Monday, 29 June 2015

After Malcolm, King Donald Ban

King Malcom II, as we know, died at Glamis in Angus [see post on 14 February], but details of his death are vague.  It involved 'shame' and possibly being 'trampled under foot'.  The degree of apparent violence and lack of definite information engendered rumours and legends.  At that time, the succession rules had not settled on primogeniture and the kings could arise from the previous king's kindred, as long as the candidate was related to the ruler within a certain degree.  After Malcolm's allegedly bloody demise, his brother Donald Ban claimed the throne by the Celtic laws of succession.  He was driven from power by Malcolm's son, Donald II, but after the latter was butchered in the Mearns (and I will tell that story another time), Donald the Fair took up the reigns of power again.  But his second tasted of power was all too brief.  King Donald was captured by Donald's surviving sons, Edgar, David and Alexander.  Some sources state that Edgar put out his uncle's eyes (a very effective, symbolic Gaelic method of permanently blinding a rival, the blatant physical imperfection making kingship ineligible).  It was said that the ex-king was placed in perpetual imprisonment at Rescobie Loch, east of Forfar (the loch of the latter place also figured in the legend of his brother, Malcolm.)
   One legend maintains that, even blinded and captive, Donald still held sinister power of a sort, for he arranged the death of Prince David's son - described as a 'walking child' - in England.  His agent was a Norwegian monk who had also been deprived of his eyes, along with his hands and feet for the sin of sacrificing a priest on the altar.  This evil cleric, along with his daughter, was taken into the household of David.  One day the monk asked the nurse to hold David's child.  He grasped the two year old boy with his mechanical fingers, then ripped out his entrails.  As a punishment, the monk was torn apart by wild horses.  Back in Angus, Donald Ban was slowly starved to death, dying in the year 1099.

   Leaving that fantastical story reluctantly aside, there are several other points of interest.  The first thing is the close connection of this royal kin-group with Angus and the Mearns.  Insufficient academic study has been done to research the striking presence of royalty in this area in the twelfth century.  Perhaps there are insufficient traces in the written records, and there are certainly few archaeological traces of royal dwellings in the region.  The traces are folkloric are fragmentary.  The simplistic version of history which states that Donald Ban represented the old Celtic ways and that the sons of Malcolm were modernising pro-Normans is likely to be false.
   One interesting aspect of the blinding story, and something which casts doubt on it, is the story that the Irish St Triduana also blinded herself in the very same place, Rescobie.  This young woman is said to have disfigured herself to be rid of the amorous attentions of a Pictish king, some four hundred years before the time of Donald Ban.  The suspicion that one tale gave rise to the other is overwhelming. 

   After Donald's death, the local connection was maintained by his nephew and successor, Edgar, who died at Dundee in 1107.  The last of the royal brothers to rule was King David.  While he was absent in England, in 1130, his realm was overrun by an army from Moray.  Five thousand men under Angus Earl of Moray  (a bastard of King Alexander) were checked at Strathcathro in northern Angus by the king's lieutenant, Edward Siward.  Four thousand rebels died and only a hundred loyalists.  Local rhyme remembered the heavy death toll:

                                            Tween the Blawart Lap and Killievair Stanes,
                                            There lie mony bluidy banes.

   An earlier battle in the very same spot may be responsible for the name Stracathro, or its alternative, Strickathrow.  Legend explains that when Agricola's legion tried to cross the North Esk here, they were assailed by Picts on the further side.  To urge on his soldiers, Agricola yelled, 'Strike and ca' [i.e. drive] through,' which was reassuringly Scottish of him.


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