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Margaret: Scotland’s saintly monarch

8th Nov 2016
Margaret: Scotland’s saintly monarch

We become so used to seeing villainous characters in history. Scotland’s past is chequered with blood curdling events and ruthless rulers, but not all of our Kings and Queens can be painted in such a dark light. In amongst the battles, sieges and grizzly executions we had a queen who became an actual saint: Margaret of Wessex, wife of King Malcolm III.

Her story reads like the script of a Hollywood movie. The daughter of Edward the Exile she was born into the highly religious royal court in Hungary and first came to England in 1057 when she was around twelve years old. Her father had been named as a possible successor to Edward the Confessor, but a chance of a peaceful life at the English court was thwarted by the Norman Invasion in 1066. She fled by sea, only to find the ship taken off course by a storm, which caused her to land unexpectedly in Scotland. Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, offered her protection and by 1070 they were married. It’s been claimed by some that their marriage was a love match, but in all probability, it was a political alliance. Nevertheless, their marriage seems to have been happy and certainly productive, resulting in eight children.

Religion dominated Margaret’s life. She was controversial, for example, for changing worship in Scotland from a Celtic form of Christianity to the one more familiar in continental Europe. She rose at midnight every night to attend services and would feed orphans and the poor before she herself ate. She believed strongly in pilgrimage. Founding a ferry crossing across the Firth of Forth to aid pilgrims en route to St Andrews and the Abbey she founded in Dunfermline. The ferry crossing was to remain in use for a thousand years, only being discontinued in 1964 when the Forth Road Bridge was opened.

Margaret’s death was as tragic as her life was dramatic. King Malcolm and their son Edward were killed at the Battle of Alnwick on November 13th 1093, news that was delivered to her by her son Edgar. Three days later, on November 16th, she died, consumed with grief.

She was canonised in 1250 for her religious deeds and her legend still lives on to this day. If you come on our Secrets of the Royal Mile tour, you’ll have a chance to see the chapel dedicated to her in Edinburgh Castle, built by her son, King David, in the 1120s. The simple building, see on the right, stands as a poignant legacy, of our most saintly Queen.

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