Known as Malcolm Canmore or Ceanmore
King of Scotland (1054/1058-93)
Born c1031 Died 1093

The Road to Scone

Malcolm is better known by the name of 'Malcolm Canmore' or 'Ceanmore' from the Gaelic ceann meaning 'head' or 'chief' and mor meaning 'great'. This could be taken to mean that he was known as the 'great chief', but it may simply have been that he was considered an arrogant sod. (I like to think it was the latter.)

He was the son of Duncan 1 who had briefly been king of Scots before being killed and deposed by one Macbeth in the year 1040 after which the nine year old Malcolm was taken south and found refuge in the court of Edward the Confessor. After spending fifteen years at the English court of Edward the Confessor he might well have spent the rest of his life in exile were in not for the fact that his maternal uncle Siward Biornsson was Earl of Northumbria.

In the year 1054 the earl Siward invaded the north and comprehensively defeated Macbeth. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle;

This year went Earl Siward with a large army against Scotland, consisting both of marines and landforces; and engaging with the Scots, he put to flight the King Macbeth; slew all the best in the land; and led thence much spoil, such as no man before obtained.
As a result of which Malcolm seems to have been installed as Lord of Strathclyde and Lothian whilst Macbeth retained control of Scotland proper. Siward may well have seen this simply as a natural extension of his own authority, but he died the follwing year and Malcolm was able to assert his autonomy.

It is unclear what Malcolm was up to over the next few years, but in the year 1057 and with the further assistance of English troops provided by Tostig the new earl of Northumbria he defeated and killed Macbeth at the battle of Lumphanan in modern Aberdeenshire. Lulach, Macbeth's stepson, continued to oppose Malcolm, but he was defeated and killed at the battle of Essie (also in Aberdeenshire on the 17th March 1058.

Malcolm was therefore formally crowned king of Scots at Scone on the 25th April 1058.

The Early Years of Power

The major concern in the early years of his reign was the security of his northern borders and in particular in securing good relation with the Earldom of Orkney. This he achieved in the traditional fashion by marrying Ingibiorg, the widow of the recently deceased Thorfinn the Mighty. She was to bear him three sons and a daughter before she died in 1069.

It was only natural that having won Scotland with the force of English arms that he rewarded many of his supporters with grants of land within his own domains. This naturally only deepened the resentment felt by the more Gaelic supporters of the deposed and deceased Macbeth.

Despite this however, Malcolm displayed no gratitude towards either the Northumbrians or to Edward the Confessor for the assistance provided in securing the throne of Scotland, in 1061 whilst Tostig was on pligrimage in Rome, Malcolm took advantage of his absence to ravage Northumbria. It is clear that Malcolm no felt secure in his control of the kingdom and was prepared to resume the policy of his namesake Malcolm II and pursue an extension of his authority further into England.

Malcolm and William the Conqueror

The political situation was transformed in 1066 with the Norman invasion and conquest of England. Scotland now became a haven for all manner of English and Anglo-Danish refugees from the new Norman regime in England, prominent amongst whom were Edgar Aetheling (the grandson of Edmund Ironside and nominal heir to Edward the Confessor), his mother Agatha2, and his two sisters Margaret and Christina.

From the perspective of the time it was by no means clear that the Normans would succeed in their attempt to pacify England; fierce resisitance continued in the years 1067-1070 and from Malcolm's point of view it provided an opportunity to pursue ambitions of his own. With his first wife dying in 1069, Malcolm identified Edgar Aetheling's sister Margaret as a suitable consort that would aid his ambitions.

From all accounts Margaret seems to have been very reluctant to marry Malcolm, but was persuaded by her brother to acquiesce. The marriage took place later in 1069, and in the following year Malcolm kept his part of the bargain when he launched an invasion of England in support the claim of Edgar to the English throne; but the invasion failed in its objective and Malcolm was reduced to ravaging York before returning home with the booty.

From the point of view William I sitting on the throne of England, having a King of Scots who was a) was aiding and abetting a rival claimant to the throne, b) had married the rival's sister and c) was raiding the north was a serious challenge to his authority.

Hence in 1072 William I marched north with a large army and penetrated Scotland as far as Stirling. This display of force was sufficient to persuade Malcolm to submit. He meekly signed the Treaty of Abernathy, recognised William I as his overlord surrendered his son Duncan as a hostage and agreed that he would no longer provide sanctuary to William's enemies. (Edgar Artheling was forced to abandon Scotland and flee to Flanders on the continent.)

