Chapter 4: Princes, Stewards and Ancient Kings

1000 AD-1240 AD

By Gwen Sinclair

Referencing the archeological studies of the 180s and 90s, continued human settlement on Castle Hill from this period is indicated by post holes which suggest straight-sided rectangular structures up to 7.5 m long, built from stone and timber, or only timber. Likely built with wattle and daub or turf walls, these buildings are thought to have been present after the fire at the hill fort c1000 AD.  Still within a period of few records, however, our story now continues as one great kingdom falls, and another rises in its place – and one that was to not only change the course of human settlement once again for Dundonald, but to change the course of Scotland’s history too.  

Every story has a hero, and this story has many –  but sometimes the hero of one story, later becomes the villain of the next.

When heirless Owain the Bald, the last known king of Strathclyde perished at the Battle of Carham in 1018, a long shadow passed across this once great kingdom.  Carham, however, found its victor against an attempted invasion from England, in Owain’s ally,  Ard rí Alban Máel Coluim mac Cináeda or king Malcolm II of Alba (1005-18), who was eager to extend the frontiers of his realm. As one of the few early kingdoms in the whole British Isles to stave off invasions by the Vikings, Alba stretched from Fife northwards to the Grampian mountains, and tentatively reached upwards to Caithness, trickled across central Scotland, as royal fingers grasped lightly to the western reaches of mainland Argyll. Meanwhile at this time, Mormaers firmly controlled the vast lands beyond the Great Glen, and sweeping further north and west, its islands were ruled by the ancestral Kingdoms of the Norse and the Gaels. 

With his victory, Malcolm II now laid claim to the Kingdom of Lothian, eventually swallowing up everything from the Forth to the Tweed within his dominion –  and by doing so, began tentative definition of the southern border of Scotland as we know it today.  This was to become provident in the years to follow as we shall see…

Ancient Scottish archers scene — from an illustrated edition of Froissart’s Chronicles by Unknown author

But for the ruling elites of this time, power was a transient possession. As Malcolm II set his sights on the vacant throne of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, attempts to fill it with his own grandson, Donnchadh Mac Crìonain, were met with scorn by the natives of Strathclyde.  Legend attests, that this desire alone led to Malcolm’s assassination at Glamis in 1034,  when his grandson then become king Duncan I (1034-40).

Vital to our story, Duncan fulfilled his grandfather’s dream of bringing Strathclyde – and by some accounts, Cumbria too, into the Kingdom of Alba. But for king Duncan I, his glories were built on shifting sands, after only 6 years on its throne, fair was foul, and foul was fair, he perished in a battle for power at Pitgaveny, near Elgin, against his cousin, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích or Macbeth – who then took the throne for himself.  King Macbeth (1040-57) immersed in yet more family toil and trouble, became slain in battle against Duncan’s son, Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, who then became king Malcolm III Canmore, ruling for 35 year.  

St Oran’s Chapel, Island of Iona

Eventually re-united in death, whether they liked it or not, these early kings were laid to eternal rest, side by side at Tomaire-nan-Righ, or The Ridge-Tombs of Kings, on the Island of Iona. Their kinsmen voyaging many a mile, to bury their illustrious rulers under the watchful eye of Saint Oran. Perhaps though, only king Duncan and king MacBeth remain forever in immortal memory within the story of Shakespeare’s play MacBeth -set in this period: find out more about them, and the interesting connection between MacBeth and Dundonald from our earlier blog: 

Meanwhile, the fates of Castle Hill, probably as part of a subjugated Kingdom of Strathclyde, became intertwined with those of Alba, whose kings by at least 1094 had became known as king of Scots or “Rex Scotie.” King Malcolm Canmore had 6 sons, and it was to Strathclyde, Cumbria and parts of Lothian that his youngest, David (c1084-1153), was granted an appanage of rights of Princely rule under his brother king Alexander I (1107-24) in 1107. Known as Pinceps Cumbrensis – or Prince of the Cumbrians – derived from Cymry or Cumbri – meaning fellow countrymen – used to describe the people who lived in the Kingdoms of Strathclyde and Cumbria, David sub-ruled over the inhabitants of these once great and ancient kingdoms,  and to do so, took into his service a good number of Anglo-Normans… 

In late September 1066, around 8 thousand well trained warriors led by William the Duke of Normandy (c1028-87) had arrived in the south-east corner of England.  Lured by the promise of glory, lands and titles, villages and towns were ravaged to feed this vast hoard and by 14th October, defender of the lands, King Harold Godwinson (c1022-66), arrived to do battle at a site now known as Battle, near Hastings, and took an arrow to his eye, famously depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. 

