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.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Edgar, King of Scots

Edgar, King of Scots, died on the 8th of January, 1107.

The story of Edgar, King of Scots, is really the story of the beginning of the end if you're of the view that Scotland's heritage revolves solely around its Picto-Scottish, Gaelic/Celtic period – the Alba of the Ravens. Of course, that's a very myopic viewpoint and there's surely no question that today, Scotland benefits from its broader heritage, encompassing a mixture of ancient Picts, Scots, Britons, Celts, Gaels, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Vikings (and Egyptians and Iberians if you want to add a myth or two – or take Neanderthal migration into account). However, as the then eldest surviving son of Malcolm III (Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, otherwise known as Malcolm Canmore) and his Queen, Margaret of Wessex,  Etgair mac Mael Cholium was the first King of Scots to have both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon blood coursing through his veins, his rule spelled the end of a 'pure' Scots line.

Edgar's mother was a Princess of England, albeit she'd been born in exile in Hungary, who was also a granddaughter of England's 'Ironside', Edmund II, sister to the Anglo-Saxon Edgar (the) Ætheling, and became, famously, St. Margaret of Scotland. Margaret's father was Edward the Exile, so called after his banishment, following the conquest of England by the Danish King, Cnut the Great (Canute of the Waves), in 1016. Furthermore, the sainted Margaret's mother, Agatha, was a relative of the German Emperor. In such a manner, Edgar, King of Scots, named after an English bit-part King, was a composite of Picto-Scottish Gael and Anglo-Saxon, with a Teutonic tint and a pinch of Hungarian paprika thrown in for seasoning. Edgar was also the first of the 'Margaretsons', the first of three, to become King of Scots.

Born around 1074, Edgar's history really begins with his own exile and banishment, to England, once again following a battle and conquest. In late 1093, after evading capture at the Battle of Alnwick, in which his father and elder brother, Edward, had been killed, Edgar and his siblings were sent – or brought – to England. Queen Margaret wasn't able to go to England as she had died of a broken heart, nine days after Alnwick. When Edgar first appeared before his mother after the battle, she asked him, “How fares it with the King and my Edward?” and, on Edgar's eloquent silence, she is said to have exclaimed, “I know all!” Those that did go with Edgar were his younger brothers, Alexander and David, both of whom became Kings of Scots in their turn, and his sisters, Edith (who later married Henry I of England) and Mary (who married Eustace III of Boulogne). Edgar's two surviving older brothers, Ethelred who became Abbot of Dunkeld, and Edmund, remained in Scotland.

Edgar's émigré status was seemingly as a hostage for the good behaviour of the Scots, who were ruled by his uncle, as Donald III, or his half-brother, as Duncan II, after the death of their father. However, his journey to England may have been as a refugee from his uncle, Donald (Domnall mac Donnchada), known as Domnall Bán (Donald the Fair) or Donalbane. Edgar's status as a refugee is credible as there was a goodly deal of internecine strife abroad in Scotland following the demise of the Canmore. Malcolm III seems to have designated his eldest 'Margaretson', Edward, as his heir, but Malcolm's brother, Donald, had a better right to the throne according to ancient customs. So it was that, at least according to John of Fordun, Donald, “at the head of a numerous band,” laid siege to Edinburgh and caused Margaret's brother, the Ætheling, to  remove her, and his nephews and nieces, to England.

Donald III ruled from November, 1093, to May, 1094, and from November, 1094, to sometime in 1097, when Edgar became King. The interruption came  in May of 1094, when Donald's nephew, Duncan, aided by Edgar's older brother, Edmund, invaded with an army made up of Anglo-Normans and Northumbrians, under his father-in-law, the Gospatric Earl of Northumbria. The 'englishified' Duncan, a son of Malcolm Canmore by his first wife, Ingibiorg, the widow of Thorfinn Sigurdsson (Thorfinn the Mighty), the Norwegian Earl of Orkney, gained the throne for a wee while, but his short lived and unwelcome rule was brought to an end when he was “killed in action” on the 12th of November, 1094, at the Battle of Monthechin. As Donald then promptly appointed Edmund as his heir, there might be some truth in the claim, made in the Annals of Ulster, that Duncan was instead 'assassinated' on the orders of his uncle and a turncoat Edmund.

Unlike Alexander and David, Edgar didn't spend his formative years in England as he was twenty when he rode south to a brief exile. He was also mature enough to be not unduly influenced by the ways of the Anglo-Norman court in which he found himself. Nevertheless, he gained some empathy and support from the Norman, William Rufus, son of the Conqueror. In 1095, with Donald and Edmund engaged in supporting the latter's father-in-law, the Gospatrick, Robert de Mowbray's rebellion against Rufus, Edgar managed to gain control of Lothian. However, it wasn't until 1097 that Edgar invaded Scotland, accompanied by the Ætheling and an English army. Donald and Edmund were defeated and Edgar became King, four years after he had first claimed the throne on the death of his half-brother, Duncan II.

Although there is some contradiction between his derogatory nickname, 'the Peaceable', and the alternative 'Valiant', neither could be applied to Edgar in relation to how he dealt with his uncle and half-brother thereafter. The Annals of Tigernach indicate that Edgar had Donald's eyes put out and that is backed up by Fordun, who wrote that Donald was “blinded, and doomed to eternal imprisonment [by Edgar]”. Blinded or not, Donald was imprisoned at Rescobis (Rescobie), in Forfar, where he died, in 1099. It's less clear what happened to Edmund, but it seems he was banished, with his sight intact, to a monastery.

An incident, which is said to have given rise to Edgar's nickname of 'the Peaceable', occurred in 1098, when he signed the first formal treaty made by a Scots King, in ceding to Magnus Barelegs, King of Norway, the Western Isles and the peninsula of Kintyre. Magnus was a marauder and, having conquered the Orkneys, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man, he was able to persuade Edgar that a treaty, which incidentally, survived until the Battle of Largs, in 1263, was a better option than fighting to retain the Hebrides. Legend has it that Magnus made his agreement with Edgar on the basis that he would settle for all the islands of the west coast he could pass in a vessel with her rudder shipped. To that end, Magnus had a skiff “drawn over the strand at Cantire [Kintyre],” whilst “[he] sat in the stern-sheets, and held the tiller.” Longships were often drawn over the small neck of land between the mainland, and Magnus' adroit manoeuvre neatly severed the Isles and Kintyre from Edgar's newly won Scotland.

Edgar died in Edinburgh Castle on the 8th of January, 1107. The King of Scots with the Saxon name was buried at Dunfermline in the Holy Trinity Minster founded by his parents. Incidentally, Eadgar apparently means 'happy spear' in Old English and the first recording of its use in Scotland is thought to have been by Edgar, King of Scots.


  1. Iain,
    Somehow I stumbled (blindy) onto your blog and have enjoyed your entries and your intersting perspectives. Keep up the good work, brother!
    Wm. G. A. Shaw

    1. Hi William, thanks for your comment; very much appreciated. I had a look at your website, too, and will pop back for more when I get a chance. Cheers, Iain