Malcolm III of Scotland

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1500 and before (including Roman Britain)

Máel Coluim (III) mac Donnchada
King of Scots
Image:Malcum Camnoir.jpg
Reign 1058–1093
Born 1030x1038
Died 13 November 1093
Alnwick, Northumberland, England
Buried Tynemouth
Consort Ingebjorg Finnsdotter
St Margaret of Scotland
Father Donnchad mac Crínáin
Mother Suthen

Máel Coluim mac Donnchada ( anglicised Malcolm III) (1030x1038– 13 November 1093) was King of Scots. He was the eldest son of Donnchad mac Crínáin. While often known as Malcolm Canmore, the earliest epithet applied to him is Long-Neck. It appears that the real Malcolm Canmore was this Máel Coluim's great-grandson Malcolm IV.

Máel Coluim's long reign, spanning five decades, did not mark the beginning of the Scoto-Norman age, nor can Máel Coluim's reign be seen as extending the authority of Alba's kings over the Scandinavian, Norse-Gael and Gaelic north and west of Scotland. The areas under the control of the Kings of Scots did not advance much beyond the limits set by Máel Coluim mac Cináeda until the 12th century and 13th century. Máel Coluim's main achievement is often thought to match that of Cináed mac Ailpín, in continuing a line which would rule Scotland for many years, although his role as "founder of a dynasty" has more to do with the propaganda of his youngest son David, and his descendants, than with any historical reality.


Máel Coluim's father Donnchad became king in late 1034, on the death of Máel Coluim mac Cináeda, Donnchad's maternal grandfather. Donnchad's reign was not successful and he was killed by Mac Bethad mac Findláich on 15 August 1040. Although William Shakespeare's Macbeth presents Máel Coluim as a grown man and his father as an old one, it appears that Donnchad was still young in 1040, and Máel Coluim and his brother Domnall Bán were children. Máel Coluim's family did attempt to overthrow Mac Bethad in 1045, but Máel Coluim's grandfather Crínán was killed in the attempt.

John of Fordun's account, which is the original source of part at least of Shakespeare's version, claims that Máel Coluim's mother was a niece of Siward, Earl of Northumbria, but an earlier king-list gives her the Gaelic name Suthen. Based on Fordun's account, it was assumed that Máel Coluim passed most of Mac Bethad's seventeen year reign in the Kingdom of England at the court of Edward the Confessor. If Máel Coluim's mother took her sons into exile, she is now thought to have gone north, to the court of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, Earl of Orkney, an enemy of Mac Bethad's family, and perhaps Donnchad's kinsman by marriage.

An English invasion in 1054, with Earl Siward in command, had as its goal the installation of Máel Coluim, "son of the King of the Cumbrians (i.e. of Strathclyde)". This Máel Coluim, perhaps a son of Eógan II of Strathclyde, disappears from history after this brief mention. He has been confused with Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, but Mac Bethad was not killed by the English in 1054, but in 1057 and by the Scots.

Máel Coluim first appears in the historical record in 1057 when various chroniclers report the death of Mac Bethad at Máel Coluim's hand, probably on 15 August 1057 at Lumphanan, between Aboyne and Banchory. Mac Bethad was succeeded by his step-son Lulach mac Gille Coemgáin, who was crowned at Scone, probably on 8 September 1057. Lulach was killed by Máel Coluim, "by treachery", near Huntly on 23 April 1058. After this, Máel Coluim became king, perhaps being inaugurated on 25 April 1058, although only Marianus Scotus reports this.

Máel Coluim and Ingibiorg

Late medieval depiction of Máel Coluim III with MacDuib ("MacDuff"), from an MS (Corpus Christi MS 171) of Walter Bower's Scotichronicon.
Late medieval depiction of Máel Coluim III with MacDuib ("MacDuff"), from an MS (Corpus Christi MS 171) of Walter Bower's Scotichronicon.

