Malcolm III and Tostig Godwineson

The friendship between Tostig Godwineson and King Malcolm of Scotland seems to have been largely overlooked, but it seems to me that it had a significant impact on Tostig’s career. When Tostig was made Earl of Northumbria in 1055, Malcolm had been unofficial king for a year or so. As usual, there is much confusion regarding this period, but it is thought that Malcolm reigned over Lothian—south of the Firth of Forth—and Strathclyde, or Cumbria. He would not officially be crowned while Macbeth lived, as Macbeth still ruled in the northern part of Scotland.

In 1054, Earl Siward of Northumbria invaded Scotland in conjunction with King Edward’s housecarls to put Malcolm on the throne. The invasion was very real; the battle of Dunsinane may have been apocryphal—though there was certainly a major battle somewhere. I was surprised to discover that Siward was not Malcolm’s uncle (did I get this from Shakespeare?). His interest in Malcolm was predominately political, for he was continually concerned about the safety of his northern borders. Historian William Kapelle (The Norman Conquest of the North) tells that before 1054, “both Edward and Siward must have hoped that as king he (Malcolm) would end the hostility that had characterized the northern border since 1006”.  Kapelle tells us most definitely that “Malcolm did not hold Scotland as England’s vassal. He was king of Scots by inheritance and battle; his obligation to King Edward rested solely on gratitude.” Alas for Tostig, his gratitude was fleeting.

But that was later. When Siward died a year after the famous invasion—his heart broken by the death of his son in battle—the earldom of Northumbria was awarded to Tostig. There’s no evidence that Tostig had met Malcolm yet, but in 1057, the new Earl joined Malcolm’s final expedition against Macbeth. They tracked down and defeated the fleeing king at Lumphanan in Abersdeenshire; Macbeth allegedly died a few days later at Scone. According to Edward A. Freeman, King Edward’s biographer tells us that “Macbeth…was first defeated by Siward, then by Tostig.” (History of the Norman Conquest Vol 3, Appendix EE). So in some eyes, Tostig carried on the conflict begun by his predecessor. It seems he must have had a vested interest.

Tostig went on to create a very strong friendship with Malcolm. In 1059, Malcolm accompanied Tostig to King Edward’s court, probably at York (first visit by a Scottish monarch in 80 years). Somewhere in that time frame, Tostig and Malcolm became sworn brothers—blood brothers, as it were. This was a strong tie between rulers, but it seems that Tostig took it more seriously than Malcolm, for the Scots raided across the border whenever it suited them. These hostile acts culminated in 1061 when Tostig went on pilgrimage to Rome in support of his favorite Bishop, Ealdred, who expected to receive his pallium from the pope. Malcolm took advantage of Tostig’s absence to lead the most vicious of all raids deep into Northumbria, and even the sacred abbey of Lindisfarne was not spared. Tostig is accused to have responded to this outrage with diplomacy rather than reprisals, much to the dissatisfaction of his earldom. They seem to have thought him ineffectual in defending them, though according to Freeman, Tostig’s growing unpopularity made it hard for him to raise troops. This sounds like a vicious cycle!

Could it be that Tostig wanted to keep his friendship with Malcolm intact to ensure his welcome if the occasion arose? It’s hard to say, though he evidently had an uneasy relationship with the northerners since the beginning of his rule. It seems unlikely he knew what was brewing in his earldom in 1065, for he was frequently in the company of King Edward—and was accused of neglecting his earldom. When the terrible and well-planned revolt broke out in Northumbria and all 200+ of his household were killed, Tostig was once again in far-off south, hunting with the King. Ultimately he was forced into exile, and the next time he set foot on English soil he was an outlaw intent on revenge—or at least getting his earldom back through force of arms.

Battle of Stamford Bridge: Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59

It was thought he was testing the waters, so to speak, in May of 1066 when he landed on the Isle of Wight with a handful of ships, mostly loaned from Normandy and Flanders. He worked his way around the coast of Wessex, impressing more English ships into service. After an aborted raid on Sandwich, he sailed north and stopped at the Humber, but earls Edwin and Morcar were ready for him and drove his little fleet back into the sea. At this juncture, most of his allies melted away, and he limped off with only seven boats in tow out of his accumulated sixty. This was when his friendship with Malcolm really gave him a boost, for the King of the Scots welcomed his sworn brother with open arms and reportedly gave him sanctuary for the rest of the summer. From this safe haven, Tostig is said to have recruited Scottish mercenaries as well as allies from the Orkney Islands, who were planning to join Harald Hardrada’s September invasion. King Malcolm did not accompany Tostig on his last campaign, but it is supposed he saw him off with a fond farewell.

I wonder if he said “good riddance” under his breath.



