David I of Scotland Biography

David I, a 12th century king, faced numerous challenges in his early life but eventually became one of the most influential rulers of Scotland. Born as the youngest son of Malcolm III and Margaret of Wessex, David’s father and brother were killed during an invasion, and his mother passed away shortly after. He was sent into exile by his uncle, but found refuge with his brother-in-law, King Henry I of England. After various political upheavals, David ascended to the throne with Henry’s support. His reign brought about significant social, political, and religious changes, earning him the title of the initiator of the ‘Davidian Revolution’. Notably, David was renowned for establishing monasteries and implementing the ideals of Gregorian Reform.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Dauíd mac Maíl Choluim
  • Died At Age: 69
  • Died on: May 24, 1153
  • Place of death: Carlisle, England


  • Spouse/Ex-: Countess of Huntingdon, Maud
  • Father: Malcolm III of Scotland
  • Mother: Saint Margaret of Scotland
  • Siblings: Alexander I of Scotland
  • Children: Earl of Northumbria, Henry of Scotland

Childhood & Early Life

David was born in 1083 as the youngest son of Malcolm III of Scotland through his second marriage to Queen Margaret. He was probably the eighth son of his father. His grandfather was King Duncan I.

His father and one of his brothers, Edward, were killed in 1093 during an invasion of Northumberland. Another tragedy befell the young boy when his mother too died shortly afterwards.

His uncle Domnall took over Scotland as the king and exiled David and his surviving brothers. He then went to live with his brother-in-law, King Henry I of England.

Accession & Reign

In 1113 Henry I arranged David’s marriage to Matilda of Huntingdon, daughter and heiress of Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria. Through this marriage he acquired the English earldom of Huntingdon and obtained the control over several regions in that country.

David’s brother, Alexander I had become the king of Scots in 1107 and with the support of Henry I, David claimed his inheritance from his brother. He received new territories in southern Scotland which consisted of Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, Berwickshire, Peeblesshire and Lanarkshire. In addition, he also gained the title ‘Princeps Cumbrensis’ (Prince of the Cumbrians).

He gained a lot more power and stature upon receiving his inheritance. Even though the details regarding David’s life after 1114 are obscure, it is believed that he spent much of his time in England and in Normandy.

His brother Alexander I of Scotland died in 1124. With backing from Henry I, David fought two fierce battles with Alexander’s son Máel Coluim and defeated him. Following the victory, David was crowned King of Scotland.

King Henry I died on 1 December 1135 after a week of illness. Since he had no surviving legitimate sons, he had arranged his inheritance to pass to his daughter Empress Matilda. However upon his death, his nephew Stephen seized the throne.

David recognized Matilda as the legitimate heir to Henry and decided to war against King Stephen. He marched into northern England in late 1135 and by early 1136 had occupied the castles of Carlisle, Wark, Alnwick, Norham and Newcastle.

Even though the invasion of England was ostensibly in support of his niece Matilda, in effect David was actually trying to extend his own kingdom. In 1138 he was defeated at the Battle of the Standard. This defeat, however, could not keep him from campaigning further and ultimately he managed to secure a hold on a large part of northern England.

Legacy & Major Works

As a ruler, David I is regarded as someone who brought about significant socio-cultural and religious changes in Scotland. In fact, his reign was so culturally important that the term “Davidian Revolution” was assigned to the changes which took place in the Kingdom of Scotland during his reign.

He was undoubtedly one of medieval Scotland’s greatest monastic patrons and helped in the foundation of several monasteries including Selkirk Abbey for the Tironensian Order, Melrose Abbey for the Cistercian Order, Newbattle Abbey in Midlothian, Kinloss Abbey in Moray, and Holmcultram Abbey in Cumberland.

David was also a great town builder and constructed several royal burghs—a type of administrative division, usually a town or a settlement. The first burgh he created was Berwick followed by other burghs including Edinburgh, Stirling, Dunfermline, Perth, Dumfries, Jedburgh, Montrose and Lanark.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1113 David married Matilda, daughter of the Waltheof, the Anglo-Saxon Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton, and his Norman wife Judith of Lens. Matilda had previously been married to Simon de Senlis who died sometime after 1111. The marriage of David and Matilda produced four children: two daughters and two sons.

David I suffered from ill health during his later years. He was further shattered by the death of his son and successor Henry, Earl of Northumberland, in 1152. Suffering from poor health and facing imminent death, David quickly named his young grandson Malcolm IV as his successor. David died on 24 May 1153.

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