David I of Scotland was born around 1082 to King Malcolm III of Scotland and Queen Margaret. In 1093, he and his older siblings fled to England after their parent’s deaths. The young prince’s fortunes began to change after his sister, Edith, married King Henry I of England. The English king became fond of David and gave him many opportunities to advance at court. As a result, the exiled prince’s stature rose rapidly under Henry’s care.
In 1107, David’s older brother, King Edgar, died without an heir. Due to this, his younger brother, Alexander, became king. While Edgar reigned, he had given David the large Scottish territory of Cumbria. Alarmed by his brother’s power, Alexander I demanded that David return his land to the crown in 1113. Threatened by Henry I, Alexander reluctantly backed down.
In England, King Henry I continued to provide for David. To further increase the prince’s standing, Henry arranged his marriage to Matilda de Senlis. Although a widowed noblewoman with children, Matilda brought many benefits to the marriage. She descended from William the Conqueror, controlled vast southern estates, and had many resources at her disposal. Henry also helped the Scottish prince became a part of England’s high society. After being made the earl of Huntingdon, a grateful David named his only son after the king in 1115.
King of Scotland
In April 1124, Alexander I died without a legitimate heir. Because of this, the earl of Huntingdon became King David I. Since the new king had been raised in England, many people in Scotland viewed him as a foreigner. In response, a rebellion broke out in 1125. Rallying behind Alexander’s illegitimate son, Malcolm, Gaelic supporters sought to usurp David. To increase his support, Malcolm married the sister of his ally, Somerled, Lord Argyll.
In 1130, Malcolm posed a serious threat to David I. After gathering his forces, the rebel army marched to overthrow the king. However, David had prepared an army to engage his nephew’s. At Stracathro, the rebels suffered a devastating defeat. Despite this setback, Malcolm escaped and continued to harass his uncle until his capture in 1134. After the battle, the king marched into northern Scotland to consolidate his power.
Throughout his reign, David I supported economic growth. As the second-largest kingdom in the British Isles, the king realized that Scotland needed a prosperous economy. During his reign, silver coinage was introduced as Scotland’s official currency. Utilizing a series of royal castles, David also encouraged the development of nearby towns. The government granted charters of privileges to these towns, which attracted craftsmen and traders. As new communities increased throughout Scotland, the economy flourished.
As a religious king, David I had an interest in the church. To this end, the king instituted religious reforms to better conform to English practices. His reign also oversaw the building of many new abbeys and monasteries. The king devoted large amounts of funds to their creation. Despite his piety, the construction of these institutions also served as a way to help the economy. The monasteries produced salt, sheep, and coal, while developing new agricultural techniques.
Death of Henry I
During the 1130s, David I and Henry I remained on friendly terms. The English king continued to support David, while the Scottish king remained staunchly loyal to Henry. Before Henry’s death on December 1, 1135, David vowed to support Henry’s daughter’s claim to the English throne. After he died, the former king’s nephew, Stephen, seized the throne. In response, the Scottish king invaded England to support Matilda and to extend Scotland’s southern border.
After crossing the border, the Scottish army captured Carlisle and Newcastle. The army also attempted to capture the fortress of Durham. In retaliation to David I’s invasion, King Stephen marched his army north to relieve the fortress. However, a battle never occurred. Instead, negotiations took place that resulted in a peace treaty.
In January 1138, David I violated the treaty. The Scottish army invaded Northumberland and Stephen counter-attacked. This time, the Scots managed to push further into England. As they progressed, the Scottish army committed many atrocities. This included plundering, devastating communities, and capturing woman to be used as slaves.
By early 1139, the English civil war began to distract Stephen from his fight against David I. A second peace treaty was concluded, and it heavily favored Scotland. As a result, the Scottish king gained parts of northern England. Scotland’s border had now successfully been expanded further south at England’s expense.
In February 1141, Matilda captured Stephen. As a show of loyalty, David I traveled to London to support his niece. However, Matilda’s haughty nature quickly alienated many Londoners. Because of this, Stephen eventually regained his throne, which forced Matilda and David to flee. This would be the last serious support Matilda received from her aging uncle. However, her son, the future Henry II, would later be knighted by David in 1149.
As civil war engulfed England, Scotland remained a peaceful and prosperous kingdom. After successfully fleeing back to Scotland, David I focused on creating a centralized administration. To accomplish this, the king based his administration on England’s model. Once implemented, the previous government became more bureaucratic and efficient.
David I believed that a king needed to be a lawgiver. Due to this mentality, the king enacted a series of laws that served as the groundwork for Scotland’s medieval justice system. Although he had administrators to dispense justice, David made himself available to all his subjects. He often heard cases and made fair judgments.
By the early 1150s, the old king felt unsure of Scotland’s future after his death. In June 1152, the king’s heir, Henry, unexpectedly died. Devastated by his only son’s death, David I’s heir became his young grandson, Malcolm. Despite this setback, the king had Malcolm travel throughout Scotland to gain acceptance as his successor. On May 24, 1153, the 73-year-old king died in Carlisle, England.
David I transformed Scotland from a backwater country to a prosperous kingdom. The king encouraged economic growth, founded new religious communities, and expanded Scotland’s border. As Scotland grew, David developed an efficient central administration to govern his realm. After his death, the king left a peaceful and stable kingdom to his successor, Malcolm IV.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Tempus.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, May 20). David I. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/David-I