Malcolm and Margaret

In order to escape “the king’s sword”, says Symeon of Durham (Historia Regum), Bishop Æthelwine and “the chiefs of the people” had, on the 11th of December 1069, departed from Durham, taking with them the “uncorrupted body” of St Cuthbert, to take refuge on Lindisfarne.


Symeon provides a detailed account of this episode in his tract on the Church of Durham (LDE III, 15–16). He says it was Earl Gospatric who urged Bishop Æthelwine et al. to abandon Durham. (Gospatric had bought the earldom of Northumbria beyond Yorkshire from King William at the end of 1067, but had since been a leading-light of the rebellions of 1068–69. It was William’s retribution, the Harrying of the North, which was the reason for the Durham community’s flight to the island of Lindisfarne.[*])  The party travelled for four days. They were repeatedly harassed and robbed by “a powerful individual on the other side of the Tyne”, called Gillomichael: “which means ‘the servant of Michael’, which was a misnomer, and a much more fitting name for him would have been ‘the servant of the Devil’.”  When they finally arrived at the island, it was high-tide and the causeway was impassable. Of course, they had St Cuthbert’s body with them, so it is not surprising that the sea parted to allow them to cross. In the fullness of time, the bishop despatched an aged priest, called Earnan, to see if it was safe to return to Durham. On the way, it was revealed to Earnan, in a vision, that Gillomichael was dead. Earnan was shown his soul in perpetual torment: “for he was stretched at length in a filthy spot, and was suffering intolerable agonies, being pierced through and through in all directions with a sharp hay-scythe.”  It was also revealed to the priest that Gospatric had plundered the church in the community’s absence. (Gospatric submitted to the king during January 1070, and retained his earldom.)  Earnan told Gospatric of Gillomichael’s fate: “he [Gospatric] trembled with fear, and immediately proceeded barefoot to the island where that holy body was; and by prayers and gifts he sought forgiveness for his transgressions.”

After a stay of “three months and some days” they returned to Durham, and, on the 25th of March 1070, “restored the sacred corpse to its place with hymns and praises”.  Bishop Æthelwine, though, “observing that the affairs of the English were everywhere in confusion, and dreading the heavy rule of a foreign nation”, had made up his mind to leave England:

A ship, therefore, furnished with the necessary supplies, lay ready for him in the harbour of Wearmouth, waiting for a favourable wind.

Also at Wearmouth were some ships under the command of Edgar Ætheling. With him were his mother, Agatha, his two sisters, Margaret and Christina, Mærleswein, Siward Barn (of whom more later):

