Margaret, Maid of Norway

Margaret was called Queen but was never crowned. She was known as Lady of Scotland, Margaret of Scotland and the Maid of Norway. The story of her life is very poignant and short.

Margaret was the daughter of King Eric II of Norway and Margaret of Scotland who in turn was the daughter of Margaret Plantagenet of England and King Alexander III of Scotland. When Margaret of Scotland was twenty years old, she was sent to Norway according to the terms of a marriage agreement signed at Roxburgh on July 25, 1281 to be wed to the thirteen year old King Eric II of Norway. The marriage contract stated that any children born to the couple could inherit the throne of Scotland. Margaret of Scotland gave birth to the young Margaret at Tønsberg on April 9 of 1283 and promptly died.

At the time the marriage contract for his daughter was signed, King Alexander III’s wife had died and he had only one surviving son. This son was to die in 1284, leaving only the young princess Margaret of Norway as his heir. King Alexander called together at Scone all thirteen Earls of Scotland, twenty-four barons and the heads of the three main Gaelic families of the West. On February 5, 1284 Alexander made all the notables sign a document recognizing his grand-daughter Margaret as “domina and right heir” if Alexander left no children and had no posthumous children. Alexander had every intention of marrying again in hopes of having an heir. He married Yolande de Dreux in November of 1285.

Scotland and the King’s hopes for having an heir were soon dashed. On March 18, 1286, Alexander spent the evening at Edinburgh Castle with royal advisors. He told them of his plans to visit Yolande at Kinghorn in Fife because the next day was her birthday. His advisors told him not to undertake the journey because of the poor weather conditions. He ignored their pleas and travelled anyway. On the way he became separated from his three esquires and two local men who were serving as guides. The next day his body was found on the foreshore of Pettycur about a mile from his destination. He either fell from the embankment in the dark or his horse stumbled and fell on the shoreline, breaking the King’s neck in the fall. His death changed the course of history between Scotland and England.

At the time of her grandfather’s death, Margaret of Norway was three years old and under the tutelage of Bishop Narve of Bergen. Because her father was only fifteen at the time, the government and her education were overseen by the Bishop. If her grandfather had lived, Margaret would have made a marriage important to the foreign policy of Norway. But her future was now in confusion.

In Scotland, six Guardians were named to rule the kingdom until an heir could be sorted out. Queen Yolande was insisting she was pregnant. The records are uncertain as to what happened to this child. Accounts say she miscarried, had a stillborn child, a false pregnancy and yet another says she was faking her pregnancy. By November of 1286, it was clear King Alexander had no heir. Scotland was on the brink of civil war with Robert the Bruce and John Balliol contending for the throne. By 1289, the Guardians had gained some stability between the three claimants.

In 1289, Margaret’s father King Eric sent ambassadors to King Edward I of England with documents proclaiming Margaret as Queen. From this point on Edward and Eric worked on a settlement and excluded the Scots until there was a meeting with Edward, Robert the Bruce and some of the Guardians at Salisbury in October of 1289. Edward was pressing for a marriage to his own son, the future Edward II. The Treaty of Birgham was signed in July of 1290, agreeing Margaret would be sent to Scotland before November 1, 1290 and she would marry Prince Edward of England. The treaty called for Scotland to be separate from England but had clauses allowing King Edward I to interfere in Scottish affairs if he saw fit.

King Edward had already sent to Rome for a papal dispensation for his son and Margaret, who were cousins, to be married. The dispensation did not actually contract a marriage but allowed the cousins to marry if the Scots agreed to it. Edward and King Eric now referred to Margaret as Queen of Scotland in anticipation of her being inaugurated and married to Prince Edward. King Edward, the Bruces, Balliols and other families in Scotland were now in competition to get control of Margaret’s person to gain command of the Kingdom. King Edward sent an expensively outfitted ship to Norway to bring the Princess home. However, when they arrived, King Eric was away fighting the Danes. The ship had to return to England without her.

In August of 1290, Margaret’s father decided she would be taken to the Norwegian territory of the Orkney Islands, where final arrangements would be made for her entry to Scotland. Two Scottish knights and Margaret’s retinue, along with the Bishop of Narve, left Norway in September to make the voyage. Margaret was to fall ill on the trip, whether from seasickness, a weak constitution or some other illness. The ship arrived in Orkney where Margaret was taken ashore. She died in the arms of the Bishop.

The Bishop took her body back to Bergen. Her father insisted on opening the coffin so he could view his daughter one more time. She was buried in the Cathedral of Bergen beside her mother. The nobility of Scotland, who had been gathering at Scone for a coronation, were now faced with a dynastic crisis. No less than thirteen claimants to the throne were now gathering their armies.

Further reading: “The Kings and Queens of Scotland’ edited by Richard Oram, “Scottish Queens 1093-1714” by Rosalind K. Marshall, “British Kings and Queens” by Mike Ashley