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The Last of the Saxons: Queen Margaret of Scotland

On Monday, 16 November, Princess Alexandra, the Honourable Lady Ogilvy will be attending a dinner in honour of Queen and Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Saint Margaret of Scotland

Queen and Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Queen Margaret of Scotland was born as Margaret of Wessex circa 1045 in exile in Hungary to Edward the Exile and Agatha, who was of unknown origin. She was a granddaughter of the King of England, Edmund Ironside. After the Danish conquest her father was exiled firstly to Sweden and then to Kiev. He himself relocated to Hungary as an adult. She had a brother who was briefly king, Edward the Ætheling and a sister Cristina, who became a nun.

Margaret left for England in 1057, where her father died shortly after his arrival. They had been called back with the prospect of inheriting the throne from Edward the Confessor. There is possibility he was murdered and his untimely death ultimately led to the Norman conquest. Margaret and her remaining family fled to Scotland where she caught the eye of Malcolm III of Scotland. He was 14 years older than she was and a widower. She was a very pious woman and probably thought to spend her days in a convent after her father’s possible murder. They married sometime before the end of 1070 and would have 8 surviving children over a period of 15 years. She became the mother of three Kings of Scots and a Queen of England.

Malcolm_and_Margaret_at_QueensferryShe instigated religious reform  upon the Scottish Church. She is said to have transferred her piety on her children, especially her sons. She even had her own cave for prayer, which still exists today and it’s appropriately named ‘St. Margaret’s Cave’.  She established a monastery at Dunfermline and even established a ferry service to assist the pilgrims. She spent much of her time in prayer and was much admired by her husband for her piety.

Her death came at a turning point in Scottish history. While her husband and her eldest son Edward were killed at the Battle of Alnwick on 13 November 1093, she lay dying. Her son Edgar came to tell her and this scene is one of the most legendary scenes in Scottish history, although it comes from secondhand testimony. Margaret had received the holy Viaticum on 16 November, but she was in excruciating pain. She asked for the black cross to be brought and with it in her hand recited a psalm.

‘God, the Lord God, has spoken, and summoned the world, from the rising to the setting sun, Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. If you call upon me in time of trouble, I will come to your rescue…’.

After being told the news she spoke the words ‘Deliver me’ and died just four days after her husband.

1024px-Site_of_the_shrine_of_St._Margaret,_Dunfermline_Abbey_Fife

Site of the former Shrine of Queen and Saint Margaret, Dunfermline Abbey.

The story of her remains is a bit gruesome. They were first buried in the Dunfermline Abbey and placed in a shrine there in 1250, when she was canonized. The remains of a saint are considered to be relics. It’s probably during the move to the shrine that her skull was separated from her body. In 1560 it was removed to Edinburgh Castle by Mary, Queen of Scots as a relic to assist her during childbirth. The head ended up in France in 1597 and was lost during the French Revolution. The rest of the remains were transferred to the Escorial in Madrid by Philip II of Spain and now they are lost.

 


 

Photo Credit: Saint Margaret of Scotland in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain], Painting by William Hole via Wikipedia [Public Domain], Dunfermline Abbey via Wikipedia [Public Domain].

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