Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Margaret and Malcolm

Not to start another post 'on this day in...' but: on this day in 1093 St Margaret of Scotland died, just three days after her husband, Malcolm III, was ambushed and killed at Alnwick by the Norman earl of Northumbria, Robert de Mowbray. I'm fond of Margaret of Scotland, by all accounts a good and holy woman who made the best of a very difficult situation. One of the few surviving members of the Anglo-Saxon royal family, she found herself in exile in Scotland after the Norman Conquest, and she was married to Malcolm presumably without having much choice in the matter; but an account of her life by Turgot, Bishop of St Andrews, who knew them both well, speaks touchingly of their relationship:

"By the help of God she made [Malcolm] most attentive to the works of justice, mercy, almsgiving, and other virtues. From her he learnt how to keep the vigils of the night in constant prayer; she instructed him by her exhortation and example how to pray to God with groanings from the heart and abundance of tears. I was astonished, I confess, at this great miracle of God's mercy when I perceived in the king such a steady earnestness in his devotion, and I wondered how it was that there could exist in the heart of a man living in the world such an entire sorrow for sin. There was in him a sort of dread of offending one whose life was so venerable; for he could not but perceive from her conduct that Christ dwelt within her; nay, more, he readily obeyed her wishes and prudent counsels in all things. Whatever she refused, he refused also; whatever pleased her, he also loved for the love of her.

Hence it was that, although he could not read, he would turn over and examine books which she used either for her devotions or her study; and whenever he heard her say that she was fonder of one of them than the others, this one he too used to look at with special affection, kissing it, and often taking it into his hands. Sometimes he sent for a worker in precious metals, whom he commanded to ornament that volume with gold and gems, and when the work was finished, the king himself used to carry the volume to the queen as a kind proof of his devotion."

And again:

"Now and then she helped herself to something or other out of the King's private property, it mattered not what it was, to give to a poor person; and this pious plundering the King always took pleasantly and in good part. It was his custom to offer certain coins of gold upon Maundy Thursday and at High Mass, some of which coins the Queen often devoutly pillaged, and bestowed on the beggar who was petitioning her for help. Although the King was fully aware of the theft, he generally pretended to know nothing of it, and felt much amused by it. Now and then he caught the Queen in the very act, with the money in her hand, and laughingly threatened that he would have her arrested, tried, and found guilty."

The whole thing can be read here. Sadly, these lovely stories did not make it into Shakespeare's Macbeth, which deals with a rather earlier period in Malcolm's life...

No comments: