Edgar of Scotland was born around 1074 to King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret. A member of the English royal family, the Anglo-Saxons, Margaret, and her siblings had been forced to flee to Scotland after William I seized the throne in 1066. A devout woman, Margaret originally intended to devote her life to Christ by becoming a nun. However, her exiled status forced Margaret to make a strategic marriage for her safety. To protect her family, Margaret reluctantly married Malcolm in 1070.
During Malcolm III and Margaret’s marriage, the couple had eight children, including six sons. Influenced by Anglo-Saxon culture, Edgar and his elder brothers received an Anglo-Saxon name instead of a traditional Scottish one. Besides his three older brothers, the prince had an older-half brother, Duncan, from his father’s first marriage. With four other heirs before him, Edgar’s chance of inheriting the Scottish throne seemed non-existent.
Two years before Edgar’s birth, Duncan had been sent to England as a political prisoner per the Treaty of Abernethy. During this time, Scotland had a poor relationship with England. Malcolm III angered William I by refusing to hand over Margaret’s brother, Edgar, marrying Margaret and raiding northern England. Fed up with the defiant Scottish king, William invaded Scotland in 1072. Fearing William’s wrath, Malcolm submitted to the Norman king before a battle could be fought.
Death of Malcolm III
On September 9, 1087, William I of England died in France after a fatal injury. The king was, in turn, succeeded by his son, William II. By this time, Malcolm III had enough sons that he was no longer concerned with Duncan’s safety. Resuming his activities, the Scottish king led new raids into northern England.
After six years of hostility, Malcolm III’s actions caught up to him. In November 1093, the king and his men were returning to Scotland after raiding Northumbria. Due to rain, the roads had become muddy, slowing the Scots return home. Seeing an opportunity to rid themselves of the troublesome Malcolm, English soldiers ambushed the struggling Scots. Forced to fight for their lives, Malcolm and his heir, Prince Edward, died from their wounds. Informing his mother of his father and brother’s fates, Edgar suffered further tragedy after Margaret died four days later.
Rise of Donald III
According to Gaelic tradition, a king’s brother would inherit the throne instead of the king’s son. However, Malcolm III sought to break this tradition. Before his death, the king had made it known that he wanted Prince Edward to succeed him, not his brother Donald. Donald disagreed with his brother’s decision and claimed the throne for himself. Following his accession as Donald III, the new king expelled Anglo-Saxons, English, and royal relatives from Scotland. Edgar was no exception.
Despite the English being responsible for his father’s death, Edgar settled in England. During this time, the prince’s half-brother, Duncan, had taken the throne from Donald III in April 1094. However, the newly crowned Duncan II only enjoyed his throne briefly. Propped up by the English, the Scots quickly turned against their king. After being forced to send troops back to England, Donald reappeared in Scotland. During their subsequent encounter in November, Duncan was killed by one of his uncle’s men, ending his short reign.
Edgar loyally served William II as a soldier in England and participated in the king’s 1095 military campaign. Seeking a new Scottish pawn, William agreed to support Edgar’s claim just as he had Duncan’s. Supported by his younger brothers Alexander and David, Edgar gained further support from his maternal uncle, Edgar Aetheling. Edgar led a sizeable invading army into Scotland with his uncle’s guidance in 1097.
King of Scotland
Like Duncan, Edgar’s invasion proved successful. Capturing his elderly uncle, the newly crowned Edgar of Scotland imprisoned Donald for the last two years of his life. Upon Donald’s death in 1099, Edgar’s throne was finally secured as the former king had no sons. Edgar’s decade-long reign has largely been lost to history despite his achievement. It is known that upon William II’s death in 1100, Edgar didn’t appear at his brother Henry I‘s coronation. This action could have indicated Edgar’s desire to be more independent of England, unlike his older brother.
Edgar of Scotland’s most significant foreign policy achievement involved establishing a defined border between Scotland and western Norwegian-controlled lands. In 1098, the king concluded a treaty with Magnus III of Norway. Edgar gave up claims to Hebrides and Kintyre as part of their agreement, avoiding a potential conflict. Domestically, the king showed his piety by gifting Coldingham to an order of monks. Edgar also encouraged monks to settle in Dunfermline as part of a recolonization effort.
As king, Edgar showed himself to be more of an Englishman than a Scot. Strongly influenced by his time in England, the king did not understand his Gaelic culture and traditions. Edgar also showed little interest in learning more about them. Instead of strengthening ties with the northern part of his kingdom, Edgar chose to maintain a good relationship with England. To this end, the king arranged for his sister to marry King Henry I.
Edgar of Scotland remained unmarried and childless during the last years of his life. Understanding his situation, the king chose his younger brother, Alexander, as his successor. On January 8, 1107, Edgar died of unknown causes. Before his death, the king allegedly had Alexander swear to give southern Scotland to David. This act would set in motion a future conflict between Alexander and David. Alexander I would succeed his brother as planned, and Edgar would be buried next to his parents in Dunfermline.
Edgar of Scotland came to the Scottish throne during a time of instability. Overcoming personal tragedy and exile, Edgar re-established his family’s line by overthrowing his uncle. The king’s subsequent reign oversaw much-needed peace within Scotland and abroad. However, his promise to his younger brother, David, nearly derailed his accomplishments. Upon Edgar’s death, conflict arose within the royal family as his successor, Alexander I, clashed with their brother over control of southern Scotland.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Edgar. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edgar-king-of-Scotland