The Trials of Orabilia MacDuib
Orabilia MacDuib was born in January 1080, the daughter of Causantin MacDuib, the Earl of Fife and Ethelreda of Dunbar, the daughter of Gospatrick, the duke of Lothian. When young Orabilia was a mere four years old, her father died of a sudden attack of pneumonia at the end of January, 1084. The little girl, who did not possess the healthiest constitution in the world to begin with (health 4.0), faced the formidable task of learning to be a countess from a very young age. Her mother Ethelreda became regent and almost immediately remarried, choosing Malise de St. Andrews, a prominent soldier in the county.
After the shocking loss of her father, things appeared to settle down for young Orabilia for several years. Improvements were gradually made to the castle of Cupar, the cathedral of St. Andrews, and the town of Dumfernline as often as money allowed, and together mother and daughter laid plans to take control of the Duchy of Lothian by concocting claims to the counties of Lothian, Dunbar, and Teviotdale. To this end, they dispatched their Chancellor, David of Dumfernline, to Dunbar to “locate” the appropriate proofs for her claim.
All appeared to be going well, but as Orabilia’s family, which included her younger sister Der-Ilei and two half-brothers from her mother’s second marriage, were preparing to celebrate the Yuletide season in 1089, Orabilia received the shocking news that her mother had used her sposition as Regent to embezzle funds from Fife’s meager resources. This crime could not be overlooked, yet because she was the Regent her mother could not be imprisoned. To make matters worse, mother Ethelreda was also the Spymaster of Fife, which made her the principal source of news about plots against the young Countess. Helpless until she attained her majority and in fear for her very life, Orabilia was forced to wait – and learn. Never again would she trust her mother as she had previously.
More tribulations followed. Shortly after the discovery of her mother’s treachery, Orabilia’s venerated guardian, King Malcolm III of Scotland, died at the comparatively young age of 49, and was succeeded by his son Duncan. At this juncture, Orabilia was the beneficiary of good fortune, for Duncan agreed to continue the young Countess’s education. Moreover, after a few years Duncan renewed his father’s custom of hosting an annual New Year’s feast, a celebration which coincided with Orabilia’s birthday and helped to boost her prestige throughout the Kingdom.
While spending time at the royal court, Orabilia also became friends with Malcolm, Duncan’s young son and the heir to the Scottish throne, a connection that would prove decisive for her later fortunes.
As Orabilia entered puberty and approached her age of majority and liberation from her mother’s regency, she discovered that she was not at all attracted to boys and men, preferring instead the company of girls. This inclination could have serious consequences for her ability to marry and produce an heir.
Despite her own feelings, Orabilia was well schooled in her responsibilities, and so she resolved to begin searching for a husband. When she turned 16 in January of 1096 and became Countess of Fife in her own right, her first act was to imprison her deceitful mother. Orabilia also chose for her husband Donnchard, from the Irish house of Ua Ruairc, a virile man who also brought to the marriage a wealth of personal qualities that would benefit the county of Fife. The marriage between Orabilia and Donnchard was a matrilineal marriage, which meant that their children, should there be any, would be permitted to succeed their mother to the title. Immediately after exchanging their vows, Donchard was appointed to the important post of Chancellor of Fife.
Yet the dynasty was still insecure, for Orabilia’s younger sister Der-Ilei, the only heir at that point in time, had contracted a dangerous case of measles, and her life hung in the balance. Given Orabilia’s uncertain ability to produce an heir, the situation was hazardous indeed. Luckily Der-Ilei recovered after a couple of months, offering some hope for stability. Moreover, as things turned out over the next several years, Orabilia was not quite as disinclined toward men as those around her had feared. In February of 1097, she gave birth to a healthy little girl, also named Orabilia. A son, Donald, succeeded as heir in 1100, and a second daughter, Ethelreda, was born in 1102. With the line of succession thus secured, Orabilia cemented the alliance between her family and the ruling house of Dunkeld by arranging a marriage between her sister Der-Ilei and her old companion Malcolm, who had succeeded his father on the Scottish throne in 1094.
Orabilia now turned her attention to the project of enlarging her demesne. As it had been since a she was a young girl, her ambition was to secure control of the Duchy of Lothian. Thanks in part to the diplomatic skills of her husband Donnchard, the plan to fabricate claims for all three counties had succeeded by the time the year 1109 was drawing to a close. Forging the necessary documents had proven expensive, however, and a war of conquest for the counties Orabilia coveted would require the aid of a mercenary army, which she could not yet afford. So, as she had seemingly done for her entire life, Orabilia was forced once again to wait patiently for her opportunity.
This time, for once, Orabilia’s chance was not long in coming, and it arrived in the guise of an old and trusted friend. Shortly after she had gathered the necessary documents for laying claim to the counties she coveted, the duchy of Lothian became the center of a bitter and complicated dispute between the Dukes of Hereford and Lothian, a struggle in which the Earl of Clydesdale also took a hand. After dragging on for more than two years, the tables were dramatically turned by the entry of Orabilia’s old friend and brother-in-law, Malcolm IV, the King of Scotland. Malcolm's armies drove warring parties out of Lothian, whereupon he deposed the previous Duke and awarded the title to Orabilia.
All in all, it had been a perilous path to power for our heroine, but certainly not an uninteresting one!