Margaret of Scotland was born around 1045. A member of England’s ruling dynasty, the Anglo-Saxons, Margaret’s grandfather was King Edmund II. Instead of inheriting the throne, Margaret’s father, Prince Edward, would be exiled to Hungary. While in exile, Edward married Princess Agatha and had three children: Edgar, Margaret, and Cristina. The prince’s fortunes later improved after being recalled to England by his uncle, King Edward the Confessor. However, Prince Edward would die shortly after returning in September 1057.
Over the next nine years, Margaret’s family lived at the English court. After King Edward died in January 1066, his kingdom began to experience infighting. The old king had been childless and failed to name a clear successor. As a result, Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy sought to gain the English throne. After Harold seized the throne and became King Harold II, William vowed to overthrow him.
On September 27, 1066, William and his Norman army invaded England. The following month, William met Harold at Hastings. During the Battle of Hastings, Harold died after being struck in the eye by an arrow. The king’s forces eventually scattered, allowing William to emerge victoriously. Due to William’s victory, the Anglo-Saxon dynasty ended, and the Normans took power.
Exile in Scotland
Fearing for her children’s safety, Agatha fled with them to Scotland. In turn, King Malcolm III welcomed Agatha and her children and offered them protection. While in exile, Margaret sought to devote herself to God and become a nun. However, the exiled status of her family required Margaret to make an alliance through marriage. As a result, the reluctant princess married Malcolm in 1070.
As queen, Margaret of Scotland influenced her husband and the Scottish court. Since Malcolm III wanted one of their sons to inherit the English throne someday, he readily embraced his wife’s culture. As a result, the couple gave four of their sons traditional Anglo-Saxon names: Edward, Edmund, Ethelred, and Edgar. The number of Anglo-Saxons at the Scottish court also increased. Instead of Scandinavian culture, Anglo-Saxon culture took hold. Although Malcolm focused on grooming his sons to rule, Margaret took an interest in Scotland’s churches.
Throughout her life, Margaret of Scotland was a very religious individual. Although she had wanted to become a nun, she instead became a queen. Despite this, Margaret never wavered in her religious devotion. As a result, the queen felt the need to reform the Scottish churches. To her, Scotland’s religious practices were outdated and poorly organized. With Malcolm III’s assistance, Margaret began enacting her reforms.
The queen initially began by meeting with Scotland’s clerics. During this meeting, Margaret of Scotland urged the clerics to obey her reforms and start implementing them. The queen also requested that a new monastery be founded in Dunfermline. Although Margaret championed her reforms, they would only experience limited success during her lifetime. However, her sons would continue her work after her death.
Conflict With England
As queen, the cultured Margaret attempted to temper her rough husband. Despite her influence, Malcolm III remained a warrior king. During William I’s reign, the Scottish king made multiple raids across the border. When William eventually invaded Scotland in 1072, Malcolm quickly began peace negotiations. Although both men agreed to a truce, Malcolm would continue to harass the English. Through his efforts, the king expanded Scotland’s border further south at England’s expense.
In 1087, William I died and his son, William II, inherited the throne. Due to his prior successes, Malcolm III continued his raids. In 1091, William would make peace with the Scottish king. However, William secretly sought to provoke Malcolm. In turn, the English king would have a reason to invade Scotland. After William failed to uphold his end of the peace treaty, an angry Malcolm invaded in early November 1093.
On November 13, Malcolm III and his army would be ambushed near Alnwick. Due to the rain and mud, the English surrounded the Scottish army. During the battle, Malcolm and his heir, Edward, would be killed. As the Scots fled, Margaret of Scotland lay dying. Worn out from multiple pregnancies and religious fastings, the queen learned of her husband and son’s deaths. On November 16, a devastated Margaret succumbed to her illness and died.
Throughout her life, Margaret of Scotland devoted herself to God. The queen supported religious reforms and practiced religious observance. Due to her life of virtue, Pope Innocent IV declared Margaret a saint in 1250. Centuries after her death, the queen is recognized as a patron saint of Scotland with her feast day on November 16.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Catholic Online. (n.d.). St. Margaret of Scotland – Saints & Angels. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=304