Evidence drawn largely from the
Orkneyinga Saga identifies Duncan as one 'Karl Hundisson' (see boxout,
after the 'death of the king of the Scots' – (Malcolm II).
all of Scotland, including Caithness, which lay in the hands of Jarl Thorfinn, a grandson of Malcolm II, and consequently another of Duncan's
cousins with an equal claim to the throne!
The Scots war band that had
been deployed north found itself hopelessly outnumbered in the ensuing
engagement and was pursued all along the course of its retreat by a
jubilant Thorfinn who 'subdued Sutherland and Ross and plundered far and
wide over Scotland'.
Furious at this setback, 'King Karl' came north with
a fleet of eleven warships, catching up with Thorfinn's fleet moored off
the south-east coast of Orkney. Alas, he was no more successful here than
earlier and suffered an ignominious defeat, losing his own flagship in a
sea-fight off Deerness.
Thorfinn's lieutenant, Thorkell the Fosterer, slew
Duncan's nephew – Muddan – whom Duncan had installed in Caithness, before
joining his Jarl in Moray where, according to the saga, a great war band
had assembled, 'raised in Caithness and throughout Sutherland and Ross.'
The ensuing battle occurred at Torfnes (Burghead, or perhaps Tarbat Ness?).
the Skald sang of this encounter: 'Well the red weapons fed wolves at
Tarbat Ness' Thorfinn emerged triumphant from the carnage to follow up
this victory with the plundering 'as far south as Fife.' '... Karl took
flight, though some men say he was killed.'
Defeat and yet more defeat
'Some men' were mistaken as
Duncan (Karl) re-emerged a few years later to face defeat in yet another
engagement, this time far to the south in Cuthbert's land. Duncan had
become embroiled in Northumbrian power politics before his accession, when
he had married Sybil, a daughter or sister of the Danish warlord Siward,
who was to become the Earl in 1033.
Siward's rival, Eadulf of Bamburgh,
launched an attack on Scots territory, raiding Cumbria in 1038. In a
revenge attack, Duncan laid siege to Durham in the following year, only to
once more be put to flight. Symeon's History of the Church of Durham
... a great proportion of his cavalry was slain by the
besieged and he was put to disorderly flight, in which he lost his
foot-soldiery whose heads were collected in the market place and hung up
upon posts. Not long afterwards the same king, upon his return to
Scotland, was murdered by his own countrymen...
Duncan's countrymen, the men of Moray under MacBeth, their mormaer
(sub-king), rejected a monarch whose prestige was damaged beyond repair
and rose up – it is suggested – when Duncan engaged upon a royal progress,
accompanied by an intimidating show of force.
It was a common practice for
a Celtic monarch to personally undertake the collection of taxes and
tribute. It could be seen that such a flourish of sovereign authority
would present a ceremonial challenge to a recalcitrant sub-king. Duncan's
lack of wise judgement was not limited just to the battlefield it would
seem! To issue such a challenge to a Mormaer of Moray with an equal if not
better claim to the kingship than his own, was to tempt providence beyond