Saint Margaret of Scotland

Stained glass window image of Saint Margaret of Scotland in the small chapel at Edinburgh Castle

Stained glass window image of Saint Margaret of Scotland in the small chapel at Edinburgh Castle

Saint Margaret of Scotland, also known by her Anglo-Saxon name Margaret Ætheling (c. 1045 – November 16, 1093), was Edgar Ætheling's sister. She married Malcolm III, King of Scots, becoming his Queen consort.

The daughter of the English prince Edward the Exile or "Edward Outremer", son of Edmund Ironside, Margaret was probably born in Hungary. The provenance of her mother Agatha of Bulgaria is disputed: certainly related to the kings of Hungary, she was either a descendant of Emperor Henry III or a daughter of Yaroslav I of Kiev.

When her uncle, Edward the Confessor, the French-speaking Anglo-Saxon King of England, died in 1066, she was living in England where her brother, Edgar Ætheling, had decided to make a claim to the vacant throne. After the conquest of the Kingdom of England by the Normans, the traditional story has it, however much it may be doubted, that the widowed Agatha decided to leave Northumberland with her children and return to the Continent, but a storm drove their ship to Scotland where they sought the protection of King Malcolm "Canmore". The spot where she is said to have landed is known today as St Margaret's Hope, near the village of North Queensferry. Malcolm was probably a widower, and was no doubt attracted by the prospect of marrying the one of the few remaining members of the Anglo-Saxon royal family. The marriage of Malcolm and Margaret soon took place and was followed by several invasions of Northumberland by the Scottish king, probably in support of the claims of his brother-in-law Edgar. These, however, had little result beyond the devastation of the province.

Far more important were the effects of this alliance upon the history of Scotland. Margaret used her connections to facilitate the introduction of the continental Benedictine monastic order, helping Malcolm to found Dunfermline Abbey. Moreover, a considerable portion of the old Northumbrian kingdom had been conquered by the Scottish kings in the previous century, but up until this time the English population had little influence upon the ruling element of the kingdom. Malcolm's marriage possibly improved the condition of the ethnically Anglo-Saxon population he ruled, and under Margaret's sons, Edgar I, Alexander I and David I, the Scottish royal court became more like that of its Anglo-Norman and continental neighbours. Margaret was very religious, and saw to the building of churches and the preservation of sacred relics. She rebuilt the monastery of Iona, and provided a free ferry (between what is now North and South Queensferry) and housing for pilgrims coming to visit the shrine of Saint Andrew. She was a lavish alms-giver, and paid the ransoms of English hostages held by the Scots.

Margaret and Malcolm had eight children, six sons and two daughters:

  1. Prince Edward of Scotland, killed 1093.
    King Edmund of Scotland
    Ethelred, abbot of Dunkeld
    King Edgar of Scotland
    King Alexander I of Scotland
    King David I of Scotland
  2. Edith of Scotland, also called Matilda, married King Henry I of England
  3. Mary of Scotland, married Eustace III of Boulogne

Her husband, Malcolm, and their eldest son, Edward, were killed in siege against the English at Alnwick Castle on November 13, 1093. Her son Edmund was left with the task of telling his mother of their deaths. Margaret was ill, and she died on 16 November, 1093, three days after the deaths her husband and her eldest son. It is notable that while Malcolm's children by his first wife Ingibjörg all bore Gaelic names, those of Margaret all bore non-Gaelic names. Later tradition often has it that Margaret was responsible for starting the demise of Gaelic culture in the lowlands and Scotland in general. In fact, in Gaeldom, she has usually not been considered a saint, but referred to as Mairead/Maighread nam Mallachd: Accursed Margaret. This tradition, however, is spurious. Margaret's first children were probably intended to bear Margaret's claims to the Anglo-Saxon throne in the period before permanent Norman rule was recognized, and so the first group of children were given Anglo-Saxon royal names. Moreover, it is unlikely that they were originally seen as successors to the Scottish throne, as Malcolm had other (grown) sons and brothers who were much more likely to succeed him. Furthermore, Margaret freely patronized Gaelic churchmen, and Gaelic remained an expanding language in northern Britain. Nevertheless, the descendents of Margaret did, after the death of Duncan I, through the assistance of the Norman establishment of England, succeed Malcolm; and these sons regarded their Anglo-Saxon heritage as important, as the latter was one of the main devices for legitimizing the authority of the Scottish kings in Lothian and northern England.

She was canonised in 1251 by Pope Innocent IV on account of her great benefactions to the Church. The Roman Catholic church formerly marked the feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland on June 10, but the date was transferred to November 16 in the liturgical reform of 1972.

Queen Margaret University College, founded in 1875, is named after her.


  • Original text from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. (with minor corrections)
  • Chronicles of the Picts and Scots (Edinburgh, 1867) edited 1876, by W. F. Skene; and W. F. Skene, Celtic Scotland (Edinburgh).
  • Acta SS., II, June, 320; John Capgrave, Nova Legenda Angliae (London, 1515), 225
  • William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum in P.L., CLXXIX, also in Rolls Series, ed. *William Stubbs (London, 1887-9)
  • Richard Challoner, Britannia Sancta, I (London, 1745), 358
  • Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints, 10 June
  • Richard Stanton, Menology of England and Wales (London, 1887), 544
  • William Forbes-Leith, Life of St. Margaret. . . (London, 1885)
  • Madan, The Evangelistarium of St. Margaret in Academy (1887)
  • Alphons Bellesheim, History of the Catholic Church in Scotland, tr. Blair, III (Edinburgh, 1890), 241-63.
  • Parsons, John Carmi. Medieval Mothering, 1996


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