On the death of King Edmund Ironsides, Canute of Denmark usurped the English throne and exiled Edmund’s two young sons, Edmund and Edward, to Sweden. Canute asked the Swedish King to put them to death. He, however, secretly sent them to Saint Stephen, King of Hungary, who treated them as his own children.
Prince Edmund, on reaching maturity, married Saint Stephen’s only daughter. Of this union were born a son and two daughters, of whom Margaret was the elder.
An ancient biographer records of the child Margaret that ‘she was more beautiful than any other girl of her time.’ Margaret was endowed with great intelligence. Saint Stephen’s court was a model one, and from the saintly king, Margaret learned the lessons of holiness, which rendered her so illustrious as Queen of Scotland. Renowned for her beauty, she was deeply admired for the modesty of her demeanour and gentle disposition. At an early age, she showed a great love of prayer and liked to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and at shrines of Our Lady.
Taught by Saint Stephen, she was prodigal in her generosity to the poor. So much so, that she earned the beautiful title of ‘Mother of the Motherless and Treasurer of God’s poor.’ At the death of her father, Prince Edmund, Margaret resolved to leave the Court and enter the convent. Such, however, was not the Will of God. It was left for her younger sister, Christina, to become the nun.
History was being made in England all this while. Canute, the usurper, died and Saint Edward the Confessor became King of England. He immediately sent for the exiles. Margaret and her brother, Edgar, thus came to the English court. Great joy attended their return. But Edward the Confessor died soon after their arrival. Prince Edgar, Margaret’s brother, was now heir to the throne. Edgar was young and Harold, who was afterwards defeated by William the Conqueror, seized the throne. Edgar was forced to flee for his life. Margaret accompanied him. They were shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. Malcolm III of Scotland received them royally and gave them a permanent home at his court.
The characteristics that distinguished Margaret in Hungary were to the fore in Scotland. All admired beauty, fortitude under trials, evenness of temper, and unbounded sympathy for the sick and the poor. King Malcolm requested Margaret’s hand in marriage. Margaret still longed for the religious life, but, persuaded she was fulfilling the Divine Will, gave her consent. In 1070, at Dunfermline, she became Queen of Scotland. She was then twenty-four years of age.
As a thanksgiving to God, she endowed Dunfermline with a magnificent church, dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. ‘Whilst honouring the Three Divine Persons,’ she said, ‘I wish to ensure, as far as I can, the salvation of my beloved husband and of any children God may give me, as also my own.’
God blessed her with children. Six sons and two daughters were born to the royal couple. The children were early trained to virtue by their saintly mother. She personally superintended their education.
She chose their instructors herself so that none but virtuous tutors should influence them. She even administered corporal punishment, if she deemed it necessary.
Her love for the poor increased, if anything, with her years. Malcolm gave her free access to the royal coffers. She dotted the country with abbeys, schools, monasteries and hospices for travellers and the sick.
Margaret had her slanderers, but her virtue was proof against all evil tongues. There were those who would play Iago to Malcolm’s Othello. Their filthy suggestions were refuted by Malcolm’s own investigations.
Following her to a supposed assignation in the forest, the mentally tortured King found her in a cave she had transformed into a chapel. Burning with shame and self-reproach, the royal eavesdropper heard her praying aloud, beseeching God to “fill the mind of my dear spouse with Your Divine light. Incline his heart to all that is highest and best. May he love You more dearly, follow You more nearly and realize the truth of Your Divine words: ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?’ Amen.”
Malcolm burst in with the heartfelt prayer, ‘My God, forgive me. All unworthy that I am, I render You thanks for the woman You have given me, my holy queen.’ Falling on his knees, he humbly confessed his unworthy thoughts and begged Margaret’s pardon, which she lovingly granted.
From then on, the chronicler of the times tells us, Malcolm would often ‘watch the night in prayer by her side.’
Margaret passed to her eternal reward on the day the now pious Malcolm fell in battle at Alnwick. On November 16, 1093, she heard from Our Divine Lord the ‘Well done’ of the good and faithful servant.
Saint Margaret of Scotland, wife, mother, queen, pray for us.