Malcolm and the treacherous knight

During the late medieval period, various stories about Malcolm Canmore were already popular in Scotland, as evidenced by their inclusion in several Scottish chronicles. One of the stories that I would like to explore today is found on Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronikyl (ca. 1402 x 1424), but it did not originate there. The story of Malcolm Canmore preventing an attack from a treacherous knight is also found in the Dunfermline Vita of Saint Margaret of Scotland, a thirteenth-century copy of the Life of Saint Margaret that survives in a fifteenth-century manuscript copied at Dunfermline during the reign of James III. The Dunfermline Vita, as Catherine Keene has argued, tied Malcolm to Saint Margaret’s Anglo-Saxon ancestors through his actions. Yet here, the story of Malcolm and the knight becomes proof of Malcolm’s good kingship.

Malcolm received news from a knight of his court that another knight, a great lord, planned to have the king killed. Instead of having the treacherous knight arrested or detained, Malcolm decided to trick him instead. The king planned a day of hunting with his company, extending an invitation to the treacherous knight. But Malcolm ordered his company to let him and the knight be alone during the hunting trip. And so, Malcolm and the knight go alone into the woods and when they arrive at an appropriate place, Malcolm confronts the knight over his murder plans.  Malcolm exhorts the knight to do his purpose, to “do his deed with honesty.” After Malcolm assures the knight that, since no one would come to the king’s rescue because they were both alone in the woods, the knight could go ahead with his murder plot. Malcolm warns the knight against being a coward and not fulfilling his oath to kill him! The knight,

With Þat [that] Þe [the] knycht all changeit hew [changed hue]

And his fals purposs saire can rew [he came to regret]

His visage worthit [became] pail [pale] and wan

And hastely he lichtit [alighted from his horse] Þan [then]

And fell on kneis askand mercy

At Þe [the] king of his fals foly.

So, when confronted by the king, the knight became fearful and asked for the king’s mercy. Because Malcolm was magnanimous, he forgave the knight. The knight, then, became the most loyal of Malcolm’s company. This story showed that Malcolm was a good king because he was merciful and this is one of the reasons why his reign was peaceful and worthy of remembrance.


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