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On the Kalendar: David I, King of Scotland

May from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“May”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

David and his older brother Alexander were sons of Malcolm III of Scotland, but they are more commonly referred to as the “Sons of Margaret”, that is, their mother Margaret of Wessex, also known as Saint Margaret of Scotland. When Alexander died in 1124, David fought with his nephew Malcolm, Alexander’s illegitimate son, for control of the Scottish throne. The struggle lasted about ten years, during which time David was supported by Henry I of England. Following Henry’s death, David supported Henry’s daughter (and his own niece) Empress Matilda in her fight against King Stephen for control of the English throne.

During his reign, David instituted a number of revolutionary changes in Scotland. David created burghs (basically, licensed towns) which led to increased commerce. David was also a great monastic patron. He founded Selkirk Abbey, Holyrood Abbey, and Melrose Abbey, amongst many others. As a counterpart to the commerce of the burghs, the monasteries became centers literacy. The Cistercian foundations, in particular, introduced new agricultural practices.

David gave enough lands to the bishopric of Glasgow that it was able to become self-sufficient, and he began the work on building a proper cathedral for the diocese. David’s plan was for the bishopric of Saint Andrews to be elevated to an independent archbishopric, with Glasgow as a subsidiary diocese. David was aiming for an independent Scottish church, free of oversight from either the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Archbishop of York, both of whom claimed jurisdiction over Scotland. David made several requests of the Pope for a pallium for the Archbishop of Saint Andrews, but although John Cardinal Paparo met with David on his way to Ireland with four pallia for new Irish archbishoprics, the cardinal seems not to have brought the issue up with the Pope upon his return to Rome.

Contemporary reports describe David as a pious king, one who was “frequent in washing the feet of the poor” (following the example of his mother). David’s eulogy was written by Aelred of Rievaulx, abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Rievaulx, and David’s former steward, or Master of the Household.

David is commemorated on May 24.

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