Bayeux Tapestry – Scene 57 : The Death of Harold Godwinson

As for David, without these events of 1066,  he may never have been born at all, nor indeed ever have later become king.  His mother, Margaret of Wessex (c1045-93) was sister to Edgar Aetheling (c1051-1126), Harold’s heir. However, as a boy of around only 14 years of age, to mount any real challenge to William’s forceful occupation was nigh impossible. Edgar had no option but to make way for the new king, who was crowned William I on Christmas Day 1066 at Westminster Abbey.  However, not going down without a fight, two years later, plucky young Edgar took part in an ill-fated uprising which found him, his mother, Agatha, and sisters, Christina and Margaret, with no choice but flee north for their lives. The story goes that their ship was swept off course in the spindrift of a terrible storm, forcing them ashore at Queensferry. There the last of the Anglo-Saxon royals were met by king Malcolm III (1058-93) –  who is said to have immediately fell in love with Margaret, and persuaded her to marry him – which she did, in Dunfermline around 1070.

Malcolm III meets Margaret at Queensferry – detail from a mural by William Hole (1899) in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Edgar stayed with them until 1072, before returning south, and then north once more to help Malcolm’s son, also named Edgar, gain the throne after Malcolm III, and his heir, Edward, both died in battle at Alnwick in 1093. Edgar Aetheling is said to have arrived at the head of a vast army under the command of the Norman king in England, intent on removing Malcolm III’s brother, Donald III Bane (1093-94 and 1094–97), who had seized the throne for himself.

Meanwhile, hybrid Scandinavian-Frankish-Norman laws and language had by now infiltrated every English town, village and hamlet, with elders, lords, earls, and even many leaders of churches, now replaced by ambitious Normans, or their allies, who filled the posts vacated by the Anglo-Saxons. Many brought their wives and children to England to take over confiscated lands, and widows of the dead were said to have been forced to marry Normans to keep their homes.  Within this mass migration came Alan Fitz Flaald, descended from the hereditary Dapifers or Stewards of the Cathedral at Dôl in Brittany – invited alongside other Breton nobles by William’s son, who became King Henry I of England in 1100.   Alan was granted the feudal barony of Oswestry, and in return, it was his duty to protect and administer Anglo-Norman law in the borderlands with Wales.

David became king in 1124, and it was Matilda, the great-niece of William I The Conqueror, who became his queen, after having spent a great deal of time at the court of his brother-in-law, Henry I of England (1100-35) – who was married to David’s sister, Edith – also known as Matilda. With David’s part-Scottish and part-Anglo-Saxon lineage, Scotland’s monarchial dynasty added part-Norman to its bloodline – and so, too, its courts…

Scotland, probably glad of the southern border somewhat established by Malcolm II, avoided the forceful occupation by William’s aristocratic military elites, and when the Normans did arrive in Scotland, they did so by royal invitation.  A great number of families were bestowed hides of land, and in return expected to provide a mighty force of well-trained warriors, should the need arise.  Two Breton brothers, Walter (c1106-78) and Simon Fitz Alan (died 1200), sons of Alan Fitz Flaald, the Baron of Oswestry, arrived in Dundonald by David’s invitation around 1136 – possibly because they spoke their Father’s native Breton, similar enough to Welsh, and so too, the Brythonic Celtic language spoken in Ayrshire as part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

Norman style motte and bailey strongholds began to grow upon the Scottish horizon.  These heavily defensible fortresses had towers between 8 to 24 m high, and were usually built on a man-made hill or motte – the Norman word for ‘clod of earth.’  Often they had a bailey – which means an enclosure, which was a kind of service township containing soldiers’ quarters, stables, kitchens, smithies and storehouses, all surrounded by walls, a ditch and/or a wooden palisade – ensuring at any point on the outer defence, was well within bowshot range of any unwelcome visitors.

