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date: 18 February 2020

David Ifree

(c. 1085–1153)
  • G. W. S. Barrow

David I (c. 1085–1153)

illuminated initial, c. 1159 [[Left to right] David I (c.1085–1153) and Malcolm IV (1141–1165)]

© The Duke of Roxburghe, Floors Castle, Kelso; Trustees of the National Library of Scotland

David I (c. 1085–1153), king of Scots, was the sixth and youngest son of Malcolm III (d. 1093) and his second wife, Margaret (d. 1093).

The royal brother, c.1085–1124

Despite the violent reaction which followed Malcolm III's death in 1093, when the succession of his eldest son, Duncan II, was opposed by the conservative Scottish nobles who wished to make Malcolm's brother, Donald III, king in accordance with older custom, there was strong support, perhaps mainly in southern Scotland, for the novel practice of linear father-to-son succession. The direct heirs of Malcolm III were supported by William the Conqueror's sons William Rufus and Henry I. Although one of David's elder brothers, Edmund, allied himself to their uncle Donald, the other brothers, Edgar and Alexander I, along with David himself, fled for safety to England. While Edgar, with Rufus's backing, strove to make himself king of Scots (successfully from 1097), David was attached to the household of the future Henry I and may have been granted a small estate in western Normandy where Henry had lands and a sizeable following of lords and knights. It must have been known that Edgar would have no children, but his heir was the next brother, Alexander, married to a bastard daughter of Henry I. David's prospects might have lain in England or on the continent, although his descent would entitle him to some share of royal lordships after Alexander I's accession in 1107. From 1100 his elder sister Edith, her name altered to Matilda or Maud, had been the wife of Henry I. His association with the English court doubtless gave added force to the appeal which David was later said to have had to make to the baronage of northern England, for assistance in compelling Alexander I to hand over the appanage in Scottish Cumbria and eastern Scotland south of Lammermuir which had apparently been bequeathed to David by King Edgar. Precisely when this transfer of regional authority was made is not known, but it may have been a little before David's conspicuous promotion south of the border.

At the end of 1113 David, who had hitherto enjoyed only the style of 'the queen's brother', was given by King Henry the prize of a rich, highly born heiress, Maud de Senlis. Maud [Matilda] (d. 1131) was the daughter of Waltheof, earl of Northumbria (c. 1050–1076), son of Earl Siward who had helped to put Malcolm III on the Scottish throne, and Judith (d. in or after 1086), a niece of William the Conqueror. Maud's first husband was Simon (I) de Senlis (or St Liz; d. 1111×13), a knight who had served the Conqueror and Rufus, under whom he gained the rank of earl. With Simon, Maud had two sons, and she would have been nearly forty when she married David of Scotland, her junior by almost ten years. The lands acquired by David on his marriage, stretching from south Yorkshire to Middlesex but chiefly concentrated in the shires of Northampton, Huntingdon, Cambridge, and Bedford, formed what came to be known as the 'honour of Huntingdon'. Its possession made David an important figure in Anglo-Norman court circles. As late as 1130, after he had become king, he is recorded as presiding over the treason trial of Henry I's chamberlain, Geoffrey Clinton. Acquisition of this great lordship was marked by King Henry's grant of an earldom, but to assign the names Huntingdon or Northampton to this estate before the mid-twelfth century is anachronistic. When in Stephen's reign the Senlis family and the Scottish royal house vied for control of the honour, which was never partitioned, the former preferred the title earl of Northampton (given by Stephen), while the Scots simply spoke of the honour of Huntingdon without using any territorial style.

In southern Scotland, David quickly showed what was to prove the overriding passion of his life, reform of ecclesiastical institutions and revival of religion. Between 1110 and 1118 he restored the ancient see of Glasgow, of which he made his chaplain John bishop, consecrated by Pope Paschal II (r. 1099–1118) at David's request. In the early 1120s an inquest was held to ascertain the ancient landed endowments of the see, many of which had been sequestrated. Fresh endowments were provided and a new cathedral was begun, dedicated in 1136. David brought to Selkirk a community of monks from Tiron, north of Chartres. In 1128 the convent migrated to Kelso, beside the flourishing centre of Roxburgh, where their abbey grew into the richest in Scotland. The Tironensians, outstandingly successful in Scotland, were the earliest of the congregations of reformed Benedictines (which were the dominant feature of monastic life in north-west Europe in this period) to establish themselves north of the channel.

David I and the Scottish nobility

David's sister Queen Maud died in 1118, by which date it may have seemed probable that their brother Alexander I would die childless. Soon after Alexander's death on 23 April 1124, David was inaugurated king of Scots at Scone. It is reported by Ailred of Rievaulx (d. 1167) that the attendant bishops had difficulty persuading the new king to undergo the essentially pagan ceremony of inauguration, at which the earl of Fife, as head of a junior segment of the royal lineage, placed the king on the famous stone of Scone (or stone of destiny), while the royal bard bestowed the rod or wand of kingship.

