Toil and Trouble

Following the death of King Malcolm II, in 1034, the throne of Alba passed, apparently smoothly, to Duncan (Duncan I), Malcolm’s grandson. According to dates supplied by Marianus Scotus, Malcolm died on the 25th of November, and Duncan – who was the son of Malcolm’s daughter, Bethoc, and Crinan, abbot of Dunkeld – became king on the 30th of November.[*] It may be that Malcolm had paved the way for Duncan’s succession by having a potential rival, the grandson of a certain Boite son of Kenneth, killed in 1033. Boite, however, had a daughter, Gruoch, and she married Macbeth son of Findlaech, who had become mormaer of Moray in 1032.


Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
William Shakespeare Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1
Shakespeare based his ‘Scottish Play’, i.e. Macbeth, seemingly written in 1606, on material he found in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. The first edition of the Chronicles was published in 1577. A revised and extended edition was published in 1587. Although bearing Holinshed’s name, the work represented the collaborative effort of several individuals – indeed, Holinshed himself was dead when the second edition, on which Shakespeare drew for several plays, was produced. The Scottish section of the Chronicles, however, is mainly reliant on the fabulously fanciful Scotorum Historiae of Hector Boece (or Boethius), that had been published in 1527. In short, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a dramatic entertainment, not a documentary!  As they say: ‘Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.’

According to the Orkneyinga Saga (written c.1200, by an anonymous Icelandic author), Sigurd the Stout – the earl of Orkney who died at the battle of Clontarf (near Dublin) in 1014 – had married a daughter (who is not named) of “Malcolm the Scot-king”, conventionally identified as Malcolm II.[*] Earl Thorfinn was their son.[*] In the saga (§22), Malcolm’s successor is called Karl Hundason, which may be a derogatory nickname, meaning ‘Peasant, son of a dog’. Malcolm had given Caithness to Thorfinn (who also shared the rule of the Orkneys with his half-brother, Brusi), but Karl thought Thorfinn should pay tribute for it. Thorfinn, of course, thought otherwise. In the ensuing war, Karl is roundly beaten, and no more is heard of him.


