King Malcolm, the ‘bastard’? A short comment on scribal errors in Lansdowne MS 197

It has been six weeks since my last blog post and though my silence has been unintentional, it is justified. My first post on the evolution of Malcolm Canmore’s representation in medieval chronicles includes a list of the chronicles I will analyse for my thesis, though due to the sheer volume of chronicles and their extant manuscripts my committee and I made a selection of the most pressing manuscripts to see. Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronykil and John Bellenden’s History of Scotland manuscripts seem to present the most differences between each copy, so I have decided to concentrate on examining this manuscripts for my research trip. I arrived in London in early June and quickly set myself to work at the British Library because I was spending less than two full weeks there; the British Library holds three Wyntoun copies from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. So, as I sit on my train to Edinburgh this morning I am writing this short blog post on the Wyntoun MSS (short for ‘manuscripts’) and my experience examining them.

The three Wyntoun MSS found in the British Library are the following: Royal MS 17 D XX, Lansdowne MS 197 (s. xvi), and Cotton MS Nero D XI. There are two copies in the National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS. 19.2.3 and Adv. MS. 19.2.4. Since I have just arrived in Edinburgh to examine these last two manuscripts my post will concern only with one of the BL copies. The passages concerning Malcolm are found on Book Six and the beginning of Book Seven (including the Prologue). In these passages, Malcolm is engaged with King Duncan, King Macbeth, Macduff thane of Fife, and Saint Margaret of Scotland and her family.

Lansdowne MS 197 is particularly interesting. According to the information on the British Library catalogue entry, the manuscript is dated from the early sixteenth century, though David Laing has argued for a late fifteenth century date. The MS is written in a very legible and elegant cursive hand though it is bound quite tightly: keeping the volume open, even with snake weights, was quite the challenge! This made the handling difficult, though otherwise its legibility made it easy to transcribe and photograph. The volume itself is in excellent condition, no doubt because it belonged to the Sinclair of Rosslyn family, who were avid art patrons and collectors. According to Wyntoun, Malcolm was the illegitimate son of King Duncan and the daughter of a Scottish miller he met while he was out hunting with his court. Duncan parted ways with his court and ended up at a mill, where the miller was courteous enough to serve him dinner and drink. The miller’s daughter attended King Duncan and the king later laid with the girl that night. Malcolm came from this union. Wyntoun then gives a brief genealogy of Malcolm’s descendants, focusing on Malcolm’s two daughters, Queen Edith-Matilda and Countess Mary. The author does not mention any of his sons in this chapter. He emphasized that all of the kings of Scots, the kings of England and even Pope Clement VII were descended from this miller. Why did Wyntoun claim that King Malcolm was the illegitimate son of King Duncan? That remains a mystery.

However, the scribe of Lansdowne MS 197 made an interesting correction in a later chapter concerning Malcolm, already king of Scots, and William the Conqueror. The scribe wrote ‘Mallcom bastard’ in fol. 137r, crossing off the word ‘bastard’ from the manuscript. Two lines below, William is described as ‘bastard’. Later in the passage, when Malcolm’s brother Donald Bàn came into power, he claimed Malcolm was a bastard son, thus legitimizing his rule in Scotland. The inclusion of the word ‘bastard’ to describe Malcolm in this line appears to be a scribal error, but it is a curious one considering that Wyntoun does describe the king of Scots as the bastard child of King Duncan.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s