A Curious Account of Malcolm Canmore and his daughter, Queen Matilda of England

Many twelfth-century accounts of King Malcolm, excluding the Life of Saint Margaret, present the king in a military light. William of Malmesbury commented how Malcolm gave “false oaths” to the king of England and he “was slain soon after together with his son, by Robert of Mowbray, earl of Northumberland, while, regardless of his faith, he was devastating the province with more than usual insolence.” Symeon of Durham’s Historia Regum recalled how Malcolm, while raiding northern England in 1070, ordered his men to “either slay them all [the captives] or drive them away under the yoke of perpetual slavery.” Symeon further elaborated on Malcolm’s attack of York, explaining that “the Scots, crueler than beasts, delighted in this cruelty as in the sight of games; Malcolm watched all these things without pity; merely ordering his slave-drivers to make haste.” According to these chronicles, Malcolm was not winning popularity contests.

While English chroniclers highlighted Malcolm’s bellicose character, it is easy for the reader to forget that he was the father of four kings of Scots, a queen of England, and a countess of Boulogne. His sons, particularly David I, were better regarded because of their descent from Saint Margaret, of the Wessex line of Anglo-Saxon kings. But what about Malcolm’s relationship with his sons and daughters? One curious account by Abbot Herman of Tournai, in his Liber de restauratione, linked Malcolm with his daughter Edith, later re-christened as Matilda after he married Henry I of England. In 1093, Edith spent some time at either Romsey or Wilton Abbey (or both) and was there shortly before her mother and father died that year. In this account, the abbess recalled Edith-Matilda’s stay at the abbey in 1093:

“The king [William Rufus] had entered our cloister as if for the purpose of inspecting our roses and other flowering herbs. As soon as he saw her [Edith-Matilda] with our other girls wearing a veil on her head, he withdrew from the cloister and left the convent, and so openly revealed that he had come for no other reason than her. When King David, the girl’s father, came to our convent within the week and saw the veil upon his daughter’s head, he was angry. He tore the veil into pieces, threw them on the ground, and trampled them under his feet. He then took his daughter away with him.”

This account had happened in 1093 when Malcolm and Margaret were in Gloucester to meet with William Rufus; Rufus then refused to see Malcolm and, enraged, Malcolm made his way back to Scotland to assemble an army an invade northern England. On his way to Scotland, though, he stopped by the abbey to see his daughter. Therefore, the chronicler is wrong in saying that King David was Edith’s father; he meant Malcolm. The confusion could have come because when Herman was writing the account, David was already king of Scots. In any case, here we see a father enraged (remember, he was already in a foul mood!) because his daughter is dressed as a nun. Apparently, Malcolm had betrothed Edith to Alan Rufus, Lord Richmond,  and if this version of events is true, then any sign that the girl would have taken the veil could easily jeopardize her betrothal. Malcolm’s instinct at seeing his daughter with a nun’s veil was to take her away from the abbey. This allowed him to avoid that Edith would be made to take any religious vows and also placed Edith directly under his control, in case William Rufus had any plans with his daughter in mind. Malcolm’s actions showed his political shrewdness in recognition that Edith, as a princess and because of her Anglo-Saxon royal blood, was a very desirable marital commodity.

 

 

For more insight into this topic, also consult Lois Huneycutt, Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Queenship, pp. 18-25.

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5 thoughts on “A Curious Account of Malcolm Canmore and his daughter, Queen Matilda of England

  1. Unless I be mistaken. Gloucester to Scotland via Wilton is roundabout.

    Wasn’t Edith too young to marry in 1093? If she were betrothed then, it would be some wait for the wedding.

    Alan seems to have preferred the company of mature women. He was popular with Countess Adelaide, Queen Matilda, and of course Gunhild of Wessex. Numerous accounts show him to have been kind-hearted but quite the serious intellectual; an underage wife would have been an unsatisfactory companion.

