Malcolm IV of Scotland

Malcolm IV of Scotland
c. 1141 – December 9, 1165

Malcolm IV of Scotland was born during 1141 to Prince Henry of Scotland. At the time of his birth, Malcolm’s paternal grandfather, King David I, reigned. The first of Henry’s sons, the young prince was initially third in the line of succession. However, the unexpected death of his father in 1152, made Malcolm his grandfather’s heir. Upon David’s death the following year, the prince became King Malcolm IV.

King of Scotland

At the time of his accession, Malcolm IV was barely 12-years-old. Shortly before his death, David I feared that his kingdom would rebel against Malcolm due to his youth. To decrease this possibility, the old king sent his grandson on a tour of Scotland. By having Malcolm travel throughout the kingdom, David hoped that the Scots would be more inclined to accept his grandson’s accession. Unfortunately, David’s worst fears came true after his death.

Soon after becoming king, Malcolm IV began facing challenges to his rule. In central and western Scotland, rebellions occurred. Both revolved around rival claimants to the Scottish throne. By 1156, the monarchy restored order to the kingdom. The claimants either abandoned their cause or were captured. However, when the rebellions ended, the king had to deal with another threat to his reign: Henry II of England.

Henry II of England

Henry II of England
Henry II of England

In 1154, Henry became King of England. After emerging victorious against King Stephen in the English civil war known as The Anarchy, Henry II succeeded Stephen after his death. Upon his accession, Henry established the Plantagenet dynasty. Seeking to assert his dominance, the English king turned his attention towards Scotland.

Malcolm IV’s predecessors had extended Scotland’s southern border at England’s expense. As a result, Scotland controlled Northumberland and Cumbria. Henry II sought to reclaim these English territories. In response, the English king began to pressure Malcolm to return these lands. Since the Scottish king wasn’t in a more powerful position to resist, Malcolm relented. In 1157, both kings confirmed this decision by signing a treaty at Chester.

Despite losing territory to England, Malcolm IV of Scotland still retained his father’s earldom of Huntington. As part of their agreement, Henry II confirmed Malcolm’s right to the earldom. Scotland had suffered a humiliating setback. Whereas David I was a powerful, independent king, his grandson had become an English vassal.

English Vassal

In 1159, Henry II summoned Malcolm IV. The English king had engaged in a military campaign in France and demanded military assistance. Although the Scottish nobility objected, Malcolm accepted Henry’s summons. The Scottish king hoped that by helping Henry, he would finally be knighted by him. As a result, Malcolm and his brother, William, departed for France.

In France, Henry II’s military campaign against King Louis VII failed. However, the English king still knighted Malcolm IV on June 30 for his efforts. Having finally achieved knighthood, the Scottish king happily left France. When he returned to his kingdom, Malcolm faced an angry nobility.

Noble Rebellion

During the beginning of Malcolm IV’s reign, Gaelic nobles initially supported him. However, the king gradually alienated the nobles with his actions. After becoming an English vassal in 1157, the nobility felt that the king had become too subservient to Henry II. After ignoring their advice and leaving for France, the nobles had enough. Upon Malcolm’s return to Scotland, they attempted to capture the king at Perth.

Despite their best efforts, the Gaelic nobles failed to capture Malcolm IV. In response, the Scottish king turned against them. Malcolm’s army eventually either defeated or forced the rebellious nobles to submit. To further cement his authority, the king invaded Galloway. Malcolm defeated Galloway’s ruler, Fergus, and forced him into an abbey as retirement.

Final Years

In 1161, Malcolm IV was 20-years-old and unmarried. The king suffered a severe bout of illness, which alarmed his mother, Ada de Werenne. After recovering, Ada urged her son to marry and produce an heir. To secure the succession, marriage negotiations began for Malcolm to marry Constance of Brittany. However, the marriage never happened. On December 9, 1165, the unmarried king died after suffering from a prolonged illness.


Malcolm IV of Scotland became king at a young age. Due to his youth, the king experienced both internal and external threats to his reign. Once Malcolm had ended the domestic rebellions, the 16-year-old faced the formidable Henry II. Outmatched by the powerful monarch, Malcolm had to submit and become an English vassal. By the time he died at 24, Scotland had become a secondary power to England.


Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Gloucestershire: Tempus.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, December 05). Malcolm IV. Retrieved June 02, 2020, from


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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