over most of what corresponds to modern Scotland. At the time he became King, in the early 11th Century, what we now know as Scotland was still divided into separate sub-kingdoms or semi-independent territories. The Kingship of Strathclyde ruled much of the southwest, including Cumbria; the Mormaer of Moray (or Fortriu) controlled the territories around the Great Glen; and most of the north and west coasts and the Hebrides was still in the grip of Norse and Gaelic rulers. In adjacent England, the descendants of the Kings of Northumbria, who had once overlordship of Lothian and most of the south, retained a measure of control in the southeast.
In achieving his goal of possessing the Kingship of Alba, securing his family’s right of succession and expanding the territory of his kingdom to unite those separate territories, Malcolm certainly lived up to his epitaph of “the destroyer”. It seems that in those days, getting a good press meant destroying the opposition in as brutal a manner as possible. Notwithstanding that the house of Alpin had ruled since the days of Kenneth I, conflict between rival claimants was the norm and, although that usually led to the strongest leader surviving, the prevailing law of Tanistry presented Malcolm with a problem. Malcolm didn’t have too much of a problem in gaining the crown, but he saw a problem in retaining it through his chosen successor. He solved both problems by exercising his aptitude for destruction. He seized power by killing the previous King, Kenneth III, and his son and co-ruler, Giric II. He attempted to retain power for his bloodline by setting out to destroy any rivals or competing claimants to the throne – or so he thought.
Malcolm gained the throne by defeating his first and second cousins, the father and son rulers, Kenneth III and Giric II, at the Battle of Monzievaird, fought on the north side of Loch Earn near Crieff, on the 25th of March, 1005. The name, pronounced ‘mon ee vaird’, is derived from the Gaelic ‘magh’ and ‘bard’, meaning ‘the plain of the bards’. Following his enthronement, Malcolm’s purge of the rival members of his extended family began by having the grandson of Kenneth III killed. Other notable casualties were Bodhe mac Cináeda (Boede or Boedhe), a son of Kenneth II (or Kenneth III), Malcolm mac Bodhe (MaelBaethe), a grandson of Kenneth II, and in 1032, Gille Comgáin, Mormaer of Moray and husband of Gruoch, a granddaughter of Kenneth III. Bodhe mac Cináeda was also the father of Gruoch and it was that lineage, which put her husband at risk and no doubt gave rise to his elimination.
Strangely enough, although Malcolm’s murderous schemes seemed to have worked in the sense that his chosen successor, his grandson Duncan, acceded to the throne as Duncan I upon Malcolm’s death in 1034, Malcolm missed a couple of important persons. Those were Macbeth, who married the aforementioned Gruoch, and her son Lulach, by Gille Comgáin. When Macbeth married Gruoch, the matrilineal system of succession, which legitimately offered candidates under the laws of Tanistry, meant that Macbeth had a claim to the throne though his wife, regardless of his own bloodline. In fact, some documents claim Macbeth was directly related to King Malcolm II, supposedly being a grandson, but regardless of lineage, Macbeth ultimately did become King, and Lulach after him, by defeating Duncan I in battle.
No doubt Malcolm wouldn’t have had to go on his killing spree if he had fathered a son and heir, but he didn’t. The only evidence that he did have a son is from the chronicle of Rodulfus Glaber, in which it is suggested that Cnut (Canute) stood as godfather to a son of Malcolm. However, whether or not that was true, by the time Malcolm died, there was no living son to succeed him, which is why he chose a grandson. He had several grandsons, courtesy of his daughters, and he had two or maybe three of those. Duncan I or Duncan ‘the Gracious’, who succeeded Malcolm to beget the House of Dunkeld, was the eldest of his grandsons, born circa 1001 to Princess Bethoc (Beatrix) of Scotland, Lady of Atholl and Heiress of Scone, who married Crinan Erwin, Abbot of Dunkeld and (perhaps) Mormaer of Atholl, about 1000. Those two had another son, Maldred, Lord of Allerdale, who was born much later, in 1015.
Malcolm’s other grandsons were Thorfinn II, 1st Earl of Caithness, who was born around 1009 and, just possibly, Macbeth, who was born circa 1005. Thorfinn was the son of Sigurd II, ‘Digri’ Hlodversson, Earl (Jarl) of Orkney, but his mother was either Anleta Mackenneth or Donalda of Alba; the latter a daughter of Malcolm and the former, allegedly so. It is possible that a third daughter of Malcolm married Findláech mac Ruaidrí, the Mormaer of Moray, and that Macbeth was a son of that union, but that rests on relatively weak evidence. Findláech was Macbeth’s father and some sources claim Donalda married Findláech and then Sigurd after the former was killed, but that has to be absurd as Findláech died in 1020. It’s more likely that Donalda married Sigurd and, if there was an Anleta, it was she who married Findláech.
Malcolm II, the son of Kenneth II, was born about 970 and he was the last King in the direct male line of descent from Kenneth mac Alpine. He died from battle injuries at Glamis Castle in Angus on the 25th of November, 1034, according to the ‘Prophecy of Berchán’ in a fight with “the parricides”, suggested as being the sons of Máel Brigte of Moray. Malcolm fought several battles in addition to Monzievaird, losing against the Bernicians of Northumbria led by Earl Uhtred at Durham in1006, defeating the Danish General Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010 and gaining revenge for Durham at the Battle of Carham (or Coldstream) in 1016 or 1018. The overall result was that Malcolm achieved his goal of extending his realm during his lifetime. He achieved sovereignty over Lothian and the Borders down into Northumbria and was the man responsible for bringing Berwick upon Tweed into Scotland.