Malcolm’s English origins in twelfth-century Anglo-Norman chronicles

One of the greatest difficulties in researching King Malcolm is the nature and content of the sources themselves. Though there are some sources that are contemporary to Malcolm’s reign, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, most of the sources that contain information about Malcolm’s life were written in the twelfth century. Likewise, many of these later sources include details about Malcolm that do not appear in the more contemporary sources, which complicates research. For this blog post, I want to explore how the extant sources for King Malcolm’s life can become problematic because of the multiple gaps they present in their evidence.

The first mention of King Malcolm as a refugee in Saint Edward’s court comes from a twelfth century Anglo-Norman chronicle, written in the first half of that century. Florence (and/or John) of Worcester’s Chronicon ex chronicis is the first source to mention that Malcolm had been placed on the Scottish throne in 1054 by order of Edward the Confessor. The Chronicon explains that,

Siward, the stout earl of Northumbria, by order of the king entered Scotland […]; he then, as the king had commanded, raised to the throne Malcolm, son of the king of the Cumbrians. However, his own son and many English and Danes fell in that battle. (Chronicle, s.a. 1054)

The Chronicon was commissioned by Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester and probably written, until 1118, by a monk called Florence; it is believed that entries after 1118 were written by another monk, John, who finished the chronicle. In this passage, the Malcolm that was made King of Scots is not the son of King Duncan; however, Alex Woolf argues that this was later confused with Malcolm Canmore (in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, King Duncan gave Malcolm the title of ‘Prince of Cumberland’). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) D noted that Siward did take a large naval and land force to Scotland and fought Macbeth while plundering the land; it never mentioned that Siward placed Malcolm on the throne, much less by orders of the English king. On the contrary, ASC C specified that Macbeth escaped. Therefore, the Chronicon was the first source that attributed Malcolm’s kingship to English intervention; this was a twelfth-century addition.

Likewise, we do know that Malcolm’s first wife was Ingibjorg, most possibly the daughter of Earl Thorfinn of Orkney. Malcolm’s first marriage is documented in the Orkneyinga Saga and Archie Duncan has already argued that, in light of this evidence, Malcolm was probably raised in Orkney rather than England. Another twelfth-century chronicler, Geoffrei Gaimar, suggested that in 1059 Earl Tostig of Northumbria, bishop Æthelwine of Durham and Kynsinge, archbishop of York conducted Malcolm to King Edward’s court. Gaimar’s chronicle, L’Estoire des Engles, was composed of a translation of the ASC, among other texts, into Anglo-Norman; Malcolm’s submission before King Edward’s court does not appear in the ASC. Here, it seems that Gaimar added more information about Malcolm Canmore and his involvement with England that is not found in a closer, more contemporary source.

Yet the Life of Saint Margaret provides an intriguing fact about King Malcolm and his engagement with the English language. In the Life, Turgot wrote:

In this discussion the king himself took part as an assessor and chief actor, being fully prepared to both say and do whatever she might direct in the matter at issue. And as he knew the English language quite well as his own, he was in this council a very careful interpreter for either side (Life of St Margaret, p. 44-5).

Turgot’s comment on Malcolm’s bilingualism is rather perplexing. Note how the text specifies that Malcolm knew English as well as his own language; this description is not surprising if we accept the notion that Malcolm was raised in England at the court of Saint Edward the Confessor. However, Turgot did not claim that Malcolm was raised in England even when he discusses Queen Margaret’s lengthy Anglo-Saxon royal ancestry. The earliest sources hat mention King Malcolm provide insufficient evidence for proving that he was raised in the English court or that Margaret taught him English. Notions of King Malcolm as a refugee in England seemingly began with Florence of Worcester’s Chronicon (at least to the best of my knowledge and research), adding information that was not found in the ASC C or D entry for the year 1054. The passage in the Life of St Margaret about Malcolm’s bilingualism serves to focus on Malcolm’s ability to be an obedient and supportive husband. In this passage, King Malcolm acknowledged his wife’s sanctity and was ready to act according to her instructions. The passage emphasized Margaret’s effect on Malcolm’s behaviour and her work in reforming the Scottish Church.

While this post is not meant to resolve whether Malcolm was raised in England or not, it is meant to reflect on the difficulties of using twelfth century Anglo-Norman evidence for assessing the life of an eleventh-century King of Scots. Admittedly, the political, cultural and religious reasons why these chronicles were written in a particular manner are not addressed in this post since they are very complex, but they matter tremendously in how we analyse chronicles as sources for history in general. In the case of Malcolm, research about him is complicated by the fact that the extant evidence can be ambiguous and, at times, contradictory.


Darlington, the late R. R., P. McGurk, Jennifer Bray, and P. McGurk, eds. The Chronicle of John of Worcester: Volume II: The Annals from 450 to 1066. Clarendon Press Oxford Medieval Texts, 1995.

Gaimar, Geoffrey. The Anglo-Norman Metrical Chronicle of Geoffrey Gaimar. Edited by Thomas Wright. Publications of the Caxton Society 9. B. Franklin, 1967.

Keene, Catherine. Saint Margaret, Queen of the Scots: A Life in Perspective. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Turgot. Life of St. Margaret Queen of Scotland. Edited by William Forbes-Leith. Edinburgh: W. Paterson, 1884.

Whitelock, Dorothy, David C. Douglas, and Susie I. Tucker, eds. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Revised Translation. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961.

Woolf, Alex. From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.


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