Who was Donald Bane?

Donald Bane of Scotland, by George Jamieson, Source: Wikipedia

For most of us, our first contact with Donald Bane (or Donalbane) comes with the play Macbeth. After poor King Duncan was killed in his bed, his heirs feared assassination and fled the scene; Prince Malcolm slipped away to England and Donald Bane went to Ireland.  And this is the last we see of Donald Bane in the play. Who was he and what happened to him?

There seems to be no historic trail from the death of his father until 1093, when he usurped the throne of Scotland.  It is said that in 1060 he became Mormaer of Gowrie (modern Perthshire), yet it is assumed he lived in the Western Isles and possibly Ireland.  I’ve found reference to his exile there but no explanation, so we are left to fill in the blanks. What we do know is that he aligned himself with the pro-Gaelic party in Scotland, which was in opposition to Malcolm and Margaret’s attempt to suppress the Celtic Church in favor of Catholicism.

It wasn’t until 1093 that Donald Bane made his move. Somehow he knew about Malcolm’s last campaign into Northumbria, because we find that in the King’s absence he laid siege to Edinburgh castle. He knew that Queen Margaret was in residence with her younger sons, and intended to acquire them as hostages. If you’ve ever been to Edinburgh, you know that the castle is perched high on a rugged cliff, so his army would have encamped on the other side.

source: Wikipedia

Assuming the cliff was impassible was his big mistake. As depicted in my novel, HEIR TO A PROPHECY, the ailing Margaret died within minutes of hearing that the king and her eldest son had been slain. Her surviving sons and servants devised a litter and lowered the queen’s body all the way down the cliff, protected by a mysterious white mist.  They ferried Margaret across the river to Dunfermline so she could get a proper burial.

That didn’t stop Donald Bane. According to the ancient tanist system of Scottish inheritance, the younger brother of a king could inherit the throne before the son if matters were so arranged. Donald was the younger brother of Malcolm III, and was duly elected to the empty throne. However, he only reigned initially for six months, until Malcolm’s first son Duncan (by his wife Ingeborg) invaded with an army backed by King William Rufus of England.

Alas for Duncan, his reign only lasted six months. Donald Bane joined forces with Duncan’s half-brother Edmund (son of Margaret) and killed the hapless king, reigning jointly with Edmund in his stead. Donald oversaw the north (Scotia) and Edmund ruled the south (Lothian).  This lasted for three years.

But William Rufus did not condone an anti-Norman king on the Scottish throne. Edgar, probably the second son of Malcolm and Margaret, had taken refuge in the English court, and Rufus sent him north with an army to dethrone Donald Bane in 1097. The victor was crowned and known as Edgar the Peaceable (because of his submission to William Rufus). Apparently the remorseful Edmund was forgiven and later became a monk, thus removing himself from the succession.

Donald Bane was not so lucky.  Edgar threw him into prison at Rescobie in Angus and had his eyes put out for good measure.  Donald died within two years, and was eventually buried at Iona, the last of  his line to rest with the Celtic kings of Scotland.

Malcolm Canmore, ancestor of the Plantagenets

I don’t think it would be too much to say that most lovers of the Middle Ages love to read about the Plantagenets.  They all seem to be as colorful as their namesake, Geoffrey of Anjou, who coined the family name from the broom flower planta genista which he tucked onto his helmet (or his hat).  In fact, the Anjou side of the family gets so much attention that very few people give much thought to the fact that Henry II is descended from Malcolm III through his grandmother on his mother’s side.

Malcolm Canmore and Margaret Aetheling had a passel of children: six sons and two daughters.  One of these daughters, Edith (or Eadgyth, later known as Matilda) was married in 1100 to King Henry I of England when she was about 21 years old (thus uniting the Normans with the old Anglo-Saxon dynasty).   This is the same Edith that Malcolm earlier tried to marry to Alain le Roux.  If you saw  the recent series Pillars of the Earth, it’s hard to forget the scene where Henry I keeled over while eating lampreys.  And so he died, according to historians.

If you remember, Henry I had one son who was killed in the White Ship Disaster of 1120, which sunk in the English Channel drowning 300 people.  His only surviving legitimate child was their daughter Maude, who later married Geoffrey of Anjou.  Although Henry I made his nobles swear to support Maude’s claim to the throne, when he died in 1135 she was actually far away in Anjou, leaving the way open for her cousin Stephen to step in and steal the throne.  And spark the civil war, which lasted approximately 18 years.

Maude’s son, the future King Henry II was only two years old at the time.  He did not get to meet his grandmother who died in 1118, but he was knighted by her brother, his great-uncle David I of Scotland in 1149.  He eventually forced David’s son William the Lion to swear fealty to him, but that was after William joined forces with Henry’s three sons and Eleanor in the Revolt of 1173-1174.  But of course, that’s another story!

