Kings and Queens of Scotland

Celtic and Celtic-Norman Kings

Duncan I

Duncan: (born c. 1001, reigned 1034-40)

Duncan has become famous through drama as the murdered king in Shakespeare's Macbeth. He was an active and energetic king, or he would never have achieved and maintained a unified rule. But there must have been many traditionally minded chiefs who resented Duncan's supremacy and wanted the old order restored, and it was not a peaceful reign. Duncan was not yet forty when he was killed, probably in battle, fighting his kinsman and rival Macbeth, Mormaer (earl) of Moray.


Macbeth: (born c. 1005, reigned 1040-57)

The historical Macbeth was a very different figure from the Shakespearean one. He had a respectable claim to the throne, and ruled ably for seventeen years, while the sons of Duncan went into exile. He and his wife, Gruoch, appear to have been sincerely religious and his position was secure enough for them to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Northern Europe was in turmoil, with the power of the Normans about to culminate in their conquest of England. As Duncan's sons grew up, they sought to retrieve their father's throne, and Malcolm, the elder invaded Scotland with the support of Earl Siward of Northumbria. Macbeth was defeated, very likely at Dunsinane, and was killed in a further battle shortly afterwards at Lumphanan, west of Aberdeen.

Malcolm III

Malcolm III: (born c. 1031, reigned 1058-93)

Known as Canmore (from the Gaelic ceann mor meaning great head). A n attempt was made to set up Macbeth's stepson, Lulach, as king, but Malcolm had him rapidly despatched. Despite English support in gaining his throne, he was as aggressive neighbour. His raids brought William I of England up into Scotland with an army and Malcolm had to pay homage in 1072, a bad omen for his successors. Raiding across the ill-define Border nevertheless continued.
Malcolm's second wife was a remarkable woman, the only non-reigning queen to have a significant impact on the country. Margaret, an Anglo Saxon princess, bore eight children, three of whom became Scottish kings. She brought new standards of culture and taste to the rough court. She was ignorant of and hostile to the Gaelic culture of Scotland, and abhorred the wayward tendencies of the Celtic Church. This reforming and modernising queen, Scotland's only royal saint (canonised in 1250) wanted the country to conform to the pattern of the European states she knew. She is remembered by St Margaret's Chapel in Edinburgh Castle, and by Queensferry on the Firth of Forth.

Donald Ban

Donald Ban: (born c. 1033, reigned 1093-94 and 1094-97, died 1099)
& Duncan II (born c 1061, reigned briefly 1094)

Although Norman influence on the Scottish court was b, there was still no automatic right of succession by the eldest son. When Malcolm Canmore was killed on a raid into Cumberland, his brother sped from the Western Isles to assume the kingship. For four turbulent years, Donald Ban tried to turn St Margaret's clock back and reinstate a Gaelic kingdom. In 1094 King William Rufus of England produced a rival in the person of Duncan, son of Canmore by his first wife. This Duncan was placed on the throne by English arms, and reigned for six months before Donald Ban and his nephew Edmund had him killed. But Donald was finally deposed by Edmund's younger brother Edgar, again with English help, in 1097. He was caught and blinded, and died two years later. He is the last king to be buried on Iona, and his descendants maintained a claim to the throne into the 13th century.


Edgar: (born c. 1074, reigned 1097-1107)

With Edgar, Norman influence took a firm hold. A stream of ambitious immigrants, looking for land, power and preferment, began to arrive, encouraged by the king, whose sister Matilda became wife of Henry I of England. It was a time of new developments, stimulated by the energy of the newcomers amid their anxiety to establish themselves firmly. Castles were built, churches and markets founded, and the king's main seat was moved from the religious centre of Dunfermline to the fortress town of Edinburgh.

Alexander I

Alexander I: (born c. 1077, reigned 1107-24)

The third son of Malcolm and St Margaret had to share power with his brother David, who ruled the south west in something of a reversion to former practice. He worked hard to strengthen and develop the position of the Church. Scotland had no archbishop, and authority over the Church in Scotland was claimed by the Archbishop of York. The Church was supranational, and the concept of nationhood scarcely existed, but already tensions and jealousies between the governments of Scotland and England were emerging. The Church in Scotland was both wealthier and better organised than the state at this time, and control of it by a foreign prelate was felt to be intolerable.

