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.