The Queen Saints, by Father Hugh Francis Blunt

One thing that stands out in the history of the Church is that sanctity is possible to all. The Litany of the Saints is the most cosmopolitan catalogue in existence. It is the census-book of the “great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and in the sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” The young and the old, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the king and the peasant, the queen and her slave, from every walk of life they advance to the throne of God. What a consolation there is in that! It is for us an act of hope.

Sometimes the possibility of sanctity seems so remote. We fancy that if our lot in life were different, we would serve God better. But that is generally a delusion. The chances are that if we are cold and careless to God in our present circumstances, we would be just the same in any other walk of life. If we but lived in the time of Christ, we say, how blessed were we to follow him! Perhaps we would have followed Him; perhaps, on the other hand, we would have been of the mob that demanded His blood. For if we earnestly desire sanctity, have we not at our disposal the same graces which the friends of the Master had? And with that thought we should make the most of our state in life.

Most of us are just where God wants us to be. All are not called to the cloister. There is God’s work to be done in the world as in the nunnery; and while we know that they are specially blessed who have a vocation to the religious life, we also know, as Saint Augustine showed in his book On the Advantages of Matrimony, that there have been many married women who have surpassed many virgins in sanctity. Whatever the condition of life, God can sanctify it. It is easy for the poor to be good, say the rich; it is easy for the rich to be good, say the poor. Anything for an excuse, when all in their heart know that God will come to dwell in their cottage or in their palace, if they but invite Him.

Yet there is something especially striking in the lives of those who, living in the midst of wealth, have chosen poverty; who, when they might be flattered and fawned upon, have made themselves humble. It requires a great deal of heroism for a queen to be humble; rather, it requires a great grace from God. There are so many temptations for queens to consider themselves as little less than God Himself. Surely, it is hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; hard for the man that wears a crown; hard, but not impossible. How many kings have been raised to the altars of God! How many queens, too! And through what difficulties! It is not an easy thing. The consciousness of power, of superiority, is a sweet morsel. Saint Augustine would have been converted long before he was, if he had not been so conceited about his talents. Men and women, from being worshipped, get to worship themselves. Somehow it is in the nature of things, and we who find fault with the dignity assumed by the great would be, perhaps, overbearingly proud if the tables were turned. The notorious Madame Roland, when she was a poor, unnoticed woman, used to protest against the worldly glory of the regal Marie Antoinette. But as soon as Madame Roland got a little power with the Girondists she was overbearing. It was harder to see her than the Queen. A little power made her lose her head in more senses than one.

So that it gives our Catholic souls a thrill when we see women, having all that the world can give, living amid the temptations inseparable from the court, yet becoming poor in spirit, humble maid-servants of the Lord, their greatest glory to doff their crown and cry out, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” There have been many of these noble women in all ages of the Church. During the middle ages there were many queens who, though on their thrones, lived the life of the cloister. Such were the wife of Charlemagne; Cunegonde, wife of Henry I, King of England; Agnes, wife of Henry III; Elizabeth, wife of the Emperor Albert, first Archduke of Austria; Radegonde, wife of Clotaire; Adoere, wife of Chilperic; Bathilde, wife of Clovis II; and Agnes of Bohemia, betrothed to the Emperor Frederick II. To relate all the great Catholic queens who have, amid their worldly glory, edified civilization would be but to give a catalogue of names. From the vast number we have chosen those of special sanctity – those who stepped from their throne in the world to a throne in heaven, raised to the altars of God as canonized saints.

The first queen-saint that we have memory of is the great Saint Helena, who, according to the old tradition that persists from the fifth century, discovered the true Cross in the place where it had been buried in Jerusalem. Helena was one of the women who did not lose their heads by being lifted from lowliness to a throne. In the wildest dreams of her girlhood she never fancied anything approaching the reality of her later life. She was born in humble circumstances, far removed from royalty. Saint Ambrose tells us that she was an innkeeper. It was while she was doing this humble work in her native city of Drepanum on the Nicomedian Gulf that she met the Roman general Constantius Chlorus. He fell in love with her and married her. Perhaps if he had foreseen that one day he would be the great Roman Emperor, he would not have condescended to wed the poor innkeeper. Anyway, when, in the year 292, he became co-regent of the West, he began to think of making a marriage that would mean more to him politically. So without any scruple he put aside the wife that was good enough for him when he was a mere Roman officer, and married Theodora, the stepdaughter of the Emperor Maximianus Herculius, who had been his patron. Helena had then been his wife nearly twenty years, and it is easy to picture her grief at being put aside for another woman. This was especially so from the fact that in 274 she had borne to him a son, the boy who was afterwards to be so glorious as Constantine the Great.

