Alexander I of Scotland was born around 1078 to King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret. The couple’s fifth son, Alexander, was named in honor of Pope Alexander II. Four years before his birth, Alexander’s older half-brother, Duncan, was sent to England as a hostage for William I in 1074. Scotland and England had a poor relationship at the time, partly due to Alexander’s father. Malcolm had continually angered William by refusing to hand over his brother-in-law, Edgar Aetheling, marrying Edgar’s sister Margaret, and raiding English towns. Fed up with the Scottish king, William invaded Scotland in 1072.
Fearing William I’s wrath, Malcolm III quickly sued for peace. The resulting Treaty of Abernethy sent Alexander’s elder half-brother, Duncan, to England to ensure Malcolm’s obedience. Over the next several years, the Scottish royal family grew after the birth of additional princes. These births lessened Duncan’s importance in his father’s eyes. Since he now had multiple sons, Malcolm designated Alexander’s eldest brother, Edward, as his new heir. The Scottish king resumed raiding northern England after William I’s death in 1087.
In 1094, Malcolm III’s luck ran out. Fed up with the king’s constant attacks, English troops ambushed Malcolm and his men as they made their way home after a storm. Slowed by mud, the surprised Scots were forced to fight for their lives. Although Malcolm and Prince Edward tried to fight off their attackers, both men succumbed to their wounds. Alexander’s elder brother, Edgar, had the unfortunate task of informing their mother of the two men’s fates. Four days later, Queen Margaret passed away.
Donald III of Scotland
Upon Malcolm III’s death, Gaelic tradition held that the king’s brother, rather than his son, would inherit the throne. Hoping to discontinue this tradition, Malcolm had made it known that he wanted his son, Edward, to succeed him, not Donald. However, Donald strongly disagreed with his brother’s decision. With the support of anti-English Scots, Donald took the throne and began expelling any English and royal relatives from Scotland. Although Edgar went to England, Alexander’s whereabouts are unknown during this time.
During Duncan’s time as a hostage in England, the royal family treated him well. William I had ensured that the Scottish prince received an English education and training as a knight. While serving in the army in 1087, William died, allowing Duncan an opportunity to escape custody. Instead, the prince pledged his loyalty to the new king, William II, and chose to continue serving. Seeing an opportunity to overthrow the anti-English Donald III, William encouraged Duncan to overthrow his uncle. After marrying the daughter of an ally, a determined Duncan returned to Scotland in 1094 with an English army.
Gaining the support of Scots who had been alienated by Donald III, Duncan and his men overcame the king, forcing Donald to flee. With his uncle gone, the newly crowned Duncan II took the throne. Despite his success, the new king’s reign would be short-lived. Seven months after becoming king, Donald returned to Scotland with another army. Once again, Duncan faced his uncle on the battlefield on November 12, 1094. However, one of Donald’s men killed the king, allowing Donald to reclaim the Scottish throne.
Edgar of Scotland
Although William II had lost an ally, the king replaced Duncan with his younger half-brother Edgar. Once again, the English king convinced a Scottish prince to rebel against his uncle. In 1097, Edgar invaded Scotland with the support of his younger brothers, Alexander and David. Similarly to his brother, Edgar’s invasion proved successful, and his uncle was overthrown. This time, Donald was captured and imprisoned for the remaining two years of his life. Upon his death in 1099, Edgar’s throne would be secured.
Edgar of Scotland’s peaceful reign brought much-needed stability to Scotland. The king’s most notable accomplishment occurred in 1098. A border dispute between Scotland and Norwegian-controlled western lands had threatened to become violent. Before it could escalate, Edgar concluded a treaty with Magnus III of Norway, defining a border between their territory. With war averted, Edgar spent the remainder of his reign supporting religious causes before his death on January 8, 1107.
King of Scotland
Edgar had spent his reign as a bachelor and had no known children. Before his death, the king had chosen Alexander as his successor. When the newly crowned Alexander I of Scotland took the throne, he almost immediately came into conflict with his brother, David. Edgar had allegedly promised David that he would inherit most of southern Scotland after his death. Although an English vassal like his brothers, Alexander feared losing so much of his kingdom.
After refusing to honor Edgar’s promise, David threatened Alexander I with an English invasion. Not wanting to upset his father-in-law, Henry I, the king backed down. Although the relationship between Alexander and Henry was tense, Alexander’s loyalty to the king did not waver. As a show of good faith, the Scottish king participated in an English military campaign in 1114. To strengthen the two kingdom’s bond, Alexander married one of Henry’s many illegitimate daughters, Sibylla. However, the marriage would be unhappy and produced no children.
Although Alexander I attempted to remain in Henry I’s favor, the Scottish king wasn’t blindly obedient. A religious man, Alexander refused to allow Scotland’s clergy to submit to England’s archbishop. The king took the matter further by appealing to the pope for support. Despite the king’s efforts to assert some independence, Alexander ultimately remained Henry’s vassel throughout his reign. On April 23, 1124, Alexander died, leaving behind an illegitimate son, Malcolm. In turn, David succeeded his brother.
Like his brothers, Alexander I came to the Scottish throne as an English vassal. Despite his attempts to gain independence, Alexander remained under Henry I’s control. To make matters worse, the king’s tense relationship with his brother threatened the stability of Scotland. Although his authority was limited, Alexander exercised some influence during his reign. Despite England’s superiority, the king refused to allow his clergy to submit to the English archbishop.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Alexander I. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-I-king-of-Scotland