Deerness Peninsula
Duncansby Head
Pentland Firth
Moray Firth
Firth of Forth
The Orkneyinga Saga says (§22) that “King Karl” wanted to: “set up in Caithness that chief whose name was Mumtan or Muddan; he was his sister’s son, and he gave him the title of earl.”
Gathering a force in Sutherland, Muddan rode for Caithness. Thorfinn, however, assembled a greater army – drawn from Caithness, but with reinforcements from the Orkneys. “And as soon as the Scots knew that they had fewer men, they would not fight, and rode up back to Scotland. Then Earl Thorfinn fared after them and laid under him Sutherland and Ross, and harried far and wide over Scotland; thence he turned back to Caithness”.
Thorfinn’s army dispersed. He kept with him, at Duncansby: “five long-ships, and just so much force as was enough to man them well. Muddan came to see King Karl in Berwick, and tells him how his paths had not been smooth. King Karl then got very wrath when he learned that his land was harried; he went then at once on ship-board, and had eleven long-ships and much people; then he held on north along Scotland. Muddan he sent back to Caithness with a great force, and he rode the upper way through Scotland; it was so settled that he should come down thence, and then Thorfinn would be in a cleft stick. Now it must be told of Karl that he never slackened sail before he came to Caithness; and then there was scant space between him and Thorfinn. Then Thorfinn took that counsel to go on ship-board and hold out into the Pentland Firth, and he meant to go to the Orkneys; by that time there was so scant space between them, that Karl and his men saw Thorfinn’s sails as he sailed east across the firth, and they sailed after them at once.”
Thorfinn, unaware of Karl’s proximity, put-in at Deerness overnight. “But next morning when it was light, the first thing they found out was that Karl and his men were rowing up to them with eleven ships. There were then two choices on hand: the one was to jump ashore and leave the ships and all his goods to his foes; the other is to put out to meet them and then let destiny have her sway. Thorfinn called then on his men, and bade them get out their weapons; he said he would not run away, and bade them row against them manfully. And after that each side lashed their ships together. Earl Thorfinn egged on his men much, and bade them be hot, and make the first bout hard.… Now Earl Thorfinn egged on his men hotly; then he ran his ship aboard of Karl’s ship, and there was a very hard fight. Then the Scots held together, just before the mast on the king’s ship, and then Earl Thorfinn leaps out of the poop and forward on the ship, and fought most bravely. And when he saw that men grew thin on board Karl’s ships, he egged on his men to board; and when King Karl saw that, he bade them cut the lashings and hold away. Then Thorfinn and his men cast grappling hooks on board the king’s ship. Then Thorfinn bade them bear up his banner, and he followed it thither himself, and a great company of men with him. Then Karl leapt from his ship with those men that were left upstanding; but the most part had fallen on board that ship. Karl leapt on board another ship, and bade them take to their oars, and then the Scots laid themselves out to fly, but Thorfinn chased them.… Karl held on away south to Broadfirth [the Moray Firth], and went on shore there and gathered force anew. Thorfinn turned back after the battle.”
Thorfinn’s lieutenant, Thorkell Fosterer, arrived from the Orkneys with reinforcements: “then they sailed south to Broadfirth after Karl and his men, and as soon as ever they came off Scotland they began to harry. Then they were told how Muddan was north in Caithness at Thurso, and had there a great host; he had also sent to Ireland after men, for he had there many friends and kinsmen, and there he waited for this force. Then Thorfinn and Thorkell took this counsel, that Thorkell Fosterer should go north along Caithness with some of the host, while Thorfinn lay behind off Scotland and harried there. Thorkell went stealthily; besides all the land-folk was true and trusty to him in Caithness; no news of him went before him until he came into Thurso at dead of night, and took the house over the heads of Muddan and his men and set fire to it. Muddan slept up in a loft, and just as he leapt out and down out of the loft gallery, Thorkell hewed at him, and the blow came on his neck and took off his head. After that the men gave themselves up, but some got away by running. There many men were slain, but there were a very great many to whom peace was given. Thorkell stayed there a short while ere he fared back to Broadfirth; he had then a whole host with him which he had got in Caithness and out of Sutherland and Ross; then he met Earl Thorfinn south of Moray, and tells him what had been done in his travels. The earl thanked him well for his toil; then they both lay there a while and harried the land.”
Karl assembled a great army, including the Irish forces sent for by Muddan: “and the place where he and Thorfinn met was at Turfness, south of Broadfirth. There arose a mighty battle, and the Scots had a far greater host. Earl Thorfinn was at the head of his battle array; he had a gilded helmet on his head, and was girt with a sword; a great spear in his hand, and he fought with it, striking right and left. So it is said that he was the foremost of all his men. He went thither at first where the battle of those Irish was; so hot was he with his train, that they gave way at once before him, and never afterwards got into good order again. Then Karl let them bring forward his banner to meet Thorfinn; there was a hard fight, and the end of it was, that Karl laid himself out to fly, but some men say that he has fallen.… Earl Thorfinn drove the flight before him a long way up into Scotland, and after that he fared about far and wide over the land and laid it under him. He fared then so far south as Fife, and laid the land under him; men went under him wherever he fared. And then while he was staying in Fife he sent away from him Thorkell Fosterer with some of his force. And when the Scots knew that, how the earl had sent away from him some of his host, those very same came against him who had already given themselves up to him; and as soon as ever the earl was ware of their guile, he fetched together his force and fared to meet them; then the Scots were slower in their onslaught when they knew the earl was ready for them. Earl Thorfinn made ready to fight as soon as ever he met the Scots; but then they did not dare to defend themselves, but broke off at once into flight, and fled wide away to woods and wastes. And when Thorfinn had chased the fleers, he got together his men, and says that then he will let them burn all that district in which they then were, and so pay the Scots for their enmity and treachery. Then the earl’s men fared among thorpes and farms, and so burned everything, that not a cot stood after them; they slew too all the fighting-men they found, but women and old men dragged themselves off to woods and wastes with weeping and wailing. Much folk too they made captives of war and put them into bonds, and so drove them before them.… After that Earl Thorfinn fared north along Scotland to his ships, and laid under him the land wherever he went. He fared then north to Caithness, and sate there that winter; but every summer thenceforth he had his levies out, and harried about the West lands, but sat most often still in the winters.”

It is widely supposed that Karl Hundason represents Macbeth, rather than Malcolm II’s immediate successor, Duncan – neither Duncan nor Macbeth otherwise feature in the saga.

In 1039, as recorded by Symeon of Durham (LDE III, 9):

… Duncan, king of the Scots, advanced with a countless multitude of troops, and laid siege to Durham, and made strenuous but ineffective efforts to carry it. For a large proportion of his cavalry was slain by the besieged, and he was put to a disorderly flight, in which he lost all his foot-soldiers, whose heads were collected in the market-place and hung up upon posts. Not long afterwards the same king, upon his return to Scotland, was murdered by his own countrymen.[*]

The Annals of Ulster announce, s.a. 1040:

Duncan [Donnchad] son of Crinan, king of Alba, was killed by his own people.

