Malcolm Canmore—How Saint Margaret Came to Scotland
When Malcolm Canmore had reigned over Scotland for about ten years, a great event happened in the neighbouring kingdom of England. I mean the conquest of England by William Duke of Normandy.
William Duke of Normandy took possession of all England, and Edgar, the rightful heir to the throne, fled with his mother and sisters. They set sail in a ship, meaning to go to Hungary, where they knew they would be kindly received. But great storms arose. Their ship was battered and driven about by winds and waves they knew not whither, and at last when they had lost all hope of ever seeing land again, they were driven upon the shores of Scotland. They landed there at a place on the Firth of Forth which to this day is called Margaret's Hope, from the name of Edgar's sister the Princess Margaret. The place at which they afterwards crossed the river is still called Queen's Ferry.
When Edgar, who was only a boy, and his sisters and mother found themselves in Scotland they were uncertain what to do. They did not know if they would be received in a friendly manner or not.
The country people gathered round and stared at these strange ladies. They were astonished, and a little afraid too at their grand clothes, and at the great size of the ship in which they had come.
When King Malcolm was told of the beautiful ladies and fine tall men who had come in the strange ship, he sent some of his nobles to find out who they were, where they came from, and what they wanted.
When the nobles came to the ship they were almost as much astonished as the common people had been at the splendid men, and beautiful, sad ladies. So the nobles spoke gently to them, and asked them how it was that they had landed upon these shores.
Then the lady Agatha and her daughters told their sad story. "We are English," they said, "the relatives of King Edward. He is dead, and his throne and crown have been taken by the cruel Duke of Normandy. We have fled from the country. The winds and the waves have driven us upon your shores, and we seek the help and protection of your most gracious King."
The ladies spoke so simply, yet they looked so beautiful and so grand, that the nobles felt more and more sorry for them. They talked kindly to the ladies for some time. Then they went back to King Malcolm and told him all that they had learned.
When Malcolm heard that the ladies and their brother were English, and relatives of the King who had been so kind to him, he called for his horse and set out to visit them.
Malcolm brought Edgar and his mother and sisters back with him, gave them rooms in his palace, and treated them as great and honoured guests. Soon he came to love the Princess Margaret very much, for she was both beautiful and good. She too loved the King, and after a little time they were married.
The wedding was very splendid. Such pomp and grandeur had never before been seen in Scotland as was seen at the marriage of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret.
For the sake of his wife Margaret, King Malcolm treated all English people kindly. So at this time very many of the English, who were driven out of their own country by William of Normandy, came to settle in Scotland. Malcolm gave these English exiles both land and money, and thus it came about that in after years many of the great families had lands both in Scotland and in England.
These English nobles brought English manners and customs to Scotland. This greatly displeased many of the Scottish nobles. The Scots had always been a very hardy people. They were big and strong—more like giants than like ordinary people. They ate and drank little and cared little for fine clothes or fine houses. It seemed to them that the English cared too much for all these things. They thought it was a bad day for Scotland when all these grand knights and nobles came to live there, and they were angry with Malcolm because he was kind to them.
They were angry too with Queen Margaret, for she thought it right that the King of Scotland should be surrounded by splendour as befits a great king. So she did away with all the old simple ways to which the Scottish people were accustomed. Great knights, nobles, and fair ladies waited upon the King and Queen. Their meals were served upon dishes of gold and silver, and the clothes they wore were beautiful and gorgeous.
Queen Margaret also encouraged merchants to come to Scotland to trade. They brought jewels and gold and other beautiful things, and took away woollen cloth and whatever else the Scots had to sell. It was in the days of Queen Margaret that the Scottish people first began to wear the brightly coloured checked cloths which we call tartans.
But in spite of all her splendour, Queen Margaret was a very good and holy woman, and after her death she was called a saint. Every morning before she had her own breakfast she fed nine little beggar children. Often she took them in her arms and fed them with her own hands. At certain times in the year the King and Queen would give dinner to three hundred poor, and wait upon them as they sat at table in the great hall of the palace. Queen Margaret too used to wash the feet of pilgrims and beggars, which in those days was thought to be a very holy action.
The Queen could not bear to see any one hungry, or cold, or in misery. She gave all her own money to the poor, and often, when she had nothing left to give, she would borrow from her lords and ladies in waiting. They were always willing to lend to her, for they knew that they would be paid again more than they gave. Sometimes too the Queen would take the King's money to give to the poor. He knew very well that she took it, but he pretended not to miss it. But sometimes he would laugh and say that he would have her tried and imprisoned for stealing. Really he loved her so much that she might do anything she wished.
Queen Margaret was learned too. In those days, when few people could read, she could read both English and Latin. The King, although he could speak Latin, English and Scotch (which were different languages in those days), had never been taught to read. But he loved to take Margaret's books in his hand and sometimes he would kiss those which she liked the best. Sometimes too he would take away one of her favourites and give it to a goldsmith, who would cover it in gold and set it with precious stones. Then Malcolm would bring the book back again and give it to Queen Margaret as a sign of his love for her. Malcolm was a good King, but he was rough and passionate, and sometimes cruel. But however angry he was, the gentle Queen Margaret could always soothe and calm him again.
When William of Normandy, who had now made himself King of England, heard that Malcolm had married the Princess Margaret, he was very angry. He was afraid that now the Scottish King would help Edgar to win the crown of England again. So he sent to Malcolm demanding that Edgar should be given up to him.
This Malcolm refused to do, and there was bitter war between the King of England and the King of Scotland.
The northern part of England, called in those days Northumbria, had always been a ground of fighting and quarrel between England and Scotland. The boundary of Scotland was always changing. Sometimes it was as far north as the Forth; sometimes as far south as the Humber.
Now Malcolm made many expeditions into Northumbria to help the Northumbrian lords, who hoped to drive William the Conqueror out of England and to place Edgar upon the throne instead.
Malcolm ravaged and plundered the whole country in a fearful manner. The Scots grew rich upon the spoils of war, and they carried so many captives back to Scotland that for many years English slaves were to be found in every town, every village, and every cottage in Scotland.
William, seeing that he could not conquer the Northumbrians, resolved to make their land a barren waste. He marched all over it, and what the Scots had not destroyed, he destroyed, until the whole country north of the Humber was a blackened, ruined desert; and the people who were not killed in battle died of hunger or escaped into Scotland.
Then William marched to Scotland, resolved to punish Malcolm for having helped Edgar and the Northumbrians, but, as an old history says, he and his soldiers found naught there for which they were the better. So at last the two Kings made a peace, which lasted until the death of the Conqueror.