St. Margaret, Widowed Queen of Scotland

Malcolm and Margaret at Queensferry, detail of a mural by Victorian artist William Hole Wikipedia

In many ways, St. Margaret is a bit of an enigma to us.  Sister of Eadgar Aetheling (see my last post), her family was driven onto the shores of Scotland while fleeing from Norman-occupied England.  She is said to have immediately captivated the King of the Scots, who was determined to make her his wife despite her oft-repeated assertions that she was destined for the church.

Apparently, circumstances pressured Margaret to change her mind about becoming a nun—not the least of which was the obvious need of her brother for foreign support of his claim to the English throne.  But I suspect the main reason she decided to marry Malcolm was the condition of the Scottish Columban church.  They observed the Sabbath on Saturday and worked on Sunday; they refused to receive the Sacrament and didn’t recognize the authority of the Pope. Once Queen of Scotland, Margaret took it upon herself to personally oversee the reformation of the Church, and she did so with ruthless persistence.

A grateful Catholic church remembered her as a perfect, flawless example of Christian piety and duly canonized her in 1250.  What I find interesting is that I believe a canonized female saint must be either a virgin or a widow (please correct me if I am wrong!).  Margaret met that particular condition by a mere three days.  While she lay on her deathbed, husband Malcolm was off on another raid in Northumbria, where he met his end at the siege of Alnwick.

By all indications, their royal marriage was a happy one. Margaret bore six sons and two daughters; the eldest, Edward, was killed alongside his father in 1093. Three of their sons became kings: Edgar, Alexander I, and David I, who reigned until 1153. Their daughter Mary married Eustace III of Boulogne, and Edith (renamed Matilda) married Henry I of England, thus uniting the Normans with the old Anglo-Saxon dynasty.

On receiving news of Malcolm’s death, she is said to have thanked God for “giving her this anguish” at her last hour, then expired, leaving the survivors a difficult task of spiriting away her body while Edinburgh castle was under siege by Malcolm’s half-brother Donald Bane.  (More of that in my novel HEIR TO A PROPHECY.)

Eventually, Malclom and Margaret were buried in Dunfermline Abbey, but she was disturbed again in 1560, when Scottish Calvinist iconoclasts were said to have desecrated the grave and stolen her head.  It is thought that Mary Queen of Scots possessed this reliquary for a while, then the head was toted around Europe and lost during the French Revolution.

Eadgar Aetheling, Ill-fated heir

eadgar AethelingEadgar Aetheling was a Saxon prince and grandson of Edmund Ironside, who was briefly king of England in 1016.  He was born in Hungary where his father lived in exile, and in 1057 the family moved back to England at the invitation of the childless Edward the Confessor.  His father, Edward the Exile died a few months later—without ever seeing the king—and the children were raised at court.

When Edward the Confessor died in 1066, Eadgar Aetheling was the only surviving male heir of the royal house, but his youth made him an unacceptable choice for a crown that had so many powerful claimants.  After Harold Godwineson was elected King by the Witan, Eadgar apparently tarried at the court, because after the Battle of Hastings, the surviving Saxon elite rallied around him as the true heir.  They even went so far as to elect him King, but as soon as William of Normandy crossed the Thames, Eadgar’s supporters abandoned their Saxon king and submitted to the Norman conqueror.

Needless to say, William kept Eadgar Aetheling as hostage, but at the first opportunity Eadgar bolted and participated in the first unsuccessful revolt of Northumbria. He was a handy figurehead but knew nothing about leading anyone, much less a force of rebels. After another aborted rebellion, he fled England with his family and embarked for Hungary.  However, a great storm drove their ship into the Firth of Forth, where they landed on the north shore near Queensferry and took refuge with Malcolm III, King of Scotland.

This was a lucky accident for Eadgar, because Malcolm fell in love with his sister Margaret and eventually married her, thus obliging the Scottish King to provide shelter and aid for Eadgar’s future incursions into England.  In 1069, Eadgar was the titular head of a rebellion in Northumbria that achieved early success, and even wrested the city of York from the Normans.  However, William came north with a vengeance and broke up the rebellion, bought off Eadgar’s Danish allies, and drove the Aetheling back to Scotland for protection. This was the beginning of the Harrying of the North, and England’s erstwhile king was nowhere in sight.

Although Eadgar stayed in Scotland until 1072, William eventually forced the issue by invading Scotland and demanding the submission of Malcolm.  Malcolm reluctantly complied, but one of the terms may well have been the expulsion of Eadgar, since the Aetheling crossed over to Flanders.  He was back and forth for a couple of years, bringing trouble in his wake, until Malcolm finally persuaded the Aetheling to make his peace with William and give up any claim to the throne.

