Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Margaret of Scotland

Emma from emmasrandomthoughts offers today’s entry for 2014 Worthy Women.  Please frequent her blog and chime in on films and other topics there.

St. Margaret of Scotland was an English princess, but she actually spent very little time in England. Her father was exiled as a child and spent much of his life in continental Europe and Scandinavia. St. Margaret, as well as her brother and sister, was born in Hungary.

Her early years were marked by dynastic wars and succession crises. In 1057, Margaret, as well as her brother and sister, were summoned to England. The king, Edward the Confessor, was childless and was looking for male relatives to be potential heirs, such as her brother. When Edward died in 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England and defeated the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings. Shortly after the defeat, Margaret and her family decided to leave England for continental Europe. A storm forced them to land in Scotland, where she soon attracted the attention of Malcolm III, the widowed king.

Burne-Jones,_Sainte_MargueriteIt would be sentimental to think that Malcolm was motivated primarily by love. Margaret was an Anglo-Saxon princess and her brother was a pretender to the English throne. (Note: pretender does not mean false king, it means a claimant to the throne.) They were married in 1070, when Margaret was about 25. Eight children followed, including six sons.

Many of the hagiographies emphasize the role that St. Margaret had in civilizing and reforming the Scots, including her husband. Malcolm is portrayed as a rough illiterate. Margaret, on the other hand, was literate and multilingual. She would often read him passages of Scripture. Malcom never became religious but he did not impede his wife’s devotion. He even gilded her Bible with gold and jewels as a present. She spent much of her time fasting and in prayer, and was devoted to caring for the poor.

Margaret also worked to secure the freedom of her countrymen. After the Norman invasion in 1066, many Englishmen had been forced into serfdom. Margaret gave sums of money in order to secure their freedom, and lobbied for them within the Scottish court.

Perhaps most notable were her efforts to reform the Church in Scotland. The pope was very concerned about incestuous marriages in Scotland. At the time, it was common for people to marry close relatives or in-laws in order to secure dynastic lines. The pope wanted to put an end to this practice. Margaret also wanted to make other changes. She wanted a celibate clergy, Lent to be observed for forty days, and for people to receive communion at Easter. (Even yearly communion at Easter was still rare in many parts of Europe.) Unlike many women whose religious freedom has been stifled, Margaret was given a tremendous amount of freedom to bring about these reforms. St. Margaret’s example shows that women, even lay married women, can have a remarkable effect on the church. Of course, being royalty helps. The bishop and her husband recognized her faithfulness and did not hinder her. As a result of these reforms, Scotland was brought closer into conformity with Rome.

However, Margaret remained a generous patron to all monasteries, even those who did not embrace her reforms. We live in an age where the Church is often sharply divided based on the form of the liturgy or the music. We despair over religious orders that do not meet our expectations. We refuse to attend Mass in the Ordinary Form or with “terrible” music or altar girls. Margaret was far less petty. She worked for her preferences, but she remained generous to all monasteries in Scotland, even if they did not meet her expectations.

St. Margaret died following the shock of the deaths of her husband and son. Ironically, the worst violation of her religious freedom came centuries after her death. Following the Scottish Reformation, the Church of Scotland, heavily influenced by Calvin, rejected the cult of saints. Altars and relics of saints were destroyed, and St. Margaret’s head was sent to France to reside at a Jesuit house. A few centuries later, the French Revolution erupted, and many religious orders and religious houses were destroyed. Her head was lost permanently.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in emma, Guest Writers, Saints, Two Weeks of Worthy Women. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Margaret of Scotland

  1. This is great – thank you Emma!

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