David I's achievements as king are most easily understood if the secular and ecclesiastical spheres are treated separately. It must, however, be emphasized that the division is modern and artificial. There is no evidence, and it seems improbable, that David himself drew any sharp distinction between his roles as guardian of the realm and protector of holy church.

Given the king's upbringing and marriage and his lengthy experience of the Anglo-Norman court it was inevitable that he perceived lordship in feudal terms. Probably already while ruler of southern Scotland, during his brother's reign, he established followers from Normandy and England, such as Robert (I) de Brus (d. 1142), Hugh de Morville and Ranulf de Soulles, as lords of substantial portions of the princely demesne of Cumbria. Such men were trained in cavalry warfare and the use of motte-and-bailey castles. By the 1140s the greater part of southern Scotland, with the exception of Galloway and Nithsdale, had been allotted to incoming followers of the king. In the west they were given extensive lordships (for example, Annandale, Kyle Stewart), while in the east smaller, discrete, estates were the norm for newly created fiefs. Many (probably all) of these fiefs were held for military service, including the duty of garrisoning the king's castles.

Although David I was willing to repeat this pattern of fief-creation in Scotia, north of the Forth–Clyde line, the outstanding fact of his reign in secular affairs was the continued and peaceful coexistence of a newly established military feudalism with the older arrangement of provinces ruled by hereditary dynasties of mormaers (literally ‘great officers’, ‘chief stewards’). These were territorial in character, probably a legacy of the pre-ninth century Pictish kingdom. An exception to the rule of peaceful coexistence was the revolt in 1130 by Angus, mormaer of Moray. Angus was the son of a daughter of Lulach Mac Gillachomgan, who had been briefly king of Scots in 1057–8. Taking advantage of the king's absence in the south of England, Angus led an army south by the east coast route. Just south of the crossing of the River North Esk near Stracathro, the men of Moray were met by a force under the command of King David's constable Edward and suffered a decisive defeat, Angus himself being killed. Had the battle gone the other way, the course of Scottish history might well have been significantly different. As it was, David annexed the province of Moray to the crown and established followers of continental origin, notably Flemings, in estates which had presumably belonged to the mormaers. In all the provincial earldoms or mormaerdoms the king possessed rights, for example, military service, justice, and certain types of revenue, while in some, especially Fife, Gowrie, and Angus, as well as in Moray after 1130, he had extensive lands in demesne. These were exploited to create and support the castles and trading towns ('burghs') which in David I's time were established at Perth, Forfar, Montrose, Aberdeen, Elgin, Forres, and Inverness. A mixture of the old and the new, in which the crown held the initiative, characterized the political entity coming to be known as the kingdom of the Scots in the earlier twelfth century.

The transformation of the church

However powerfully he had left his mark on Scottish secular government, David I was to be remembered, not without reason, as the king who almost single-handedly transformed the church within his realm, with a generosity which is said to have prompted King James I (r. 1406–37) to observe ruefully that David's grants to the religious had made him 'a sair sanct to the croun' (Ritchie, 337). He was personally responsible for founding monasteries of the Tironensian, Cistercian, and Augustinian orders, while he enlarged the Benedictine priory of Dunfermline to form the second richest abbey in Scotland, and established Benedictines of the Cluniac observance on the Isle of May. He was largely responsible for founding an Augustinian cathedral priory at St Andrews, and he welcomed the military orders of the Hospital and the Temple. Such a rich infusion of monastic life, closely tied as it was to forms of regular observance universal throughout western Christendom, would have altered the Scottish church almost beyond recognition. But David went much further, imposing a territorially defined system upon the Scottish bishoprics. This involved strengthening the authority of the two largest dioceses of St Andrews (which he strove unsuccessfully to have recognized as metropolitan) and Glasgow. Almost certainly David created the dioceses of Caithness and Moray, while he re-established the see of the bishop of north-east Scotland at Old Aberdeen, close to the royal castle and burgh of Aberdeen. Within the dioceses, whose boundaries were now relatively well defined, the king encouraged the formation of parish churches with fixed territories, served by priests supported by tithes (Scottish, 'teinds'), payment of which was enforced by the secular power.

Anglo-Scottish relations

Scotland's relations with England remained peaceful and even friendly as long as Henry I was alive. Not only was there a close personal tie between the two kings, but it is clear also that Henry's plan to have his daughter, the Empress Matilda (d. 1167), recognized as his heir—even though a woman and married to the count of Anjou—was fully accepted by the king of Scots, who in 1127 was first among the lay magnates to swear an oath of fealty to Matilda as prospective successor to her father. David enjoyed a special position within the English kingdom, being entrusted by Henry with important administrative roles and judicial decisions. The Anglo-Scottish peace was shattered by Stephen of Blois's bid for the crown at the end of 1135, when David took possession of Carlisle and Cumberland, as his father had held them, enforcing a Scottish restoration which he had never attempted as long as Henry I was king of England. The Scots were compelled to recognize Stephen's authority, at least de facto, and by David's first treaty with Stephen (February 1136) he retained Cumbria, relinquished Northumberland, and had his son and heir Henry recognized as lord of the honour of Huntingdon. Relations with Stephen broke down in 1137, however, and by 1138 the Scots were invading Northumberland and pushing even further south, towards Yorkshire, probably with the aim of establishing Scottish authority over the whole of England north of Lancashire and the Tees. But David's strategy received a setback on 22 August 1138, when a well-disciplined force of English barons and knights met a large but unruly Scottish host on Cowton Moor near Northallerton, and in the battle of the Standard inflicted a severe defeat.

