Malcolm III

Malcolm III (died 1093), the king of Scotland from 1058 to 1093, established the Canmore dynasty, which ruled Scotland for two centuries. His reign was marked by the introduction into Scotland of English influences.

Malcolm was a claimant to the Scottish kingship as the son and heir of Duncan I, who had been displaced by Macbeth in 1040. Although the principle of royal succession by right of primogeniture had not been usual in Scotland, Malcolm did have precedent in the career of Duncan, and he was influenced by his knowledge of the operation of the rule in England. For him to unseat Macbeth was either to assert a valid claim of direct inheritance or to win the throne by making war on the incumbent, the way to kingship long recognized and accepted in Scottish history. After Malcolm defeated Macbeth on the field of battle, the Celts of the north resisted him as a representative of Saxon and alien influences by installing Lulach, Macbeth's stepson, as king. Malcolm defeated Lulach four months later and secured the crown in 1058.

Malcolm married twice, and in each case there was some political advantage to be had. By marrying Ingibiorg, heiress of the Earl of Orkney, he conciliated the nativist opposition forces that had supported Lulach. Although his marriage to Margaret, a princess of the Saxon royal house and a fugitive from William the Conqueror, undid the work of the first marriage, it did offer Malcolm an excuse to launch campaigns into England.

From his first marriage Malcolm had one son, Duncan; from his second, six sons were produced. Four of the six were given English names: Alexander and David were named for heroes of the past. Not only in the names of her sons did Margaret introduce Saxon elements of life into Scotland. Devoted to religion, she was instrumental in bringing about reforms in religious observances and clerical discipline, so that the Christian life and Church in Scotland followed more closely practices in England and on the Continent. So widely beloved was Margaret that immediately upon her death she was declared a saint, and yet in one part of Scotland her anti-Celtic ecclesiastical reforms had produced a rallying point for a Celtic party that appeared when Malcolm died.

Malcolm's relations with England revolved around claims to lands that he held there in his own right or in the name of Margaret and his desire to expand his realm to the south, where the boundaries were undefined. Five times he campaigned; and five times he was defeated; in his last endeavor he lost his life. The epithet Canmore (big head) was originally descriptive of Malcolm's physical attributes; in later years it was used as a surname for his descendants.


Further Reading on Malcolm III

A shrewd assessment of Malcolm's accomplishments is in William Croft Dickinson, A New History of Scotland, vol. 1: Scotland from the Earliest Times to 1603 (1961; rev. ed. 1965). A brief but sound summary is in the paperback work of J. D. Mackie, A History of Scotland (1964). A simple but colorful story is available in Elise Thornton Cook, Their Majesties of Scotland (1928). For an analysis of the work of Margaret see Sir Robert Rait and George S. Pryde, Scotland (1934; 2d ed. 1955).