Marianus Scotus provides more detail:

Duncan, king of Scotland [Scotia], was killed in autumn (on 14th August), by his mormaer, Macbeth son of Findlaech; who succeeded to the kingdom for 17 years.[*]

It seems that Duncan had marched against, a presumably rebellious, Macbeth. The Verse Chronicle, as copied into the Chronicle of Melrose, notes that:

Macbeth son of Findlaech struck him a mortal wound. The king died at Elgin [in Moray].

Duncan’s father, Crinan, abbot of Dunkeld, would appear to have led an unsuccessful rebellion against Macbeth in 1045, since his death that year, in “a battle between the Scots themselves”, is recorded by the Annals of Ulster. By 1050, however, Macbeth had sufficient confidence in the security of his position to make a pilgrimage to Rome, where, according to Marianus Scotus, he “scattered money like seed to the poor”.  The Prophecy of Berchán calls Macbeth "the generous king” (Stanza 193), and proceeds to say (Stanza 194):

The red, tall, golden-haired one, he will be pleasant to me … Alba will be brimful west and east during the reign of the furious red one.

Macbeth was a benefactor of the Culdees of Loch Leven. It is in the record of a land-grant made to them by Macbeth and his wife, referred to as “king and queen of the Scots”, that the name of Macbeth’s wife is found: Gruoch daughter of Boite.

In 1052, King Edward was obliged to expel most of his Norman retainers from England. Florence of Worcester reports that:

Osbern, surnamed Pentecost, and his companion Hugh, surrendered their castles [in Herefordshire], and, by the licence of Earl Leofric passing through his earldom, went into Scotland, and were there kindly received by Macbeth, king of the Scots.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscript D) entry s.a. 1054 states:

In this year Earl Siward [of Northumbria] went with a large army to Scotland, both with a naval force and with a land force, —
— and fought against the Scots, and put to flight the king Macbeth, and slew all that was best there in the land, and led thence great booty, such as no man had before obtained. But his son Osbeorn, and his sister’s son Siward, and some of his housecarls, and also of the king’s [King Edward’s], were there slain, on the day of the Seven Sleepers [i.e. 27th July].

The Annals of Ulster report the battle (s.a. 1054), and put the number of dead at 3,000 on the Scottish side and 1,500 on the English.[*] Florence of Worcester notes that “all the Normans whom we mentioned before”, i.e. Osbern Pentecost and Hugh, were among those killed.

The, so called, Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses (Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham), which has been attributed to Symeon of Durham, has an entry s.a. 1046 that actually seems to refer to 1054:

Earl [Comes] Siward with a great army came to Scotland, and expelled King Macbeth, and appointed another; but after his departure Macbeth recovered the kingdom.

Who did Siward appoint?  Well, Florence of Worcester (s.a. 1054) says:

… as the king [Edward] had directed, [Siward] elevated to the throne Malcolm, son of the king of the Cumbrians.

William of Malmesbury, however, writes (GR II §196) that Siward:

… at his [King Edward’s] command, engaging with Macbeth, king of the Scots, deprived him both of his life and of his kingdom, and placed on the throne Malcolm, son of the king of the Cumbrians.

William of Malmesbury is in error. Macbeth was not killed – in fact, he outlived Siward. Malcolm son of Duncan would eventually kill and supplant Macbeth, but William has evidently assumed that “Malcolm, son of the king of the Cumbrians” is Malcolm son of Duncan, and that it was Siward’s action that placed him on the Scottish throne. Despite William’s apparent misunderstanding of events, historians since his time have generally followed his lead in equating those two Malcolms.

If Malcolm son of Duncan equals “Malcolm, son of the king of the Cumbrians”, then, obviously, it is Duncan who is being referred to as “the king of the Cumbrians”.  Even if, as John of Fordun alleges, Duncan had ruled Cumbria/Strathclyde before succeeding to the throne of Alba, it does not seem credible that a king of Alba who had been dead for fourteen years would be referred to as “the king of the Cumbrians”.  It seems more likely that the Malcolm whom Siward’s campaign was designed to plant on the throne of Alba was a son of the, alive and ruling, king of Strathclyde (of British ancestry), and that his claim to Alba was through his mother.[*] Perhaps persistent Scottish aggression, aimed at territorial expansion, had caused the king of Strathclyde to seek English support in the first place, and continued aggression then persuaded King Edward to attempt the overthrow of Macbeth. At any rate, the unnamed “king of the Cumbrians” is the last recorded ‘king’ of Cumbria/Strathclyde, and it seems reasonable to suppose that the Scots took advantage of the momentous events in England precipitated by Edward’s death, on 5th January 1066, to conquer Strathclyde.