There is evidence to suggest a Norman style motte and bailey stronghold may have replaced the hill fort at Castle Hill, and we can but wonder if those who used, or lived in the rectangular buildings, evidenced by postholes found in the excavations, were allowed to stay, or forced to leave. Either way, the archaeologists concluded that during this time an artificial mound was added to Castle Hill, made from earth, clay and stone which extended beyond the natural slope of the hill. They interpreted this mound’s use as a platform for a fortified tower and suggest it was a possible motte. 

Interpretative model of Walter’s Motte and Bailey at Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre Museum

Thought to have become the caput or chief administration centre for Walter Fitz Alan in his role as Royal Steward, by around 1160 Walter became the first ever High Steward of Scotland or Dapifer Regis Scotiae – defender of the lands and sea, of earthly justice and royal treasury. Becoming a very high-ranking official, four years later, Walter led an army to counter an invasion of his lands in Renfrewshire by Somerled (1113-64), the last known king of the Isles, whose death at Knockhill that day, added to Scotland’s claims over his lands to the west and Argyll.

Walter left his name and title within the geography of the area which changed from Coel or Kyle, to Walter’s Kyle, or sometimes Kyle Stewart – which later became the surname of those who carried on his lineage. After his death in 1178, his son Alan Fitz Walter (c1140-1204) picked up his banner, and became 2nd High Steward of Scotland – with his official seal the first known to be cast with the Steward emblem – where its central chequerboard indicated they were the counter of coins.

We may surmise that the Stewards held their roots dear, in this new world, 55 degrees north, their banner emblazoned with white and royal blue squares, possibly matching those of Scotland’s saltire, with the blue and gold from the ancient crest of the city of Dôl de Bretagne, maybe forever reminding them of home.

These early High Stewards also laid solid foundations for solace for the soul, as under administration of Paisley Abbey, which Walter established in 1160, to Dundonald, Alan gifted the church, and chapels in nearby Richardstoun and Crosby.

As for Simon Fitz Alan, he is said to have gone to nearby Kilmarnock, and could well have built an early Castle, perhaps in this style too, whose remains are now thought to be within the grounds of the current Dean Castle.  He may have been in service to the Lockharts or Loccards, who are known to have held estates nearby from the late 12th century. Simon’s son,  Robert became known by the surname Boyt or Boyd  – meaning buidhe – or those of the yellow hair – whose descendants built Dean Castle.

Walter and Simon didn’t arrive alone, however, for it seems that several families by the name Fowler are said to have followed them from Shropshire. They could well have been the originators of the nearby area of Foulertoun or Fullarton – their name likely derived from their occupation of ensuring the table of the High Steward was well stocked with wild and domestic fowl. 

Meanwhile, the Chronicles of Castle Hill will continue with its next gripping instalment when a castle, said to have been akin to the finest in the land, was built on its summit c1240!

Find out more about the fascinating story of Walter Fitz Alan, his son, Alan 2nd High Steward of Scotland (1177-1204) , and his grandson, Walter 3rd High Steward of Scotland (1204-46) from our previous blogs:

#TalesOfScotland #YearofStories2022 #DCYearofStories #YS2022

Find out more about:

the Burials of Ancient Kings at Iona:


1Dundonald Castle Excavations 1986—93
Author(s): Gordon Ewart, Denys Pringle, David Caldwell, Ewan Campbell, Stephen Driscoll, Katherine Forsyth, Dennis Gallagher, Tim Holden, Fraser Hunter, David Sanderson and Jennifer Thoms
Source: Scottish Archaeological Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1/2, DUNDONALD CASTLE EXCAVATIONS 1986—93 (2004), pp. i-x, 1-166
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
Stable URL:

Clarkson, Tim, Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2014


Cover image by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC. Background image Bayeux Tapestry  A scene depicting an attack Brittany shown with a wooden palisade surmounting the motte by Myrabella, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Timeline by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Ancient Scottish archers scene — detail from an illustrated edition of Froissart’s Chronicles by Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

St Oran’s Chapel, Iona By Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand CC BY 2.0,

Bayeux Tapestry Image Harold’s Death By Myrabella – Own work, Public Domain,

Early Medieval helmet still life scene by Image by Nadine Doerlé from Pixabay Malcolm_and_Margaret_at_Queensferry.jpg

Interpretative model of Walter’s Motte and Bailey at Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre Museum by Jason Robertson