28 April 2024

Queens of Britain Series: Margaret Maid of Norway

Welcome to the Queens of Britain series. In 2024, the blog will spotlight the reigning queens from the island of Great Britain. Check back each month to learn about the women who led their nations.

Margaret Maid of Norway
image of stained glass window on Orkney
by Colin Smith via Wikimedia Commons
After years of negotiation, seven-year-old Queen Margaret finally boarded the ship that would carry her to her kingdom, inherited from her maternal grandfather King Alexander III of Scotland. Young Margaret, better known as the Maid of Norway, had never known her mother or her mother's family. Her mother, Margaret of Scotland, had died shortly after her birth leaving the infant in the care of her father, King Eric II Magnusson of Norway, who found himself a widower and single father at the age of 15.

Although the marriage treaty between Eric and Margaret of Scotland left the bride and her children in the line of succession to the Scottish throne, the baby's royal future was still just a remote chance. King Alexander's teenage son Prince Alexander and his bride were expected to carry on the dynasty. But, when baby Margaret was just seven months old, her uncle Alexander died. The hope that his wife might be pregnant with an heir was soon dashed. At that moment Margaret became the only heir to Scotland. Alexander moved quickly to have his nobles swear allegiance to baby Margaret as his heir.

However, Alexander also tried to stabilize the succession by marrying again. Now in his forties, he had waited a decade after the death of of his first wife, Margaret's grandmother,  Margaret of England, sister of King Edward I of England, a decade earlier, he at last remarried. Just six months later, he rode out in a storm to see his young wife. The next morning, he was found along the road, his neck broken in a fall from his horse. The usual wait to see if his new wife would produce a posthumous heir took place, but eventually it was clear that the Maid of Norway was the last survivor of the Scottish House of Dunkeld.

Not quite three years old, Margaret had become the first Queen of Scots, nearly three centuries before the much better-remembered Mary Queen of Scots.

A toddler and a female as monarch was not ideal in the 13th Century. The rivalry between other claimants Robert the Bruce and John Balliol threatened not just the peace of the kingdom but the little queen herself.

Fearful for her safety, Eric kept his daughter in Norway while negotiating a marriage that would not only ensure her well-being but also the well-being of her kingdom and would eventually unite Scotland and England under one ruler. Eric accepted the marriage offer from his late wife's uncle, King Edward I of England, to unite his son Edward of Caenarfon (later King Edward II) to Eric's daughter Margaret. The intended groom was a year younger than his toddler fiancee. Nevertheless, a political match of this magnitude would at last bring some peace to Scotland, which had been battling England for centuries, and eventually, the couple's child would sit on both thrones. The idea had initially been floated by King Alexander before his death, when Margaret's succession was not yet certain.

Once the Scots had been reassured that Scotland would remain independent from England, they ratified the marriage treaty. Once Margaret reached her kingdom, her marriage would be official even though both partners were not yet old enough. Margaret said farewell to her father and set sail for Scotland. The stormy North Sea drove the party far to the north to the island of Orkney, which was still Norwegin territory at the time. When she came to shore, the seven-year-old Queen Margaret was very ill, possibly from severe seasickness. Weak and depleted, she died in the arms of the Bishop who had been sent to look after her. Today, a stained glass window in the Lerwick Town Hall on Orkney remembers her brief and tragic visit.

By the time the Scottish lords who had been gathering in Perth for her coronation, learned of her death, the little body was already on its way back to Norway. Her heartbroken father confirmed her identity before she was buried with her mother. Despite this, a decade later, a "False Margaret" emerged to claim the Scottish throne--she was burned at the stake for her efforts. 

In Scotland, Margaret's death set a match that would burn for decades as 13 claimants, including John Balliol and Robert the Bruce, battled for control of the Kingdom, with King Edward I heavily interfering and seeking to assert his authority there.

Many scholars today tend to count Margaret at Scotland's first reigning queen. However, that assertion is disputed because she never actually arrived in Scotland, and more importantly, she was never crowned. As for this blogger, I prefer to give the little Maid of Scotland her due as a Queen. 

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni 
Empress Matilda 
Margaret Maid of Norway
Lady Jane Grey
Queen Mary I - coming in June 2024
Queen Elizabeth I - coming in July 2024
Mary Queen of Scots - coming in August 2024
Queen Mary II - coming in September 2024
Queen Anne - coming in October 2024
Queen Victoria - coming in November 2024
Queen Elizabeth II - coming in December 2024

Death of Margaret, Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland on European Royal History
The Death of Margaret, Maid of Norway on BBC Bitesize
The Maid of Norway, The Child Queen of Scots on Fourteenth Century Fiend
The Maid of Norway--The Tragic Story of Scotland's First Queen Regnant on History...The Interesting Bits
Margaret Maid of Norway on BBC Bitesize
Margaret Maid of Norway on Britroyals
Margaret Maid of Norway on Royal.UK
Margaret (Maid of Norway) on ScotClans
Margaret (Maid of Norway) on Time Ref
Margaret Maid of Norway on Timewise Traveller
Margaret 'the Maid of Norway' on English Monarchs
Margaret the Maid of Norway on Rex Factor
Margaret the Maid of Norway on Visit Heritage
Margaret Maid of Norway and Queen of Scotland on Medievalists
Margaret Maid of Norway, Queen of Scots on Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Margaret, Maid of Norway: How Scotland's Fate Took a Tumble from a Horse and Fell into the Delicate Hands of a Child on The Scotsman
Margaret, Tragic Queen of Scotland, Maid of Norway on Owlcation
Queen Margaret, Maid of Norway on Undiscovered Scotland
Queens Regnant: Margaret, Maid of Norway on History of Royal Women
Unlucky Princesses: Margaret, Maid of Norway on The Creative Historian

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