Although Macbeth had been defeated and expelled by Earl Siward in 1054, it was only a temporary setback. Macbeth had seized power in 1040. Lists D, F, G and I convey the following:

Macbeth son of Findlaech reigned for 17 years. And he was killed in Lumphanan [Aberdeenshire], by Malcolm son of Duncan; and was buried in the island of Iona.
Lulach the Simpleton reigned for 4 months. And he was killed in Essie, in Strathbogie [Aberdeenshire]; and was buried in the island of Iona.

According to Marianus Scotus, Macbeth was killed in August 1057 and was succeeded by Lulach, who was killed in the following March (i.e. 1058).[*] Curiously, though, the Annals of Tigernach and the Annals of Ulster place Lulach’s death before that of Macbeth, in the same year, 1058. The Annals of Ulster say that both Macbeth and Lulach were “killed in battle” by Malcolm son of Duncan. The Annals of Tigernach don’t mention how Macbeth was killed by the said Malcolm, but say that Lulach was “treacherously killed” by him.[*] Who was Lulach?  Well, the Annals of Ulster identify him as the son of Gilla Comgain – Gilla Comgain being Macbeth’s predecessor in Moray – and List E says he was: “nepos of the son of Boite”. Reading nepos as ‘nephew’ can make Gruoch daughter of Boite, i.e. Macbeth’s wife, the mother of Lulach.[*] This evidence may seem rather nebulous, but it is generally accepted that Gruoch was first married to Gilla Comgain, by whom she had Lulach – so Lulach was Macbeth’s stepson.

Malcolm son of Duncan (King Malcolm III) is, perhaps, better known as Malcolm Canmore (from Ceann Mór = ‘Big Head’). According to the Orkneyinga Saga, he married Ingibjorg, the widow of Earl Thorfinn – Thorfinn having seemingly died in the early 1060s. This might suggest that Malcolm already had links with the Orkney earldom – perhaps it was from here that he mounted his bid for the throne.


