The Life of Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, by Bishop Turgot


The great loss sustained by the English in the death of Harold was their deprivation of a national leader. Harold’s brothers had fallen with him in the field at Senlac. Of his sons no mention was ever made. Once more men looked to the royal line, and the AEtheling Edgar, the grandson of Edmund Ironside, whilst still a boy, was chosen king. Such a leader did but weaken the national cause ; and no sooner did William approach the city of London than all opposition faded away. The northern Earls, Edwin and Morkar, would hazard nothing, and, dismayed by William’s advance, made haste to retreat northwards. The bishops, after a brief display of resistance, counselled submission to him, and at Christmas his coronation finally made him King of England.

Thus ended the Saxon’s main struggle for freedom. But the country was by no means conquered. East of a line from Norwich to Dorset, William was king. All north and west of that was yet to be won. The English, however, felt that they were almost conquered, and the schemes they formed for their deliverance were wild and desperate. The signal for a general revolt came from Swegen, King of Denmark, on the appearance of his fleet in the Humber in 1068. All northern, western, and south-western England rose as one man. The outbreak was heralded by the storming of York, and by the slaughter of three thousand Normans who formed its garrison. The news of this massacre reached William as he was hunting in the forest of Dean, and, in a wild outburst of wrath, he swore to avenge himself on the North. But wrath went hand-in-hand with the coolest statesmanship. The real enemies to be disposed of were the Danes. These William bought off, and then turning upon the disorganised rebels, he defeated them in detail by a series of masterly marches. The English submitted, and left the Normans undisputed masters of the kingdom. Edgar the AEtheling, with his mother Agatha, his sisters Margaret and Christina, and the last relics of the English nobility, resolved to sail for Wearmouth, and to seek a shelter at the court of Malcolm, King of Scotland. They could hardly have expected to find the man who was to have been their host, in the very act of ravaging their native country; but his savage occupation in no way lessened his friendly feelings towards them. He met them in person, he gave them the most hearty reception, and bade them dwell in his realm as long as it might please them. They sailed towards Scotland; he went on with the harrying of Northumberland. For while he was still at Wearmouth, news had been received that Gospatric, William’s earl in Northumberland, had burst into Malcolm’s Cumbrian province, had devastated the land with fire and sword, and had returned with great spoil to the old fortress of the Northumbrian kings at Bambrough, which he held as his headquarters. When the news of Gospatric’s inroad into Cumberland was brought to Malcolm, he was filled with wrath, and issued orders such as William never gave. From that day forward none of English race were to be spared; the remnant that the Norman had left were to pay for the exploit of their Earl by death or hopeless slavery. The word was given, and it was carried out to the letter by the ruthless marauders to whom it was addressed. The old men and women were slaughtered, as Simeon of Durham puts it, like swine for the banquet. Young men and maidens, and all who were of age and strength to be useful in slavery, were driven in fetters to the land of bondage. Many sank through fatigue, some of them never to rise again; those in whom life was left found no pity, but were driven on all the more unsparingly at the ruthless bidding of Malcolm. Thus, we are told, was Scotland filled with English slaves of either sex. There was not a village, there was not even a house so poor but could boast of some English captive held in thralldom.

While Malcolm was thus making his fearful march homewards, rich with the human spoil of noble England, the English exiles had reached Scotland in safety by sea. Some of the party soon returned to share the dangers of the insurgents at Ely. But the AEtheling and his family paid Malcolm a longer visit, and Margaret, the sister of Edgar, was now entreated by the King to accept his hand. Both the sisters of Edgar, however, were inclined to a religious life. Margaret, her brother and all her companions, at the first utterly refused to hearken to the king’s suit. Bat the love of Malcolm was not to be withstood. “He dealt with her brother till he said Yea; for in truth he durst not say otherwise, seeing they had come into Malcolm’s power.”

“It was,” says Mr Freeman, “a good day for Malcolm and for Scotland when Margaret was persuaded or constrained to exchange the easy self-dedication of the cloister for the harder task of doing her duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call her. Margaret became the mirror of wives, mothers, and queens, and none ever more worthily earned the honours of Saintship. Her gentle influence reformed whatever needed to be reformed in her husband, and none laboured more diligently for the advance of temporal and spiritual enlightenment in her adopted country. . . . There was indeed no need for Margaret to bring a new religion into Scotland, but she gave a new life to the religion which she found existing there. She became the correspondent of Lanfranc, and her life was written by the holy Prior and Bishop Turgot. It is one of the most interesting pieces that we have as a personal and ecclesiastical biography.” As one of our most distinguished Scotch writers truly observes: “There is perhaps no more beautiful character recorded in history than that of Margaret. For purity of motives, for an earnest desire to benefit the people among whom her lot was cast, for a deep sense of religion and great personal piety, for the unselfish performance of whatever duty lay before her, and for entire self-abnegation, she is unsurpassed, and the chroniclers of the time all bear testimony to her exalted character.”

Turgot’s Memoir of Saint Margaret is the only authentic account we have of her life. “My evidence,” says Turgot, “is especially trustworthy, since (thanks to her great and familiar intercourse with me) I am acquainted with the most part of her secrets.” As the late Dr Forbes truly remarks, “there is an atmosphere of calm unexcited truthfulness about the narrative, as well as an absence of the mythical, which commends it to us as the work of an eminent truth-loving man, and the incidental allusions to the current history bear the test of all that we know of the times.”

It is also “full of instructive notices of the state of the Scottish Church and kingdom at the epoch of the Norman conquest of England, and it supplies us with the first really authentic history of Scotland after the notices in Adamnan and Basda, The Pictish Chronicle, and the Book of Deer.”

For the following translation of the life generally ascribed to Turgot we have used the Latin text printed in the Acta Sanctorum, volume 2, 101 (l0th June). Papebroch, who edited it, contends that it was written by Theodoric. His arguments, however, do not seem to us very conclusive. According to Lord Hailes, and other writers, it is probable that Theodoric is either another name for Turgot, or that the name of Theodoric has been prefixed to the Saint’s life instead of Turgot by some copier.


