by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot

We know from our clan history books, that from Crinan’s marriage to Bethoc, daughter of Malcolm II, the "Ard Righ" or high king of Alba, their son Duncan was born in 1007. Later for political alliance reasons, King Malcolm II had Bethoc divorce Crinan and remarried her to earl Sigurd II of Orkney. The child of that marriage was earl Thorfinn II of Orkney (1009-1065). On earl Sigurd’s death in 1014, she was married a third time to earl Finlaech of Moray. These marriage alliances had been necessary for King Malcolm to hold safe Caithness and Orkney on his kingdom’s northern frontier. An old man of 80 without sons, King Malcolm had acquired for his grandson Duncan the kingdom of Cumbria on his southern border with England.

In 1027, King Canute of England and Denmark summoned King Malcolm II and his grandson prince Duncan to do homage for the kingdom of Cumbria. Cumbria had been added to Alba after Malcolm won the battle of Carham in 1018. The meeting was held in the earldom of Mercia at the port city of Chester. King Canute of England was proposing a treaty of peace between the two countries. As part of the proposal King Malcolm II was asked to allow lord Crinan (his daughter’s first husband), to return to Alba and that the abbacy of Dunkeld, vested in him on behalf of Malcolm’s daughter Bethoc, should not be granted away on her recent death, but that lord Crinan should continue to enjoy its rights and its privileges together with the duty to protect and foster this abbey for life. On that condition, in addition to others, he offered peace.

King Malcolm was being asked by King Canute to take back into Alba, one of England’s great moneyers. Crinan was a merchant and mint-master with license to strike coins in London as well as in York. He had houses in both York and Shrewsbury.

Even though Crinan was the father of Duncan, his interests and acumen had led him to England and more lucrative pursuits after the divorce. The stewardship of the monastery of Dunkeld had never been denied him, nor a fair amount of its revenues. But to be formally installed in such a monastery at the head of the great waterway of the Tay, the lord abbot of Dunkeld would hold for King Canute a base in the center of Alba from which all Alba might be controlled. Malcolm reluctantly agreed to the proposal with the proviso that Crinan could keep no more than 200 men-at-arms at Dunkeld. As the secular leader (mormaer) of Atholl, Crinan could also call up the manpower of Atholl if needed.

The object of establishing lord Crinan back in Dunkeld was less one of strategy than one of trade. Dunkeld was like York and London, at the head of a tidal estuary, and under Crinan enjoyed a considerable trade with the merchants of Norway and Denmark and elsewhere in the Baltic.

Gillacomghain, mormaer of Moray was a business partner of Crinan. To better control the trade with Norway, they decided to replace Thorfinn as earl of Caithness with Crinan’s sister’s son Maddan. Crinan supplied the 20 ship fleet to carry Gillacomghain’s Moray army through an agreement with his son Maldred’s uncle in York. After the defeat of the fleet, Thorfinn anchored his own fleet near Thurso and marched his men to Thurso for a night attack on the sleeping army of Moray. Both Gillacomghain and Crinan’s nephew Maddan were killed. As Thorfinn was the heir of his uncle Finlaech, the previous mormaer of Moray, he spared the remaining Moray men and took their oaths of loyalty to him as the new mormaer of Moray. Thorfinn was now earl of Moray, Caithness and joint earl of Orkney. He then married Gillacomghain’s widow, 16 year old Ingebjorg/Groa, in 1031 which legalized the marriage alliance created for the proper consolidation of his properties.

Lord Crinan bore no grudge for the death of his sister’s son Maddan. He sent his eldest son, Duncan, prince of Cumbria, to Thorfinn’s wedding in 1031 with a 400 man escort. Duncan presented his half sister Wullfflaed’s new husband Lord Forne at the wedding. She was Crinan’s daughter from his second marriage. Their first child, a son named Crinan, was born in the fall of 1034. Duncan’s half brother from Crinan’s second marriage was named Maldred.

King Malcolm II died at Glamis castle on November 25, 1034 in the 30th year of his reign. His nominated successor was Duncan Mac Crinan, his eldest grandson, who was duly elected High King at Scone in December 1034. Duncan was 33 years old and his election placed the House of Atholl firmly in power. Unfortunately, Duncan’s record as a military leader was poor as he began a two front war on his northern and southern frontiers at the same time. Taking advantage of disputes over the English succession, Duncan attacked Northumbria and was defeated at Durham castle in 1039. Duncan then combined his two armies and confronted Thorfinn in August 14, 1040, only to be defeated and killed at Bothgowan near Elgin. Macbeth and his Moray forces had helped defeat Duncan and the result of the alliance was that in the summer of 1040, Macbeth was crowned High King at Scone and reigned in relative peace for almost fifteen years. Macbeth lost the kingdom of Cumbria to earl Siward of Northumbria who was Duncan’s brother-in-law.

Crinan, on the death of his son King Duncan, began plotting with his English allies to gather support for his 10 year old grandson’s claim to the Scottish throne. For eight years, young Malcolm lived under King Edward’s protection as a guest in the English court. Malcolm’s younger brother, Donald Bane was fostered to Ireland and the youngest brother Maelmuir remained in Dunkeld.

At the turn of the year 1045, Crinan began to remove what goods he still possessed in Cumbria and transport them, bit by bit to the monastery of Dunkeld and his storehouses there. As mormaer of Atholl and warrior abbot of Dunkeld, Crinan was both the secular and spiritual leader of Atholl. Crinan’s plan was to raise a rebellion against Macbeth using Dunkeld as his base. It was on one such trip, in the spring of 1045 that he disembarked with his goods and some of his men at the riverside. The silence at the monastery should have warned him. The absence of his own men-at-arms there and on the pathway up to his hall finally did. Crinan, his son Maldred and all 180 of his men-at-arms were trapped and killed and the planned rebellion was crushed.

Duncan’s youngest son, Maelmuir, was captured and sent in fosterage to Ireland. Lord Forne, husband of Crinan’s daughter had remained in Nottingham and escaped death. Thorfinn was able to recover Duncan’s youngest son Maelmuir from Ireland and restored him to the care of the new mormaer of Atholl, Cormac, at Dunkeld.

Although Crinan didn’t succeed in 1045, his grandson Malcolm was eventually crowned as High King on April 25, 1058. The descendants of Crinan remained on the throne until the death of King Alexander III in 1286.

Article based on:
"Macbeth" from Heroes and Warriors Series by Bob Stewart, 1988.
"King Hereafter" by Dorothy Dunnett, 1982.
"History of Scotland" by J.D. Mackie, 1978.
"St. Margaret" by Alan J. Wilson, 2001.