In the Orkneyinga Saga, after Earl Thorfinn had defeated the mysterious Karl Hundason, Earl Brusi, with whom Thorfinn was sharing the rule of the Orkneys, died. For a while Thorfinn ruled the Orkneys alone, but then, in an implied date of about 1037, he began sharing the rule with Brusi’s son, Earl Rognvald. The following year: “Those kinsmen Thorfinn and Rognvald harried that summer over the Southern Isles [i.e. the Hebrides] and Ireland, and far and wide about Scotland’s firths. Thorfinn laid the land under him wherever they fared. In the summer they had a great fight in the place called Waterfirth [Skye]; there was a great loss of men. They took to battle speedily, and those kinsmen won a bright victory.” (§27).
“It fell out one summer that Earl Thorfinn harried in the Southern isles and about the West Coast of Scotland. He lay at the place called Galloway, there Scotland and England meet. He had sent away from him a force south to England to land and seize and slaughter cattle, for there where he lay with his force all the folk had fled away, and all the cattle were driven away from him.” (§28).  Thorfinn’s force was, however, smashed by the English. “At that time”, says the Saga (§29): “Harthacnut reigned over England and Denmark”, i.e. 1040–1042. Having vowed to take his revenge the next summer, Thorfinn returned to the Orkneys for the winter.
“Early in the spring he called out his levies over all his realm; then he sent a message to his kinsman Rognvald, and Rognvald agrees to it. Rognvald had a levy over all his realm. Earl Thorfinn drew together a host from the Orkneys and Caithness; he had also a mighty host from Scotland and Ireland, and from all the Southern isles people flocked to him. He held on with all that host to England just as he had promised them the autumn before. Harthacnut was in Denmark when these tidings happened. But as soon as ever the earls came to England they began to harry and waste; but those chiefs who were set there to watch the land fared against them with force, and there was a great and hard battle, and the earls got the victory. After that they fared far and wide over England, and harried, slew men, and burned the farms wherever they went.… Earl Thorfinn had two pitched battles in England, but on the other hand he gave them many defeats and man-slayings. He lay there almost all the summer through, but at autumn he fared home to the Orkneys, and was there that winter.” (§29).  Harthacnut had ruled in Denmark for some time before he was also accepted as king of England in 1040, but having arrived in England on 17th June of that year, he apparently remained there until his death on 8th June 1042 (see End of the Line). Anyway, a simmering territorial dispute between Thorfinn and Rognvald developed into warfare. The upshot was that, in the implied year of 1046, Rognvald was killed by Thorfinn: “After that Earl Thorfinn laid all the isles under him” (§35).
After the death of King Magnus of Norway in 1047, Thorfinn made a leisurely progress, via Norway, Denmark and Germany, to Rome: “and saw the pope there, and there he took absolution from him for all his misdeeds. The earl turned thence to his journey home, and came back safe and sound into his realm; and that journey was most famous. Then the earl sat down quietly and kept peace over all his realm. Then he left off warfare; then he turned his mind to ruling the people and land, and to law-giving. He sate almost always in Birsay, and let them build there Christchurch, a splendid minster. There first was set up a bishop’s seat in the Orkneys. Earl Thorfinn had to wife Ingibjorg earlsmother; they had two sons, who grew up out of childhood; the name of one was Paul and the other’s Erlend; they were tall men and fair, and took more after their mother’s side. They were men wise and meek. The earl loved them much, and so too did all the people.” (§37).  Adam of Bremen says (III, 23) that: “Bremen was, like Rome, known far and wide and was devoutly sought from all parts of the world, especially by all the peoples of the north. Among those who came the longest distances were the Icelanders, the Greenlanders, and legates of the Orkney Islanders. They begged that he [Adalbert, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen 1043–1072] send preachers thither, which he also did.”  It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose that the “legates of the Orkney Islanders” were Thorfinn and his party.
Returning to the Orkneyinga Saga: “Earl Thorfinn held all his realms till his death day; it is soothly said that he has been the most powerful of all the Orkney earls. He owned 9 earldoms in Scotland, and all the Southern isles, and he had a great realm in Ireland.… Earl Thorfinn was then five winters old when Malcolm the Scot-king, his mother’s father, gave him the title of earl; but afterwards he was 60 winters earl. He breathed his last about the end of King Harald Sigurdsson’s days. He is buried at Christchurch in Birsay, which he let be built. The earl’s death was a great grief in the Orkneys and in his lands of heritage. But in those lands which he had laid under him with war, then many thought it great thraldom to abide under his power. Then many realms fell away which the earl had laid under him, and men looked for trust under those chiefs who were there home-born to rule in those realms. So losses were very soon plainly seen when Earl Thorfinn fell away.” (§38).  Thorfinn is purported to have been made an earl in 1014, by which token, if he lived a further 60 (lx) years, he died in 1074. This is, however, inconsistent with his having died no great time before Harald Sigurdsson, king of Norway – Harald Sigurdsson, perhaps better known as Harald Hardrada, was killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.
“Now the sons of Earl Thorfinn took the realm after him. Paul was the elder of them, and he took the lead over them. They did not share the lands between them, and yet were a very long time well agreed in their dealings. Ingibjorg earlsmother gave herself away, after the death of Earl Thorfinn, to Malcolm the Scot-king, who was called long-neck; their son was Duncan the Scot-king [Duncan II, r.1094]” (§39).  Malcolm and Ingibjorg would seem to have had another son, Donald, whose death in 1085 is recorded by the Annals of Ulster – and possibly a third, the Malcolm who appears as witness to the only charter of Duncan II.

Following Siward’s death in 1055, Tostig Godwinesson had become earl of Northumbria. The following passage is from an early ‘Life’ of King Edward (I, 6):

The Scottish king, too, was first defeated with the destruction of almost all his men by Earl Siward and forced to take shameful flight. Then, when Earl Tostig ruled the earldom, the Scots, since they had not yet tested him and consequently held him more cheaply, harassed him often with raids rather than war. But this irresolute and fickle race of men, better in woods than on the plain, and trusting more to flight than to manly boldness in battle, Tostig, sparing his own men, wore down as much by cunning schemes as by martial courage and military campaigns. And as a result they and their king preferred to serve him and King Edward than to continue fighting, and, moreover, to confirm the peace by giving hostages.

Clearly, the “Scottish king” first mentioned above is Macbeth, but it would appear that Malcolm is the Scots’ king (“their king”) who was persuaded, “by cunning schemes”, to come to terms with Tostig and Edward.

In 1059, recorded by Symeon of Durham in the Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses, Tostig, in company with the archbishop of York and the bishop of Durham: “conducted King Malcolm to King Edward”.  Geffrei Gaimar says (Lines 5095–5097) that Edward gave Malcolm presents and greatly honoured him: “Peace and truce they took between them.”[*]  Despite this, in 1061 Malcolm felt no compunction in taking advantage of Tostig’s absence on pilgrimage to Rome:

… Malcolm, king of Scots, furiously ravaged the earldom of his sworn brother Earl Tostig, and violated the peace of St Cuthbert in the island of Lindisfarne.
Symeon of Durham HR s.a. 1061

Nevertheless, when Tostig returned: “Peace was made with Malcolm” (Gaimar, Line 5117), and in 1066 King Malcolm provided a safe haven from which his “sworn brother”, the now outlawed Earl Tostig, launched an invasion of England in alliance with King Harald Hardrada of Norway: The Thunderbolt of the North.