If Orderic Vitalis is to be relied upon, one of Máel Coluim's earliest actions as may have been to travel south to the court of Edward the Confessor to arrange a marriage with Edward's kinswoman Margaret. If such an agreement was made in 1059, it was not kept, and this may explain the Scots invasion of Northumbria in 1061 when Lindisfarne was plundered. Equally, Máel Coluim's raids in Northumbria may have been related to the disputed "Kingdom of the Cumbrians", reestablished by Earl Siward in 1054, which was under Máel Coluim's control by 1070.

The Orkneyinga saga reports that Máel Coluim married the widow of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, Ingibiorg a daughter of Finn Arnesson. Although Ingibiorg is generally assumed to have died shortly before 1070, it is possible that she died much earlier, around 1058. The Orkneyinga Saga records that Máel Coluim and Ingibiorg had a son, Donnchad, who was later king. Some Medieval commentators, following William of Malmesbury, assumed that Donnchad was illegitimate, which is no more than propaganda reflecting the need of Máel Coluim's descendants by Margaret to undermine the claims of Donnchad's descendants, the Meic Uilleim. Máel Coluim's son Domnall, whose death is reported in 1085, is not mentioned by the author of the Orkneyinga Saga. He is assumed to have been born to Ingibiorg.

Máel Coluim's marriage to Ingibiorg secured him peace in the north and west. The Heimskringla tells that her father Finn had been an adviser to Harald Hardraade and, after falling out with Harald, was then made an Earl by Sweyn Estridsson, King of Denmark, which may have been another recommendation for the match. Máel Coluim enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the Earldom of Orkney, ruled jointly by his step-sons, the Thorfinnssons Paul and Erlend. The Orkneyinga Saga reports strife with Norway but this is probably misplaced as it names Magnus Barefoot, who became king of Norway only in 1093, the year of Máel Coluim's death.

Máel Coluim and Margaret

Although he had given sanctuary to Tostig Godwinsson when the Northumbrians drove him out, Máel Coluim was not directly involved in the ill-fated invasion of England by Harald Hardraade and Tostig in 1066, which ended in defeat and death at battle of Stamford Bridge. In 1068, he granted asylum to a group of English exiles fleeing from William of Normandy, among them Agatha, widow of Edward the Confessor's nephew Edward the Exile, and her children: Edgar Ætheling and his sisters Margaret and Cristina. They were accompanied by Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria. The exiles were to be disappointed if they had expected immediate assistance from the Scots.

In 1069 the exiles returned to England, to join a spreading revolt in the north. Even though Cospatrick and Siward's son Waltheof submitted by the end of the year, the arrival of a Danish army under Sweyn Estridsson ensured that William's position remained weak. Máel Coluim decided on war, and took his army south into Cumbria and across the Pennines, wasting Teesdale and Cleveland then marching north, loaded with loot, to Wearmouth. There Máel Coluim met Edgar and his family, who were invited to return with him, but did not. As Sweyn had by now been bought off with a large Danegeld, Máel Coluim took his army home. In reprisal, William sent Gospatric to raid Scotland through Cumbria. In return, the Scots fleet raided the Northumbrian coast where Gospatric's possession were concentrated. Late in the year, perhaps shipwrecked on their way to a European exile, Edgar and his family again arrived in Scotland, this time to remain. By the end of 1070, Máel Coluim had married Edgar's sister Margaret, the future Saint Margaret of Scotland.

The naming of their children represented a break with the traditional Scots Regal names such as Máel Coluim, Cináed and Áed. The point of naming Margaret's sons, Edward after her father Edward the Exile, Edmund for her grandfather Edmund Ironside, Ethelred for her great-grandfather Ethelred the Unready and Edgar for her great-great-grandfather Edgar the Peacable was unlikely to be missed in England, where William of Normandy's grasp on power was far from secure. Whether the adoption of the classical Alexander for the future Alexander I of Scotland (either for Pope Alexander II or for Alexander the Great) and the biblical David for the future David I of Scotland represented a recognition that William of Normandy would not be easily removed, or was due to the difficulties of excessive repetition of Anglo-Saxon Royal names, (another Edmund had preceded Edgar), is not known. Margaret also gave Máel Coluim two daughters, Edith, who married Henry I of England, and Mary, who married Eustace III of Boulogne.