… and many others, who, after the storming of the castle of York, (the Danes who had been their auxiliaries having returned to their own country [in June 1070] ), were in dread of the king’s indignation against themselves, and were preparing to go as refugees into Scotland, and awaited there a prosperous voyage.
During the same time a countless multitude of Scots marched through Cumberland under the command of King Malcolm, and turning to the east, ravaged with fierce devastation the whole of Teesdale, and the parts bordering it on each side. And when they came to the place called in English Hundredeskelde, that is, the Hundred-springs, having there slaughtered some nobles of the English nation, the king (keeping part of the army), sent part home by the way they came with a vast booty. By this craftiness he designed that when the wretched natives (who, from fear of the enemy, had hid themselves in whatever lurking-places they could find safety) should return to their villages and homes, supposing the enemy to have altogether departed, he might by a sudden inroad come upon them unawares. And this happened accordingly. For having pillaged Cleveland in part, by a sudden foray he seized Hartness, and thence, savagely overrunning the territory of St Cuthbert, he deprived all of their whole property, and some also of their lives. Then he destroyed by fire, under his own inspection, the church of St Peter, the prince of the Apostles, at Wearmouth. He burnt also other churches, with those who had taken refuge in them.
When he was riding along the banks of the river, beholding from an eminence the cruel exploits of his men against the unhappy English, and feasting his mind and eyes with such a spectacle, it was told him that Edgar Ætheling and his sisters, who were beautiful girls of the royal blood, and many other very rich persons, fugitives from their homes, lay with their ships in that harbour. When they came to him with terms of amity, he addressed them graciously, and he pledged himself to grant them and all their friends a residence in his kingdom as long as they chose.
Amidst these pillagings and depredations of the Scots, Earl Gospatric (who, as before has been said, had obtained for money from King William the earldom of Northumbria [i.e. Northumbria beyond Yorkshire] ) having called in some bold auxiliaries, made a furious plundering attack upon Cumberland. Having done this with slaughter and conflagration, he returned with great spoil, and shut himself, with his allies, into the strong fortress of Bamburgh; from which making frequent sallies, he weakened the forces of the enemy; for Cumberland was at that time under the dominion of King Malcolm, not held by right, but subjugated by force.
Having heard (while still gazing on the church of St Peter as it was being consumed by the fire of his men) of what Gospatric had committed against his people, scarcely able to contain himself for fury, he [Malcolm] ordered his troops no longer to spare any of the English nation, but either to smite all to the earth, or carry them off captives under the yoke of perpetual slavery. Having received this licence, it was misery even to witness their deeds against the English. Some aged men and women were beheaded with the sword; others were thrust through with pikes, like swine destined for food; infants snatched from their mother’s breasts were thrown high into the air, and in their fall were received on the points of lances and pikes thickly placed in the ground. The Scots, more savage than wild beasts, delighted in this cruelty, as an amusing spectacle. These children of the age of innocence, suspended between heaven and earth, gave up their souls to heaven.
Young men also and maidens, and whoever seemed fit for toil and labour, were bound and driven before the face of their enemies, to be reduced in perpetual exile to slaves and bondmaids. Some of these females, worn out by running in front of their drivers further than their strength would bear, falling to the earth, perished even where they fell. Seeing these things, Malcolm was yet moved to pity by no tears, no groans of the unhappy wretches; but, on the contrary, gave orders that they should be still further pressed onward in the march. Scotland was, therefore, filled with slaves and handmaids of the English race; so that even to this day, I do not say no little village, but even no cottage, can be found without one of them.
After Malcolm’s return to Scotland, when bishop Æthelwine was commencing his voyage towards Cologne, a contrary wind arising soon drove him back to Scotland. —
— Thither also it bore with a favourable course Edgar Ætheling, with his companions before named. King Malcolm, with the consent of his [Edgar’s] relatives, took in marriage Edgar’s sister, Margaret, a woman noble by royal descent, but much more noble by her wisdom and piety. By her care and labour the king himself, laying aside the barbarity of his manners, became more gentle and civilised.
Historia Regum s.a. 1070

The above Historia Regum story presents King Malcolm as a stranger to Edgar Ætheling and his sisters when he meets them, by chance, at Wearmouth in 1070, and gallantly offers them refuge in Scotland. This, however, seems to be a romantic flight of fancy. As reported by Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (also Florence of Worcester, and thence the Historia Regum), Edgar, his mother and sisters (plus Gospatric and Mærleswein) found refuge with Malcolm in 1068.[*] In Manuscript D, this report is followed by a block of material apparently lifted from a ‘Life’ of St Margaret (as Edgar’s sister would become):

Then King Malcolm began to yearn after his sister, Margaret, to wife; but he [Edgar] and all his men long refused; and she herself also declined, and said that she would neither have him nor any one else, if to her the heavenly Clemency would grant, that she in maidenhood might please the mighty Lord, with a human heart, in this short life, in pure continence. The king earnestly urged her brother, until he answered ‘Yea’; and indeed he durst not otherwise, because they were come into his power. It then came to pass as God had before provided, and it might not be otherwise, as he himself in his gospel saith, that not even a sparrow may fall into a snare without his providence. The prescient Creator knew beforehand what he wanted done by her; for she was to increase the praise of God in the land, and direct the king from the erroneous path, and incline him, together with his people, to a better way, and suppress the evil habits which the nation had previously cultivated: as she afterwards did. The king then received her, though it was against her will; and her manners pleased him, and he thanked God who by his power had given him such a mate, and wisely bethought him – as he was a very sagacious man – and turned himself to God, and contemned every impurity; according to what the apostle Paul, the teacher of all the gentiles, said: [Latin quote] … that is in our tongue: ‘Full oft the unbelieving man is hallowed and healed through the righteous [“believing” added above the line] woman; and, in like manner, the woman through the believing man.’  This aforesaid queen afterwards performed many useful deeds in the land to the glory of God, and also in royal qualities bore herself well, as to her was natural.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D[*]

Both Chronicle manuscripts have Edgar Ætheling make an expedition to York in February 1069, only to be driven back to Scotland by King William in March. In September Edgar was in England again – assaulting the Norman castles at York, along with the Danes.[*] There is no mention of his female relatives, and it does seem improbable that they would have tagged-along on these highly hazardous expeditions. More likely, the ladies retired to Scotland in 1068, and were still safe there in 1070. It appears, though, that Margaret herself was not keen to marry Malcolm, and that Edgar only eventually agreed to it, under pressure, so it is quite possible that the wedding did not take place until after Edgar was obliged, once more, to retreat to Scotland in 1070, which is where it is placed in the Historia Regum.