After 1066 Malcolm’s history becomes inextricably interwoven with that of the Norman conquerors of England.

Marianus Scotus believed the conventionally accepted date of the Incarnation to be twenty-two years too late, so Malcolm’s death, on 25th November 1034, is placed s.a. 1056 by Marianus. The date of Duncan’s accession, 30th November (“the mass of St Andrew”), appears in a marginal addition (manuscript in Codex Palatino-Vaticanus, No.830) s.a. 1079 (=1057).
This Kenneth could be either Kenneth II, by which token Boite would have been Malcolm’s brother, or Kenneth III, whom Malcolm had killed to secure the throne for himself in 1005.
The title ‘mormaer’ is the Scottish equivalent of the Scandinavian ‘earl’ (Old Norse jarl) and the English ‘ealdorman’ – though during the reign of Cnut, a Dane, in England (1016–1035), the title ‘earl’ (Old English eorl) starts to replace ‘ealdorman’. However, Macbeth’s father, Findlaech, and his two immediate successors (both sons of Findlaech’s brother, Mael Brigte), enjoy a mix of the titles “mormaer of Moray” and “king of Alba” in Irish annals. Plainly, these individuals weren’t kings of Alba as such, but appear to have been considered to be kings in Moray. Macbeth himself seems to be accorded the title ‘king’ by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (see Malcolm II).
Orkneyinga Saga §22: “Earl Thorfinn made himself a great chief; he was the tallest and strongest of men, ugly, black-haired, sharp-featured, and big-nosed, and with somewhat scowling brows. He was a mighty man of strife, and greedy both of money and honour; he was lucky in battle, and skilful in war, and good in onslaught; he was then five winters old when Malcolm the Scot-king, his mother’s father, gave him the title of earl and Caithness as his lordship, as was written above [in §14]; but he was 14 winters when he had war levies out of his land, and harried on the realms of other chiefs.”
In §14, Malcolm is said to have made five-year-old Thorfinn an earl at the time his father, Sigurd, was killed (i.e. in 1014). It is also said in §14 that Malcolm gave Thorfinn Sutherland as well as Caithness, but in §22 (above) Sutherland has been dropped.
Some scholars* have argued that Malcolm son of Mael Brigte – who seized power in Moray in 1020, and died in 1029 (at which time he is titled “king of Alba” by the Annals of Tigernach) – is a more likely candidate than Malcolm II for “Malcolm the Scot-king”. A fundamental problem with this identification, however, is that Sigurd the Stout must have married the daughter of “Malcolm the Scot-king” by 1008 at the latest, but Malcolm son of Mael Brigte did not seize power in Moray until a dozen years after that.
* For instance, Timothy Bolton The Empire of Cnut the Great (2009), Chapter 5.
Beruvík. North Berwick seems a more likely identification than Berwick upon Tweed, which was on the borders of Alba and Northumbria.
This quote appears in a digression on the earls of Northumbria s.a. 1072. (Symeon does not use the vernacular title ‘earl’, but the Latin comes, from which the English word ‘count’ is derived.) Eadwulf’s attack on the Britons is dated to “the third year” before he was killed, which occurred in 1041.
The formula Symeon uses to date the siege is: Cnut died in 1035; the siege occurred in the 5th year of the reign of his son, Harold, which was also the 20th year of Bishop Edmund at Durham. Symeon later mentions that Edmund died during his 23rd year in the bishopric. In the Historia Regum, Edmund’s elevation to the bishopric is placed in 1020, and his death in 1042.
The highlighted date (19th of the Kalends of September = 14th August) is a marginal addition (manuscript in Codex Palatino-Vaticanus, No.830). According to Marianus’ dating system, the year 1040 is 1062.
Marianus does not use the vernacular title ‘mormaer’, but the Latin dux, from which the English word ‘duke’ is derived. The terms dux and comes are commonly used by Latin-writers as a substitute for the various vernacular titles given to the rank below king.
Macbeth is the generally used, Anglicized, form of the name. In Marianus’ chronicle, the proper Gaelic form, Macbethad (‘Son of life’), is used.
Surviving in the Register of the Priory of St Andrews (British Library, Harleian MS 4628, 18th century).
A.A.M. Duncan (Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom, 1975, Chapter 5): “In the ninth century a movement towards reform, a stricter observance by clergy of celibacy, of a sabbatarian Sunday, and canonical hours, spread from Ireland to Scotland. These ‘vassals of God’, céli De, whence Culdees, were established at Brechin, Abernethy, Loch Leven, Monifieth, Monymusk, Muthill and St Andrews, and indeed the only other monastic communities in Scotia are so shadowy that few are known to have existed.”
