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Malcolm IVfree

  • W. W. Scott

Malcolm IV (1141–1165), king of Scots, was the eldest son of Henry, earl of Huntingdon and of Northumberland (c. 1115–1152), and Ada de Warenne (c. 1123–1178), and grandson of King David I. Born between 23 April and 24 May 1141, he became his grandfather's heir when his father died, on 12 or 13 June 1152. In the care of Duncan, earl of Fife (d. 1154), he was then taken round Scotland north of the Forth, and thus, by Celtic custom, shown to be heir to the kingdom. When David I died, on 24 May 1153, Malcolm succeeded peaceably. Although he was only twelve years old there was no formal regency. But his early acta suggest that real power lay with Walter, son of Alan, the steward (d. 1177), Hugh de Morville, the constable (d. 1162), and some eight other laymen, with Walter de Bidun, the chancellor, and several bishops.

The long period of internal peace established by David I was broken in November 1154 when Somerled, lord of Argyll, and his nephews, sons of Malcolm MacHeth (claimant to the earldom of Ross, and a dangerous rebel in the previous reign), revolted. Seaborne raids were probably made on the mainland; in 1156 Donald MacHeth was captured at Whithorn and sent to join his father in prison at Roxburgh Castle. In 1157 the king and the MacHeths were reconciled. Deprived of some of his support, Somerled made peace, perhaps in 1159.

Before this pacification the Scots had also faced pressure from England, where King Henry II began to assert himself after his coronation (19 December 1154); in 1157 he was ready to deal with Scotland. Malcolm met him at The Peak in Derbyshire; then, at Chester, in July 1157, he did homage 'in the manner in which his grandfather had been the man of old King Henry' says the Melrose chronicle (Anderson, Early Sources, 2.233), tactfully concealing that he was made to give up Cumberland, Westmorland, and Northumberland. Henry subsequently restored the honour of Huntingdon to Malcolm, and gave the lordship of Tynedale to the latter's younger brother William. The surrenders and regrants were made quickly. The kings met at Carlisle, now an English city, in January 1158 and parted at odds; Henry had publicly snubbed Malcolm's dignity, social expectations, and, in all likelihood, personal wishes by declining to make him a knight. Henry meanwhile recovered castles, revenues, and the silver mines in the northern Pennines. He had weakened Scottish prestige, security, and wealth.

In April or May 1159 a very well-attended court at Roxburgh confirmed the possessions of Kelso Abbey, and probably also considered the need for a new bishop of St Andrews and preparations for a military expedition overseas. Robert, bishop of St Andrews, died early in 1159. A successor had to be found, and a means of denying the archbishop of York's customary claims to a profession of obedience from a new bishop. Malcolm's step-uncle Waldef, abbot of Melrose (d. 1159), was selected but declined. William, bishop of Moray, and Nicholas, the king's chamberlain, were then sent overseas to the pope, probably with proposals to make St Andrews an archbishopric. The bishop returned with powers of a legate and a commendation from Pope Alexander III (r. 1159–81) that he become bishop of St Andrews. This was not acceptable; Arnold, abbot of Kelso, was elected bishop on 13 November 1160 and consecrated by the legate in the king's presence at St Andrews on the 20th. After Arnold's death on 13 September 1162, Richard (d. 1178), a chaplain of the king, was elected as bishop, probably early in 1163. The claims of York were pressed and rebuffed; on 28 October 1164 Ingram (d. 1174), the king's chancellor, was consecrated as bishop of Glasgow by Alexander III at Sens; then, provided with specific papal authority, he and other Scottish bishops consecrated Richard at St Andrews on 28 March 1165 in the presence of the king. In both cases direct links with the papacy had been established, York's claims had been deflected, and the king's candidates had been installed. Long-term effects of these events became clear in the next reign.

The Roxburgh court of 1159 probably also considered Henry II's call-out (March 1159) of his forces from Normandy, England, Aquitaine, and 'other provinces which are subject to him' (Lawrie, 41–2) for an expedition to Toulouse. Malcolm's attendance was no doubt required, and a summons may have been welcome; it gave a chance to be knighted honourably in the field. The king, his brother William, and other Scots crossed the channel on 16 June 1159, and joined Henry's army at Poitiers on the 24th. At Périgueux, about 30 June, Henry knighted Malcolm. Until September the army overran the county of Toulouse; after intervention by King Louis VII of France (r. 1137–80) a siege of the city was abandoned, the army retired, and Malcolm and Henry were at Limoges about the end of September of that year.

Malcolm, possibly after a visit to the earldom of Huntingdon, returned to Scotland early in 1160 to a hostile reception. Ferteth, earl of Strathearn, and five other earls, angered that he had been to Toulouse, besieged him at Perth. Mediation by the clergy ended the immediate dispute. But unrest then appeared in Galloway, and later in the year the king made three military forays there. Fergus, lord of Galloway (d. 1161), submitted and by the end of the year there had been a general reconciliation. Malcolm's Christmas feast at Perth in 1160 was very well attended by prominent laymen (including probably Somerled of Argyll, earning by his presence the nickname ‘Sit-by-the-King’) and ecclesiastics. Royal authority had been vindicated and one lesson had been learned; for the rest of the reign and for that of William the Lion (r. 1165–1214) the earls of Scotland were never given cause for armed opposition to the king.

The peace held for three years. The king was now a young adult; an aggressive edge appears in matters where he could use personal influence, such as the bestowal of his sisters Margaret and Ada, married respectively in 1160 to Conan (IV), duke of Brittany (c. 1135–1171), and in 1161 to Florence, count of Holland (d. 1190). The matches linked Scotland with ruling houses then outside the range of Angevin political control. But such gestures had little real effect; Malcolm was again called south in 1163 by Henry II. An illness, perhaps a grave one, at Doncaster on the outward journey did not enable him and his brothers to avoid attendance at Henry's court at Woodstock at the end of June, to find there a group of Welsh rulers; the gathering was evidently meant to demonstrate Henry's lordship within Britain. On 1 July Malcolm again did homage, and handed over as hostages his brother David (d. 1219), subsequently earl of Huntingdon, and other young noblemen.