To the honourable and excellent Matilda, queen of the English, T[urgot], servant of the servants of Saint Cuthbert, sends the blessing of peace and health in this present life, and in that which is to come the chief good of all good things.

1. You have, by the request you made, commanded me (since a request of yours is to me a command) that I should narrate for you the particulars of the life of your mother, whose memory is held in veneration. How acceptable that life was to God you have often heard by the concordant praise of many. You remind me how in this matter my evidence is especially trustworthy, since (thanks to her great and familiar intercourse with me) you have understood that I am acquainted with the most part of her secrets. These your commands and wishes I willingly obey; nay, more, I venerate them exceedingly, and I respectfully congratulate you-whom the King of the Angels has raised to the rank of Queen of England-that you desire not only to hear about the life of your mother, who ever yearned after the Kingdom of the Angels, but further, to have it continually before your eyes in writing, that so, although you were but little familiar with her face, you might at least have a perfect acquaintance with her virtues.

For my part, my own wish inclines me to do what you bid, but I have, I confess, a lack of ability: as the materials, in truth, for this undertaking are more than my writing or my words can avail to set forth.

2. So I am in two minds, and drawn two ways at once. On the one hand, the greatness of the subject makes me shrink from obeying; on the other, I dare not refuse because of the authority of you who command me, and the memory of her of whom I am to speak. I cannot do justice to my subject, yet my duty is to make it known so far as I can. I owe this to the love I have for her, and to the obedience which is due from me to you. I trust that the grace of the Holy Spirit, which gave her such powers for good, will vouchsafe to me also the ability to recount them. “The Lord shall give the word to them that preach good tidings with great power.” (Psalm 67:12)

3. In the first place, then, it is my wish that you should know, and others through you, that were I to attempt to recount all I could tell to her honour, I might be suspected, while praising your mother, to be really flattering your own queenly dignity. But far be it from my grey hairs to mingle falsehood with the virtues of such a woman as she was, in unfolding which I profess-as God is my Witness and my judge-that I add nothing to the truth. On the contrary, I suppress many things, fearing that they might appear incredible, and I might be charged (as the orator says) with decking out the crow in the plumage of the swan.

Saint Margaret’s Noble Descent – Her Virtues As A Queen and As A Mother

4. Many, as we read, have got their name from a quality of their mind, so that in their regard there is shown a correspondence between the word forming their name and the grace they have received. Peter was so named from “the Rock,” that is Christ, in token of the firmness of his faith; John, which means “the grace of God,” from his contemplation of the Divinity, and his prerogative of Divine love; and the sons of Zebedee were styled Boanerges, that is, “the sons of thunder,” because they thundered forth the preaching of the Gospel. The same thing was true of this virtuous woman, for the fairness which was pre-shadowed in her name was eclipsed by the surpassing beauty of her soul. She was called Margaret, and in the sight of God she showed herself to be a pearl, precious in faith and works. She was indeed a pearl to you, to me, to all of us, yea, to Christ Himself, and being Christ’s she is all the more ours now that she has left us, having been taken to the Lord. This pearl, I repeat, has been removed from the dunghill of the present world, and now she shines in her place among the jewels of the Eternal King. Of this no one, I think, will doubt, who reads the following narrative of her life and death. When I call to mind her conversations with us, seasoned as they were with the salt of wisdom; when I bethink me of her tears wrung from the compunction of her heart; when I regard her staidness and the even balance of her manners; when I remember her affability and prudence, I rejoice while I lament, and in lamenting I rejoice. I rejoice, because she has passed away to God, after whom she yearned; and I grieve because I am not rejoicing along with her, in the heavenly places. I rejoice for her, because she now sees, in the land of the living, those good things of the Lord in which she had believed; but for myself I mourn, because so long as I suffer the miseries of this mortal life in the land of the dead, so long am I constrained to exclaim day by day: “Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!”

5. Since, then, I am about to speak of that nobility of the mind which she had in Christ, it is fitting that something should be premised as to her nobility according to this world. Her grandfather was that King Edmund who had earned an honourable surname from his matchless valour, for he was staunch in fight and not to be overcome by his enemies; and therefore he was called in English “The Ironside.” His brother on his father’s side, but not on his mother’s, was the most religious and meek Edward, who proved himself a father to his country, which, like another Solomon (that is, a lover of peace), he protected rather by peace than arms. His was a spirit which overcame anger, despised avarice, and was utterly free from pride. And no wonder; for as from his ancestors he drew the glory of his kingly rank, so from them too he inherited his nobility of life. He was descended from Edgar, King of the English, and Richard, Count of the Normans, his grandfathers on either side; not only most illustrious, but also most religious men. Of Edgar it may briefly be said (if we would do justice to his worth as well in this world as in Christ), that he was marked out beforehand as a king at once just and peaceful. For at his birth Saint Dunstan heard the holy angels rejoicing in heaven and singing with great joy: “Let there be peace, let there be joy in the Church of the English as long as this new-born child shall hold his kingdom and Dunstan run the course of this mortal life.”

6. Richard also, father to Emma the mother of this Edward, was an ancestor worthy of so illustrious a grandchild; he was a man of energy and worthy of all praise. None of his forefathers had attained greater prosperity and honour in his earldom of Normandy, nor was any of them more fervent in religion. Though of great wealth, he was poor in spirit, like a second David; though raised to be lord over his people, he was the most humble servant of the servants of Christ. Among other memorials of his love of religion, this devout worshipper founded the noble monastery of F├ęcamp, in which it was his frequent custom to stay with the religious. There, in habit a secular but in heart a monk, he placed the food of the brethren on the table where they were eating their silent meals and served them with drink; so that, according to the Scriptures, “The greater he was, by so much the more did he humble himself to all.” If anyone wishes to be more fully acquainted with his works of magnificence and virtue, let him read the book called “The Acts of the Normans,” which contains his history. Edward, the grandchild of such forefathers, did in no way degenerate from their renown and excellence. As already has been said, he was the brother of King Edmund on the father’s side only; from whose son came Margaret, who by the splendour of her merits completes the glory of this illustrious pedigree.

