Malcolm III (c. March 26, 1031 – November 13, 1093) was King of Scots from 1058 to 1093. He was later nicknamed “Canmore” (“ceann mòr”, Gaelic for “Great Chief”). Malcolm’s long reign of 35 years preceded the beginning of the Scoto-Norman age. Henry I of England and Eustace III of Boulogne were his sons-in-law, making him the maternal grandfather of Empress Matilda, William Adelin and Matilda of Boulogne. All three of them were prominent in English politics during the 12th century.
Malcolm’s kingdom did not extend over the full territory of modern Scotland: the north and west of Scotland remained under Scandinavian rule following the Norse invasions. Malcolm III fought a series of wars against the Kingdom of England, which may have had as its objective the conquest of the English earldom of Northumbria. These wars did not result in any significant advances southward. Malcolm’s primary achievement was to continue a lineage that ruled Scotland for many years, although his role as founder of a dynasty has more to do with the propaganda of his youngest son David I and his descendants than with history.
Malcolm’s father Duncan I became king in late 1034, on the death of Malcolm II, Duncan’s maternal grandfather and Malcolm’s great-grandfather. According to John of Fordun, whose account is the original source of part of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Malcolm’s mother was a niece of Siward, Earl of Northumbria, but an earlier king-list gives her the Gaelic name Suthen.
Other sources claim that either a daughter or niece would have been too young to fit the timeline, thus the likely relative would have been Siward’s own sister Sybil, which may have translated into Gaelic as Sutherland.
Duncan’s reign was not successful and he was killed in battle with the men of Moray, led by Macbeth, on August 15, 1040. Duncan was young at the time of his death, and Malcolm and his brother Donalbane were children. Malcolm’s family attempted to overthrow Macbeth in 1045, but Malcolm’s grandfather Crínán of Dunkeld was killed in the attempt.Soon after the death of Duncan his two young sons were sent away for greater safety—exactly where is the subject of debate. According to one version, Malcolm (then aged about nine) was sent to England, and his younger brother Donalbane was sent to the Isles.
Based on Fordun’s account, it was assumed that Malcolm passed most of Macbeth’s seventeen-year reign in the Kingdom of England at the court of Edward the Confessor. Today’s British royal family can trace their family history back to Malcolm III via his daughter Matilda as well as his son David I, an ancestor of Robert the Bruce and thus also the Stewart/Stuart kings.According to an alternative version, Malcolm’s mother took both sons into exile at the court of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, Earl of Orkney, an enemy of Macbeth’s family, and perhaps Duncan’s kinsman by marriage.
An English invasion in 1054, with Siward, Earl of Northumbria in command, had as its goal the installation of one “Máel Coluim, son of the king of the Cumbrians”. This Máel Coluim has traditionally been identified with the later Malcolm III.
This interpretation derives from the Chronicle attributed to the 14th-century chronicler of Scotland, John of Fordun, as well as from earlier sources such as William of Malmesbury. The latter reported that Macbeth was killed in the battle by Siward, but it is known that Macbeth outlived Siward by two years. A. A. M. Duncan argued in 2002 that, using the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry as their source, later writers innocently misidentified “Máel Coluim” with the later Scottish king of the same name.
Duncan’s argument has been supported by several subsequent historians specialising in the era, such as Richard Oram, Dauvit Broun and Alex Woolf. It has also been suggested that Máel Coluim may have been a son of Owain Foel, British king of Strathclyde perhaps by a daughter of Malcolm II, King of Scotland.
In 1057 various chroniclers report the death of Macbeth at Malcolm’s hand, on 15 August 1057 at Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire. Macbeth was succeeded by his stepson Lulach, who was crowned at Scone, probably on 8 September 1057. Lulach was killed by Malcolm, “by treachery”, near Huntly on April 23, 1058. After this, Malcolm became king, perhaps being inaugurated on April 24, 1058, although only John of Fordun reports this.