There is nothing in all history more affecting than the love of Constantine for his mother. He must have deeply resented the action of his father in setting her aside. At the time of his mother’s rejection he was about eighteen. He was loyal to her, and no doubt longed for the time when he could restore her to the position from which his father had dethroned her. When he did succeed to the throne in 306, his first thought was for her. He summoned her to the court, gave her the title of Augusta, and ordered that all honor should be paid to her as the mother of the sovereign. He even had coins struck bearing her image. She was rewarded for her days of humiliation. Up to this time she was not a Christian, but after Constantine had won his immortal victory, when the miraculous cross was seen in the sky, she became a Christian through his influence, and, as Eusebius says, “such a devout servant of God, that one might believe her to have been from her childhood a disciple of the Redeemer of mankind.” It was in the great design of God that the poor pagan innkeeper was now a great Christian empress, for from the very moment of her conversion she used her influence and her wealth to spread Christianity. She built many churches all over the empire, and especially in the Holy Land. She was an old woman when she undertook to make a pilgrimage to Palestine. That was the land she loved above all others, and in spite of her years she gave herself untiringly to the work of exploration. There is an old tradition that she discovered the Holy Sepulchre and near it the instruments of Our Lord’s Passion, and built a temple as a shrine for the true Cross, part of which she brought home to her son Constantine, and part of which she sent to Rome.

Helena helped everybody. She remembered the day when she was poor herself, and so the poor were especially dear to her. And everywhere she went over the vast empire, she always brought her generosity, delighting in devoting her wealth to the building and decorating of churches and the helping of religious communities. Constantine loved her devotedly. He delighted to honor her, and as one proof of this he rebuilt her native town, where she had been so lowly, and decreed that it should be called, after her, Helenopolis, the city of Helen. And then, when she was an old woman of eighty years and had returned from the Holy Land, she had the great happiness of dying in the arms of the son who, though occupying the greatest position in the world, found his greatest joy in honoring the humble mother that bore him. If Constantine was great, cannot we attribute much of his greatness to the fact that he had a great mother, whose joy was not to queen it and to show her importance in the world, but even as empress to live humbly, to help the poor, and to bring glory to the Church of God?

As a contrast to the life of this woman who was so loved by her son, we have another great empress who lived in after years (she died in 876) – the Empress Theodora, who is ranked by the Greeks among the saints. Her husband was a brute and delighted in persecuting those who defended the use of images during the Iconoclast heresy. By her mildness and gentleness she softened his temper, and on his death she became regent during the minority of her son. She put an end to the Iconoclast heresy, which had endured for one hundred and twenty years; and she governed the empire with the greatest glory for twelve years. But she got no thanks for it. She was banished by her son and his uncle, and after that devoted herself to preparation for death in the monastery where she lived for eight years.

The next great queen-saint after Saint Helena is Saint Clotilda, Queen of the Franks. She was the daughter of a king, Chilperic, King of the Burgundians, and his wife Caretena. Both the King and his wife were Catholics, and Clotilda received a religious education from her mother, a remarkable woman who lived to a great age. It was a religious family, and we find one of Clotilda’s sisters, Chrona, founding the Church of Saint Victor at Geneva and taking the religious habit. Soon after the death of her father, Clotilda was married to Clovis, King of the Franks. It was a happy marriage. They loved each other, and Clotilda made use of that love to persuade her husband to become a Catholic. The King, however, at first would not listen to her appeals.