In about 1105, Malcolm and Margaret’s daughter, Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I of England (a son of William the Conqueror), commissioned Turgot, prior of Durham, because of his “great friendship” with Margaret, to write a ‘Life’ of her late mother (Margaret died in 1093). Turgot, too, maintains that Margaret was reluctant to marry:

… she was united in marriage with the most powerful king of the Scots, Malcolm, King Duncan’s son, by the will of her relatives more than by her own; or rather, by God’s disposition.
Vita Sanctae Margaretae Scotorum Reginae §3


The late-14th century Scottish historian John of Fordun (V, 14–15) presents an alternative version of the Malcolm and Margaret boy-meets-girl story, which he attributes to Turgot, but which is evidently from a later, elaborated, version of Turgot’s ‘Life’ of St Margaret. According to this story, Edgar Ætheling, “seeing that everywhere matters went not smoothly with the English”, had decided to return, with his mother and sisters, to “the country where he was born”, i.e. Hungary. Their ship was caught in a storm, and fetched-up in Scotland – the place where they landed being afterwards called St Margaret’s Bay. King Malcolm, by sheer coincidence, was nearby, so he soon heard about the party’s arrival. He sent messengers to see what was afoot. As soon as they saw the unusually large ship, they quickly returned to tell Malcolm. The king promptly sent-off a group of nobles to act as his ambassadors. The ambassadors got to know the whole story and reported back to Malcolm, particularly extolling the qualities of one lady – Margaret of course. Malcolm then visited the party in person. He saw Margaret and, seemingly immediately, “sought to have her to wife, and got her; for Edgar Ætheling, her brother, gave her away to him, rather through the wish of his friends than his own – nay, by God’s behest.”  The wedding was held near to the bay where the ship landed: “at a place called Dunfermline, which was then the king’s town.”
Orderic Vitalis (HE VIII: iii, 395) has Malcolm himself claim that King Edward (the Confessor) had given him Margaret, who was King Edward’s great-niece, in marriage. William of Malmesbury, in his last work, the Historia Novella (I §2), has King Henry I, similarly, claiming that King Edward had given Margaret in marriage to Malcolm. Clearly, this is not correct. However, Malcolm had attended King Edward’s court in 1059, and it is not impossible that he met Margaret (round-about 13 years-old) on that occasion. Geffrei Gaimar comments: “Presents he [Edward] gave him [Malcolm]; much he honoured him” (5095). Could it be that Malcolm and Margaret were betrothed at this time? Well, it seems unlikely, since Malcolm subsequently married Ingibjorg, the widow (according to Scandinavian tradition) of Earl Thorfinn of Orkney. Thorfinn’s death is said to have been no great time before the death of Harald Hardrada. Harald was killed at Stamford Bridge on 25th September 1066. The two sons of Thorfinn and Ingibjorg, who succeeded their father, had accompanied Harald on his expedition, but were not killed. Malcolm and Ingibjorg certainly had one son (King Duncan II, r.1094), probably two sons (Donald, Malcolm king of Scotland’s son, is reported to have died “unhappily”, in 1085, by the Annals of Ulster), or possibly three sons (the Malcolm who appears as witness to the only charter of Duncan II), by which token, if Malcolm was in a position to contemplate marriage to Margaret in 1068, a date rather earlier than late-1066 would seem to be required for their marriage, and, hence, Thorfinn’s death – supposing Ingibjorg truly was his widow. It is widely suggested that the Ingibjorg Malcolm married was Thorfinn’s daughter, not his wife, which overcomes this problem, and the difficulty of Ingibjorg’s age, if she was Thorfinn’s widow, at the time she married Malcolm. At any rate, it is generally supposed that Ingibjorg was dead when Malcolm and Margaret married, though, actually, Malcolm may have simply repudiated her.
Added to the margins of a martyrology in the Durham Cantor’s Book (Durham, Dean and Chapter Library MS B.IV.24) are a number of obituaries. One of these is Ingeberga comitissa (it is the time-of-year of the death that is indicated, not the actual year – in this case, February). Now, if the person commemorated is Malcolm’s first wife (“no other identity is really possible”, reckons A.A.M Duncan*), then the use of the title comitissa, i.e. countess, is interesting. A.A.M Duncan argues that there is no need to invent a daughter of Earl Thorfinn called Ingibjorg – it was, indeed, his widow that Malcolm married, and she was dead by the time he became king in 1058 (“Duncan II may have been their only son”), hence she is not titled queen in the obit.  Alternatively, however, it may be that Malcolm and Ingibjorg’s marriage was seen to be irregular, and that is why she is not titled queen. Certainly, William of Malmesbury (Gesta Regum Anglorum V §400) refers to their son Duncan as “illegitimate” (nothus), but Professor Duncan writes: “William of Malmesbury was the first writer to suggest that Duncan was nothus, a bastard. There is no hint in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle nor in John of Worcester’s chronicle of this slur on Duncan, which was surely intended to highlight the virtues of Malcolm’s second marriage and children”.
* Kingship of the Scots, 842-1292: Succession and Independence (2002) Chapters 3 & 4.

