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Margaret: Tragic Queen of Scotland, Maid of Norway

I'm captivated by British royal history. Scottish royalty provides us with a compelling story. Young Queen Margaret's tale is a sad one.

Margaret, Maid of Norway and Queen of Scotland. This window was installed at Lerwick Town Hall.

Margaret, Maid of Norway and Queen of Scotland. This window was installed at Lerwick Town Hall.

Margaret, Maid of Norway

Margaret, the Maid of Norway was the daughter of King Eric II of Norway, also known as Eric Magnusson (1268-1299,) and Margaret (1261-1283,) the daughter of King Alexander III of Scotland (1241-1286.) She was born in Tønsberg in the southeast of Norway in March or early April 1283 and her mother died on the 9th April from complications after the birth.

Eric II was just fifteen years old and so he was happy to place his baby in the household of Narve, the Bishop of Bergen. Margaret was, the Scottish believed, not only the heir to the throne of Norway but, if her grandfather Alexander III died without issue, she would rule Scotland. They were wrong; the line of succession in Norway was male-only.

Margaret's father King Eric II of Norway's image at Stavanger Cathedral.

Margaret's father King Eric II of Norway's image at Stavanger Cathedral.

Infant Queen of Scotland

By winter 1284 it had become likely that as the widower King Alexander’s last child had passed away, Margaret would be the Queen of Scotland when Alexander died. Scottish nobles congregated at Scone Abbey to proclaim her, in her absence, the heir presumptive to the throne

Alexander III, hopeful of having another heir, married Yolanda of Dreux in October 1285 but on the 19th March 1286 he was found dead, his neck broken, at the foot of a cliff. Poor weather and not murder was blamed. Yolanda was pregnant, so Margaret, Maid of Norway could have been displaced by Yolanda’s issue. A regency of six nobles ruled as they waited for the birth, but tragically for Yolanda, the baby was stillborn.

Yolanda of Dreux, Alexander III of Scotland's last queen consort and wife.

Yolanda of Dreux, Alexander III of Scotland's last queen consort and wife.

Great Plans

Both Robert Bruce, 5th Earl of Annandale (1215-1295) and John Balliol, Lord of Galloway (1259-1314) claimed a right to ascend Scotland’s throne but in November 1286 Margaret was proclaimed the true ruler of Scotland after Eric II’s envoy arrived on Scottish shores to confirm her queenship.

A regency was arranged to rule in her name until she was old enough to rule in her own right. Robert Bruce raised an army and rebelled but the uprising was suppressed by spring 1287.

Eric II was loathed to send his infant daughter to Scotland amidst unrest so she remained with the Bishop of Bergen as the king consulted Margaret’s great uncle Edward I of England (1229-1307) about the wisest course of action. Edward decided that Margaret should relocate to England so that when Scotland was deemed safe she could then reside in her kingdom.

Edward, not Eric, named her future husband as his son Edward of Caernarvon, later King Edward II of England (1284-1327) with the full expectation that he would also be the king of Scotland.

King Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots was Margaret, Maid of Norway's great uncle.

King Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots was Margaret, Maid of Norway's great uncle.

Tragedy

In early 1290 there was an attempt to transport Margaret to Scotland for her enthronement. It stalled because diplomatic issues existed about Edward of Caernarvon being a king there because the Scottish wished to retain independence and they feared that Edward would absorb Scotland into his kingdom as an extension of England.

The Treaty of Birgham that resulted from talks secured Scottish independence. By late summer 1290 a healthy and happy seven-year-old Margaret was on her way to her kingdom before continuing to Edward I in England. Eric II remained in Norway and entrusted her care to his key advisors and Narve, Bishop of Bergen. Disaster struck. Either food poisoning or excessive seasickness claimed her in the last days of September as the ship reached the island of Orkney. She died in Bishop Narve’s arms.

Loss Turns To Dispute

The nobles awaiting her arrival at Scone Abbey on the mainland were advised in October that the Maid of Norway was lost. Her body was returned to Norway where her father insisted that he view her body to ensure that it was her lying in a casket. She was buried at Christ Church in Bergen, as her mother had been.

With no clear heir, thirteen Scottish nobles claimed that they should be king, including Bruce and Balliol. It took until 1292 for the succession to be decided. John Balliol was successful and won Edward I of England’s approval.

Eric II survived Margaret by nine years and he made an unconvincing claim to the Scottish throne and accepted it calmly when the claim was dismissed. Eric’s younger brother Haakon (V) (1270-1319) succeeded him in Norway.

King John Balliol and his wife.

King John Balliol and his wife.

A Disputed Queen

Edward I had a change of heart and invaded Scotland in 1296, becoming known to history as the Hammer of the Scots. King John Balliol found himself imprisoned in the Tower of London for a while before he was sent to exile in France. As war raged on relentlessly in Scotland, a woman insisting that she was Margaret appeared in Norway in 1301. She was denounced as far too old, discovered to be German, not Norwegian and given the name of False Margaret. She was subsequently burnt at the stake.

The next Scottish monarch was Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) in 1306. He was the grandson of Robert Bruce. Balliol’s son Edward challenged Robert the Bruce’s son David II’s forty-two year long rule unsuccessfully. Edward II of England married Isabella of France in 1308 and he was deposed in 1327 by Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer.

Margaret, meanwhile, became a debated monarch in Scotland. She never ruled in person or had a coronation and she was only a minor so some historians discounted her reign. In the immediate aftermath of her death, she was frequently referred to as Scotland’s Lady, Lady and Heir or Maid and only rarely as Queen Margaret. Modern historians tend to accept Margaret, Maid of Norway’s reign in Scotland as between 19th March 1286 and late September 1290.

Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce

Sources

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

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