In about 1150, the house of the Culdees of Loch Leven was taken over by the (by then) Canons Regular of St Andrews.
Canons Regular: priests who live in a community according to the Rule of St Augustine.
Leofric was earl (Florence uses the Latin comes) of Mercia.
Duncan had two sons who became kings of Alba: Malcolm III and Donald III. In the Orkneyinga Saga (§66), Mael Muire – the father of Matad, who was earl of Atholl during the reign of Malcolm III’s son, David I (1124–1153) – is said to be the brother of Malcolm III.
John of Fordun confuses the name of Macbeth’s father (Findlaech) with the name of the lady said to be responsible for the death of Kenneth II (Finele). Therefore, he writes (IV, 44) that Duncan was: “murdered through the wickedness of a family, the murderers of both his grandfather [Malcolm II] and great-grandfather [Kenneth II], the head of which was Machabeus [as John calls Macbeth] son of Finele”.
John, writing in Latin, titles Siward comes, not the vernacular ‘earl’.
Housecarls were the household troops of the king or an earl.
The Annals of Ulster name a single individual who was killed in the battle: one Dolfinn son of Finntor (a Scandinavian name), otherwise unknown, who was seemingly on the English side: “A battle between the men of Alba and the Saxons in which fell three thousand of the men of Alba and one thousand and a half of the Saxons, including Dolfinn son of Finntor.”  W.F. Skene, however, in Chapter 8 of his Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban Vol. 1 (1876), reckons that Finntor is actually Thorfinn, and that his son was killed fighting in support of Macbeth.
Earl Waltheof, Siward’s son, whose execution in 1076 came to be regarded as a martyrdom.
Alex Woolf, in From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (2007), Chapter 6, suggests the “most likely scenario” is that Malcolm’s mother was, like Duncan’s mother, a daughter of Malcolm II: “Possibly his father was that Owain the Bald [king of Strathclyde] who had fought at Carham in 1018, or his immediate successor.”
The Annals of Tigernach also refer to Duncan as “overking of Alba” (airdrí Alban), rather than simply “king of Alba” (rí Alban) as in the Annals of Ulster.
This material appears as marginal additions (manuscript in Codex Palatino-Vaticanus, No.830), s.a. 1057 (1079 according to Marianus’ dating system).
In fact, having said that Macbeth was killed in August, and that he was succeeded by Lulach who was killed in March, Marianus then says that Lulach reigned “from the Nativity of St Mary to the mass of St Patrick, in the month of March.”  The latter date presents no problem: 17th March (1058). The former, the Nativity of St Mary, however, is a little problematic in that it should really be 8th September (1057), but it appears that the intended date is 15th August, i.e. the Assumption of St Mary.
In fact, presumably as the result of a scribal slip-up, the Annals of Ulster have Mael Sechlainn mac Donnchad as the agent of Macbeth’s death instead of Mael Coluim mac Donnchad (Malcolm son of Duncan).
Also, whilst the Annals of Ulster style both Macbeth and Lulach “overking of Alba”, the Annals of Tigernach style Macbeth “overking of Alba” (airdrí Alban), but Lulach simply “king of Alba” (rí Alban).
Nepos can also mean grandson. If Macbeth, Gilla Comgain, Gruoch and her mysterious brother, “the son of Boite”, are all the same generation, then it seems less likely that a son of Gilla Comgain would be a grandson, rather than a nephew, of Gruoch’s brother.
Latin: comites (plural of comes).
This is often interpreted as meaning ‘Great Chief’. However, since many appellations of this type refer to a physical aspect (Malcolm’s own brother, for instance, Donald Bàn – meaning ‘Fair’), ‘Big Head’ is possibly an intentional double entendre. In the Orkneyinga Saga (§39), he is referred to as: “Malcolm the Scot-king, who was called Long-neck”.
Orderic Vitalis (Book VIII: iii, 395) believed that Edward gave his great-niece, Margaret, in marriage to Malcolm, with Lothian as her dowry. Malcolm did, in fact, marry Margaret, but not until c.1070, after Edward’s death – and presumably after the death of Malcolm’s first wife, Ingibjorg. Lothian (the land between the rivers Tweed and Forth) would seem to have been in Scottish hands for many years before Malcolm’s time. King Edgar is said to have gifted it to Kenneth II c.973, and even then Edgar’s gift appears to have been a gesture acknowledging a fait accompli.
