Marian Toledo Candelaria: Malcolm III Canmore in Medieval Scottish Historical Sources

Earlier this month, I was invited to contribute an article for the Scottish History Network’s blog, which was published today. In the post, I provide a brief overview of Malcolm III and of some of my research conclusions so far. Enjoy!

Scottish History Network

Why do we hold our tongues,
That most may claim this argument for ours?

-Malcolm Canmore, in Macbeth Act 2, Scene III.

The discovery of King Duncan’s murder in Act 2, Scene III of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606) triggered suspicion on his two heirs, Malcolm Canmore and Donalbain. Following Duncan’s death, both princes decided to escape Scotland to avoid retribution for a crime they had not committed. The quote above was Malcolm Canmore’s response to Macbeth’s short but powerful monologue about witnessing the scene of Duncan’s murder. Macbeth’s thunderous seizure of the Scottish throne and tyrannical rule deprived Malcolm Canmore of political agency, rendering him silent for most of the play. Like his literary counterpart, King Malcolm III Canmore (r. 1058-93) has held his tongue for far too long.

The historical Malcolm III successfully reigned Scotland for over thirty years during the second half of the eleventh century. His reign…

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International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds 2016

On July 4-7 2016, I participated in the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds. This was my first paper given at IMC and it was a surreal and fantastic experience. My paper was part of session 516, “Myth and Identity in Medieval Britain,” hosted by the Cardiff University’s Medieval & Early Modern Research Initiative and organized by Cardiff’s own Vicky Shirley. While the other two papers in the panel: first,  Diarmuid Scully, from University College Cork gave a paper titled “Gerald of Wales and the Trojan Britons in Ireland,” and Vicky Shirley spoke on “Hengist and the Foundation of England in the Galfridian Chronicle Tradition.” The panel focused on twelfth century myth creation in the British Isles and their effects on historiography, politics and identity. My paper had the same focus, but for the fifteenth century: “Macduff, Thane of Fife, and the Mythologization of the Scottish Past in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronykil.” I have been working on Malcolm Canmore’s portrayal in Wyntoun’s Cronikyl for over a year now, and giving a paper on Macduff instead allowed me to pursue other questions on the creation of Scottish identity and kingship during the late medieval period as witnessed by chronicles.

Now, the most important reason to participate in congresses as IMC. at least for me, is to obtain feedback on our drafts, to listen to and disseminate new ideas, and to learn what others in the field are doing. Pursuing a PhD in Scottish history outside of Scotland can be a challenge in this respect: sometimes, it feels that I am not part of the “action” because I am not studying anywhere near the British Isles. Attending conferences outside of North America becomes a necessity in my field, a professional life line of sorts. The IMC was especially important because of this: I was able to disseminate my research on Wyntoun’s Cronikyl, Malcolm Canmore, and Macduff to both a wider but more specialized audience, and I was able to get the feedback I need to test my ideas and take them one step further.

In very recent years, historians have taken to social media and blogging as a way of distributing their research and forming conversations with other academics in other parts of the world. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become instrumental in bringing academics from different places together, helping us share our research and obtain valuable feedback. Live-tweeting papers has become a norm in many conferences, and it was certainly not an exception in the case of IMC Leeds. Melissa Julian-Jones, the chair of Session 516 of the IMC, live-tweeted my paper so here’s the link:



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.

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:


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.

Top 10 Historical Misconceptions about Macbeth

This month, I thought it would be a good idea to try a new way of engaging online readers with historical scholarship: I created a BuzzFeed list of the top ten historical misconceptions about Macbeth. The list is an interesting resource into the historical aspect of Macbeth’s time and what are the historical differences between the Shakesperean play and the historical king and his times. Check it out here!

On research trips, conferences and making connections: My summer in Scotland

I have finally returned to Canada after seven weeks in the UK and I am currently battling some lingering jet-lag. The expectations I had of my research trip were rather different than the end result: my trip was much more fulfilling and exciting than anticipated. Sometimes, letting go of expectations is crucial in order to benefit the most from what a research trip has to offer. While I worked on my PhD research less than I expected, the amount of personal and professional experiences and connections I made became more important. In fact, many of these connections and conversations led to discoveries relevant to King Malcolm’s role in Scottish chronicles. This blog post will not cover the extent of my research activities abroad, but I will focus mostly on the opportunities I had to share my current research and gain more insight into my topic.

As part of my research trip, I spoke at the International Congress on Celtic Studies XV, held at the University of Glasgow in July. My paper was concerned with the portrayals of Malcolm III and his youngest son, David I, in English twelfth-century chronicles. The conference only held one panel on Scottish history; unsurprisingly, the audience was packed with Scottish medievalists! It was both a sublime and terrifying experience because as a PhD student, one feels the pressure to give the best presentation one can muster to a room full of specialists in your field. The Congress also had a roundtable on the ‘Models of Authority’ project headed by Professor Dauvit Broun at the University of Glasgow and the discussions that arose from the project’s presentation placed the project’s potential in context (More info here: I am enthusiastic to see how the methodological approach employed in the Models of Authority project can be used to answer questions of power, nobility, land and government in medieval Scotland. The roundtable was stimulating and it was one of those opportunities that far exceeded my expectations.

Yet most of my time was not spent at conferences, but working at the National Library of Scotland (NLS). One of my research assistantships for this summer provided opportunities to work at the NLS with archival material and this occupied a good chunk of my time. Likewise, I was able to benefit from the new photography trial at the NLS, though it started the week after I had transcribed the passages about Macbeth, Macduff and Malcolm in Wyntoun’s Cronykil. If we see the upside, I have a transcript AND photographs of the manuscripts I saw, so that should facilitate my research in the future. Also, transcribing the passages, though at times tedious, did permitted me to revise and familiarize more with the story of Malcolm’s rise to power in Scotland found in the Cronykil. It was an exceptional opportunity compare the different texts found in all of the extant manuscripts of this chronicle while formulating ideas of the relationship between chronicle-writing, power, kingship, Scottish identity and nobility. These ideas have posed several questions about the nature of chronicle writing in Scotland during the fifteenth century and the political and cultural development of the kingdom during this period. These are all topics that I wish to address in the future and while addressing all of them in my thesis might not be possible, they present alternative research venues worth exploring. The research trip was successful in that it allowed me to discover new ideas and formulate new research questions that can be answered by thinking about the development of Malcolm’s portrayal in Wyntoun’s Cronykil from a new perspective.

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.