How Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, made her home lovely and her kingdom a paradise – how every true woman can imitate Margaret, and make her little home-kingdom sweet and attractive.
Malcolm (IV.), King of Scotland . . . shone like a star in the heavens; for, being prevented [supplied beforehand] by God in the benediction of sweetness from his tender years, he had a fervent love for God, and was of such pure conscience and gentleness of manners, that when amongst persons of the world he seemed like a monk, and, indeed, an earthly angel.
This Malcolm was the grandson of St. David, and the great-grandson of St. Margaret, the blessed scion of a line of heroic kings. Let us see how the gentle Margaret transformed, by the irresistible ascendancy of her womanly virtues, her rude, worldly-minded, and warlike husband into a saint, and all Scotland into a school of gentleness and piety. Her example will teach most eloquently how every true-hearted woman can make all hearts yield to the influence of her goodness, and her own life be like a reservoir of living waters in a thirsty land for many a generation after her day.
Margaret, born in exile, reared in Buda in Hungary beneath the eyes of its apostolic king, St. Stephen (997-1038), returned to England in her early girlhood only to become an orphan, and to have to fly for dear life with her sister and brother across the seas.
A storm providentially cast them on the shore of Scotland, where they found a refuge in the court of Malcolm III., or Malcolm Canmore (Greathead). Malcolm had himself tasted the bitterness of exile, having seven years before been obliged to fly to England after the murder of his father by Macbeth.
St. Edward the Confessor, Margaret’s grand-uncle, had warmly befriended the fugitive and enabled him to recover his own. So the generous Malcolm was but too happy to repay to the helpless descendants of Alfred the Great the debt of gratitude thus contracted.
Margaret was then in her twenty-fourth year, and had been during their long orphanhood a second mother to her sister, Christina, and her brother, the chivalrous Edgar Atheling. Her wonderful beauty and her angelic modesty, much more than her royal birth and the accomplishments due to the careful education she had received, drew on her the admiration of the untutored Scottish nobles and their warlike king. He was attracted by the manifold graces of the royal maiden; for hers were the supernatural virtues which he had learned to worship in Edward the Confessor, and which shone with a softened and gentler charm in the lovely exile.
She became, a few months after her arrival in the court of Dunfermline, its mistress and the queen of all Scotland, to the unbounded delight of every class in the community.
It was a rude age, in a country which a long series of invasions by the Northmen, frequent wars with England, and perpetual feuds between the native clans, had kept half-uncivilized in spite of its Christianity.
Providence had reserved for a woman, for this young queen, whose soul had been so chastened and tempered by a whole life of trial, to complete the work begun by St. Columba and his brethren five centuries before that.
Let a woman’s hand trace the first outlines of the glorious picture of piety, charity, and patriotism offered in this queenly life of twenty-three years on the throne.
“Margaret was a true daughter of Alfred, and the traditions of the Alfred of Hungary (St. Stephen) were fresh upon her, and, instead of sitting down to cower alarmed amid the turmoils round her, she set herself to conquer the evils in her own feminine way, by the performance of her queenly duties.
She was happy in her husband: Malcolm revered her saintly purity even more than he loved her sweet, sunny, cheerful manner, or admired her surpassing loveliness of person. “He looked on her as something too precious and tender for his wild, rugged court, and attended to her slightest bidding with reverence, kissing her holy books, which he could not read, and interpreting her Saxon-spoken advice to his rude Celts.”
She even made him help her to wash the feet of the poor, and aid her in disgusting offices to the diseased, and his royal treasury was open to her to take all that she desired for alms.
Sometimes she would pretend to take it by stealth, and Malcolm would catch her by her wrists and carry her to her confessor to ask if she was not a little thief who deserved to be well punished. In his turn he would steal away her books, and bring them back after a time gilt and adorned with beautiful illuminations.
We have not, in order to form an estimate of the incredible amount of good done by this extraordinary woman, to depend upon legends or disjointed historical fragments. Her confessor himself, a monk of Durham called Theodoric or Thierry, composed a history of this most admirable and most imitable life.
The Scottish chieftains who were least inclined to reform their lives or refine their manners in emulation of Malcolm Canmore, could not resist the influence which drew them to Dunfermline, were it only to enjoy the privilege of looking upon a beauty which appeared to them unearthly, of being addressed by their royal mistress with a grace that borrowed more of its charm from piety than from courtesy, and of bearing with them to their homes some trifling present, which borrowed infinite value in their eyes from the angelic goodness of the giver.” – Charlotte Mary Yonge, “Cameos from English History,” vol. i., p. 98.
