Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alexander I

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600916Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01 — Alexander I1885Aeneas James George Mackay

ALEXANDER I, king of Scotland (1078?–1124), was the fourth son of Malcolm Canmore and Margaret, grandniece of Edward the Confessor, and was perhaps named after Pope Alexander II. Being too young to share in his father's campaigns, he received a careful training from his mother. After the death in 1093 of Malcolm and Margaret, Alexander, together with his brothers Edgar and David, and his sisters Matilda, afterwards wife of Henry I, and Mary, afterwards wife of Eustace, count of Boulogne, was protected by Edgar Atheling, his mother's brother, from the troubles caused in Scotland by the claim of Donald Bane, his paternal uncle, to the crown by the Celtic custom of tanistry. Through distrust of Rufus, Edgar is said to have concealed his nephews and nieces in different parts of England, and Alexander remained in that country during the reign of Donald Bane and the brief restoration of Duncan, son of Malcolm, and his Norse wife Ingebiorg. He probably returned, however, when, in 1097, his brother Edgar was placed on the throne by Edgar Atheling with the aid of Rufus. Nothing is recorded of him during the ten years (1097–1107) of his brother's peaceful reign, except that he was at Durham in 1104, when the corpse of St. Cuthbert, whose protection had been invoked when Edgar resumed the kingdom, was exhibited by the monks as a rebuke to the incredulous. On his brother's death Alexander succeeded to the old kingdom of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde, but its newer conquests, under the name of Cumbria, which seem in this instance to have included not merely Strathclyde but a considerable part of the eastern borderland and portions of Lothian, were, by a deathbed gift of Edgar, erected into an earldom or principality in favour of David, who bore the title of Comes, and was almost an independent sovereign. Alexander opposed the division of the kingdom, but the Norman barons supported David, as they reminded him at the battle of the Standard (1138), and it had to be acquiesced in. Possibly the motive of the gift was to interpose a barrier between Scotland and England. More probably the grant of independence was intended to satisfy the inhabitants of the southern districts of modern Scotland, between whom and the northern Celtic population there was no goodwill. About the time of his accession Alexander married Sibylla, a natural daughter of Henry I, and the union of the two countries, thus cemented by a double bond of affinity, secured uninterrupted peace between them during the whole of Alexander's reign. A letter of Anselm records the fact that the archbishop's prayers were asked by Alexander for his brother's soul. Anselm, in return, counselled the king to preserve the religious habits he had acquired in youth and to protect the monks who had been sent to Scotland at Edgar's request. To the see of St. Andrews, rendered vacant by the death of Fothad, the last Celtic bishop, Alexander appointed Turgot, prior of Durham, the confessor, and perhaps the biographer, of his mother; but the consecration was delayed till 1109 through a dispute between Anselm and Thomas, archbishop of York, and then the latter prelate performed the ceremony with a salvo of the authority of Canterbury—a compromise obtained by Henry I. This appointment, made with the object of furthering reforms in the Celtic church which Queen Margaret had begun, and of introducing diocesan episcopacy on the Roman and English model, did not fulfil its promise. Probably Turgot may have shown an inclination to subject the Scottish church to York, as his successor Eadmer did to Canterbury. After several years of dispute with Alexander, Turgot's health failed, and he returned to Durham, where he died in 1115.

The separation of Cumbria threw the centre of the Scottish kingdom further north, and while Alexander retained Edinburgh and Dunfermline, the chief residences of his parents, we find him more frequently at Invergowrie, Perth, Scone, and Stirling. The exact date of the war with some northern clans, which probably gave him the name of ‘The Fierce,’ cannot be fixed, but as he founded a church at Scone in commemoration of his victory in 1114 or 1115, it was probably shortly before that he was suddenly attacked at Invergowrie by the men of Moray and Mearns. He escaped, and collecting an army pursued and defeated them in their own country, either on the Spey or the Moray Firth. This was a continuation of the opposition of the pure Celts of the north to the introduction of English customs through the union of Saxon and Scottish blood in the persons of Margaret and her children.

Canons regular of St. Augustine were brought by Alexander to his new foundation at Scone from St. Oswald's, near Pontefract, and the names of Gregory, bishop of Moray, and Cormac, bishop of Dunkeld, in a charter granting the right to hold a court to the prior and canons of Scone show that Alexander had laid the basis for the diocesan episcopate which David was to complete. The same foundation-charter proves by the names of Beth, Mallus, Madach, Rothri, Gartnach, and Dufagan, who are each designated ‘comes,’ the transition from the Celtic mormaers to the earls—a step in the direction of normanising and feudalising the civil government, similar to that which had been taken with regard to the ecclesiastical government, by introducing diocesan bishoprics, with chapters of regulars, in place of the monastic Celtic establishments, chiefly Culdee. It is in this reign that we have the first recorded evidence of the existence of the offices of chancellor and constable, which were held respectively by Hubert, abbot of Kelso, and in David's reign bishop of Glasgow; and by William, a brother of Queen Sibylla; the office of sheriff (vice-comes) is also met with for the first time in Scotland within David's earldom, although not in Scotland proper. The origin of parishes is also marked by the foundation of Ednam in Roxburghshire by Thor the Long, who built the church on waste lands given him by king Edgar. To the same period are attributed the earliest known Scottish coins.