7. Whilst Margaret was yet in the flower of youth, she began to lead a very strict life, to love God above all things, to employ herself in the study of the Divine writings, and therein with joy to exercise her mind. Her understanding was keen to comprehend any matter, whatever it might be; to this was joined a great tenacity of memory, enabling her to store it up, along with a graceful flow of language to express it.

8. While thus she was meditating upon the law of the Lord day and night, and, like another Mary sitting at His feet, delighted to hear His word, rather in obedience to the will of her friends than to her own, yea by the appointment of God, she was married to Malcolm, son of King Duncan, the most powerful king of the Scots. But although she was compelled to do as the world does, she thought it beneath her dignity to fix her affection upon the things of the world, and thus good works delighted her more than riches. By means of her temporal possession she earned for herself the rewards of heaven; for there, where her heart was, she had placed her treasure also. And since before all things she sought the kingdom of God and His justice, the bountiful grace of the Almighty freely added to her honours and riches in abundance. This prudent queen directed all such things as it was fitting for her to regulate; the laws of the realm were administered by her counsel; by her care the influence of religion was extended, and the people rejoiced in the prosperity of their affairs. Nothing was firmer than her fidelity, steadier than her favour, or juster than her decisions; nothing was more enduring than her patience, graver than her advice, or more pleasant than her conversation.

9. She had no sooner attained this eminent dignity, than she built an eternal memorial of her name and devotion in the place where her nuptials had been held. The noble church which she erected there in honour of the Holy Trinity was to serve a threefold purpose; it was intended for the redemption of the king’s soul, for the good of her own, and for securing to her children prosperity in the present life and in that which is to come. This church she beautified with rich gifts of various kinds, amongst which, as is well known, were many vessels of pure and solid gold for the sacred service of the altar, about which I can speak with the greater certainty since, by the queen’s orders, I myself, for a long time, had all of them under my charge. She also placed there a cross of priceless value, bearing the figure of our Saviour, which she had caused to be covered with the purest gold and silver studded with gems, a token even to the present day of the earnestness of her faith. She left proofs of her devotion and fervour in various other churches, as witness the Church of Saint Andrews, in which is preserved a most beautiful crucifix erected by her there, and remaining even at the present day. Her chamber was never without such objects, those I mean which appertained to the dignity of the divine service. It was, so to speak, a workshop of sacred art: in which copes for the cantors, chasubles, stoles, altar-cloths, together with other priestly vestments and church ornaments of an admirable beauty, were always to be seen, either already made, or in course of preparation.

10. These works were entrusted to certain women of noble birth and approved gravity of manners, who were thought worthy of a part in the queen’s service. No men were admitted among them, with the exception only of such as she permitted to enter along with herself when she paid the women an occasional visit. No giddy pertness was allowed in them, no light familiarity between them and men; for the queen united so much strictness with her sweetness of temper, so great pleasantness even with her severity, that all who waited upon her, men as well as women, loved her while they feared her, and in fearing loved her. Thus it came to pass that when she was present no one ventured to utter even one unseemly word, much less to do aught that was objectionable. There was a gravity in her very joy, and something stately in her anger. With her, mirth never expressed itself in fits of laughter, nor did displeasure kindle into fury. Sometimes she chid the faults of others – her own always – using that commendable severity tempered with justice which the Psalmist directs us unceasingly to employ, when he says, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” Every action of her life was regulated by the balance of the nicest discretion, which impressed its own distinctive character upon each single virtue. When she spoke, her conversation was seasoned with the salt of wisdom; when she was silent, her silence was filled with good thoughts. So thoroughly did her outward bearing correspond with the staidness of her character that it seemed as if she had been from her very birth the pattern of a virtuous life. In fact, I may say, every word which she uttered, every act which she performed, shewed that she was meditating upon the things of heaven.

11. Nor was she less careful about her children than she was about herself. She took all heed that they should be well brought up, and especially that they should be trained in virtue. Knowing that it is written: “He that spareth the rod hateth his son,” she charged the governor who had the care of the nursery to curb the children, to scold them, and to whip them whenever they were naughty, as frolicsome childhood will often be. Thanks to their mother’s religious care, her children surpassed in good behaviour many who were their elders; they were always affectionate and peaceable among themselves, and everywhere the younger paid due respect to the elder. Thus it was that during the solemnities of the Mass, when they went up to make their offerings after their parents, never on any occasion did the younger venture to precede the elder; the custom being for the elder to go before those younger according to the order of their birth. She frequently called them to her, and carefully instructed them about Christ and the things of Christ, as far as their age would permit, and she admonished them to love Him always. “O, my children,” said she, “fear the Lord; for they who fear Him shall lack nothing, and if you love Him, He will give you, my dear ones, prosperity in this life, and everlasting happiness with all the saints.” Such were this mother’s wishes for her children, such her admonitions, such her prayers for them, poured out night and day with tears. She prayed that they might confess their Maker through the faith which works by love, that confessing they might worship Him, worshipping might love Him in all things and above all things, and loving might attain to the glory of the heavenly kingdom.

Her Care for The Honour of The Realm and The Discipline of The Church

12. Nor need we wonder that the queen governed herself and her household wisely when we know that she acted always under the wisest of masters, the guidance of the Holy Scriptures. I myself have had frequent opportunities of admiring in her how, even amidst the distractions of lawsuits, amidst the countless cares of state, she devoted herself with wonderful assiduity to the study of the word of God, respecting which she used to ask profound questions from the learned men who were sitting near her. But just as no one among them possessed a deeper intellect than herself, so none had the power of clearer expression. Thus it very often happened that these doctors went from her much wiser men than when they came. She sought with a religious earnestness for those sacred volumes, and oftentimes her affectionate familiarity with me moved me to exert myself to obtain them for her use. Not that in doing this she cared for her own salvation only; she desired that of others also.