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  2. Both Wilton and Romsay Abbeys are close by and they would be off the track from Scotland. But Malcolm supposedly visited her daughter after meeting with William Rufus; there, William had refused to meet with him for unclear reasons. Some accounts say that William had refused to meet Malcolm because both kings were fighting over lands; some scholars have suggested that both kings disagreed over Edith’s betrothal.
    And yes, Edith would have been young here, so this is certainly an issue of betrothal. Apparently, Malcolm had intended to betroth Edith-Matilda to Alan, but Alan backed out of the deal. Other accounts added that William Rufus was also interested in Edith. I do not know much about Alan apart from the fact that he is mentioned in this account, so I can’t comment on his preferences for a wife, but marrying a descendant of the House of Wessex would have been desirable. Marrying into the royal house of Wessex would have lent legitimacy to Norman rulers who were not seen by everyone as legitimate heirs to the English throne.

    Personally, I think this story is intended to compare Edith to her mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland. Some accounts say that when Margaret arrived in Scotland, she had already intended to take the veil, and that she only agreed to marriage because her brother, Edgar Atheling, had no choice but to give her up in marriage. It is possibly a way to compare both mother and daughter, since both supposedly gave up the intention of a religious life to serve God as queens.

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    1. William de St Calais’s partisans described Alan as the only cool head in the royal court. His words they quoted have a lawyer’s precision and the courage of a conscientious man.

      The text is well worth a read, if you’re comfortable with Latin quotes and French commentary. Personally, I have to work at it.

      Gunnhildr, Harold’s daughter, gave up her vocation as an (unconsecrated) nun to be with Alan, whom she said she loved and by whom she was loved. Anselm’s two letters to her contain harsh words (and are borderline sinister). He later removed his copies from his archive; maybe their presence embarrassed him after he reluctantly agreed to Henry I marrying Edith/Matilda?

      I wonder how Anselm and one of William I’s daughters were canonised and Alan not even beatified? On the record, he was far more faithful in word and deed.

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      1. I can certainly see how Alan would be the only one with a cool head in the royal court. It certainly wasn’t William Rufus.

        Admittedly, my Latin is out of practice, and I understand French through a mixture of Spanish and English, mostly.

        Beatification could be a very politicised process in the medieval period. Part of it was popular acclaim, but another part involved submitting evidence of sainthood (at least when the canonization process was institutionalized, by the thirteenth century). So, for saints to be acclaimed as such, the people (broadly speaking) would have to accept a holy person as a saint. Kings, queens and clergymen would have been more easily accepted as saints than nobles, I suppose. It is an interesting question, though: I do not know with what frequency noblemen would have been canonised or beatified by the thirteenth century; or if before that, how many noblemen had been considered saints after their death.
        In the case of Saint Margaret, for example, she was recognized as a holy woman while she was alive, and shortly after the death her sanctity was recognized by people in Scotland and England. This was at the beginning of the twelfth century, and she was canonised by the pope in 1250; the process involved the compilation of evidence of her miracles and the presentation of this evidence to the Holy See. But of course, Margaret was a queen, her descendants were kings of Scots and her daughter, Matilda, was a queen of England, so there was interest from secular and ecclesiastical authorities to canonise Margaret. It could very well be that while Alan was considered a good man, he might not have been seen as holy, which would have hindered any chance for his canonisation.

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      2. Yes, I suppose so, and Anselm’s conflicted prejudices against Gunhildr’s choice to leave Wilton Abbey (repeated by Anselm’s biographer Eadmer) mustn’t have helped Alan’s reputation with Rome, though in that case I do wonder why they sainted him after he caved in to Henry I. (For myself, this whole “Brides of Christ” notion is a clear monastic perversion: in the NT it’s the Church as a whole that is Christ’s bride.)

        The first seven of the Beatitudes fit Alan very well, and considering how his reputation was falsely blackened, the eighth is an uncomfortable truth for some in the church hierarchy and historians alike, so maybe I’ll start a campaign.

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