Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edgar (1072-1107)

EDGAR (1072–1107), king of Scotland, eldest surviving son of Malcolm Canmore and Margaret, sister of Edgar Atheling, named after his Saxon uncle, was the first king who united Scottish and Saxon blood. Canmore was slain by an ambush near Alnwick on 13 Nov. 1093, when engaged in a raid on northern England; his eldest son, Edward, fell at the same time or a day or two after. Edgar brought the fatal news to his mother, then in the castle of Edinburgh. Already enfeebled with illness she saw it in his face before he spoke, and adjured him to tell the truth. When told that both her husband and first-born were slain, ‘she prayed to Christ, who through the Father's will made the world live by his death, to deliver her from sin,’ and, according to the pathetic narrative of Turgot (or Theodoric), died while saying the words ‘Deliver me.’ Donald Bane, the half-brother of Malcolm, of pure Celtic blood, at once claimed the vacant crown. The body of Margaret had to be conveyed under cover of a mist by Edgar from the castle to Dunfermline, as the Celtic race rose in favour of Donald. Edgar and his younger brothers Alexander and David were forced to take refuge with their uncle Edgar Atheling, who conveyed them secretly to some part of England. Their sisters, Mary, afterwards wife of Eustace of Boulogne, and Eadgytha, afterwards Maud, wife of Henry I, were already at the abbey of Ramsey, where their aunt Christina was a nun. Perhaps this was the place of their refuge. Another competitor for the crown now appeared at the English court, probably at the assembly held in Gloucester at Christmas 1094. This was Duncan, an elder son of Malcolm, by Ingebiorg, widow of Thorfinn, earl of Orkney. Having done homage to Rufus, he received the aid of English and Norman volunteers, and marching to Scotland defeated Donald Bane in May 1094. Duncan's success was brief. Edmund, styled ‘the only degenerate son of Malcolm,’ sided with Donald Bane, and at their instigation Malpedi, the Mormaer of the Mearns, slew Duncan by treachery, and Donald Bane again reigned for three years. Rufus now gave his aid to Edgar Atheling and his nephew Edgar, who marching to Scotland by Durham, where their banner was taken from the abbey at the bidding of a vision of St. Cuthbert to the younger Edgar, met and overthrew Donald in Scotland. Donald was blinded and kept a prisoner. His ally Edmund became a monk of Montacute, near Mont St. Michel. In gratitude for his victory Edgar dedicated Coldingham to St. Cuthbert and the monks of Durham, and a little later granted Berwick to the new bishop, Ranulf Flambard, but indignantly rescinded the gift on the bishop taking prisoner Robert Godwin's son, who had helped in the defeat of Donald and received lands in Lothian in return for his service.

About this time, profiting by the disputed succession in Scotland, perhaps invited by Donald Bane, Magnus, the Norwegian king Olaf's son, called Barefoot from his adoption of the dress of the highlands and isles, made a second expedition against the Orkneys, Hebrides, and as far south as Man and Anglesey, from which he was driven back by the Earls of Chester and Shrewsbury, though the latter was killed. In Scotland he fared better, and in the winter of 1098 made a treaty with Edgar which secured to Magnus all the western islands round which he could steer a helm-carrying vessel. The isthmus of Cantyre, across which he dragged one, fell within the literal terms of the treaty, and along with the Hebrides remained under Norse suzerainty till shortly before the battle of Largs. This treaty, whatever its terms, and the marriage of Henry I of England to his sister Maud on 11 Nov. 1110, gave Edgar the peace which suited his character and the needs of his people, who must have suffered from Malcolm's constant wars. Magnus was slain in Ulster in 1104, and the chiefs of the isles for a few years threw off the Norse yoke, but it was again imposed on them by Olaf Godredson in 1113. Edgar, like his mother and brothers, was a friend of the church. Charters in the Saxon form came into use in his reign. Four genuine as well as one probably spurious are preserved among the records of Durham. His gift of a camel to the Irish king Murcertach indicates a liberal disposition as well as his good relations with neighbouring kings. He is described by a contemporary, Ailred of Rievaux, as ‘a sweet-tempered and amiable man, like his kinsman Edward the Confessor in all respects, who exercised no tyranny or avarice towards his people, but ruling them with the greatest charity and benevolence.’ His reign is generally described as eventless from its pacific character. His chief residences were Dunfermline, where he was buried, and the castle of Edinburgh, where he, or one of his brothers perhaps, erected the small chapel still extant in memory of his mother. He died on 8 Jan. 1107 at Dundee unmarried, and by his will left Cumbria, which he held by some anomalous tenure under the king of England, to his younger brother David. Alexander I succeeded to the crown of Scotland and also held Lothian. His only remaining brother, Ethelred, was abbot of Dunkeld and Earl of Fife.

[The Scottish chroniclers Fordun and Wyntoun, and the English Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, Symeon of Durham, Florence of Worcester, and William of Malmesbury, Magnus Barefoot's Saga, and the Chronicle of Man are the old authorities; see also Lappenberg's History of the Anglo-Saxons; Pearson's History of England; Freeman's Norman Conquest; Skene's Celtic Scotland, i.; Robertson's Scotland under her Early Kings.]

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