Turgot also writes:

And who can tell in number how many men, and how great, she restored to liberty, by payment of a price; men whom the ferocity of their enemies had led away captive from the nation of the English, and reduced to slavery? She had even sent secret spies everywhere throughout the provinces of the Scots, to find out which of the captives were oppressed with the harshest servitude, and treated most inhumanly; and to report to her minutely the place where and the people by whom they were oppressed: and she had compassion upon such [slaves] from her inmost heart, and hastened quickly to help them; to ransom them, and restore them to liberty.
Vita Sanctae Margaretae Scotorum Reginae §9
Possibly to be identified with Hunderthwaite, a village in Teesdale, some 5 miles northwest of Barnard Castle.
The district around Hartlepool.
In the Historia Regum, Hartness is here rendered Heortternysse. The translation used on this website (Stevenson, 1855), actually has Holderness, not Hartness. Holderness (southeast Yorkshire) makes little geographical sense in this context, and, further, earlier in the Historia Regum (s.a. 854), Billingham is placed in Heorternysse.
In fact, Manuscript E places its announcement that Æthelwine was outlawed in 1069 – before the arrival of the Danish fleet in August/September.  Manuscript D, though, places its announcement after a statement that King William went to Winchester for Easter 1070 (4th April), which seems more likely to be the correct placement. (Actually, the mention of Easter 1070 appears s.a. 1068 in Manuscript D. The report that Æthelwine was outlawed being the final entry s.a. 1068. The next annal is dated 1071, though it begins with events of 1070.)
Actually, though belonging to summer 1068, this event appears s.a. 1067 in Manuscript D.
See Rebellion and Retribution.
Lancashire had no separate existence at this time. In the Domesday Book, the southern part, between the Ribble and the Mersey is included in Cheshire, whilst the north is included in Yorkshire.
In Manuscript E’s abbreviated report (also, wrongly, s.a. 1067), Edgar’s journey to Scotland is mentioned, but the presence of the female members of his family is not directly stated. It is, however, implied by the closing comment: “and King Malcolm received them all, and took the ætheling’s [cildes] sister Margaret to wife.”  Indeed, the directness of this comment gives the impression that Margaret and Malcolm’s marriage took place very soon after the refugees arrival in Scotland. It seems clear, however, from this block of material in Manuscript D, that there was a considerable delay.
Malcolm III, known as Malcolm Canmore.
See Toil and Trouble.
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation) is the earliest full-scale history of Scotland – from legendary origins to the year 1153 in five books. John would appear to have composed his chronicle in the mid-1380s – in the concluding passages of Book V, there is reproduced a genealogy of King David I (the sixth and last son of Malcolm and Margaret, r.1124–1153) that the writer says he got from Walter Wardlow, bishop of Glasgow, to whom he gives the title Lord Cardinal of Scotland, which would only be appropriate for the period 1384–1387.
Volume and page of Augustus Le Prevost’s five volume edition of the Historia Ecclesiastica (1838–1855).
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his Estoire des Engleis (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the Estoire des Engleis is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.