13. First of all in regard to King Malcolm: by the help of God she made him most attentive to the works of justice, mercy, almsgiving, and other virtues. From her he learnt how to keep the vigils of the night in constant prayer; she instructed him by her exhortation and example how to pray to God with groanings from the heart and abundance of tears. I was astonished, I confess, at this great miracle of God’s mercy when I perceived in the king such a steady earnestness in his devotion, and I wondered how it was that there could exist in the heart of a man living in the world such, an entire sorrow for sin. There was in him a sort of dread of offending one whose life was so venerable; for he could not but perceive from her conduct that Christ dwelt within her; nay, more, he readily obeyed her wishes and prudent counsels in all things. Whatever she refused, he refused also, whatever pleased her, he also loved for the love of her. Hence it was that, although he could not read, he would turn over and examine books which she used either for her devotions or her study; and whenever he heard her express especial liking for a particular book, he also would look at it with special interest, kissing it, and often taking it into his hands. Sometimes he sent for a worker in precious metals, whom he commanded to ornament that volume with gold and gems, and when the work was finished, the king himself used to carry the book to the queen as a loving proof of his devotion.

14. The queen on her side, herself a noble gem of royal race, much more ennobled the splendour of her husband’s kingly magnificence, and contributed no little glory and grace to the entire nobility of the realm and their retainers. It was due to her that the merchants who came by land and sea from various countries brought along with them for sale different kinds of precious wares which until then were unknown in Scotland. And it was at her instigation that the natives of Scotland purchased from these traders clothing of various colours, with ornaments to wear; so that from this period, through her suggestion, new costumes of different fashions were adopted, the elegance of which made the wearers appear like a new race of beings. She also arranged that persons of a higher position should be appointed for the king’s service, a large number of whom were to accompany him in state whenever he either walked or rode abroad. This body was brought to such discipline that, wherever they came, none of them was suffered to take anything from anyone, nor did they dare in any way to oppress or injure country people or the poor. Further, she introduced so much state into the royal palace, that not only was it brightened by the many colours of the apparel worn in it, but the whole dwelling blazed with gold and silver; the vessels employed for serving the food and drink to the king and to the nobles of the realm were of gold and silver, or were, at least, gilt and plated.

15. All this the queen did, not because the honours of the world delighted her, but because duty compelled her to discharge what the kingly dignity required. For even as she walked in state, robed in royal splendour, she, like another Esther, in her heart trod all these trappings under foot, and bade herself remember that beneath the gems and gold lay only dust and ashes. In short, in her exalted dignity she was always especially watchful to preserve humility. It was easy for her to repress all vain glory arising from worldly splendour, since her soul never forgot how transitory is this frail life. She always bore in mind the text which describes our condition in this our unstable humanity: “Man, born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who cometh forth as a flower and is destroyed, and fleeth as a shadow, and never continueth in the same state.” She meditated without ceasing upon that passage of the Blessed Apostle James, where he asks: “What is our life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away.” And because, as the Scripture says, “Blessed is the man that is always fearful,”18 this worthy queen made it easier for her to shun sin by placing ever before her soul’s eye, tremblingly and fearfully, the terrible day of judgment. With this thought she frequently entreated me to rebuke her without any hesitation in private whenever I saw anything worthy of blame either in her words or her actions. As I did this less frequently and sharply than she wished, she urged the duty on me, and chid me for being drowsy (so to speak) and negligent in her regard; for,” as she said, “the just man shall correct me in mercy and shall reprove me; but let not the oil,” that is, the flattery,” of the sinner fatten my head.”19 “Better are the wounds of a friend than the deceitful kisses of an enemy.” She could speak thus because she courted censure as helping to her progress in virtue, where another might have reckoned it a disgrace.

16. Journeying thus onwards towards the heavenly country in thought and word and deed, this devout and god-worthy queen called on others to accompany her in the undefiled way, so that they with her might attain true happiness. When she saw wicked men she admonished them to be good, the good to become better, the better to strive to be best. The zeal of God’s house (that is, of the Church) had so consumed her that with apostolic faith she laboured to root up all weeds which had lawlessly sprung up therein. Observing that many practices existed among the Scottish nation which were contrary to the rule of the right faith and the holy customs of the universal Church, she caused frequent councils to be held, in order that by some means or other she might, through the mercy of Christ, bring back into the way of truth those who had gone astray.

17. Among these councils the most important is that in which for three days she, with a very few of her friends, combated the defenders of a perverse custom with the sword of the Spirit, that is to say, with the word of God. It seemed as if a second Helena were there present, for as that queen in former days by citing passages from the Scriptures overcame the Jews, so in our times did Queen Margaret overcome those who were in error. In this discussion the king himself took part as an assessor and chief actor, being fully prepared both to say and do whatever she might direct in the matter at issue. And as he knew the English language quite as well as his own, he was in this council a very exact interpreter for either side.

18. The queen introduced the subject under discussion by premising that all who serve one God in one faith along with the Catholic Church ought not to vary from that Church by new or far-fetched usages. She then laid it down, in the first place, that the fast of Lent was not kept as it ought to be by those who were in the habit of beginning it on the Monday of the first week in Lent; thus differing from the Holy Catholic Church, which begins it on the fourth day of the previous week at the commencement of Lent. The opponents objected thus: “The fast which we observe we keep according to the authority of the Gospel, which reports that Christ fasted for six weeks.” She replied by saying: “Herein you differ widely from the Gospel, wherein we read that our Lord fasted for forty days, a thing which notoriously you do not do. For seeing that during the six weeks you deduct the six Sundays from the fast, it is clear that thirty-six days only remain on which to fast. Plainly, then, the fast which you keep is not that fast of forty days which is commanded by the Gospel, but consists of six and thirty days only. It comes then to this, you ought to do as we do. Like us, you should begin your fast four days before the first Sunday of Lent; that is, if you wish, according to our Lord’s example, to observe an abstinence of forty days. If you refuse to do this, you will be the only persons who are acting in opposition to the authority of our Lord Himself and the tradition of the entire Holy Church.” Convinced by this plain demonstration of the truth, these persons began henceforth the solemnities of the fast as Holy Church observes them everywhere.