Clovis had allowed their first child to be baptized; but, as he died in infancy, the grieving father used that as an argument against the God of Clotilda and refused to serve such a God. Nevertheless, when the second son was born he allowed him to be baptized, even though he refused himself to be baptized. But the good Queen was not disheartened. She prayed continually for his conversion, and finally had the happiness of seeing her prayers answered. The occasion of his conversion was the battle against the Alemanni. He saw his army about to yield, and then in his fear of defeat called upon the God of Clotilda, promising that if he were victorious he would become a Catholic. He won the victory, and then, true to his promise, was baptized at Christmas, 496, his sister and three thousand of his warriors embracing the faith at the same time. It was a great victory for Christianity, meaning as it did by the conversion of Clovis the establishment of the Church among a great people. And that fact, with all that it has meant to civilization, was due to the piety of one woman, to whom religion meant more than everything else in the world.

Clotilda had four sons and one daughter. Her life was wrapt up in them, as became a pious Christian mother. Queen though she was, her life was one of retirement, for during the lifetime of her husband we search in vain for any account of her. Clovis died in the year 511, and Clotilda had him buried in the Church of the Apostles, later called the Church of Saint Genevieve, which she and he had built as a mausoleum.

Clotilda had known great happiness with Clovis, but as soon as he was gone her sorrows began. Her widowhood was a cross. She saw one of her sons, Clodomir, make war against his cousin Sigismund and put him to death with his wife and children. Later on Clodomir was killed in war by the brother of Sigismund, and Clotilda had the new task of caring for his three little boys. Added to that misery, her two other sons, Childebert and Clotaire, who had divided between them the inheritance of their dead brother, set about the murder of the little ones in order that later in life they might not demand their father’s possessions. They got the children away from the care of Clotilda and murdered the two elder. The third escaped and entered a monastery. Clotilda, pious woman that she was, was heart-broken at these terrible crimes against her own and by her own. She could stay in Paris no longer, and withdrew to Tours, where, by the tomb of Saint Martin, to whom she had great devotion, she spent the rest of her life in prayer and works of charity.

But even then she was not allowed to be at peace. Her daughter Clotilda had been cruelly treated by her husband, Almaric, King of the Visigoths, and had appealed for help to her brother Childebert, who waged a war against Almaric in which Almaric was killed. The young queen Clotilda died on the way home from the hardships she had to endure. Finally the two brothers Childebert and Clotaire began to quarrel, and engaged in war against each other. Clotilda threw herself on her knees and begged Saint Martin not to permit the shedding of any more blood in her family. All night long she remained on her knees, weeping and praying.

Her prayers were heard. A sudden tempest arose and dispersed the two armies. The poor mother’s time of trial was over. She died in the year 5:45, at the age of seventy-one, after a widowhood of thirty- four years, and was buried beside her husband and children in Paris.

Clotilda lived rather the life of a nun than a queen. And yet hers was not the quiet life of the cloister. She lived in times little removed from barbarism. That is evident from the crimes of her own children. They were crimes that tore her heart, not only on account of her great mother-love, but because they were terrible sins against God. It was through these trials, however, that her soul was sanctified. They were her road of the Cross. And surely every grieving mother must find comfort and strength in thinking of the holy motherhood of the great Saint Clotilda.

From the France of Saint Clotilda we pass to the England of Saint Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria. She was born about the year 630, the daughter of Anna, the King of East Anglia. When she was still very young her father gave her in marriage to Tonbert, a subordinate prince, from whom she received the .Isle of Ely, where she afterwards lived and died. She never lived in wedlock with him. He died soon after the marriage, and the young widow gave herself over to the religious life. Her father, however, was unwilling that she should enter the cloister, and so he had her married to Egfrid, a mere boy fourteen years old, who was heir to the throne of Northumbria. From her young husband she received more property, but she gave it to Saint Wilfrid to found the minster of Saint Andrew. The young husband appealed to Saint Wilfrid to make her come and live with him rather than lead the life of a religious. But the Saint persuaded him to let her remain awhile in the nunnery. At last, fearing that Egfrid would come and carry her off by force, she left there and came with two attendants to her possessions at Ely, and there began the foundation of the minster of Ely. Her relatives gave her the necessary means to continue the work, and it was there that, soon after, she died from the plague. At Ely, in the church founded by her, she was buried, and for many centuries her body was the object of devout veneration.

