The first record of Normans appearing in Scotland is in 1054 AD in a battle between the king of Scots, MacBethad mac Findlaích, and Máel Coluim mac Donnchada (later Malcolm III). These particular Normans were mercenaries and were all killed in the battle. Nevertheless, during the successive reigns of Máel Coluim mac Donnchada’s three sons, Edgar, Alexander and David mac Máel Coluim, the Norman settlement in southern Scotland becomes noticeable. One of the most famous surviving charters in Scottish history was issued when David mac Máel Coluim (David I) was inaugurated at Scone in 1124 AD. This was the grant of Annandale to Robert de Brus, a Norman knight in the entourage of the new king.
It is, however, during the reign of William I (1165-1214 AD) that the Norman presence in northern Scotland becomes particularly noticeable. There are probably two main reasons for this. Firstly, under the terms of the Treaty of Falaise (1174), William I was forced to temporarily abandon Scottish claims to lands in Northern England (particularly Northumberland). At least in the short term, the King of Scots was able to focus on extending royal authority north of the Mounth in areas like Moray and Ross. The second reason was the actions of the MacWilliam kin-group who challenged the authority of William I and Alexander II in Moray and Ross until c.1230 AD. As each ‘rebellion’ was defeated, lands in Moray, Ross, Sutherland and Caithness were granted to families – usually of Norman or Flemish extraction – loyal to the kings of Scotland.
In the North-East probably the best example of this process was the granting of the Lordship of the Garioch before 1182 to the brother of William I, David earl of Huntingdon. In turn, earl David granted lands within his new Lordship to Norman and Flemish families like de Boiville, de Audri, le Bret and Bertolf. More importantly perhaps, royal control of this Lordship, together with the building of a new motte and bailey fortification at Inverurie, meant that the kings of Scotland effectively controlled the main overland routes from Aberdeenshire to Moray. As far as Buchan is concerned, the province remained under the control of the native family of mormaír (earls) until c.1212 AD when Marjory, heiress of Fergus, married William Comyn. Consequently, William Comyn was the first Norman earl of any Scottish province and the marriage may have been a reward from William I to William Comyn for supporting the king against the MacWilliams in Moray and Ross c.1211 AD. By 1286 AD another four Scottish earldoms were controlled by families of Anglo-Norman origin.
This phenomenon is not extraordinary in a European context. During the period c.950 to c.1300 AD Norman families spread out through Christendom to rule kingdoms from the Atlantic to the Outremer. What is perhaps unusual about ‘Norman’ Scotland , particularly in contrast to other areas of Norman colonisation, is that native kin-groups in a number of earldoms seem to have continued to play a prominent role in society. Although the heads of these kindreds do not often appear in the primary documentation available to historians, when records of their role in government and society do appear they can be seen to be acting on behalf of an earl and leading the fighting men of the kindred in war.