• A London Student

Margaret, Maid of Norway

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Now, you may have worked this out by now, but many of my posts start with the discovery or rediscovery of a book... Today is no different. I recently received the book 'Heroines of the Medieval World' as a gift, and could see instantly that it would be right up my street, as it focused on obscure people who made a difference in the world in which they lived. This was done in a number of ways... Through marriages, their bloodlines, their actions or their legacy. Today's character made a mark upon Scottish history through the disaster that this little girls death caused.

On the family tree below, you can see that Edward I's sister Margaret married the King of Scotland (Alexander III), and that they had three children (although David, who died aged about eight, isn't shown). Margaret died in 1275, from drowning, and in 1281, Margaret of Scotland (the duaghter of Margaret and Alexander) married the young King of Norway (Erik II). However, in 1283 (while Edward I was crushing the Welsh Princes), after giving birth to a daughter named Margaret, Margaret of Scotland died. This was followed the next year by her twenty year old brother Alexander of Scotland, creating a succession crisis. Two years later, King Alexander was dead as well. And so the young maid of Norway was the Queen of Scotland. At this time, the Queen of Scotland was about three (and Scotland was in turmoil, as contenders Robert the Bruce and John Balliol made their attempts on the crown, bringing Scotland into rebellion.)

Now, Edward I being Edward I had to find a way to gain from the recent turn of events, and so quickly put forward the idea of a betrothal of his son and heir, Edward of Caernarfon and the young Maid (this was in spring 1289). The marriage would've been beneficial to all those who were involved; providing security to the Maid, peace to Scotland and an important foothold for Edward I in the future (so that he could crush them like he did to the Welsh...(Find out more in my post about the Tragic Fate of Wales)). The negotiations took quite a while, as you could imagine with the different parties all strongly needing different aspects to work out, the most important being the retention of Scottish independence despite the personal union. As the negotiations were drawing to a close, there was a minor mishap over the ownership of some castles, however, word then reached Edward that the Scots Queen had left her home in Norway. The possession of their Queen would significantly improve the Scottish bargaining position, so Edward gave up with castle negotiations, and waited for her arrival...

The Maid had left everything that she had known in September 1290 when she boarded the ship to Scotland, although she had absolutely no say in it (even today you don't usually take instruction from a seven-year-old so you can imagine what it was like back then even if she was a queen). She had left her Dad, her home, and her country to rule a foreign land and marry a boy she'd never met. It would've been a terrifying experience, even more so because to get there she had to cross the dangerous North Sea. And so this is how it happened, violent storms threw the ship off it's course for Perth (where there was a grand reception waiting at Scone Abbey). They landed in Orkney where the seven-year-old Princess of Norway and Queen of Scotland died of a severe bout of seasickness (although it was probably from food poisoning from eating decaying rations).

And with the death of Margaret, a dynasty of Scottish Kings ended. Just like that. And Scotland was back into unstable and uncertain times once more. She significantly changed the course of Scottish history with her death, however, there was a chance that had she lived she wouldn't have had a good life either; like in the case of the Anarchy about 150 years before, Scotland may not have accepted a female ruler, and being married to Edward of Caernarfon couldn't have been fun either, given what happened to Isabella of France. Perhaps it was for the best that she didn't have to go through that, but it is still sad that she never had that chance.


Sources include:

A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris

Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Image By Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18837762