“Happy as a queen,” sometimes we say. We are so apt to think that a queen, with her power and her wealth, must be happy. Yet there have been queens that sacrificed all this, eager for the quiet life of religion, wherein they might serve God and sanctify their souls, which they considered as of so much greater value than all the kingdoms of the world. Little do we know of Saint Etheldreda, yet that little is enough for us to learn from her the truth that the great thing in life is the friendship of God, even though it may lead away from thrones.

Saint Etheldreda recalls another English queen that became a saint. This was Saint Sexburga. She was also the daughter of a king. It was a saintly family, for Saint Hilda was a sister of her mother. Sexburga married the King of Kent, and they were a happy, devoted couple. When he died she entered the religious life, and succeeded her sister, Saint Etheldreda, as abbess. Sexburga’s daughter, Ermenilda, was also a saint, and was married to the King of Mercia; likewise her sister, Saint Withburg. Surely sanctity flourished in those days, when we find so many women of royal blood following the way of the Cross.

The life of Saint Etheldreda reminds us of another woman who might have been an empress, yet refused the dignity, that would almost turn any woman’s head, in order to hide herself in the cloister. This was the Blessed Agnes of Bohemia, herself the daughter of a king and a relative of the great Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. She was betrothed to Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, but fled from him and became a nun. The Emperor was, of course, disappointed, but said he: “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.” Yet what sublime courage it takes to choose the King of Heaven in preference to the glitter of an earthly crown!

History is filled with examples of this Christian courage in the women who have set aside crowns in order to serve God more faithfully. Ghisla, the sister of Charlemagne, refused to marry the son of the Eastern Emperor and withdrew into a monastery; Catherine of Lorraine refused to be the wife of the Emperor Maximilian, became a Benedictine nun, and gave to the Benedictine monastery which she founded at Nancy all the jewels which various princes had given her.

There was, not so far from our own times, Christine of Sweden, who renounced her crown in order to become a Catholic. There was the Empress Agnes who governed Bavaria for seven years in peace, and then, when she saw disturbances and dissensions arising, gave up her high place in the world and entered a monastery for the love of Christ. Saint Cuthburge, too, a sister to King Ina and married to another king, Alfred of Northumbria, left all the glory of the world and went into a monastery, where she led a life of the greatest sacrifice. There was Saint Kyneburge, the daughter of the pagan King of Mercia. She Was married to Alefrid, King of Bernicia. They lived a life of perpetual continence, and when she was left a widow in the bloom of her youth she renounced the world and entered a nunnery which was built by her and her brother. She was a woman of great sanctity and of great charity. Her sister also entered the same monastery and died a saint. Saint Kinga, another queen, was the daughter of the King of Hungary and the granddaughter of the Emperor of Constantinople. She was married to another king, Boleslas of Poland, and lived with him in chastity. Her life was one of prayer, mortification, and charity; she waited upon the poor in the hospitals; and finally, when the King died, she became a nun.

Another example of sanctity is Saint Rodegunde. The daughter of a king, she was carried off at the age of twelve by King Clotaire as part of the spoils of war. He educated her and made her his wife. But he was not over-pleased at her great virtue. He used to say that he had married a nun and not a queen. She was bitterly persecuted, but was patient under it all. Finally, when her brother was assassinated at the instigation of her husband, she ran away from the court and gave herself up to a life of hardship, sleeping on a bed of sackcloth and ashes.

All this sounds like a mere catalogue of names. The lives of all these royal women are all according to the same formula. But it is according to the formula that tells us the wisdom of seeking first the Kingdom of God.

One of the most interesting and charming characters in all history is Saint Bathilde, who from slavery became Queen of France. Her career is more like fiction than history. She was a slave in the house of the Mayor of Neustria, being a servant of his wife. She attracted notice by her unusual qualities of mind and by her piety, so much so that the Mayor had the utmost confidence in her and gave into her care the management of many of the affairs of his household. So great was his admiration for the slave, that after his wife died he wanted to marry her. But Bathilde would not listen to him, fled from the palace, and did not return there until she heard that he had married again. But a greater dignity was in store for her.