David I

David I: (born c. 1080, reigned 1124-53)

Through his English wife, David became a feudal magnate in England, one of the great men in the inter-related Norman network that by now stretched from the reedy fields of Edinburgh to the orange groves of Palermo. Like his predecessors, he had to deal with uprisings in the North; he too quelled them and gave the forfeited lands and titles to Norman adventurers. He was an exceptionally pious king and founded new dioceses and religious houses, such as the great abbeys of Kelso and Jedburgh. Looking enviously at the wealth of these foundations, a Stewart successor called David "a sore saint for the crown". But in his long reign, the rudiments of a government were also set up, and economic growth was encouraged by the first Scottish coinage.

Malcolm IIII

Malcolm IV: (born 1141, reigned 1153-65)

David's only son Henry, Earl of Northumberland, died before his father, and the kingship passed to the eldest grandson; primogeniture (the inheritance of the first born) was now accepted, though not without contest. Malcolm was only eleven, and had plenty of trouble from the Gaelic provinces, especially in the West, where the Lords of the Isles were kings in all but name. But he had a powerful friend in his kinsman Henry II of England, to whom he paid homage. Malcolm was called "the Maiden", a reference to his youth and chastity rather than to effeminacy.

William I

William I: (born 1143, reigned 1165-1214)

Malcolm died young, and his brother reigned after him for almost fifty years. William, named after "the Lion" after his death (perhaps because at this time the lion became the Scottish royal emblem) attempted to conquer the northern counties of England. But Henry II captured him at Alnwick in Northumberland in 1174 and compelled William to sign the Treaty of Falaise, making Scotland in effect a sub kingdom of England. The Scottish Church was declared subordinate to the English, and English troops garrisoned four strategic castles, including Edinburgh and Stirling. This might have meant the beginning of the end for the young kingdom. But the Church fought fiercely for its independence and in 1189 succeeded in making itself directly answerable to the Pope in Rome. And when Henry II died, his successor, the crusading Richard I was happy to annul the fatal treaty for the sum of 10,000 marks to help finance his holy war against the Saracens. The integrity of the Scottish Kingdom was restored.

Alexander II

Alexander II: (born 1198, reigned 1214-49)

Continuing the policy of his predecessors, Alexander carried on the unsuccessful struggle to gain control of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland. Eventually, he made peace with Henry III and, again like his predecessors, found a queen in England: Henry's sister Joan. He then turned his attention north and west, and set out to enforce his rule as far away as Caithness, where the earls were unaccustomed to royal interference; and to gain the Hebrides, still held by Norway. He died on campaign on the island of Kerrera, in Oban Bay.

Alexander III

Alexander III: (born 1241, reigned 1249-86)

The only son of Alexander II and his French second wife, Marie de Couci; he was crowned at the age of seven at Scone, on the mysterious Stone of Destiny (despite the degree of "Normanisation", the Celtic traditions remained b, and the Scottish kings took pride in a lineage that reached further back in time than the House of Plantagenet). Alexander became a formidable king whose name is still linked with a Scottish golden age. In his reign the Hebrides were acquired by a combination of battle, politics and cash, after the death of Haakon IV of Norway. In a new era of friendship, Alexander's daughter married Eric II of Norway. The last two decades of the reign were fairly peaceful and prosperous, though Scotland continued to have a reputation beyond its borders for poverty, rough manners and lawlessness. And like other golden ages, this one preceded a time of tragedy and turmoil. In 1286 Alexander's horse stumbled and threw him over a cliff near Kinghorn in Fife. Under the Celtic kings Scotland had established her frontiers (except for the Orkneys and Shetland), but the years of struggle were about to begin.


Margaret: (born 1283, reigned 1286-90)

Alexander III's children had died before him. His nearest heir was the three year old "Maid of Norway", his grand-daughter. Great plans were made for this child, who was intended to marry the future Edward II of England, but she died in Orkney, on her way to be crowned. Thirteen claimants came forward for the throne. There was a period of confusion and alarm, with civil war seeming inevitable, and Edward I of England was presented with a splendid opportunity to become the arbiter of the various claims.

The Contested Throne...

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