To mark International Women’s Day, I’m shining the spotlight on my 29-greats-grandma, Queen/Saint Margaret of Scotland. I wish more people knew about her, since she was an extraordinary queen-consort and Medieval woman.
Margaret was born Princess of Wessex in Hungary, circa 1045, to Prince Edward the Exile and Princess Agatha. The family returned to England in 1057, but their return wasn’t to be happy or long-lived. Edward passed away immediately after their arrival, and then came the Norman invasion of 1066. In 1067, Margaret’s family were shipwrecked in Scotland while attempting to sail to continental Europe.
King Malcolm III (ca. 26 March 1031–13 November 1093), Margaret’s future husband, warmly welcomed them to his beautiful, proud country and gave them refuge. However, sources differ on just when Malcolm and Margaret first met.
Painting by William Hole
Malcolm, a widower with two sons, was happy for the chance to marry one of the few remaining members of the Anglo–Saxon royal family. He and Margaret wed in 1070, and had eight kids, six boys and two girls. Amazingly, they all survived childhood.
Their youngest child, King David I of Scotland, is my direct ancestor. Like my 36-greats-grandpap King Alfred the Great of England (Margaret’s five-greats-grandpap), no one expected he’d inherit the throne and continue the dynasty through his line. Dark horses should never be discounted!
As Queen Consort of Scotland, Margaret undertook many religious reforms and charitable works. Though Malcolm wasn’t religious at all, he was completely accepting of her piety and religious reforms. Margaret’s faith had a great civilizing influence on him, and she read her illiterate husband stories from the Bible. He admired and respected her faith so much, he had her books decorated in silver and gold.
One of these books, an illustrated pocket Gospel, is now in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.
Margaret created ferries for pilgrims, invited Benedictines to establish a monastery in the town of Dunfermline, served orphans and the poor before she ate every single day, jump-started the restoration of Iona Abbey, washed the feet of the poor, did a lot of religious embroidery, and helped with the release of fellow English exiles being held in Norman serfdom.
She spent much of the rest of her time praying and reading devotional works.
Though Margaret wasn’t queen in her own right, she did far more than just passively wear a crown like many other queen-consorts. Her fine example of piety, charity, and just rulership were not only a big influence upon King Malcolm III, but upon their son David. David was such an exemplary ruler, one of the finest in Scottish history, his reign is known as the Davidian Revolution.
Margaret and Malcolm’s marriage was also noteworthy for the Middle Ages. Over time, they grew to deeply love one another. And while Malcolm never became religious himself, he didn’t have any problems with Margaret’s piety or religious reforms. Successful relationships require compromise and respecting one another’s differences.
I’m so proud to be descended from Queen Margaret.