St. Margaret, Widowed Queen of Scotland

Malcolm and Margaret at Queensferry, detail of a mural by Victorian artist William Hole Wikipedia

In many ways, St. Margaret is a bit of an enigma to us.  Sister of Eadgar Aetheling (see my last post), her family was driven onto the shores of Scotland while fleeing from Norman-occupied England.  She is said to have immediately captivated the King of the Scots, who was determined to make her his wife despite her oft-repeated assertions that she was destined for the church.

Apparently, circumstances pressured Margaret to change her mind about becoming a nun—not the least of which was the obvious need of her brother for foreign support of his claim to the English throne.  But I suspect the main reason she decided to marry Malcolm was the condition of the Scottish Columban church.  They observed the Sabbath on Saturday and worked on Sunday; they refused to receive the Sacrament and didn’t recognize the authority of the Pope. Once Queen of Scotland, Margaret took it upon herself to personally oversee the reformation of the Church, and she did so with ruthless persistence.

A grateful Catholic church remembered her as a perfect, flawless example of Christian piety and duly canonized her in 1250.  What I find interesting is that I believe a canonized female saint must be either a virgin or a widow (please correct me if I am wrong!).  Margaret met that particular condition by a mere three days.  While she lay on her deathbed, husband Malcolm was off on another raid in Northumbria, where he met his end at the siege of Alnwick.

By all indications, their royal marriage was a happy one. Margaret bore six sons and two daughters; the eldest, Edward, was killed alongside his father in 1093. Three of their sons became kings: Edgar, Alexander I, and David I, who reigned until 1153. Their daughter Mary married Eustace III of Boulogne, and Edith (renamed Matilda) married Henry I of England, thus uniting the Normans with the old Anglo-Saxon dynasty.

On receiving news of Malcolm’s death, she is said to have thanked God for “giving her this anguish” at her last hour, then expired, leaving the survivors a difficult task of spiriting away her body while Edinburgh castle was under siege by Malcolm’s half-brother Donald Bane.  (More of that in my novel HEIR TO A PROPHECY.)

Eventually, Malclom and Margaret were buried in Dunfermline Abbey, but she was disturbed again in 1560, when Scottish Calvinist iconoclasts were said to have desecrated the grave and stolen her head.  It is thought that Mary Queen of Scots possessed this reliquary for a while, then the head was toted around Europe and lost during the French Revolution.

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