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On Wednesday 11 October the Civic Society had its annual joint meeting with
Berwick History Society. James Bruce stood in for Clive Hallam-Baker, who
had been scheduled to talk about the first millennium of Border history until
ill-health obliged him to postpone. It happens James has spent much of this
year working on different versions of an academic paper relating to the king
of Scots at the farthest end of the period, Malcolm II and his legacy.

Has Malcolm, who reigned from 1005 until 1034, been unfairly neglected by
modern historians? That’s the idea the talk wanted to examine, showing that
our understanding of 11th century Scotland has been distorted by the
immense fame and lustre of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Medieval scribes
frequently gave Malcolm the epithet ‘most victorious king’, and at his death
an Irish annalist called him ‘the honour of all the west of Europe’. Mind you,
one thing Shakespeare can’t be faulted on is the overall violence and brutality
of that era. There was no shortage of references to severed limbs, broken
skulls and decapitated bodies, and it was as much as James could do to keep
the imagery as tasteful as possible.

Parts of the talk focused on various stone crosses and cross slabs which were
traditionally believed to be memorials of Malcolm’s battles. In particular
James contended that Sueno’s Stone, a giant cross-slab in Moray, was
commissioned by Malcolm to tell the story of his conquest of Lothian at the
Battle of Carham in 1018. It was this battle which fixed the River Tweed as the
eastern part of the Anglo-Scottish border, bringing in references to Berwick
and to the Old Bridge, which doubled as London Bridge in the 2018 film
‘Outlaw King’. Malcolm II is an interesting subject, and although some of the
details were a bit grim, James was able to leaven his presentation with

JB 10/23