Duncan II of Scotland was born around 1060 to King Malcolm III and Queen Ingibiorg. Named after his grandfather, Duncan I, Prince Duncan was his father’s first son and heir. During his childhood, Malcolm came into conflict with William I of England over Edgar Aethling. The last male member of the former ruling family of England, the Anglo-Saxons, Edgar had enjoyed Scotland’s protection since 1068. Seeking to eliminate Edgar’s threat to his throne, William pressured Malcolm to hand over Edgar.
In 1071, Malcolm III further angered William I by marrying Edgar’s sister, Margaret. Following Scottish raids into northern England, William invaded Scotland in 1072. Seeking an end to the devastating conflict, Malcolm concluded the Treaty of Abernethy with the Norman king. As part of the treaty’s terms, the Scottish king was forced to hand over Duncan to William, ensuring Malcolm’s obedience.
Despite the poor relationship between Scotland and England, William I treated Duncan well. The king ensured the prince received an English education and trained Duncan as a knight. During the remaining years of William’s reign, Duncan actively participated in the king’s military campaigns. Upon William’s death in 1087, the king’s son, William II, freed the Scottish prince from Norman custody and knighted him. Choosing to return to England, Duncan served William as a loyal knight.
In Scotland, Malcolm III’s marriage to Margaret had produced several additional sons. Having secured the succession, Duncan’s importance diminished in Malcolm’s eyes. No longer concerned with his son’s safety, the Scottish king designated his eldest son by Margaret, Edward, as his new heir. It is believed that Duncan chose to remain in England due to his loss of position and loyalty to William II. Instead of seeking revenge against his father, the prince focused on gaining wealth and personal glory.
In 1092, hostilities resumed between Scotland and England. William II captured Carlisle and began building a castle. In response, Malcolm III raided Northumberland the following year. As Malcolm and his army returned home, they were ambushed by Robert de Mowbray, earl of the lands the Scots had just raided. Slowed by mud, the English outflanked the struggling Scots, forcing them to fight.
On November 13, 1093, King Malcolm III and his son, Prince Edward, died fighting against the English. Upon learning of their deaths, the remaining Scottish army fled back to Scotland. Informed of the loss of her husband and eldest son by Prince Edgar, Queen Margaret died a few days later. With the Scottish throne now vacant, Malcolm’s younger brother, Donald, seized the throne.
Donald III of Scotland
According to Gaelic tradition, Donald III had every right to be king. As the royal family’s eldest surviving male, Donald had a strong claim to the throne. However, Malcolm III had intended to pass over his brother in favor of Prince Edward. Displeased with Malcolm’s decision, Donald capitalized on his nephew’s death to become king, preventing Duncan from doing so. Exiling his remaining nephews, Donald secured his new position by expelling the remaining Anglo-Saxons and Normans from Scotland.
Rise to Kingship
Although his uncle had taken the throne, Duncan remained determined to become king. Donald III had alienated those who had benefitted during his brother’s reign. With William II’s backing, Duncan allied himself with Donald’s enemies, gaining crucial military and financial resources. William believed that he would gain a Scottish puppet he could easily influence by supporting Duncan’s claim. To ensure Duncan’s loyalty, William arranged a marriage for the Scottish prince. Marrying Octreda, the daughter of a Northumbrian earl, Duncan departed England with a rebel army in 1094.
Despite Donald III and his forces confronting Duncan, the rebels overcame the loyalists, forcing Donald to flee. With Donald gone, the prince was crowned King Duncan II of Scotland at Scone. However, his victory would be short-lived. Since the king had relied heavily on William II’s support, English soldiers remained in Scotland to secure his throne. The Scottish grew to resent the soldier’s presence, tanking Duncan’s popularity. To make matters worse, the king’s subjects viewed him as a foreigner due to his long absence in England.
Fed up with the situation, the Scottish launched a series of raids against the English in Scotland. Desperate to end the violence, Duncan II agreed to a peace treaty with the rebels. As part of its terms, the king had to send the English home, leaving Duncan vulnerable. Seeing an opportunity to regain his throne, Donald III gathered his men and invaded Scotland. In November 1094, the former king confronted his nephew for the last time. During the ensuing battle, soldiers ambushed Duncan and killed him on the battlefield.
Duncan II of Scotland spent the majority of his life in England. Passed over by his father, Duncan had to fight his uncle to gain the crown. However, his victory over Donald III would be short-lived. Unable to maintain his power without English support and lacking the approval of his subjects, Duncan failed to stabilize his reign. His subsequent death in battle against Donald ended a short, forgettable reign of seven months.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Duncan II. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Duncan-II