In 1163 'King Malcolm transported the men of Moray' (Holyrood Chronicle, 142). This has never been satisfactorily explained; a later tradition of a large-scale removal of population is probably false. Another later view is that it caused the last revolt of Somerled of Argyll in 1164. Supported by a large fleet, and troops from outside Scotland, he attacked Renfrew, the chief residence of Walter the Steward. Rather than a reaction to events in Moray, this might have been a protest against Malcolm's second homage to Henry II, as well as a direct thrust at the steward. In June 1161, at an exceptionally well-attended court at Roxburgh, the king had formally confirmed Walter's extensive lands in Scotland. This sign of trust in an important 'Norman' incomer could scarcely have had a more public demonstration. The invasion failed. Local forces organized by Bishop Herbert of Glasgow (d. 1164) surprised the enemy; Somerled was killed and his head was cut off and presented to the bishop, who attributed the victory to St Kentigern. There was peace for the rest of the reign.

During that time the king completed his major monastic foundation, the Cistercian abbey of Coupar Angus, and secured a refoundation of the Augustinian priory of Scone as an abbey. The first grants for the former had been made in 1161 or 1162; it was fully established by 12 July 1164 when Fulk, the first abbot, was blessed by Bishop Gregory of Dunkeld. Scone had been devastated by a fire, and at Stirling, between May 1163 and May 1164, the king confirmed earlier gifts by kings Alexander I (d. 1124) and David I, added some of his own, and provided an abbot. At various other times he made some gifts to the hospital of Soutra (but probably did not found it), and granted or confirmed gifts to all the major foundations of David I.

After his illness in 1163 Malcolm may not have recovered entirely. He is said to have suffered severe pains in his head and feet, symptoms which, when taken with the contemporary notice of his death in the annals of Ulster, which calls him Cennmor, or 'Big Head', suggest that he was suffering from Paget's disease. An enlargement of the skull is a typical symptom of this affliction; another is pain in the legs. It would thus appear that the original Malcolm Canmore was Malcolm IV, rather than his great-grandfather Malcolm III, who seems to have acquired that nickname only in the thirteenth century. In the last two years of his reign Malcolm was still able to travel within eastern Scotland, but perhaps rarely. He hoped to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, no doubt in search of healing, but was unable to do this. He was at Jedburgh in his final illness and died there on Thursday 9 December 1165, aged twenty-four, having reigned for some twelve years and six months. His last bequest was an annual payment of 100 shillings to Dunfermline Abbey, where he was buried, attended at the last by several bishops. On that day Walter the Steward honoured his memory by a gift of land to the abbey.

For an Irish writer Malcolm was 'with regard to charity and hospitality and piety the best Christian of the Gaels to the east of the sea' (Anderson, Early Sources, 2.261). Godric of Finchale mentions him in the same breath as Thomas Becket. He was not interested in marriage. His nickname ‘Malcolm the Maiden’ is not known before the fifteenth century, but well before 1200 his reputation for chastity was fully accepted by several writers. There can be no doubt about his close interest in ecclesiastical matters: the foundation and enhancement of religious houses; appointments to the see of St Andrews; a wish, made too late in life to be fulfilled, to be a pilgrim to Compostela. But Malcolm was no cleric; he ruled as a layman, struggled with internal revolts, and re-established royal authority and peace, which after 1164 was not broken for ten years. After the loss of the northern counties of England, the integrity of the kingdom to which David I had succeeded was maintained; the claims of York over the church in Scotland were consistently and firmly opposed. Although he is also represented on coins and seals, the most striking likeness of Malcolm is that contained in the initial letter of his charter for Kelso Abbey. That he is there shown as a young and beardless figure, seated beside his venerable grandfather David I, may be taken as intended to symbolize dynastic continuity, and within the kingdom David I's innovations were undisturbed or strengthened: for example, more burghs appear, and upper Clydesdale was divided into knights' feus, several of them granted to Flemish settlers. Except, as always, for the loss of Northumberland, his brother William can have had little real cause for complaint when he succeeded.


  • A. O. Anderson, ed. and trans., Early sources of Scottish history, ad 500 to 1286, 2 (1922)
  • G. W. S. Barrow, ed., Regesta regum Scottorum, 1 (1960)
  • G. W. S. Barrow, The kingdom of the Scots: government, church and society from the eleventh to the fourteenth century (1973)
  • A. C. Lawrie, ed., Annals of the reigns of Malcolm and William, kings of Scotland (1910)
  • W. Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. D. E. R. Watt and others, new edn, 9 vols. (1987–98), vol. 4
  • R. Somerville, ed., Scotia pontificia: papal letters to Scotland before the pontificate of Innocent III (1982)
  • G. W. S. Barrow, The Anglo-Norman era in Scottish history (1980)
  • A. A. M. Duncan, Scotland: the making of the kingdom (1975), vol. 1 of The Edinburgh history of Scotland, ed. G. Donaldson (1965–75)
  • The chronicle of Holyrood, ed. A. O. Anderson and M. O. Anderson (1938)
  • A. O. Anderson, ed., Scottish annals from English chroniclers, ad 500 to 1286 (1908)
  • A. A. M. Duncan, The kingship of the Scots, 842–1292: succession and independence (2002)


  • illuminated initial, 1159, NL Scot., charter for Kelso Abbey; see illus. in David I (c.1085–1153)