19. The queen now raised another point; she asked them to explain why it was that on the festival of Easter they neglected to receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ according to the usage of the Holy and Apostolic Church? They answered her thus: “The Apostle when speaking of persons who eat and drink unworthily, says that they eat and drink judgment to themselves. Now, since we admit that we are sinners, we fear to approach that mystery, lest we should eat and drink judgment to ourselves.” “What!” said the queen to them; “Shall no one that is a sinner taste that holy mystery? If so, then it follows that no one at all should receive it, for no one is pure from sin; no, not even the infant, who has lived but one day upon the earth. And if no one ought to receive it, why did the Lord make this proclamation in the Gospel? Except you shall eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you.’ 24 But if you would understand the passage which you have quoted from the Apostle according to the interpretation of the Fathers, then you must give it quite a different meaning. The Evangelist does not hold that all sinners are unworthy of the sacraments of salvation; for after saying ‘He eateth and drinketh judgment to himself,’ he adds, ‘Not discerning the Body of the Lord;’ that is, not distinguishing it by faith from bodily food. It is the man who, without confession and penance, and carrying with him the defilements of his sins presumes to approach the sacred mysteries, such a one, I say it is, who eats and drinks judgment to himself. Whereas we who many days previously have made confession of our sins and have been cleansed from their stains by chastening penance, by trying fasts, by almsgiving and tears-approaching in the Catholic faith to the Lord’s Table on the day of His Resurrection, receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the immaculate Lamb, not to judgment but to the remission of our sins, and as a health-giving preparation for eternal happiness.” To these arguments they could not answer a word, and knowing now the meaning of the Church’s practices, observed them ever after in the sacrament of salvation.

20. Again, there were certain places in Scotland in which Masses were celebrated according to some sort of strange rite, contrary to her usage of the whole Church. Fired by the zeal of God, the Queen attempted to root out and abolish this custom, so that henceforth, in the whole of Scotland, there was not one single person who dared to continue the practice.

It was another custom of theirs to neglect the reverence due to the Lord’s Day by devoting themselves to every kind of worldly business upon it just as they did upon other days. That this was contrary to the law, she proved to them as well by reason as by authority. “Let us venerate the Lord’s Day,” said she, “because of the resurrection of our Lord, which happened upon that day, and let us no longer do servile works upon it; bearing in mind that upon this day we were redeemed from the slavery of the devil. The blessed Pope Gregory affirms the same, saying: ‘We must cease from earthly labour upon the Lord’s Day and we must devote ourselves entirely to prayer, so that upon the day of our Lord’s resurrection we may make expiation for such negligences as we may have committed during the six days.'” The same Father, Gregory, after censuring with the greatest severity a certain piece of worldly business which had been done on the Lord’s Day, decreed that the persons who had advised it should be excommunicated for two months. The arguments of the queen were unanswerable; and from this time forward those prudent men paid such respect to her earnestness that no one dared on these days either to carry any burden himself or to compel another to do so.

21. Next, she proved how utterly abominable, yea more to be shunned by the faithful than death itself, was the unlawful marriage of a man with his step-mother, as also that the surviving brother should take to wife the widow of his deceased brother; both of which customs had heretofore prevailed in the country. In this council she succeeded in condemning and expelling from her realm many other inveterate abuses which had gained a footing therein, contrary to the Rule of Faith and the institutions and observances of the Church. For everything that she proposed she supported so strongly by the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures and the teaching of the holy Fathers, that no one on the opposite side could say one word against them; nay, rather, giving up their obstinacy and yielding to reason, they willingly consented to adopt all she recommended. Not many years ago, in Germany as well as Belgium, this custom was still kept up, of sending round the loving-cup at grace after dinner.

Her Piety; Her Charity to The Poor; Her Redemption of English Captives; Her Manner of Passing Lent; Her Book of The Gospels

22. Thus it came to pass that this venerable Queen, who by God’s help had been so desirous to cleanse His house from all filth and error, was found day by day worthier of becoming His temple, as the Holy Spirit shone ever brighter in her heart. And I know of a truth that she was such, because I not only saw the works which she did outwardly, but besides this, I knew her conscience, for to me she revealed it. It was her good pleasure to converse with me on the most familiar terms, and to open her secret thoughts to me; not because there was anything that was good in me, but because she thought there was. When she spoke with me about the salvation of the soul and the sweetness of the life which is eternal, every word she uttered was so filled with grace that the Holy Spirit, Who truly dwelt within her breast, evidently spoke by her lips. So deep was her contrition that whilst she was talking, she seemed as if she could melt away in tears, so that my soul, pierced like her own, wept also. Of all living persons whom I know or have known she was the most devoted to prayer and fasting, to works of mercy and almsgiving.

23. Let me speak first of all about her prayerfulness. In church no one was so silent and composed as she, no one so wrapt in prayer. Whilst she was in the house of God she would never speak of worldly matters, or do anything which savoured of the earth; she was there simply to pray, and in praying to pour forth her tears. Only her body was then here below, her spirit was near to God, for in the purity of her prayer she sought nothing but God and the things which are God’s. As for her fasting, I will say this alone, that the strictness of her abstinence brought upon her a very severe infirmity.

24. To these two excellent gifts of prayer and abstinence she joined the gift of mercy. For what could be more compassionate than her heart? Who could be more gentle than she towards the necessitous? Not only would she have given to the poor all that she possessed; but if she could have done so she would have given her very self away. She was poorer than any of her paupers; for they, even when they had nothing, wished to have something; while all her anxiety was to strip herself of what she had. When she went out of doors, either on foot or on horseback, crowds of poor people, orphans and widows flocked to her, as they would have done to a most loving mother, and none of them left her without being comforted. But when she had distributed all she had brought with her for the benefit of the needy, the rich who accompanied her, or her own attendants, used to hand to her their garments, or anything else they happened to have by them at the time, that she might give them to those who were in want; for she was anxious that none should go away in distress. Nor were her attendants at all offended nay rather each strove who should first offer her what he had, since he knew for certain that she would pay it back two-fold. Now and then she helped herself to something or other out of the King’s private property, it mattered not what it was, to give to a poor person; and this pious plundering the King always took pleasantly and in good part. It was his custom to offer certain coins of gold upon Maundy Thursday and at High Mass, some of which coins the Queen often devoutly pillaged, and bestowed on the beggar who was petitioning her for help. Although the King was fully aware of the theft, he generally pretended to know nothing of it, and felt much amused by it. Now and then he caught the Queen in the very act, with the money in her hand, and laughingly threatened that he would have her arrested, tried, and found guilty. Nor was it towards the poor of her own nation only that she exhibited the abundance of her cheerful and open-hearted charity, but those persons who came from almost every other nation, drawn by the report of her liberality, were the partakers of her bounty. Of a truth then this text may be applied to her, “He hath dispersed abroad, he hath given to the poor, therefore his justice remaineth for ever.”

