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Edinburgh History & The Stories Behind the Stories: Queen Margaret of Scotland

18th Jan 2021
Edinburgh History & The Stories Behind the Stories: Queen Margaret of Scotland

Edinburgh History & The Stories Behind the Stories: Queen Margaret of Scotland

In this series we are going to tell the stories of a range of characters from Scottish history. In all of them will be the question, "If we could ask... what would the answer be?" Sometimes the answer will be factual, and sometimes it will be very human. Sometimes you may know the answer, and at other times you may be astonished. We invite you to explore our first character.

Queen Margaret of Scotland: An Unusual Career Choice

Written by Mercat Tours International Storyteller Margaret Hubbard

Margaret’s father had been King of England, and fled from the Vikings into exile in Hungary. He settled, and then married. He had three children, of whom Margaret, the eldest, was born around 1046. They were a happy family. Hungary was deeply religious, and as she grew up, she could not imagine a better life than becoming a nun in that lovely country.

Meanwhile back in England, the English had regained control of the country, and her father was invited back to his throne, when Margaret was twelve or thirteen. Shortly after their return, her father died. The heir to the throne was her little brother, who was just a child. England was plunged into civil war. When William of Normandy, exploiting the situation, invaded in 1066, the remainder of her family fled north. They arrived in Scotland just as King Malcolm was looking to marry. Margaret was ideal. She was young, healthy, and conveniently also, had a claim on the English throne. It's worth noting that Edinburgh history (and indeed, Scottish history in general), would be very different without Margaret.

But Margaret had always wanted to be a nun. She had wanted to make society better, so that the poor did not suffer so badly. She wanted to spread the message of the Roman Church, in order that people became more devout. Did she make the career change because she realised that as queen she would have more influence?

Marriage, and a new era of Edinburgh history

In 1071 she married the King of Scotland at Dunfermline Abbey, and settled into her new home in Edinburgh Castle which was not as it is now, but mostly of timber and clay.

She brought about many changes. At the court she insisted that people eat with knives and forks, instead of with their fingers, stabbing the meat with their daggers. With her foreign connections she was able to set up trade with Europe. Luxury goods came into the country.

Margaret thought in a European way, and believed that the best way forward for Scotland was to look to Europe. It was to the church that she devoted most of her energy. She wanted to shift Scotland from the Celtic Church to the Roman Church. She insisted on Sabbath observation. She began to bring the European religious orders to Scotland. She also set up a ferry to take pilgrims to St. Andrews at a town on the river called ever since Queensferry.

She cared for the poor. Every day she fed nine orphans, and during Lent she and the King washed the feet of six poor people.

She had six sons and two daughters. She died in 1093. Her husband Malcolm, and her son Edward were killed in battle. She herself was ill at the time, and when she was told of the death of her husband and her son, she cried out ‘Deliver me!’ and died. She was buried at Dunfermline.

Perhaps most important of all was what she left behind. Of her six sons, three of them became kings of Scotland. Her youngest son David was the most effective.

He set up the feudal system in Scotland, by which people held their land provided they paid in service to their overlord. He encouraged trade. He established law and order, a legal system and a civil service. He pulled Scotland into a different age. When his father was king, Scotland was in the hands of a Gaelic warlord. When David died, the country had become European, more modern.

My question is If we could ask you, Margaret, do you regret your career change, what would your answer be?

"Not a bit do I regret it. I contributed to Scotland becoming modern and European through the reforms which came with the religious orders. I made it important to care for the less fortunate. I could not have done either from a nunnery on the scale on which I could do this as queen. I think Scotland benefitted from these changes, and how could anyone regret having been part of that?"

Stay tuned for our 2nd instalment next month on the Braveheart before Braveheart: Somerled, Scotland's 12th Century freedom fighter long before William Wallace.

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