Born in Exile, St. Margaret of Scotland Arrived in Her Future Realm with a Vibrant Faith
Her chapel still stands on Edinburgh’s fearsome castle heights, the oldest building in that ancient city. But in spite of her name, St. Margaret Queen of Scotland was not a Scot.
Catholic saints are often not named for their native land, but instead for the lands where they traveled and settled, were exiled to, or where they preached or planted the seeds of the Faith. One such stellar paragon was St. Margaret—Queen of Scotland and wife of King Malcolm.
A Princess Born in Exile
Margaret was born in exile in Hungary in 1045, the daughter of Edward d’Outremer (“The Exile”), who was a kinsman of King St. Edward the Confessor, the rightful heir to the Saxon throne of England. Her mother was Agatha, a German princess and the kinswoman of Gisela, wife of King St. Stephen of Hungary, and granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside. Thus she was descended from royal blood on her father’s side and imperial blood on her mother’s side. Margaret was the sister of Edgar the Aetheling and of Christina, both born in Hungary.
Growing up at the Hungarian court during the reign of the pious Andrew I of Hungary (also known as Andrew the Catholic) no doubt greatly influenced Margaret in becoming a devout Catholic herself. The Saxon royal family of England was in exile following Canute the Great’s conquest of England. She and her family went back to England in 1057, for her father was considered a successor to her great-uncle King St. Edward the Confessor. When Edward died in the fateful year of 1066, her own father died almost immediately upon landfall—to this day, no one knows if it was murder.
Her brother Edgar was then considered to be the heir to the English throne, but Harold Godwinson was selected as king instead, for Edgar may have been considered too young. When Harold was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by William the Conqueror, Edgar was proclaimed King of England. However, the Witenagemot (an advisory assembly of the ecclesiastic and secular ruling class) soon turned the young Edgar over to the Conqueror, who brought him prisoner to Normandy.
Fleeing from William the Conqueror
William finally allowed Edgar to return to England two years later; once he was safely with them, the royal family fled at once. Margaret, Edgar, Christina and their mother Agatha all fled to Northumbria, by the Scottish border. After some time had passed Agatha was determined to go back to England in hopes that Edgar would become its rightful ruler, but Our Lord had other plans. A storm blew the ship they were sailing on northward until they landed in Scotland in a place that was later given the name of ‘St. Margaret’s Hope’ near the village of North Queensferry.
Once there, they looked to the king of Scotland, Malcolm III, for protection. Malcolm had been only a boy when Macbeth (of Shakespeare fame) killed his own father, Duncan. Macbeth was consequently driven out; Malcolm had ascended to the throne of Scotland in A.D. 1054.
Civilizing King Malcolm
Walking to Dumferline, the family were met on the way by King Malcolm, who was smitten with young Margaret. They were married in the Castle of Dumferline in 1070; Margaret was 24 years of age.
From the start of their reign, Margaret immediately set to work to civilize the still-semi-barbarous inhabitants of her realm. She oversaw the building of churches and monasteries, and sewed liturgical vestments. One of the churches she founded was the Abbey of the Holy Trinity at Dumferline, which contained a relic of the True Cross. She also helped restore the monastery at Iona, and established ferries to bring pilgrims to St. Andrew’s in Fife.