Although his tenure in England was anti-clamactic, Eadgar did gain a measure of respect on diplomatic missions between Malcolm and William’s heir, William Rufus.  Many believe that he rescued the children of Malcolm III from the clutches of Donald Bane, who usurped the throne after Malcolm was killed. He later led an army that helped young Eadgar wrest the crown back from Donald in 1097. He befriended Robert Curthose, the Conqueror’s other son, went on Crusade, and lived into the reign of Henry I.  It is thought that he lived until 1125, which would have put him at the ripe old age of 75.


Earl Siward of Northumbria and Malcolm III

Earl Siward source: Wikipedia

After Alfred the Great established the Danelaw north of Watling Street, the Norse transformed themselves from raiders of Britain into settlers of north Britain…mostly.  As a result, the Viking chieftans ruled Northumbria for generations.

It is said that Siward might have come over with Canute, although others say his family had been in Britain for a few generations already.  I like the Scandinavian legend that he was descended from a white bear and a lady.  No wonder they called him “Siward the Strong”!  Nonetheless, it is undisputed that Canute made him Earl of York sometime around 1031, and he ruled Northumbria until he died.

I have read that he was somehow related by marriage to Malcolm III, which made him either an uncle or cousin.  When Macbeth killed Duncan and Prince Malcolm fled to England, it is believed he was taken in by Siward, who surely had it in his best interests to protect and nurture his future Royal neighbor.  As events played out, Siward invaded Scotland on Malcolm’s behalf in 1054, and together they won a great battle at Dunsinane which sent Macbeth into exile and established Malcolm as King of Cumbria, for starters.  Siward’s eldest son Osbeorn was killed in this battle.

Malcolm III became king of all Scotland after he eliminated both Macbeth and his stepson Lulach by the end of 1057.  Alas, Siward did not live to see Malcolm’s victory.  In 1055 he was stricken by dysentery, and as he lay on his sickbed, he bemoaned that after surviving so many battles he was forced to die like a cow.  Siward insisted that he be dressed in his armor, put on a helmet and took to hand an axe and shield so he could at least die like a warrior.  And so he passed from this world, leaving only a 10 year-old son Waltheof to survive him.

After the Norman Conquest, Malcolm was destined to meet Waltheof as a grown man and Earl of Northumbria, but was unable to return Siward’s favor and help Waltheof in his struggles against William the Conqueror.  Poor Waltheof was the last of the so-called Anglo Saxon earls, and had the dubious distinction of being the only English aristocrat to be executed in William’s reign.

Dunfermline Tower of Malcolm III

Malcolm III was said to have built his tower around the time he married Margaret Aetheling, c.1070.  You can still see its remains today when you walk from the famous Abbey (where Robert the Bruce is buried) through Pittencrieff Park and up to Tower Hill.

The tower measured about 48’x52′ and was thought to have had two stories and perhaps 20 small rooms plus servants quarters.  It was already perched about 70′ on a hill above a little stream, and may have been accessed by a drawbridge, which would have made it pretty well fortified.  Here is a 1790 engraving drawn by Mr. John Baine, Civil Engineer, Edinburgh:

Composition View of Malcolm Canmore’s Tower

Incidentally, the Pittencrieff estate was purchased and donated to the town of Dunfermline by Andrew Carnegie, who was born there in 1835.  Thanks to Carnegie, everyone can enjoy the park and castle ruins that were closed to the public when he was a child.

Was Malcolm III Illegitimate?

As we all know, history was written by the last man standing, so to speak.  Such is the case with Malcolm III Canmore.  As the eldest son of Duncan II, Malcolm was the heir who claimed Scotland from the usurper Macbeth.  Where did this rumor come from that he was the illegitimate son of Duncan and the miller of Forteviot’s daughter?  I wonder if it was put about by his younger brother Donald Bain (or Donald Bane), who took the crown for himself after the death of Malcolm, putting aside the claims of his nephews.  From what I can tell, his alleged illegitimacy was not claimed during his lifetime, which could have been a great coup for William the Conqueror.  And it certainly did not stop Malcolm’s sons from stepping up to the throne after Donald Bain’s demise.

The supposed illegitamacy was mentioned in the “Chronicle of Andrew of Wyntoun” c.1420, who claimed King Duncan fell in love with the Miller’s daughter and gave her a child.  There is a place in Forteviot called Miller’s Acre, which could refer to this event.  I did visit this sleepy little village, myself, but aside from a plaque indicating that the town was once associated with a royal seat, I found nothing that could enlighten me as to Malcolm’s rumored beginnings.