or Maél Coluim mac Cinaéda in the Gaelic
King of Alba or King of Scots (1005-1034)
Born 954 Died 25 November 1034
Malcolm was the son of Kenneth II, also King of Scots assasinated in 995, and a princess from Leinster. He succeeded to the throne through the standard expedient of killing his predecessor, Kenneth III and his son at the battle of Monzievard in Perth.
Following his victory at Monzievard and perhaps flushed with success he launched a raid on northern England in 1006, probably intent on crystallizing his claims to overlordship over Bamburgh but was heavily defeated by Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria at the battle of Durham.
After failure in the south, Malcolm turned his attentions to the north. At the time Moray was controlled by Findleach variously described as mormaer or king of Moray whose family where linked to that of the deceased Kenneth III. It is very likely that whilst Malcolm viewed the rulers of Moray as subordinate to himself, it is equally very likely that they took a different view. An attempt to bring them to heel ended in defeat for Malcolm in 1008.
Malcolm similarly had problems with Viking insurgents; the Vikings already controlled the Orkneys and the Shetlands but were always keen to seize more territory. In 1010 however Malcolm defeated a Viking army at the battle of Carron, which seems to have tamed the threat but afterwards married off his daughter to Sigurd the Stout the Viking earl of Orkney, and may well have sought their alliance with the latter against the rulers of Moray. Sigurd is certainly recorded as defeating Findleach at the battle of Skitten Myre probably in 1013.
In 1018 the reigning king of England, Cnut was away in Denmark, and Malcolm together with the support of Eoghain the Bald the king of Strathclyde, took advantage of his temporary abscence to lead another army south, this time to Carham. At the resulting battle Malcolm won a famous vitory over Eadulf Cudel the ruling Lord of Bamburgh. The battle of Carham later came to be seen, along with the battle of Nechtansmere and that of Bannockburn as one of the defining events in the history of Scotland.
Despite the victory at Carham however, Malcolm seems unable to have extended his influence beyond the Tweed and Cnut himself led an army north in 1031 and penetrated Malcolm's domains as far north as the river Tay, forcing Malcolm's submission and effectively secured the ancient territory of Bernicia for England (at least for the present).
In any event Malcolm seems to have been more concerned in the later years of his reign with securing his succession. He had no sons of his own, and settled on his daughter's son Duncan as his nominated successor. This wasn't quite how the rules of Scottish succession were supposed to work, so Malcolm did his best to remove any obstacles to Duncan's succession including killing off any descendents of Kenneth III.
In this he was ultimately successful in the short run as Duncan did indeed succeed him but only at the price of inflaming the dynastic feud between his own family and the allies of the deceased Kenneth III in particular one MacBeth.
Malcolm died at Glamis on 25 November 1034 according to the chronicler Marianus Scotus and was buried at Iona. Some suggest he was was killed either by his successor or at the instigation of Macbeth son of Findleach but since he was 80 at the time natural causes is as likely an explanation as any.
Many subsequent commentators have been prone to exageration when discussing Malcom's reign.
Malcom's primary aim in his ventures south at Durham and Carham seems to have been the acquisition of the Lordship of Bamburgh and in this he was ultimately unsuccessful. Cnut seems to have directed sufficient military resources to prevent such an occurance.
Malcolm did not acquire Lothian, it was Indulf who managed that when he seized Edinburgh in around 960 and Malcolm's father Kenneth II was already paying homage to the English king Edgar for Lothian in 973. Neither did Malcolm conquer Strathclyde for that matter, since Strathclyde had been a sub-kingdom of the Scots for over a century.
Claims therefore that Malcolm confirmed the Scottish hold over the land between the rivers Forth and Tweed are therefore wide of the mark as are claims that he was the first to reign over a kingdom roughly corresponding to that of modern Scotland,as in reality the extent of his domain was little different from that of his predecessor Kenneth III. Of course the effect of the battles at Durham and Carham and Cnut's invasion was to establish a border roughly along the lines of the what became the accepted Scotland-England border (once Cumbria is taken into account) but there was a fair bit of fighting to do yet before the matter became settled.
His reign does however marks a watershed in the history of Scotland as Malcolm was the last of the direct line of male descendents of Kenneth mac Alpin to hold the throne or last of the House of Alpin. It also saw the beginning of the abandonment of the principle of tannistry, that is selecting the best qualified eldest male relative as successor and the establishment of the principle of direct descent. Malcolm was in reality almost the last of the truly Goidelic kings of Alba and his reign marks the beginning of a period transition from the tribal kingship of the House of Alpin to the feudal kingship of the likes of Malcolm III and David I.
He was also first king to be known as Rex Scotia as opposed Rex Alba and marks the point at which the kingdom began to adopt the English name of Scotland for itself rather than the Gaelic name of Alba.
A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain by Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby (Seaby 1991)
- The Scottish Radiance website at http://claymore.wisemagic.com/scotradiance/scothistory/