Malcolm IV of Scotland

Malcolm IV
King of Scots
Reign 27 May 11539 December 1165
Predecessor David I
Successor William I
Father Earl Henry
Mother Ada de Warenne
Born About 1141
Died 9 December 1165
Buried Dunfermline Abbey

Malcolm IV (or Máel Coluim mac Eanric) (c. 1141–9 December 1165), King of Scots, was the eldest son of Earl Henry (d. 1152) and Ada de Warenne. The original Malcolm Canmore, a name now associated with his great-grandfather Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, he succeeded his grandfather David I, and shared David's Anglo-Norman tastes.

Called Malcolm the Maiden by later chroniclers, a name which may incorrectly suggest weakness or effeminacy to modern readers, he was noted for his religious zeal and interest in knighthood and warfare. For much of his reign he was in poor health, and died unmarried at the age of twenty-five.

Rex designatus

David I (right) with the young Malcolm IV.
David I (right) with the young Malcolm IV.

Earl Henry, who had perhaps been seriously ill in the 1140s, died unexpectedly at Newcastle or Roxburgh on 12 June 1152, in the Northumbrian domain which David and he had done much to attach to the Scots crown in the decades of English weakness after the death of Henry I of England. Unlike the death of William Adelin in the White Ship, which had left Henry I without male heirs, Earl Henry had three sons. Thus, although his death damaged David's plans, and made disorders after his death very likely indeed, it was not a disaster.[1]

As the eldest of Earl Henry's sons, although only eleven years old, Malcolm was sent by his grandfather on a circuit of the kingdom, accompanied by Donnchad, Mormaer of Fife, styled rector, perhaps indicating that he was to hold the regency for Malcolm on David's death. Donnchad and Malcolm were accompanied by a large army.[2] As it turned out, Donnchad did not long survive David, holding the regency for a year before his death in 1154.

Rivals and neighbours

Malcolm's grandfather died at Carlisle on 24 May 1153, and Malcolm was inaugurated as king three days later, on 27 May 1153, at Scone, then aged twelve.[3] The king-making ceremony took place before the old king was buried, which might appear hasty, but Malcolm was not without rivals for the kingship.

The Orkneyinga Saga claims William son of William fitz Duncan, it calls him "William the Noble", was the man whom "every Scotsman wanted for his king".[4] As William fitz Duncan married Alice de Rumilly in about 1137, young William can only have been a youth, perhaps a child. There is no sign that William made any claims to the throne. He died young, sometime in the early 1160s, leaving his sizable estates to his three sisters.[5] Of William's other sons, Bishop Wimund had already been blinded, emasculated and imprisoned at Byland Abbey before David's death. However, Domnall mac Uilleim, first of the the Meic Uilleim, had considerable support in the former mormaerdom of Moray.

Another would-be king, imprisoned at Roxburgh since about 1130, was Máel Coluim mac Alisdair, an illegitimate son of Alexander I. Máel Coluim's sons were free men in 1153. They could be expected to contest the succession, and did so.

As a new king, and especially as a young one, Malcolm could also expect challenges from neighbours, Somerled, King of Argyll, Fergus, Lord of Galloway and Henry II, King of England foremost among them. Only Rognvald Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney, of Malcolm's neighbours was otherwise occupied with crusading, and his death in 1158 brought the young and ambitious Harald Maddadsson to power in the north.

The first opposition to Malcolm came in November of 1153, from the combination of a neighbour, Somerled of Argyll, and family rivals, the "sons of Malcolm", that is of Máel Coluim mac Alisdair. This came to little as Somerled soon had more pressing concerns, firstly his war with Goraidh mac Amhlaibh which lasted until 1156 and secondly, perhaps, a conflict with Gille Críst, Mormaer of Menteith, over Cowal.[6] Support for the sons of Máel Coluim mac Alisdair may also have come from areas closer to the core of the kingdom, for two conspirators are named by chroniclers, one of whom died in trial by combat in February 1154.[7]

Death and Posterity

Malcolm died on 9 December 1165 at Jedburgh, aged twenty-five. His premature death may have been hastened by osteitis deformans. While his contemporaries were in no doubt that Malcolm had some of the qualities of a great king, later writers were less convinced, replacing the contemporary epithet Cenn Mór with the dismissive Maiden. The compiler of the Annals of Ulster, on the other hand, writing soon after 1165, praises Malcolm:

Máel Coluim Cenn Mór, son of Henry, high king of Scotland, the best Christian that was of the Gaidhil [who dwell] by the sea on the east for almsdeeds, hospitality and piety, died.[8]

Gesta Annalia

Malcolm's mother arranged a marriage to Constance, daughter of Conan III, Duke of Brittany, but Malcolm died before the wedding could be celebrated. According to legend, he had a daughter who was betrothed to Henry, Prince of Capua, on the latter's deathbed, but this is false. Malcolm had no issue.


Pious, frail, and chaste, he was known as "Malcolm the Maiden," and died unmarried and childless in 1165.

After his father's early death, Malcolm became the designated heir of his grandfather, King David. When he succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1153, Malcolm was crowned at Scone. In 1157 he met Henry II of England at Chester, where they ratified the Treaty of Chester, by which Malcolm relinquished his claims to Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumbria and Carlisle. He died in December 1165 at Jedburgh, and was succeeded by his more warlike brother, William.

Not much is known of him, but he appears to have been an ineffective monarch. Though not evident at the time, he was also the last Scottish monarch to have a Gaelic name.


  1. ^ Oram, David I, p. 200.
  2. ^ Oram, David I, p. 201.
  3. ^ Duncan, p. 71.
  4. ^ Duncan, p. 70; Orkneyinga Saga, c. 33.
  5. ^ Oram, David I, pp. 93 & 182–186; Duncan, p. 102.
  6. ^ Duncan, p.71; McDonald, Kingdom of the Isles, pp. 51–54.
  7. ^ McDonald, Outlaws, pp. 28–29.
  8. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 1165.


  • Anon., A Medieval Chronicle of Scotland: The Chronicle of Melrose, ed. & tr. Joseph Stevenson. Reprinted, Llanerch Press, Lampeter, 1991. ISBN 1-947992-60-X
  • Anon., Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, tr. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Penguin, London, 1978. ISBN 0-140-44383-5
  • Barrell, A.D.M. Medieval Scotland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000. ISBN 0-521-58602-X
  • Barrow, G.W.S., The Kingdom of the Scots. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2003. ISBN 0-7486-1803-1
  • Duncan, A.A.M., The Kingship of the Scots 842–1292: Succession and Independence. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2002. ISBN 0-7486-1626-8
  • John of Fordun, Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, ed. William Forbes Skene, tr. Felix J.H. Skene, 2 vols. Reprinted, Llanerch Press, Lampeter, 1993. ISBN 1-897853-05-X
  • McDonald, R. Andrew, The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, c. 1100–c.1336. Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 1997. ISBN 1-898410-85-2
  • McDonald, R. Andrew, Outlaws of Medieval Scotland: Challenges to the Canmore Kings, 1058–1266. Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 2003. ISBN 1-86232-236-8
  • Oram, Richard, David I: The King Who Made Scotland. Tempus, Stroud, 2004. ISBN 0-7524-2825-X
Preceded by:
David I
King of Scots
Succeeded by:
William I
Monarchs of Scotland (Alba)
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