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The Scottish Nation

EDGAR, KING OF SCOTS, fourth son of Malcolm Canmore, but second by his queen Margaret, was forced, with his brothers, to take refuge in England, on the usurpation of the throne by his uncle, Donald Bane. During the brief possession of the sovereignty by his eldest brother Duncan, he appears to have returned to Scotland, and after Duncan’s assassination, – as the Gaelic population of the country continued firm in their support of the usurper, – he seems to have gone back to the English court. To assert his claim to the throne, the English king, William Rufus, sent Edgar Atheling, in 1098, with a large army of Saxons and Normans, to Scotland, and Donald being overthrown and made prisoner, Edgar regained possession of the kingdom. In gratitude for his success he founded the priory of Coldingham in Berwickshire, a dependency of Durham, and amply endowed it with various lands and heritages. Subjoined is the representation of his seal appended to one of his charters of endowment. (No. vi. of Anderson’s Diplomata.) As usual in those times, these charters bear no date, but from the fact of his having commenced his reign in 1098, and from one of them being granted during the lifetime of William Rufus, who died in 1100, the foundation of the priory must have been intermediate to these years.

[seal of Edgar]

      Among the witnesses to this charter are Thor Longus, who received from King Edgar a grant of Ednam in Roxburghshire, where he erected and endowed a church in honour of St. Cuthbert; Alfric, the butler; Algar and Osbern, priests, and Sigulf of Bambrough; all Saxon names. It is quite in accordance with the superstition of the times that Edgar should have attributed his success to St. Cuthbert, the patron saint of Durham, and there is a legendary story related by Fordun, [Scotichronicon, vol. i.] that on his march to Scotland, Edgar slept one night at Durham, when he received a visit from the saint, who encouraged him in his enterprise, and assured him that if he caused his banner to be carried along with him, his enemies, at the sight of the sacred ensign, would flee in terror before him. On the following morning, Edgar borrowed from the monastery the banner of the saint, and having displayed it in battle as he had been directed, the discomfiture of Donald and his Celtic adherents was the immediate consequence. King Edgar, therefore, could not do less than express his gratitude by the foundation of a religious house at Coldingham, and on the day of its consecration to the three saints, Cuthbert, Mary, and Abba, he attended personally in the church, and in his charter he says that the consecration was performed in a manner acceptable ‘to the glory of God and his own pleasure.’ Wyntoun says:

            ‘Coldyngame than foundyd he
            And Rychely gert it dowyt be
            Of Saint Ebb a sweet Hallow,
            Saynt Duthbert thair thai honoure now.’

            – Cronykil, page 275.

      By one of his charters Edgar made an ample donation to the monks of St. Cuthbert of lands in Berwickshire, and in the preamble he plainly acknowledges the feudal tenure by which he held Loundonium, or Lothian, from William Rufus, king of England. A supplement states that it was granted on the fourth of the calends of September of that year in which ‘King William, son of the great King William,’ built a new fortress near Bambrough, against Robert, earl of Northumberland. The donation was made “for the souls of his father and mother, his own soul and body, and the souls of his brothers, Edward and Duncan.” Edward was slain with his father, Malcolm Canmore, at the slege of Alnwick castle in 1093, and Duncan, after expelling for a time Donald Bane from the throne and reigning in his stead, was treacherously assassinated by Malpedir, maormor of Moern, in 1096, as already related in his life.

      During Edgar’s reign the Saxon system prevailed in all that part of Scotland which was not possessed by the Gaelic portion of the inhabitants, and “in imitation,” says Skene, “of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, this part of the country (that is, the Lowlands) was divided into earldoms, which were bestowed upon members of the royal family; Saxon thanes were introduced over the whole country, and sheriffs and sheriffdoms everywhere established.” [Hist. of the Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. p. 128.] In the life of Edgar’s brother, Alexander the First, who succeeded him, it has been stated that, during these two reigns, the laws, institutions, and forms of government of the country, except in that portion which was ruled over by the native or Gaelic chiefs, were purely Saxon, and it appears to have been during the reign of Edgar that the two distinct races which then and ever since have possessed Scotland, namely, the Teutonic and the Celtic, first came to occupy their own precise boundaries in the kingdom. “The Norwegian kingdom of Thorfinn,” says Skene, “had excluded the Gael from the eastern and more level part of the country north of the Tay, and had colonised these districts with a Norwegian race. The Saxon conquest under Edgar, for such it was in its effects, now confined them altogether to the mountainous districts of the country, and peopled the remainder of the Lowlands with Saxons and Normans. The two Teutonic races who were now placed contiguous to each other, and together occupied the whole of the Lowlands, gradually amalgamated and formed that Gothic race which now occupies that portion of the country, while the Gael were confined within those limits to which they have ever since been restricted.”

      After a peaceable reign of nine years, the Highland portion of the community having made no attempt to regain their lost supremacy, or disturb him in the exercise of the government, Edgar died on the 10th January 1106-7. According to Aldred, abbot of Rivaulx, quoted by Lord Hailes, “He was a sweet-tempered, amiable man, in all things resembling Edward the Confessor, mild in his administration, equitable and beneficent.” During his reign his sister, Matilda, was married to Henry the First of England; but Edgar himself seems never to have been married.

Genealogical Collections concerning the Scottish House of Edgar
With a Memoir of James Edgar, edited by a committee of the Grampian Club (1873) (pdf)

An account of the Sirname Edgar
And particularly of Wedderlie in Berwickshire by James Henry Lawrence-Archer (1873) (pdf)

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