One day King Clovis II met her in the Mayor’s palace, and he was so struck by her beauty and by the fine things said in her praise that he freed her and then married her in 649. Bathilde was too sensible a woman to lose her head at the new honor. She was always humble as queen – humble as when she had been a slave. Her new dignity only gave her more time to pray and a better chance to do the works of charity which she always loved. Seven years after the marriage, Clovis died, leaving three sons, Clothaire, Childeric and Thierry. The oldest was proclaimed king by the assembly of the nobles as Clothaire III; and as he was but five years of age, his mother was made regent, ruling a kingdom where but a few years before she had been a poor slave!

Bathilde applied herself to the work of governing the kingdom, and, aided by good advice, she made many reforms, among other things abolishing the custom of trading in Christian slaves. She founded many charitable and religious institutions; she even desired to become a religious, but her duties kept her at court. Finally, when her children were well established in their respective territories, she was able to carry out her wish. She retired from the world and went to live in the Abbey of Chelles near Paris. She put aside all her royal insignia, and wished to be considered the lowliest in the convent, even taking her position after the novices and serving the sick and the poor with her own hands. It was now a life of prayer and toil, and she would allow no one to refer to her past dignity as queen.

So she lived the life of religion for fifteen years, edifying all by her holiness and humility. She was a simple handmaid of the Lord. From slavery she had come to a throne, and now from the throne back to slavery – the slavery of a follower of Christ – another wonderful lesson that there is more real happiness in humbly serving God than in queening it over a great kingdom.

God has raised up His saints in every nation. From France we pass to Germany and behold another great queen-saint in Saint Matilda. She was born in Westphalia about the year 895, and was brought up in the monastery of Erfurt. The German king, Henry I, called “the Fowler,” married her in 909 at Wahlhausen, which he gave to her as her dowry.

Matilda was a great mother even in a worldly sense. She was the mother of Otto I, Emperor of Germany; of Henry, Duke of Bavaria; of Saint Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne; of Gerberga, wife of Louis IV of France; and of Hedwig, wife of Hugh Capet. In 918 her husband became King of Germany, where he reigned for seventeen years. She had wonderful influence over him, and when he died he bequeathed her great possessions. She was deserving of it all, for as queen she was always humble, full of piety and charity to the poor.

Yet she had her troubles. The King wanted his oldest son to succeed him, but Matilda’s choice was her favorite son, Henry; and on the plea that he was the first-born after her husband became king, she induced some of the nobles to vote for him. But she was not successful. Otto was elected king. Three years later the defeated Henry revolted against his brother, but was unsuccessful and submitted, finally being made Duke of Bavaria by Otto at the wish of Matilda.

Henry was ungrateful to the mother that did so much for him. He and Otto joined in persecuting her because they said she had impoverished the crown by her too great charity. To satisfy them she renounced the property her husband had given her and returned to her villa in Westphalia. Later on, when misfortunes befell the sons, they begged her pardon and implored her to return to the palace.

Matilda’s days were filled with good works. She built many churches and monasteries and supported them. All her zeal was for the glory of God, and at last, in 968, at the age of seventy-three, she died in one of the convents she had founded and was buried there by the side of her husband. So great was her piety that immediately after her death she was venerated as a saint. A great mother, a great queen, because she was a great saint!

After all, the lives of all these queens tell the same story. The epitaph of all could be the same – she was pious, she was charitable, she loved God more than she loved her crown.

The same story is true of Saint Adelaide. She was the daughter of a king, Rudolph II of Burgundy. He had been at war with Hugh of Provence for the crown of Italy. Finally they made peace, and one of the conditions was that Adelaide, then only two years of age, should marry Hugh’s son, Lothaire. The marriage took place fourteen years later, when Adelaide was sixteen. Her father had died in the meantime, and her mother had married Hugh. Then it was that Berengarius claimed the crown of Italy for himself, and forced Hugh to abdicate in favor of Lothaire. Berengarius is supposed to have poisoned Lothaire in prison. He tried then to persuade Adelaide to marry his son Adalbert. She refused and was thrown into prison.

A priest named Martin rescued her through an underground passage, and concealed her in the woods, where he supported her by the fish he caught. From there the Duke of Canossa carried her off to his castle. Meanwhile the Italian nobles were tired of the rule of Berengarius, and prevailed on Otho the Great to invade Italy. After doing this he married Adelaide at Christmas, 951.