In 1072, with the Harrying of the North completed and his position again secure, William of Normandy came north with an army and a fleet. Máel Coluim met William at Abernethy and, in the words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle "became his man" and handed over his eldest son Donnchad as a hostage and arranged peace between William and Edgar. Accepting the overlordship of the king of the English was no novelty, previous kings had done so without result. The same was true of Máel Coluim; his agreement with the English king was followed by further raids into Northumbria, which led to further trouble in the earldom and the killing of Bishop William Walcher at Gateshead. In 1080, William sent his son Robert Curthose north with an army while his brother Odo punished the Northumbrians. Máel Coluim again made peace, and this time kept it for over a decade.

Máel Coluim faced little recorded internal opposition, with the exception of Lulach's son Máel Snechtai. In an unusual entry, for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains little on Scotland, it says that in 1078:

Malcholom [Máel Coluim] seized the mother of Mælslæhtan [Máel Snechtai] ... and all his treasures, and his cattle; and he himself escaped with difficulty.

Whatever provoked this, Máel Snechtai survived until 1085.

Máel Coluim and William Rufus

When William Rufus became king of England after his father's death, Máel Coluim did not intervene in the rebellions by supporters of Robert Curthose which followed. In 1091, however, William Rufus confiscated Edgar Ætheling's lands in England, and Edgar fled north to Scotland. In May, Máel Coluim marched south, not to raid and take slaves and plunder, but to besiege Newcastle, built by Robert Curthose in 1080. This appears to have been an attempt to advance the frontier south from the River Tweed to the River Tees. The threat was enough to bring the English king back from Normandy, were he had been fighting Robert Curthose. In September, learning of William Rufus's approaching army, Máel Coluim withdrew north and the English followed. Unlike in 1072, Máel Coluim was prepared to fight, but a peace was arranged by Edgar Ætheling and Robert Curthose whereby Máel Coluim again acknowledged the overlordship of the English king.

In 1092, the peace began to break down. Based on the idea that the Scots controlled much of modern Cumbria, it had been supposed that William Rufus's new castle at Carlisle and his settlement of English peasants in the surrounds was the cause. However, it is unlikely that Máel Coluim did control Cumbria, and the dispute instead concerned the estates granted to Máel Coluim by William Rufus's father in 1072 for his maintenance when visiting England. Máel Coluim sent messengers to discuss the question and William Rufus agreed to a meeting. Máel Coluim travelled south to Gloucester, stopping at Wilton Abbey to visit his daughter Edith and sister-in-law Cristina. Máel Coluim arrived there on 24 August 1093 to find that William Rufus refused to negotiate, insisting that the dispute be judged by the English barons. This Máel Coluim refused to accept, and returned immediately to Scotland.

It does not appear that William Rufus intended to provoke a war, but, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports, war came:

For this reason therefore they parted with great dissatisfaction, and the King Malcolm returned to Scotland. And soon after he came home, he gathered his army, and came harrowing into England with more hostility than behoved him ...

Máel Coluim was accompanied by Edward, his eldest son by Margaret and probable heir-designate (or tánaiste). Even by the standards of the time, the ravaging of Northumbria by the Scots was seen as harsh. While marching north again, Máel Coluim was ambushed by Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria, whose lands he had devastated, near Alnwick on 13 November 1093. There he was killed by his god-sib Arkil Morel, steward of Bamburgh Castle. Edward was mortally wounded in the same fight. Margaret, we are told, died soon after receiving the news of their deaths. The Annals of Ulster say:

Mael Coluim son of Donnchad, over-king of Scotland, and Edward his son, were killed by the French i.e. in Inber Alda in England. His queen, Margaret, moreover, died of sorrow for him within nine days.

Máel Coluim's body was taken to Tynemouth for burial. It may later have been reburied at Dunfermline Abbey in the reign of his son Alexander or perhaps on Iona.

Depictions in fiction

Malcolm's accession to the throne, as modified by tradition, is the climax of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

He is featured in the Walt Disney animated television series Gargoyles under the name "Canmore". He was the third person to use the Hunter persona. His bloodline through his illegitimate son Donald continued to use the Hunter identity through the ages, seeking out gargoyles - specifically the immortal Demona.

Retrieved from ""