Stephen's difficulties in southern England prevented him from exploiting this English victory, and by his second treaty with the Scots (Durham, 9 April 1139) he was forced in effect to cede to David control over England between Tees and Tweed, as well as continued enjoyment of the honour of Huntingdon. After Stephen was captured by his enemies in 1141, David and his son joined forces with the empress when she made her unsuccessful bid for the English throne. Even though the rout of the empress's forces at Winchester, on 14 September 1141, sent David and Henry northward again in undignified flight, their discomfiture did not affect their position north of Tees, where they remained in control until David's death. The honour of Huntingdon, however, was now lost. Indeed, at this period the Scottish king even exercised lordship over the honour of Lancaster, while in 1149 he entertained the young Henry of Anjou, son of the empress, at a splendid ceremony at Carlisle, where David conferred knighthood upon the future king of England and extracted a solemn promise, soon to be broken, that after Henry's accession the Scots would be left in undisturbed enjoyment of the English northern counties. Contemporary English writers reproached David for allowing his followers to commit many atrocities during the invasions of 1137–8, but at least one of them, William of Newburgh, gives the Scottish king credit for enforcing a twelve-year peace throughout northern England when it was conspicuously absent in the south.

The achievements of David I

David I was driven by a clear and consistent vision, pious and authoritarian, of what his kingdom should be: Catholic, in the sense of conforming to the doctrines and observances of the western church; feudal, in the sense that a lord–vassal relationship, involving knight-service, should form the basis of government; and open, in the sense that external (especially continental) influences of all kinds, religious, military, and economic, were encouraged and exploited to strengthen the Scottish kingdom. Alongside his eclecticism, David's strong sense of the autonomy of his realm and of his own position within it must be acknowledged. The surviving numbers of his charters, compared with those of his predecessors, surely point to an increase in the sophistication, and probably also in the activity, of government. During David's reign the administration of royal justice became more firmly established and was organized more effectively. Those who enjoyed their own courts were told that the king would intervene if they failed to provide justice. The addresses of royal charters and writs (Scottish 'brieves') show that from c.1140 justiciars were appointed. Although none is known by name, these officers were clearly the predecessors of the named justiciars of succeeding reigns.

David prevented his bishops (save only Galloway) recognizing any claims by York or Canterbury to ecclesiastical authority over the Scottish church, and he refused homage to Stephen, only allowing his son to do homage for Northumberland and Huntingdon. He restored the southern border of his kingdom west of the Pennines to Westmorland, where it had run before 1092. He was the first king of Scots to have a coinage struck in his name, in the form of silver sterlings minted at Carlisle, Berwick, Edinburgh, and elsewhere, from c.1139 onwards. His greatest failure, for which he cannot be blamed, lay in the succession. From c.1136, when his son Henry (understandably, in view of Maud's probable age at her second marriage, the only son to survive to adulthood) would have been about twenty, David had begun to associate his heir with himself in royal government. From 1139 onwards, indeed, it is not misleading to speak of joint kingship in Scotland. But Henry died tragically young in 1152. David himself died a year later, on 24 May 1153 at Carlisle Castle; he was buried in early June before the high altar of the church of Dunfermline Abbey. His heir, Henry's eldest son, Malcolm IV, was only twelve and no match for the vigorous Henry of Anjou who succeeded to the English throne at the end of 1154. Yet Malcolm succeeded comparatively peacefully and the greater part of his grandfather's legacy remained to the Scottish kingdom as it was to develop, on foundations which David had largely laid, during the remaining medieval centuries.


  • 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)
  • A. C. Lawrie, ed., Early Scottish charters prior to ad 1153 (1905)
  • Ailred of Rievaulx, ‘Eulogium Davidis’, Vitae antiquae sanctorum qui habitaverunt in ea parte Britanniae nunc vocata Scotia vel in ejus insulis, ed. J. Pinkerton (1789)
  • G. W. S. Barrow, ed., Regesta regum Scottorum, 1 (1960)
  • R. L. G. Ritchie, The Normans in Scotland (1954)
  • G. W. S. Barrow, ‘The charters of David I’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 14 (1991), 25–37
  • G. W. S. Barrow, David I of Scotland (1124–53): the balance of new and old (1985)
  • A. O. Anderson and M. O. Anderson, eds., The chronicle of Melrose (1936)
  • A Scottish chronicle known as the chronicle of Holyrood, ed. M. O. Anderson (1938)
  • Johannis de Fordun Chronica gentis Scotorum, ed. W. F. Skene (1871)
  • Johannis de Fordun Chronica gentis Scotorum / John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish nation, ed. W. F. Skene, trans. F. J. H. Skene, 2 (1872), 224



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Durham Cathedral, chapter library
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