She effected in the thoughts, the sentiments, the manners, and the morals of these hitherto untamed and unruly nobles, not a little of the same change which had taken place in the mind and heart and conduct of the king; and thus the blessed influence of her virtue and gentleness spread from above downward, through every class, till the lowliest peasants and the remotest Highland glens were made to feel the refining and elevating effects of Margaret’s rule and motherly solicitude.
The court of Malcolm—from the boisterous meeting-place of turbulent and intemperate warriors that it had been for centuries—became the image of the court of Buda, where St. Stephen made Grecian culture and Magyar magnificence to reign side by side, blended and sanctified by the cross.
Not one of them (her nobles) ventured to use a profane word or make an unseemly jest before her. They had a rude, ungodly practice of starting away from table without waiting for grace, and this the gentle queen reformed by sending, as an especial gift from herself, a cup of wine to all who remained.
In after times, the last cup was called, after her, St. Margaret’s cup, or the grace-cup.
To improve the manners of the ladies, she gathered round her a number of young girls, whom she brought up under her own eye, and she used to sit in the midst of them, embroidering rich vestments for the service of the Church, and permitting cheerful talk with the nobles whom she admitted, all men of whose character she had a good opinion.
From these young ladies she exacted that their homes should, in turn, become so many centers of zeal for the good of others; and thus every home in Scotland was benefited by the examples and teachings of the queen.
But above all her other qualities shone her tender love for the poor and the sick. She founded hospitals and asylums for them; and among her nobles, her most especial friends and favorites were such as distinguished themselves by their active charities.
Fully aware that true religion is the parent and nurse of that great chief virtue, she bent herself, from the first year of her reign, to the task of making it flourish wherever the misfortunes of the times had caused it to languish, and to plant it by serious missionary labors wherever the missionaries had not penetrated or had only had an imperfect success.
She caused councils to be convened, encouraged the bishops and abbots to enact the most salutary decrees, supporting them with the whole force of the royal authority; obtained the erection of new episcopal sees, did away with every abuse condemned by the Supreme Pontiff, insisted on cordial and unqualified submission to his teaching; repaired churches and monasteries in decay, and built new ones in every place where they were most needed or promised to be most useful, and, above all, spared no effort and no expense to give to Scotland a thoroughly educated, exemplary, and devoted clergy.
While thus proving herself to be a true mother to her adopted people, she was not unmindful of her English origin or of the sufferings and needs of her countrymen. The wars between the two kingdoms which she was powerless to prevent, left many English captives in Scottish prisons. But her generosity and her influence found means to alleviate their condition and to hasten their ransom.
She founded a hospital for sick and infirm prisoners, where they were tenderly cared for till they obtained their freedom; and for this purpose, she spared not her own purse, nor warm appeals to the generosity of the Scottish captors and the affection of the prisoners’ English relatives.
Thus the veneration and love felt for Margaret in Scotland spread beyond its borders to every part of England; and from the nearest counties emigrants flocked across the boundary to settle in the Lowlands, and enjoy there the security and other manifold blessings bestowed on their subjects by Malcolm Canmore and his angelic queen.
There are other inestimable benefits for which Scotland has always acknowledged herself indebted to St. Margaret: the foundation of her great schools of learning, the establishment of a large and flourishing commerce with continental Europe, the encouragement of the liberal and the industrial arts, and the enactment of wise and enlightened laws protecting the liberties and fostering the best interests of the people.
Of the nine children with whom her union was blessed, one, Ethelred, died in infancy, the eldest, Edward, was slain with his father before Alnwick Castle in 1093; of the others, three sons, Edmund, Edgar, and David, reigned successively on the throne of Scotland, continuing the Golden Age inaugurated by their parents: of her two daughters, Matilda or Maud became the wife of Henry I of England, and was her mother’s living image, and Edith was married to Eustace, Count of Boulogne, becoming in her turn the mother of her people.
Surely it was a beautiful life, this of the tempest-tossed royal child, born in exile far away from the land of her fathers, and then cast by the storm on the Scottish coast, like a treasure beyond all price to be cherished by king and people, and to live in the hearts of all succeeding generations.
With the mirror of this most admirable life before us, let us contemplate how every woman can in like manner make of her home a paradise, and be the loved and worshiped queen of the little kingdom which no one can take from her.
“You cannot afford to be a part-time mother. You must have the courage and farsightedness to face all of your problems and must ask help from Him who is the source of all wisdom in the greatest and most worthy career a woman can espouse: being a real mother. The greatest joy you can find is in one day discovering that your daughters are as good as they are beautiful and your sons as pure as they are stalwart.”
Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik. The Catholic Family Handbook