25. But who can tell the number of English of all ranks, carried captive from their own land by violence of war and reduced to slavery,30 whom she restored to liberty by paying their ransom? Spies were employed by her to go secretly through all the provinces of Scotland and ascertain what captives were oppressed with the most cruel bondage, and treated with the greatest inhumanity. When she had privately ascertained where these prisoners were detained, and by whom ill-treated, commiserating them from the bottom of her heart, she took care to send them speedy help, paid their ransom and set them at liberty forthwith.

26. At the period of which we are speaking, there were in many places throughout the realm of Scotland persons shut up in different cells, and leading lives of great strictness; in the flesh, but not according to the flesh; for being upon earth, they led the life of angels. These the Queen busied herself in often visiting and conversing with, for in them she loved and venerated Christ, and would recommend herself to their prayers. As she could not induce them to accept any earthly gift from her, she urgently entreated them to be so good as to bid her perform some alms-deed or work of mercy, and this devout woman did forthwith fulfil whatever was their pleasure, either by helping the poor out of their poverty or by relieving the distressed in their troubles, whatever these might be.

27. Since the church of Saint Andrews was much frequented by the devout, who flocked to it from all quarters, she erected dwellings on either shore of the sea which divides Lothian from Scotland, so that the poor people and the pilgrims might shelter there and rest themselves after the fatigues of their journey. She had arranged they should there find all that they needed for the refreshment of the body. Servants were appointed, whose especial duty it was to see that everything which might be required for these wayfarers should be always in readiness, and who were directed to attend upon them with all diligence. Moreover, she provided ships for the transport of these pilgrims both coming and going, nor was it lawful to demand any fee for the passage from those who were crossing.

28. Having spoken of the daily manner of life of this venerable queen, as well as of her daily works of mercy, it is fitting that I should now attempt to say a few words as to the way in which she habitually spent the forty days before Christmas, and the entire season of Lent. After taking rest for a short period at the beginning of the night, she went into the church, and there, alone, she completed first of all the Matins of the Holy Trinity, then the Matins of the Holy Cross, and lastly the Matins of Our Lady. Having ended these, she began the offices of the Dead, and after these the Psalter; nor did she cease until she had reached its conclusion. When the Priests were saying the Matins and Lauds at the fitting hour, she in the meantime either finished the Psalter she had begun, or if she had completed it, began saying it a second time. When the office of Matins and Lauds was finished, returning to her chamber, along with the king himself, she washed the feet of six poor persons; and used to give them something wherewithal to relieve their poverty. It was the chamberlain’s special duty to bring these poor people in every night before the queen’s arrival, so that she might find them ready when she came to wait upon them. Having done this, she went to take some rest in sleep.

29. When it was morning she rose from bed and devoted a considerable time to prayer and the reading of the Psalms, and while thus engaged, she performed the following work of mercy. She ordered that nine little orphans utterly destitute should be brought in to her at the first hour of the day, and that some soft food such as children at that tender age like, should daily be prepared for them. When the little ones were carried to her she did not think it beneath her to take them upon her knee, and to get their pap ready for them, and this she put into their mouths with the spoon which she herself used. The queen, who was honoured by all the people, did this act of charity for the sake of Christ, and as one of Christ’s servants. To this most loving mother might be applied with great propriety that saying of the blessed Job, “From my infancy mercy grew with me, and it came forth with me from my mother’s womb.”

30. While this was going on, it was the custom to bring three hundred poor people into the royal hall, and when they were seated round it in order, the king and queen entered; whereupon the doors were shut by the servants, for with the exception of the chaplains, certain religious and a few attendants, no one was permitted to be present at the giving of these alms. The king on the one side and the queen on the other waited upon Christ in the person of His poor, and served them with food and drink which had been prepared for this special purpose. When the meal was finished, the queen’s wont was to go into the church, and there with long prayers, with tears and sighs to offer herself as a sacrifice to God. Upon holy days, in addition to the hours of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Cross, and Holy Mary, recited within the space of a day and a night, she used to repeat the Psalter twice or thrice; and before the celebration of the Public Mass she caused five or six Masses to be sung privately in her presence.

31. These concluded, it was time for the queen’s repast. But before this was served she herself humbly waited upon twenty-four poor people whom she fed; for without reckoning the alms-deeds which I have already mentioned, throughout the course of the year she supported twenty-four poor as long as she lived. It was her will that wherever she lived they also should be living in the neighbourhood; wherever she went they were to accompany her. Not until after she had devoutly waited upon Christ in these His poor was it her habit to refresh her own feeble body. In this meal she hardly allowed herself the necessaries of life, since the Apostle teaches us that we ought not to make provision for the flesh in its concupiscences. She ate no more than sufficed for the preservation of her life, and not to gratify her palate. Her meal-frugal and scanty-rather excited hunger than allayed it. She seemed to taste her food, not to take it. From this let it be understood, I pray you, how great was her abstinence when she fasted, remembering what it was when she feasted. Her whole life was one of exceeding temperance, but during the fasts (that is during the forty days before Easter and Christmas), the abstinence she was accustomed to afflict herself with was incredible. By reason of this excessive severity she suffered to the end of her life from an acute pain in the stomach; yet the weakness of her body did not impair her strength in good works. During this period she was assiduous in reading the sacred volumes, she was instant in prayer, her alms were unceasing, and she exercised herself wholly and watchfully in all the things of God. And knowing, as she did, that it is written, “Whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth, and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,” she willingly accepted with patience and thanksgiving the pains of the flesh, regarding them as the stripes of a most loving Father.

