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Duncan I [Donnchad ua Maíl Choluim]locked

(d. 1040)
  • Dauvit Broun

Duncan I [Donnchad ua Maíl Choluim] (d. 1040), king of Scots, was the son of Crinán, abbot of Dunkeld (d. 1045), and Bethóc, daughter of Malcolm II (d. 1034). The belief that he had a brother, Maldred, who married a daughter of Earl Uhtred of Northumbria (d. 1016), is erroneous. Duncan married an unnamed cousin of Siward, earl of Northumbria, and had three sons: Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore) (d. 1093), king of Scots from 1058 to 1093; Donald III (Donalbane) (b. in or before 1040, d. 1099?), king of Scots in 1093–4 and 1094–7; and Mael Muire, ancestor of the earls of Atholl.

It is often argued that Duncan I was favoured by Malcolm II, as his heir to the Scottish throne. The exiguous evidence can be interpreted differently, but a sign of Malcolm's support for Duncan may have been Duncan's installation as king of Strathclyde (‘king of the Cumbrians’) some time after King Owain's death, perhaps in 1018. Probably this did not occur until nearer the end of Malcolm's reign, for it is unlikely that Duncan reached adulthood much before c.1030: a (probably) contemporary source describes him as being 'at an immature age' (Anderson, Early Sources, 1.581) when he was killed in 1040. It may be noted, moreover, that Duncan does not appear among the northern kings who submitted to Cnut in 1031–2. It is not impossible, indeed, that Duncan actually made himself ‘king of Strathclyde’ following his successful claim to the Scottish kingship on Malcolm II's death in 1034. The fact that Duncan was ever king of Strathclyde rests chiefly on the description of his son, Malcolm, as 'son of the king of the Cumbrians' (Anderson, Scottish Annals, 85 n. 4) by a northern English source reporting Malcolm's Northumbrian-backed invasion of Scotland in 1054. He is the last known ‘king of the Cumbrians’ (though his grandson, David I, was 'prince of the Cumbrians' (Lawrie, no. 50) for a decade or more before 1124).

Malcolm II died on 25 November 1034, the last member of the male lineage descended from Kenneth I to hold the kingship. He was not, however, the last male member of the dynasty: the Clann Duib, descendants of King Dubh (d. 966) continued unbroken in the male line until the mid-fourteenth century. Perhaps no adult male descendant of Kenneth I was active in 1034. Perhaps Duncan was simply an out-and-out opportunist. Certainly the succession of someone whose claim had descended primarily through his mother is highly unusual in this period. Be this as it may, within days of Malcolm's death, Duncan I was formally inaugurated as king on 30 November.

Duncan's first recorded venture out of his kingdoms was provoked by the devastation of Strathclyde by Earl Eadulf of Northumbria in 1038—possibly extending his control over Cumberland and other areas. Duncan I's response was to launch an invasion of northern England the following year. He laid siege to Durham, but suffered a comprehensive defeat at the hands of the besieged. As a result Strathclyde may have been left open to Northumbrian penetration, as well as to invasion from the Gall Gaedhil, suffering a mortal blow to its integrity. Duncan, however, was also preoccupied with problems in the north, which saw him campaigning in 1040 against the ruler of Moray, Macbeth (d. 1057), who had married the daughter of Boite mac Cinaeda (probably brother of Malcolm II). Duncan's efforts ended in failure and death: he was killed by Macbeth in battle at Both Gobhanán (probably Pitgaveny, near Elgin, in Moray) on 14 August 1040. He was perhaps only in his mid-twenties; certainly not the old man depicted in Shakespeare's Macbeth. A late and debatable source claims that he was buried on Iona.


  • A. O. Anderson, ed. and trans., Early sources of Scottish history, ad 500 to 1286, 1 (1922), 571–82
  • A. O. Anderson, ed., Scottish annals from English chroniclers, ad 500 to 1286 (1908), 83–5
  • A. A. M. Duncan, Scotland: the making of the kingdom (1975), vol. 1 of The Edinburgh history of Scotland, ed. G. Donaldson (1965–75), 99
  • G. W. S. Barrow, ‘Some problems in 12th and 13th century Scottish history: a genealogical approach’, Scottish Genealogist, 25 (1978), 97–112
  • M. O. Anderson, Kings and kingship in early Scotland, rev. edn (1980), 265–89
  • A. C. Lawrie, ed., Early Scottish charters prior to ad 1153 (1905), no. 50