Summer of Malcolm Canmore: Research and Conferences

I find that one of the difficult aspects of doing a PhD thesis and maintaining a blog about the process is finding the time to write blog posts. That said, this post is aimed at giving a summary of what I have been up to since February and what I expect to do over the summer in regards to advancing research about Malcolm Canmore.

First, I have successfully completed my last PhD milestone: the colloquium paper. This is a presentation of roughly half and hour on a topic related to your thesis research. In my case, I decided to do a presentation on part of the research I have done on Malcolm Canmore’s portrayal in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronikyl. Wyntoun wrote his Cronikyl at the request of Sir John Wemyss of Leuchars and Kilcaldrum, Lord Reres, and it is believed that the Cronikyl was written starting in ca. 1408 and finishing the last revised version in ca. 1424, when James I returned to Scotland from English captivity. The lack of cohesiveness between the extant manuscripts of the Cronikyl, and Wyntoun’s reputation as a “dreich clerk” have affected the scholarship produced about this chronicle. However, this is slowly changing: work by Steve Boardman and Rhiannon Purdie, among others, have sought to re-evaluate the Orygynale Cronikyl as both a source for late medieval Scottish history and a quality Older Scots literary work. The Cronikyl contains 30,000 lines and it is written in octosyllabic metre, following the example of Wyntoun’s much-admired predecessor, John Barbour and his The Brus (ca. 1370s). So Wyntoun’s Cronikyl is the first attempt at drafting a full history of Scotland, from Adam and Eve until the reign of Robert II, in Scots vernacular.

Now, Malcolm’s portrayal in the Cronikyl is very unique. First, Wyntoun portrayed Malcolm as the illegitimate son of King Duncan and the miller of Forteviot’s daughter. Then, Wyntoun describes the reign of Macbeth as a descent into evil and immoral bahaviour. It is in Wyntoun’s Cronikyl where we first encounter the Weird Sisters, Macduff’s wife, the first mention of Macbeth’s wife (Gruoch, who in this case was King Duncan’s wife and Macbeth’s aunt), and the notion that Macbeth’s killer was not born of wife; these elements are found in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth’s struggles with Macduff propelled the thane of Fife to go into England and request Malcolm Canmore, who was illegitimate, to become king of Scots. Why would Wyntoun portray Malcolm as illegitimate? That would potentially hinder his ability to become king of Scots. However, as my colloquium paper argued, it is more likely that Wyntoun found inspiration in the politics of his day, and this accounts for the emphasis on illegitimacy given to Malcolm (Robert III and his brother, the Duke of Albany, were both born illegitimate but were able to rule Scotland during the late fourteenth and late fifteenth centuries, respectively).

Secondly, I will be giving papers at the two largest congresses on medieval studies: in Kalamazoo, Michigan (May 12-15) and Leeds, UK (July 4-7). For Kalamazoo, I have co-authored a paper with my colleague, Shayna Devlin, titled “Ideals of Scottish Identity and Monarchy in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronikyl.” It is part of session 129, sponsored by the Celtic Studies Association of North America. Our paper suggests that Wyntoun portrayed the Stewart dynasty in the Cronikyl as natural successors to the Canmore dynasty at a time where the Stewarts’ claim to kingship was not secure. Wyntoun also stressed the importance of nobility in ensuring that men who had contestable claims to the Scottish crown could become kings. For Leeds, my paper will form part of session 516, “Myth and Identity in Medieval Britain: Nation, History, Politics,” sponsored by the Medieval & Early Modern Research Initiative at Cardiff University. The paper will argue that the Cronikyl‘s portrayal of Macduff parallels the volatile relationship between Sir John Wemyss, Wyntoun’s patron, and Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Governor of Scotland. Macduff’s role in the Cronikyl also signals a shift in the construction of a Scottish identity and a unique sense of the Scottish past that began with John of Fordun’s Chronica gentis Scotorum in the 1360s. Macduff substitutes Earl Siward of Northumbria, who is often associated with killing Macbeth and placing Malcolm Canmore on the throne. By portraying Macduff as the architect of Macbeth’s murder and Malcolm’s ascension to the throne, the Cronikyl constructed the Scottish past as catalyzed by Fife-centric political agency, as opposed to manipulated by English imposition of a monarchical regime.

You can find more information on my conference presentations and research on my page: