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Sybillalocked

(d. 1122)
  • Jessica Nelson

Sybilla (d. 1122), queen of Scots and consort of Alexander I, was one of the many illegitimate children of the English king Henry I (1068/9–1135). Her mother was most likely Sybilla, the daughter of Robert Corbet, a Shropshire landholder, with whom Henry I had one and probably two other children—Reginald, earl of Cornwall, and also the William, described as the queen's brother, who appears to have accompanied Sybilla to Scotland.

Nothing is known of Sybilla's life before her marriage, the date of which is uncertain, though it is unlikely to have taken place later than 1114. Alexander I (d. 1124) played a leading role in Henry's Welsh campaign that year, and his involvement could have provided both the opportunity and the impetus to arrange it. Sybilla was then probably in her mid-teens, Alexander a little over thirty. They had no children. About 1120 king and queen jointly founded Scone Priory (later Scone Abbey). Scone was the ancient site of the inauguration of Scottish kings and stood at the centre of the royal estate, and Sybilla's place alongside Alexander in founding an Augustinian priory at this significant site argues strongly for her integration into the Scottish ruling dynasty. She was also an ecclesiastical patron in her own right, granting a manor at Beath in Fife to Dunfermline Abbey (which had been founded by Alexander I's parents, Malcolm III and Margaret) and making a joint offering with Alexander to the cathedral church of St Andrews. She also attested one of the four surviving charters from her husband's reign that contain witness lists.

Sybilla may also have become involved in ecclesiastical politics. Alexander clashed with the English Benedictine Eadmer, who had been chosen as bishop of St Andrews in June 1120, over the latter's desire to avoid investiture by a layman, in the person of the king. Eventually Alexander persuaded him to accept a compromise, whereby he would take his episcopal ring from himself but his pastoral staff from the altar in St Andrews' church. When Eadmer went there to do this, he was met by the queen, perhaps implying that she had acted as an intermediary between the king and the bishop-elect.

Sybilla died suddenly at Loch Tay on 12 or 13 July 1122. William of Malmesbury's statement that Alexander 'did not waste many sighs on her, for she was wanting, it was said, in correctness of manners and charm of person' (William of Malmesbury, 1.724–7) needs to be qualified by the possibility that the chronicler was playing down the impact of her death in an attempt to win favour from her husband's brother and successor, David I. At all events, Alexander was sufficiently affected to grant the island on Loch Tay and surrounding land to the canons of Scone, to support prayers for his own soul and for that of Queen Sybilla.

The meagre documentation of Alexander's reign provides only tantalizing glimpses of the actions of his consort. But in any case Sybilla's greatest significance may have lain in the simple fact of her having been the first Scottish queen to provide a physical link between the ruling dynasties of Scotland and England, thereby showing the full extent of Scottish acceptance of Norman rule in England.

Sources

  • G. W. S. Barrow, ed., Regesta regum Scottorum, 1: The acts of Malcolm IV, King of Scots, 1153–65 (1960)
  • W. Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. D. E. R. Watt and others, new edn, 9 vols. (1987–98), vol. 3
  • G. W. S. Barrow, ed., The charters of King David I: the written acts of David I king of Scots, 1124–53, and of his son Henry earl of Northumberland, 1139–52 (1999)
  • Eadmeri historia novorum in Anglia, ed. M. Rule, Early Scottish charters prior to ad 1153, Rolls Series, 81 (1884)
  • J. Green, ‘David I and Henry I’, SHR, 75 (1996), 1–19
  • William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum / The history of the English kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson, and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., OMT (1998–9), vol. 1
  • D. Oram, David I: the king who made Scotland (2004)
  • J. Nelson, ‘Queens and queenship in Scotland, circa 1067–1286’, PhD diss., U. Lond, 2006
  • GEC, Peerage, appx D, 118
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