So much did the people of Italy love her that it was easy for Otho to subjugate them. And not only in Italy was she loved. She was idolized by the German people as well while her husband lived. But when he died her troubles began. When her son Otho II ruled, she had to suffer from the jealousy of his wife; moreover, she was made to suffer because they blamed her for being too charitable. It was the same charge that was made against Saint Matilda and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. At any rate, she left the court for the sake of peace and went to live at Pavia. For a time she was reconciled to her son’s family, but again the same troubles broke out in the reign of her grandson, owing to the enmity of her daughter-in-law, who was still jealous of the popularity of Adelaide. At length, after the death of the daughter-in-law, Adelaide was summoned from her seclusion to be regent. It was a time to show the true character of the woman. She showed no spirit of revenge to those who had been against her. She was a big-hearted woman who could not stoop to pettiness. Her rule was one of great wisdom. Her court was said to be more like a religious house than a worldly palace. Everywhere she built churches and monasteries and labored hard for the conversion of the pagans of the North.

Her last act was one of devotion. She left home to go to Burgundy to reconcile her nephew with his subjects, and on the journey died at Seitz in Alsace in 1015, at the age of eighty-four – a woman who had spent her best days in serving God.

Sometimes we find two saints sitting on the same throne, as in the case of Saint Cunegonde and her husband Saint Henry. Both her father and mother were very pious and so trained her. Henry was Duke of Bavaria when she married him, but he was afterwards chosen King of the Romans, and then she was crowned queen, on which occasion she made great presents to the churches of Paderborn, where the coronation took place. They then went to Rome and there received the imperial crown.

Before her marriage she had with Henry’s consent made a vow of virginity. But in spite of that she was calumniated to him, and to prove her innocence of the charges walked over red-hot ploughshares without being hurt.

They were a loving couple. When he died in 1024 she gave away all her property, put off her royal robes, and donned a poor habit. She became the lowliest of women, and did not wish even to be reminded that once she had been an empress. She led a life of hard labor, and gave most of her time to the sick and the poor. In this manner of life she spent fifteen years; and finally, worn out by these mortifications, she died a poor woman, to receive an eternal crown for the one which she had sacrificed in order to sanctify her soul.

How much a queen can accomplish for the good of her people and for the spread of religion is evident in the lives of all these holy women, and is especially evident in the life of her who, during the ages of faith, was such an inspiration to her subjects – Saint Margaret of Scotland. She belonged to a royal family, being granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and a niece of Saint Edward the Confessor. When Canute was declared King of England he was made guardian of the sons of Edmund Ironside, Edward and Edmund. But he secretly had designs on their life, and sent them to the King of Sweden to have them murdered, so that they might not claim the possessions that belonged to them. There is a tradition that the King of Sweden, to save them, sent them to the King of Hungary, by whom they were protected and educated. Edmund died, but Edward married Agatha, a sister of the Queen and a splendid woman, and had by her three children, Edgar, Christina, and Margaret.

When Edward the Confessor succeeded to the throne of England, he invited Edward with his children to return from Hungary to England, where Edward died three years later. When William the Conqueror became king after the battle of Hastings, many Englishmen wanted to make Edgar, the brother of Saint Margaret, king, since he was the lawful Saxon heir. But he was not strong enough, and so, fearing the tyranny of William, he left the country, taking his sister Margaret with him, and sailed for the Continent. But a storm drove the vessel to Scotland, and there the two exiles were kindly received by King Malcolm, who himself had once been an exile when he fled after Macbeth had murdered his father Duncan and usurped the throne. But later he had defeated Macbeth and was now King of Scotland.

William the Conqueror demanded that he should return Margaret and her brother, but he refused, and war ensued, in which Malcolm was victorious. Soon he fell in love with Margaret. It is said that her beauty was extraordinary, and this, added to her wit and her great piety and virtue, won over the whole court to her. It was a great honor to be asked to marry the King, but she was not eager for the union. All her life was taken up with meditation and prayer and in helping the poor, so that she had thoughts of devoting herself to God in the religious life. But finally, after serious thought, she decided to marry Malcolm, and was crowned Queen of Scotland in 1070, when she was twenty-four.