This was sufficient to ensure peace on the northern border for some time, or at least until the year 1079 when for some reason Malcolm invaded the south once more and raided as far as the river Tyne, returning north with "much money and treasure and men in captivity" according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. William reacted by despatching his eldest son Robert Curthose to pacify the border and build a 'new castle' on the river Tyne to improve the border defences.

Malcolm and William Rufus

In the year 1087 William I died and was succeeded by his son William Rufus. The temptation to seek advantage from William's difficulties was too strong and whilst William Rufus was away in Normandy in 1090 Malcolm once more invaded the south, once more with Edgar Aetheling (newly returned from Flanders) at his side.

As his father had done before him William Rufus, invaded Scotland in 1091 and once again Malcolm submitted without a fight, and accepted a re-imposition of the terms of the Treaty of Abernathy3. Malcom and William seemed to have parted company on relatively good terms, even Edgar Aetheling agreed to give up his claims to England in return for some land in Normandy.

The following year however, William Rufus decided to seize control of Carlisle and fortified it and even encouraged re-settlement of the area. Malcolm was understandably annoyed at the English presumption in seizing control of southern Strathclyde and made his feelings known. Summoned to attend William's court at Gloucester to discuss the matter, (where William was lying on his sick-bed) Malcolm obeyed but William refused to see him him unless he paid homage for his kingdom. Malcolm declined and went home and returned with an army for the traditional ravaging of Northumberland.

This time round though, Malcolm was killed together with his son Edward when ambushed by Robert of Mowbray the earl of Northumberland, near Alnwick, on the 13th of November 1093. His wife Margaret who was already severly ill, and the shock of the news hastened her own death, four days later she expired at Edinburgh Castle.

The Anglicisation of Scotland

Malcolm spent his formative years at the Norman influenced court of Edward the Confessor and married the Anglo-Hungarian Margaret of England. He ruled the kingdom from Edinburgh, in the heart of English-speaking Lothian and although it is unlikely that he did anything that changed the linguistic balance of the diverse territories of the King of Scots, his reign marked the decisive shift away from the tribal style of kingship practised by the likes of Macbeth, to the feudal Anglo-Norman style of kingship that was to be the hallmark of the Canmore dynasty.

His wife Margaret had been brought up in best traditions of continental Catholicism and viewed much of the practice and doctrine of the 'Scottish' church, at best as erroneous and at worst as heretical. She devoted much of her life to reforming the Church within Malcolm's domains and bringing it into line with 'best practice': changing the day of worship to Sunday (previously it had been the Saturday), introducing the first Benedictine monks into the nation and generally spending Malcolm's money on endowing a great number of churches and the like. (All of which led to her being later officially canonised as a saint in 1251).

Much is therefore made of the 'anglicisation' of 'Scotland' in Malcolm's reign, although it is worthwhile remembering that the 'anglicisation of Scotland' began in 638 when Oswald of Northumbria took Edinburgh from the Brythonic Celts of Gododdin. Indeed it might well be a mistake to think of Malcolm and Margaret as 'English', since the notion of what 'English' itself meant was in the process of being radically altered under the influence of the new Norman rulers of England. Culturally they drew their influences from the continent (particularly from Normandy) and Malcolm was concerned with establishing the same kind of centralised feudal powerbase as his contemporaries in England.


Malcolm spend much of his reign pursuing his territorial ambitions vis-a-vis Northumberland and seeking to place his brother-in-law, Edgar Aetheling on the English throne. (He may also have harboured faint hopes of becoming king of England himself.) In all this he was entirely unsuccessful; his invasions of England turned out to be no more than border raids accumulating loot and captives and must have only served to further antagonise the inhabitants of Northumberland. Of course, in the end he made one raid to many and the Northumbrians gained their revenge at Alnwick in 1093.

What he did do was found the Canmore dynasty; although immediately succeeded by his brother Donald, four of his sons, first Duncan then Edgar, followed by Alexander and finally David where to succeed him and the House of Canmore was to effectively monopolise the Scottish throne for the next two hundred years until the death of Margaret the 'Maid of Norway' in 1290.4


1His mother was Aelflaed of Northumbria apparently also known as Sybil

2 Known apparently as Agatha the German but in fact Hungarian. With the party came an Hungarian by the name of 'Leving', whose descendents where to later provide the town of Livingston with its name.

3 As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it Malcolm "became his man...and affirmed it with an oath"

4 And one of his daughters, Matilda, married Henry I of England from whom the later Plantaganet kings of England were descended through her daughter Matilda the 'Empress'.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swanton (Phoenix Press, 2000)

Articles on Malcolm III at

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