In 1034, the death of, an otherwise unknown, Suibne son of Kenneth, titled “king of the Gall-Gaedhil”, is recorded by Irish annals. (Gall-Gaedhil = ‘Foreign-Gaels’. For ‘Foreign’ read ‘Scandinavian’, for ‘Gaels’ read ‘Gaelic-speakers’.) The name Galloway is generally believed to be derived from Gall-Gaedhil, and the Annals of Ulster accord the lord of Galloway who died in 1200 the title “king of the Gall-Gaedhil”, so it is traditionally supposed that Suibne’s kingdom should be placed in, what is now, south-western Scotland.
In fact, the term Gall-Gaedhil had featured in Irish annals almost two centuries before Suibne’s obit – it was applied to a group of warriors who made a fleeting appearance, fighting in Ireland, in the late-850s.
Daphne Brook (‘Gall-Gaidhil and Galloway’, in Galloway: Land and Lordship, 1991) writes: “Analysis of the medieval forms of the place-name Galloway prompts the question whether the term Gall-Gaidhil was the derivation of Galloway at all or a Gaelic adaptation current mainly in Ireland, of a very old topographical name.  The more advances are made in Galloway studies the plainer it becomes that the Gall-Gaidhil hypothesis fits neither the documentary evidence nor that supplied by place-name study and archaeology. The question … therefore, is whether the settlement and rule of Galloway by incomers known as the Gall-Gaidhil in the ninth, tenth or eleventh century, is any longer tenable as a working hypothesis?
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
The Irish monk and hermit Mael Brigte, known as Marianus Scotus, according to his own testimony, was born in 1028 and left Ireland in 1056. He lived on the Continent until his death in 1082/3, at Mainz. He compiled a chronicle, encompassing the whole known world, from the Creation to the end of his own days.
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
Historia Regum (History of the Kings).
Most king-lists pertaining to Scotland are referred to by a letter of the alphabet, from A to N (no letter J). List D is the earliest of a group of Latin lists (the others being F, G and I) that, from the unification of the kingdoms of the Picts and the Scots by Kenneth MacAlpin, include brief notes concerning the manner of the kings’ deaths.
List D was, its prologue indicates, composed around 1180 (though it stops at 1058), but it survives in a manuscript of c.1500 (National Library of Scotland MS Advocates’ 34.7.3).
The, so-called, Chronicle of Huntingdon was produced in 1291, by the canons of St Mary’s, Huntingdon, in response to a demand made by Edward I of England, for historical information about the relations between English and Scottish kings. The original manuscript is in The National Archives, Kew (E 39/100/170), but is not completely legible.
The main manuscript of the Prophecy of Berchán (Royal Irish Academy MS 23 G 4) was copied in 1722 from a copy that had been produced in 1627. As a rule, the kings featured in the poem are not actually named, but in most instances there are sufficient clues to identify who is being written about.
John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation) is the earliest full-scale history of Scotland – from legendary origins to the year 1153 in five books. John would appear to have composed his chronicle in the mid-1380s – in the concluding passages of Book V, there is reproduced a genealogy of King David I (r.1124–1153) that the writer says he got from Walter Wardlow, bishop of Glasgow, to whom he gives the title Lord Cardinal of Scotland, which would only be appropriate for the period 1384–1387.
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his Estoire des Engleis (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the Estoire des Engleis is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his Historia Anglorum (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England).
In about 1650, Irish scholar/scribe Dubhaltach Mac Fir Bhisigh included the Duan Albanach (Scottish Poem) – which was evidently composed during the reign of Malcolm III (1058–1093) – in his Leabhar Genealach (Book of Genealogies). This is the earliest surviving, and best, copy of the Duan Albanach.
List E is the king-list that follows the Scottish Chronicle in the Poppleton Manuscript.
The Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) was written between 1072 and 1076, though Adam continued to revise it until his death c.1081.
The Vita Ædwardi Regis qui apud Westmonasterium requiescit (Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster) was commissioned by Queen Edith, King Edward’s wife (and, incidentally, sister of Earl Tostig), and the indications are that it was written between 1065 and 1067. The anonymous author was probably a monk from the monastery of Saint-Bertin, at Saint-Omer (Flanders), working in England. The sole surviving manuscript (BL Harley 526), of c.1100, is incomplete – it would appear that eight pages are missing.