St. Margaret of Scotland: The Saint Who was a Queen
St. Margaret of Scotland: The Saint Who was a Queen
Every once in a while, I hear people mention that there do not seem to be very many married saints.
First, I would like to suggest that there are actually more married saints than we often realize. In fact, there is whole book entitled Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries which covers over 200 saints.
Born in Hungary and Raised in the Court of a Saint
Although she is known as Margaret of Scotland and actually of Anglo-Saxon royalty, she was actually born in the modern day country of Hungary around the year 1045. As part of the Anglo-Saxon nobility, it is believed that her parents were in some sort of exile from England for reasons that are not clear. Margaret's father was Edward Atheling who was a successor to the English throne, and her mother was the Hungarian Princess Agatha. She had two siblings--Christine and Edgar. Her lineage included being the grand niece of St. Stephen of Hungary and the great-grandniece of St. Edward the Confessor.
From her eleventh to her twentieth years, she lived in the court of her great-granduncle King Edward. However, as you might remember from your European history the situation in England changed dramatically in the year 1066. First, King Edward died in January of 1066, and he was succeeded by Harold who was his brother-in-law. Then, at the Battle of Hastings on October 14th of that fateful year, William the Conqueror defeated King Harold, and King Harold himself was killed in the battle.
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Escape, Shipwreck, and King Malcolm
Suddenly, as William assumed power, it was not safe to be part of the old royal family, and Margaret and her brother Edgar were put on a ship to escape to the continent where their mother Agatha had already returned. A storm sent the ship in a different direction and they shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland. The refugee royals were taken to King Malcolm III who warmly received them.
Soon Malcolm came to admire young Margaret for her beauty and virtues. It was an interesting match. Malcolm was an unrefined, uneducated head of a royal court that was fairly rough and tumble. Margaret had been brought up in the more pious and refined court of Edward. She was educated and possessed the graces expected of a young Christian lady of the court. What they shared was a good heart. Beneath his uncultured ways, Malcolm had a good heart and Margaret perceived that.
The Married Life of the King and Queen
Margaret's Influence on Malcolm, the Court, and Scotland
Margaret brought a great deal of civility to the Scottish royal court. For example, she found that even at royal banquets, after someone had had their fill, he was likely to just get up from the table to leave without excusing themselves or saying a prayer after the meal. In her wisdom,
Margaret changed this practice by introducing the Grace Cup. At one banquet, everyone at the table was invited to stay after the final grace in order to receive a cup with a premium wine to be drunk in the queen's honor. No one refused such an invitation, and so for the first time, everyone remained until the end of the meal, were led in a final prayer by the chaplain, and enjoyed a good cup of wine. Over time, this practice became the custom for each meal and became a part of Scottish culture well beyond the walls of the castle.
Even as she was very hands on in raising and providing and education for her children, Margaret was involved in affairs of the state as she was often consulted by the king who had great respect for her wisdom. She was involved in helping the poor and encouraging the king to enact more just laws. The king and queen were frequent visitors to hospitals and prisons where they themselves would serve the ill. And, daily, Margaret assisted in providing alms to the needy.
Throughout her reign as queen, Margaret encouraged the arts and education, and she was especially keen on supporting the Church. At her request several synods were held in order bring about reform among the clergy and to curb simony, usury, and invalid marriages. These synods also helped regulate the Lenten fast and insure observance of the Easter communion. Through Malcolm and Margaret, several new churches were built.
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Margaret's Spiritual Life and Last Days
All of this activity was fueled by a regular prayer life and detachment from the world. Margaret might have worn the robes of royalty, but she knew that it was nothing to which she should be attached. Instead, she closely guarded her time for prayer and for meditation upon the Gospels. And she would practice acts of penance unbeknownst to anyone save her spiritual adviser in order to insure that she would remain closely bound to God and not the world.
During her forty-sixth year, Margaret fell ill and was bedridden for many weeks. While she lay ill, an armed conflict broke out and in the ensuing battle both her husband Malcolm and one of her sons were killed. Not many days after learning of their deaths, Margaret herself died on November 16, 1093. The kingdom of Scotland deeply mourned the loss of their saintly queen.
Malcolm was a warrior king and was very much at home in battle. If he could not be in a battle, he certainly enjoyed hunting for wild boar or wolves which could be found in the woods near Dunfermline.
Royal hunting was not simply a few men heading out into the woods. It was more of an event in which both the men and women were present before the brave men headed off to face the wild game. Although Margaret was not very interested in hunting, she would support her husband in his pursuits. After the hunt had begun and only the ladies remained, Margaret would dismiss her ladies-in-waiting to return to the castle. Then, she would go alone to a special place she had discovered in the nearby woods where she had found a small cave she used for prayer. Here she was no longer a queen, but simply a child of God and able to pray to her Heavenly Father.
Finally, the courtier reminded the king of Margaret's practice of disappearing after the hunting party had left, and Malcolm resolved to get to the bottom of the matter even as he was fueled by his beliefs that his wife was unfaithful. After all, as the courtier suggested, would a young woman really want to be by herself in the woods?
The next time the hunting party left, Malcolm dismissed himself and returned to the area neare the castle unbeknownst to anyone. After dismounting from his horse, he observed Margaret heading into the woods and he followed her. Along the path, he remained behind her without her seeing him or knowing he was following her. Suddenly, the path took a sharp turn and she disappeared next to a babbling brook.
Malcolm unsheathed his sword and gripped it tightly as he crept closer. Beside the small waterfall in the brook he could hear birds chirping and his wife speaking out loud as she assumed she was by herself. In the voice which he was so fond to hear, she was calling out to God that her husband's brave and noble heart would fully understand the words of Scripture that say, "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?"
Although she probably would have preferred her cave to remain stark, Margaret willingly accepted Malcolm's offerings of penance that included adorning her cave in order that it might be a more beautiful retreat for his precious bride.
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Want to Read about More Married saints?
Enjoy this book which is devoted to telling the stories of the married saints. Learn about the lives of over two hundred saints and blesseds who became holy through a call to the married life. The book covers saints over the twenty centuries of the Church from the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to St. Gianna Molla who died less than sixty years ago. Be inspired. Be challenged. Remember that you can be a saint, too. And ask for their help on your journey of faith.
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