In the year of the foundation of Scone, 1115, Alexander applied to Ralph, Anselm's successor, for a qualified person to fill the vacant see of St. Andrews, and from the fortunate circumstance of Eadmer, the friend and biographer of Anselm, having been selected, a fuller account has been preserved of this than of any other incident in the reign. With boldness of assertion Alexander informed the archbishop that in ancient times the bishop of St. Andrews had been consecrated by the pope or the archbishop of Canterbury, and this had only been broken by Lanfranc, who had yielded to the claim of York. Notwithstanding the opposition of Pope Calixtus II, who supported the pretensions of York, Ralph sent Eadmer, with the consent of Henry I, in 1120, that he might learn whether the king's request was consistent with the honour of God and of the see of Canterbury, advising that he should return as quickly as possible for consecration. Eadmer was accordingly elected, but the day after his election he found that Alexander would not consent to subject the church of St. Andrew to that of Canterbury, and possession of the lands of the see being given to a monk who had administered it during the vacancy, Eadmer was preparing to return when he was with difficulty persuaded to accept the ring of investiture from the king and to take the staff, the symbol of the pastoral office, from the altar as if from the hand of God. This compromise, like so many others between church and state in the great controversy as to investiture, broke down, and Eadmer, having surrendered the ring to Alexander and the staff to the altar, retired to Canterbury, as Alexander informed Archbishop Ralph, because he would not comply with the customs of the country, but, as he himself represented it, because he would not yield to the temporal power. Eadmer, two years afterwards, distracted by contradictory advisers—the pope directing him to go to York for consecration, the Archbishop of Canterbury to remain at Canterbury till Alexander yielded, one of his friends suggesting that he should go to Rome, and another that it was his duty to return to St. Andrews, as he had been duly elected bishop—seems to have yielded to the last advice and offered to submit, but Alexander, distrusting his submission, did not accept the offer. On Eadmer's death, in January 1124, Robert, the prior of Scone, was chosen bishop of St. Andrews, but before the difficulty as to his consecration could be settled Alexander himself died. The importance of this dispute to Scottish, as distinct from ecclesiastical history, is that it was a forerunner of the graver contests with regard to the independence of Scotland in the following centuries which were only decided by the ultimate issue of the war of independence and the long-deferred grant of the pall to St. Andrews in the reign of James III. Throughout Alexander showed himself, notwithstanding his English education and connections, and his evident desire to benefit his church by the superior learning of the English ecclesiastics, a determined vindicator of the national independence of Scotland. His wife Sibylla deceased before him in 1121, and he founded on an island in Loch Tay a church to her memory, as a cell of Scone. His gifts to Dunfermline, where he was buried, the erection of the chapel royal at Stirling and a monastery on Inchcolm in gratitude for an escape from shipwreck, and the restoration of the lands called the Boar's Chase (Cursus Apri), formerly granted by a Pictish king, Hungus, to the church of St. Andrew's, prove him to have been almost as great a benefactor of the church as his brother David. In connection with the last of these benefactions the register of St. Andrews and the poet Wyntoun describe a ceremony which, as illustrating the customs of the age and Alexander's liberality, may be given in the latter's words:—

    Before the lordys all the kyng
    Gert them to the awtare bryng
    Hys cumly sted off Araby
    Sadelyd and brydelyd costlykly
      . . . . . .
    Wyth hys armwys of Turky
    That princys than oysid ginerally
    And chesyd maist for thare delyte
    With scheld and speir of silver quhyt
      . . . . . .
    With the regale and all the lave
    That to the Kirk that time he gave.

The gift of the Arab steed and Turkish arms suggests the question whether Alexander may not have gone with his uncle Edgar and Robert of Normandy on the first crusade, but there is no record that he did. His character is thus described by the Scottish historian, Fordun: ‘A lettered and godly man, very humble and amiable towards the clerics and regulars, but terrible beyond measure to the rest of his subjects; a man of large heart, exerting himself in all things beyond his strength. He was most zealous in building churches, in searching for relics of saints, in providing and arranging priestly vestments and sacred books; most open-handed, even beyond his means, to all newcomers, and so devoted to the poor that he seemed to delight in nothing so much as in supporting them.’ He died on 27 April 1124, leaving no children, and was succeeded by his brother David.

[Liber de Scone,Bannatyne Club; Eadmer, Historia Novorum; National MSS. of Scotland; Fordun's Scotichronicon; Wyntoun's Chronycle; William of Malmesbury; Simeon of Durham. Modern authorities—Robertson, Scotland under her early Kings; W. F. Skene, Celtic Scotland; Freeman, Norman Conquest and Reign of William Rufus. In Stubbs and Haddan's edition of the Concilia, ii. part i., the most important original documents of Alexander's reign are printed, pp. 169–209.]

Æ. M.