She brought a great fortune to the King; but her greatest fortune was her own heart. The King loved her devotedly. He was rough and unpolished, but upright and free from wickedness. Margaret had great influence over him. She softened his temper, cultivated his mind, polished his manners, and instilled deep piety into his soul. So great was her influence over him that he even followed her advice in ruling the kingdom. By her influence he became one of the most virtuous of kings that ever sat on the throne of Scotland. And while she was interested in all these things that looked to the welfare of the kingdom, she was more than all devoted to the things of God. It was her prayers, her charity, that brought in those days so much happiness to Scotland.

They had a large family – six sons, three of whom ruled as kings of Scotland, and two daughters – -Maud, who married Henry I, King of England, and Mary, who married the Count of Boulogne. Needless to say, all these children received a good Christian training. Not only did the Queen see that good masters were provided for them, but she herself instructed them. Her first care was that they should be good Catholics. That to her was more important than their royal blood. In that court the only recommendation to the royal favor was virtue, and to want devotion was the most certain disgrace. With her the whole kingdom appeared as one large family of which she had to take care. Hence it was her first aim to correct all abuses, and to make the people love religion. Not only did she attend to the religious education of her people, but she aimed also at teaching them the useful and polite arts, and had her husband make many good laws for this purpose. And with all this work she had plenty of time for the poor. Wherever she went, she was surrounded by the widows and the orphans and the other poor ones, who regarded her as their mother. She would even wash the feet of the poor, and before sitting down to her own meals would serve nine little orphans and twenty-four grown-up poor. Often, especially in Lent and Advent, the King and Queen brought in three hundred poor people, and on their knees served them with the dishes from the royal table. She visited the hospitals, and personally looked after the sick. In a word, there was nothing that she considered foreign to her, so long as it helped her neighbor. And the King came to be of the same mind.

“He learned from her,” says one writer, “often to watch the night in prayer. I could not sufficiently admire to see the fervor of this prince at prayer and to discover so much compunction of heart and such tears of devotion in a secular man.” And another writer remarks: “She excited the King to the works of justice, mercy, alms-deeds and other virtues; in all which by divine grace she brought him to be most ready to comply with her pious inclinations. For he, seeing that Christ dwelt in the heart of his queen, was always willing to follow her counsels.” All her history is contained in those words – that Christ dwelt in her heart.

She gave little time to sleep; she gave none to amusement: so that most of her time was spent in the service of God. In Lent and Advent she rose at midnight and went to church to Matins. After that she began the day by giving alms and tending the poor. She then slept for an hour or two, after which she rose again and heard four or five low Masses and then a High Mass. And every day, besides her other prayers, she recited several of the short offices. And this in a mother of eight children, and a queen besides!

At last a great sorrow came to her in the death of her husband while he was defending his country against the English. After his death his son Edward carried on the siege, and he, too, was slain. Margaret at this time was lying on her death-bed, where she had been for six months, during which time she suffered excruciating pain. Her death happened four days after that of the King.

When she heard of his death she exclaimed: “I thank Thee, Almighty God, that in sending me so great an affliction in the last hour of my life, Thou wouldst purify me from my sins, as I hope by Thy mercy.” She died in 1093, aged forty-seven years. At the time of the Reformation her remains, with those of her husband, were saved from plunder, and the principal parts carried into Spain. Saint Margaret’s head, which was brought to Mary Queen of Scots, was later given to the Scots Jesuits at Douai, where it disappeared at the time of the French Revolution.

Saint Margaret sanctified the kingdom by her prayers. A great queen, she considered her highest privilege that of serving God. This she did by sanctifying herself and all those about her. She was a great wife, a great mother, a great queen, but above all a great saint.

Another great queen-saint was Saint Elizabeth, or Isabel, of Portugal so named after her great-aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. She was born in 1271, daughter of Pedro III of Aragon. She was brought up very piously, said the Divine Office every day, and led a life of penance – such a life, indeed, as seemed to destine her for the cloister. But God had other designs. She was very young when she married Diniz, King of Portugal, a very able and devoted king, a poet, but as immoral as his court. It was not a pleasant place for a virtuous young queen, but Isabel continued her life of devotion there, interested other ladies of the court in her charities, and even though she aroused ill-will on account of her piety, which was a reproach to an evil court, she finally succeeded in winning her husband back to a virtuous life, though that did not happen until near the end of his life and after many deeds of wickedness that must have well-nigh broken her heart.