32. Devoted as she was to such works as these, and burdened by the like constant infirmities, God’s power was made perfect in her weakness. Thus passing onwards from strength to strength, each day made her better. And now forsaking all things earthly with her whole soul, she longed for the things of heaven, yea, thirsted after them, exclaiming with the Psalmist in the language both of her heart and lips, “My soul hath thirsted after God, the living fountain; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?” I leave it to others to admire the tokens of miracles which they see elsewhere, I admire much more the works of mercy which I perceived in Margaret; for signs are common to the good and the bad, whereas works of piety and true charity belong to the good only. The former sometimes are the proof of holiness, the latter are that which constitutes it. Let us then, I repeat, admire in Margaret the actions which made her a saint, rather than the miracles which, had we any record of them, would have proved that she was one. In her character let us observe with admiration the works of the ancient Saints rather than their miracles-her justice, her piety, her mercy, and her love. Yet it will not be out of place if I here narrate one incident which may go to prove what the holiness of her life was.

33. She had a book of the Gospels beautifully adorned with gold and precious stones, and ornamented with the figures of the four Evangelists, painted and gilt. All the capital letters throughout the volume were radiant with gold. She had always felt a particular attachment for this book; more so than for any of the others which she usually read. It happened that as the person who carried it was once crossing a ford, he let the book, which had been carelessly folded in a wrapper, fall into the middle of the river. Unconscious of what had occurred, the man quietly continued his journey; but when he wished to produce the book, suddenly it dawned upon him that he had lost it. Long was it sought, but nowhere could it be found. At last it was discovered lying open at the bottom of the river. Its leaves had been kept in constant motion by the action of the water, and the little coverings of silk which protected the letters of gold from becoming injured by contact with the opposite page, were carried off by the force of the current. Who would fancy that the book could afterwards be of any value? Who would believe that even a single letter would have been visible? Yet of a truth, it was taken up out of the middle of the river so perfect, so uninjured, so free from damage, that it did not seem to have even been touched by the water. The whiteness of the leaves and the form of the letters throughout the volume remained exactly as they had been before it had fallen into the river, except that in part of the end leaves the least possible mark of damp might be detected. The book was conveyed to the queen, and the miracle was at the same time related to her; and she, having thanked Christ, valued it much more highly than she had done before.39 Whatever others may think, I for my part believe that this wonder was worked by our Lord out of His love for the venerable queen.

The Queen’s Preparation for Her Departure, Her Sickness and Happy Death

34. Whilst Almighty God was preparing everlasting rewards for her works of devotion, the queen was preparing herself with more than her usual assiduity for entering another life. Her own words made this more obvious shortly afterwards. It would seem that her departure from this world, as well as certain other events which were impending, had been known by her long beforehand. Therefore, summoning me to come to her privately, she began to recount to me in order the history of her life, and as she proceeded with it she shed floods of tears. In short, so deep was her compunction, and out of this compunction sprang such abundant tears, that – as it seemed to me – there was nothing whatever which at that time she might not have obtained from Christ. When she wept, I wept likewise; and thus we wept and at times were silent altogether, since by reason of our sobs we could not give utterance to words. For the flame of that compunction which consumed her heart reached my soul also, borne in thither by the spiritual fervour of her words. And when I heard the language of the Holy Ghost speaking by her tongue, and could thoroughly read the tenderness of her conscience by what she said, I judged myself unworthy of the grace of so exalted a familiarity.

35. When she had ended what she had to say about matters which were pressing, she then addressed herself to me, saying: “I now bid you farewell. I shall not continue much longer in this world, but you will live after me for a considerable time. There are two things which I beg of you. One is, that as long as you survive you will remember me in your prayers; the other is, that you will take some care about my sons and daughters. Lavish your affection upon them; teach them before all things to love and fear God; never cease instructing them. When you see any one of them exalted to the height of an earthly dignity, then, as at once his father and his master in the truest sense, go to him, warn him lest through means of a passing honour he become puffed up with pride, or offend God by avarice, or through prosperity in this world neglect the blessedness of the life which is eternal. These are the things, said she, which I ask you-as in the sight of God, who now is present along with us both-to promise me that you will carefully perform.” At these words I once more burst into tears, and promised her that I would carefully perform her wishes; for I did not dare to oppose one whom I heard thus unhesitatingly predict what was to come to pass. And the truth of her prediction is verified by present facts; since I survive her death, and I see her offspring elevated to dignity and honour. Thus, having ended the conference, and being about to return home, I bade the queen my last farewell; for after that day I never saw her face in the flesh.

36. Shortly afterwards she was attacked by an infirmity of unusual severity, and was purified by the fire of a tedious sickness before the day on which God called her to Himself. I will describe her death as I heard it narrated by a priest of hers, whom she loved more intimately than the others on account of his simplicity, his innocence, and his purity. After the queen’s death he made an oblation in perpetual service for her soul, and having put on the monk’s habit offered himself up as a sacrifice for her at the tomb of the uncorrupt body of the most holy Father Cuthbert. He was continually beside the queen during the last days of her life, and with his prayers recommended her soul to Christ when it was leaving the body. He gave me more than once a connected narrative of her decease as he saw it, for I frequently asked him to do so; and in doing this he was moved to tears.

37. “For a little more than half a year,” said he, “she was never able to ride on horseback, and seldom to rise from her bed. On the fourth day preceding her death, while the king was absent on an expedition, and at so great a distance that it was impossible for any messenger, however swift, to bring her tidings of what was happening to him, she became sadder than usual. Then she said to me, for I was seated near her, ‘Perhaps on this very day such a heavy calamity may befall the realm of Scotland as has not been for many ages past.’ When I heard these words I paid no great attention to them, but a few days afterwards a messenger arrived who told us that the king was slain on the very day on which the queen had spoken the words narrated. As if foreseeing the future, she had been most urgent with him not to go with the army, but it came to pass-how I know not-that he failed to follow her advice.

