St Margaret of Scotland

1046 - 16th November 1093

Margaret was married to King Malcolm III, and through their daughter Matilda the English royal family of today can trace their descent from the pre-Conquest kings of England. Theirs was a marriage of opposites: they met when Margaret was shipwrecked off the Scottish coast; she, the refined, cultured and educated granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and daughter of Edward Atheling (of the Anglo-Saxon royal house of England), he a rough, coarse and uncouth man. However, they fell in love!

Margaret was educated in Hungary, where her family lived in exile during the reign of the Danish kings in England. After the Norman invasion of 1066, Margaret married and became Queen of Scotland in 1069. The marriage proved to be happy and fruitful and of their eight children, one daughter, Matilda married Henry I of England and their youngest son, David, became a Saint (David of Scotland, 1085-1153).

Margaret was a woman of prayer as well as good works who seemed to influence for good all with whom she came into contact. Through her the Scottish court achieved a higher standard of civilisation. She was also behind the reform of the Church in Scotland, and founded many monasteries, churches and hostels for pilgrims. She revived the abbey of Iona, and built Dunfermline to be like a Scottish Westminster Abbey, as a burial place for its royal family. She also brought an English influence to both politics and religion – and for that received both praise and criticism!

She devoted much of her time to prayer and reading, lavish almsgiving (including the freeing of Anglo-Saxon captives) and ecclesiastical needlework. Malcolm could not read, but liked to see the books she used at prayer, and he would order them to be decorated with gold or silver binding. One such book, a pocket Gospel book with beautiful portraits and gold initials, survives in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Another, a psalter, thought to be hers, also survives at Edinburgh University.

Margaret lived just long enough to learn of the tragic death of her husband and one of her sons on a military expedition against William Rufus, who had confiscated her family’s Atheling estates. Worn out with her austerities and childbearing, she died days later at the age of 47 in 1093. She was buried beside her husband at Dunfermline: her body was ‘translated’ on 19th June 1250 following a papal inquiry into her Life and miracles. At the Reformation the bodies of Margaret and Malcolm were translated to a chapel in the Escorial, Madrid, specially built for the purpose. She was named patron of Scotland in 1673.

A reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10, 20, 26-31)

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Angela Newton

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Last revised 10th November 2005