They had a son and daughter. The son, Alfonso, so resented the favor shown by his father to illegitimate sons, that he declared war against him. We can imagine the feelings of the wife and mother who loved them both. But she was a woman of action, and, mounting a horse, rode between the contending armies, and so made peace. On the death of the King, she entered a convent of the Poor Clares which she had founded and took the habit of the Third Order, anxious to give the rest of her days to penance, prayer, and charity.

But she was not allowed to remain there in peace. Her son Alfonso, now king, made war against the King of Castile, who had married his daughter and was now ill-treating her. Isabel was now an old woman, but again she mounted her horse and rode between the contending armies. She made peace, but the exertion killed her. She contracted a fever and died in 1336, leaving behind her the memory of a great sanctity. Isabel was queen, but her life was not a bed of roses. She knew the suffering that comes from the knowledge of a husband’s infidelity. It was to her a crown of thorns, yet it helped to sanctify her soul in drawing her nearer to God.

One of the unhappiest queens in the eyes of the world, yet happiest in the eyes of God, was Blessed Jeanne de Valois, popularly known as Saint Jeanne de Valois. She was the daughter of Louis XI, King of France, by his second wife, Charlotte of Savoy, and was born in 1464. Her father hated her not only because he had desired a son, but also because Jeanne was deformed and sickly. His hatred was so bitter that he would not keep her at court, but had her brought up by guardians in a lonely country chateau. There she was ill-used, being often without the necessities of life; but the hardships served to bring her closer to God. So great was her love for the Blessed Virgin that it is said she had a vision in which she was promised that one day she would found a religious community in her honor. But that was only after many and long trials.

Her father, for political reasons, married her to Louis, Duke of Orleans, his second cousin, who was afterwards Louis XII of France. The husband insulted her, even publicly, at every opportunity. She loved him, however, and when he was in disgrace and in prison she came to his aid and had him freed. But he was ungrateful. When he became king he put her away and had the marriage annulled on the ground that he had never consented to it and that it had never been consummated. She fought for her rights as long as possible, but when the case was decided against her she took it all in deep humility, and thanked God that it left her free to found the Order she had wished. She was made Duchess of Berry, and governed that province ably. In 1500 she founded the Order of the Annonciades in honor of the Blessed Virgin. It was her consolation in sorrow, and towards the end of her life she took the vows, gave up her wedding ring, and wore the habit under her rich garments. Her health was always poor, but to her sufferings she added voluntary penance. She never ceased to love the husband who had repudiated her, and when she was dying begged her Order always to pray for him. So dear was she to her people that when she died in 1505 she was universally mourned. Many miracles were wrought through her intercession. It had been a life of trial, a way of the Cross, yet by that way she came to sanctity. Surely she is a patron for afflicted wives.

The last of the queen-saints is one who lived almost in our own times – Blessed Marie Christine of Savoy. She was the daughter of Victor Emmanuel I, King of Sardinia, and of Maria Theresa of Austria, niece of Emperor Joseph II, and was born in 1812. She was married to Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies, and died after the birth of her first son, at the age of twenty-three. It was a short, uneventful life; but even during her few years the young queen was noted for her great piety, and so many graces were obtained through her intercession that as early as 1859 the process of her canonization was introduced, and in 1872 her name was placed in the list of the blessed.

It is a glorious list, that of these queens of earth who became queens in heaven. They might have had life easy, might have lived in power and luxury, yet they put aside all things in order to serve God. It is not easy for a queen to be a saint – it is not easy for anybody. It is only the way of the Cross that leads to sanctity. But the example of these noble women who overcame so many temptations towards a life of frivolity, a life of the world, is but another proof that sanctity is possible to all. And surely wives and mothers can go to these holy queens who were wives and mothers, too, knowing that they will understand their cares and show them the way to bear them.

– text taken from the book Great Wives and Mothers by Father Hugh Francis Blunt, 1917