38. “On the approach of the fourth day after the king’s death, her weakness having somewhat abated, the queen went into her oratory to hear Mass ; and there she took care to provide herself beforehand for her departure, which was now so near, with the holy Viaticum of the Body and Blood of our Lord. After partaking of this health-giving food she returned to her bed, her former pains having assailed her with redoubled severity. The disease gained ground, and death was imminent . . . . Her face was already covered with a deadly pallor, when she directed that I, and the other ministers of the sacred Altar along with me, should stand near her and commend her soul to Christ by our psalms. Moreover, she asked that a cross, called the Black Cross, which she always held in the greatest veneration, should be brought to her. There was some delay in opening the chest in which it was kept, during which the queen, sighing deeply, exclaimed, ‘O unhappy that we are! O guilty that we are! Shall we not be permitted once more to look upon the Holy Cross!’ When at last it was got out of the chest and brought to her, she received it with reverence, and did her best to embrace it and kiss it, and several times she signed herself with it. Although every part of her body was now growing cold, still as long as the warmth of life throbbed at her heart she continued steadfast in prayer. She repeated the whole of the Fiftieth Psalm, and placing the cross before her eyes, she held it there with both her hands. When Edward the First invaded Scotland, he seized on this cross as one of the English crown jewels, and carried it into England. Robert Bruce so vehemently demanded its restoration that Queen Isabella yielded it up on the pacification during her regency in 1327; but its surrender exasperated the English more than the most flagrant of her misdeeds.

39. “It was at this point that her son, who now, after his father, holds in this realm the reins of government, having returned from the army, entered the queen’s bedroom. Conceive his distress at such a moment! Imagine to yourself how his heart was racked! He stood there in a strait; everything was against him, and whither to turn himself he knew not. He had come to announce to his mother that his father and brother were both slain, and he found that mother, most dearly beloved by him, at the point of death. He knew not whom first to lament. Yet the loss of his dearest mother, when he saw her lying nearly dead before his eyes, stung him to the heart with the keenest pang. Besides all this, the condition of the realm occasioned him the deepest anxiety, for he was fully aware that the death of his father would be followed by an insurrection. Sadness and trouble beset him on every side.

40. “The queen, who seemed to the bystanders to be rapt in an agony, suddenly rallied and spoke to her son. She asked him about his father and his brother. He was unwilling to tell the truth, and fearing that if she heard of their death she herself would immediately die, he re-plied that they were well. But, with a deep sigh she exclaimed, “I know it, my boy, I know it. By this holy cross, by the bond of our blood, I adjure you to tell me the truth.” Thus pressed, he told her exactly all that had happened. What could she do, think you? To murmur against God was with such a one impossible. At the same moment she had lost her husband and her son, and disease was bringing her to a cruel death, yet in all these things she sinned not with her lips, nor spoke foolishly against God. Raising her eyes and her hands towards heaven, she glorified God, saying, “All praise be to Thee, Almighty God, who hast been pleased that I should endure such deep sorrow at my departing, and I trust that by means of this suffering it is Thy pleasure that I should be cleansed from some of the stains of my sins.”

41. “Feeling now that death was close at hand, she at once began the prayer which is usually uttered by the priest before he receives the Body and Blood of our Lord, saying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, who according to the will of the Father, through the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, hast by Thy death given life to the world, deliver me.’ As she was saying the words, ‘Deliver me,’ her soul was freed from the chains of the body, and departed to Christ, the author of true liberty; to Christ whom she had always loved, and by whom she was made a partaker of the happiness of the saints, as she had followed the example of their virtues. Her departure was so calm, so tranquil, that we may conclude her soul passed at once to the land of eternal rest and peace. It was remarkable that her face, which, when she was dying had exhibited the usual pallor of death, became afterwards suffused with fair and warm hues, so that it seemed as if she were not dead but sleeping. Her corpse was shrouded as became a queen, and was borne by us to the Church of the Holy Trinity, which she had built. There, as she herself had directed, we committed it to the grave, opposite the altar and the venerable sign of the Holy Cross which she had erected. And thus her body at length rests in that place in which, when alive, she used to humble herself with vigils, prayers, and tears.”

* * *

The public opinion of Margaret’s sanctity had already prevailed all over Britain for the space of more than one hundred and fifty years, when it received the sanction of Pope Innocent IV in the year 1250. On that occasion, and on the 19th of June of that year, the body of the saint was taken up from the grave, where it had hitherto lain, and was put into a silver shrine, adorned with precious stones, which was placed under the high altar of the church.

“According to Papebroch’s appendix to the life of the saint and queen, her head was brought to the Castle of Edinburgh at the desire of Queen Mary, who was in it at the time, and on her flight into England in 1567 it was removed to the house of the Laird of Dury, where it was preserved for many years by a Benedictine monk, but in the year 1597 was by him given up to the missionary Jesuits. One of these, John Robie, conveyed it to Antwerp. There John Malder, Bishop of Antwerp, after proper examination, issued his letters, on 15th September 1620, authenticating the head as that of Saint Margaret, and granting leave for its being exposed to public veneration. After seven years the relic was translated to the Scots College at Douay, where, by permission of Herman, Bishop of Arras, and his successor, Paul Boudot, it was again exposed as a genuine relic to public veneration. Pope Innocent X, by a brief dated March 4th, 1645, granted a plenary indulgence to those who should visit the church of the college on the festival of Saint Margaret, and this grant was confirmed by his successors at various times afterwards. It is believed that this relic disappeared amid the commotions of the French Revolution.

“With regard to the other remains of Queen Margaret and her husband, if we may believe the accounts given by Papebroch, which he seems to have partly, if not wholly, derived from a statement by George Con, in his treatise, ‘De Duplice Statu Religionis apud Scotos,’ they were, after much labour, acquired by Philip II, King of Spain, and by him placed in the Church of Saint Lawrence at the Escurial, with the inscriptions, ‘Saint Malcolm, King; Saint Margaret, Queen,’ on the urns containing them. Bishop Gillis, in the hope of having the relics of Saint Margaret again restored to a Scottish shrine, invoked the aid of Pius the Ninth in an application to the Spanish Government for their restoration, but they could not be found, or at all events identified.”

About This EBook

The text of this work was taken from the book The Life of Saint Margaret, Queen Of Scotland by Turgot, Bishop of Saint Andrews, Scotland. It was translated from the Latin by William Forbes-Leith, S.J. The original Latin was written prior to 1115, and the English edition used was published in Edinburgh by William Paterson in 1884.