Margaret was the granddaughter of Edmond Ironside, and grand niece of Saint Edward the Confessor, whose festival the Church celebrates on the fifth of January.
In order that we may clearly understand her life, let us glance at the state of affairs in England at the time of her birth.
Edmond had been assassinated in 1017, when Canute, king of Denmark, took advantage of this circumstance. and found means to have himself proclaimed monarch of all England. He likewise constituted himself guardian of the two sons of Edmond till they should be of age to succeed their father in the kingdom of the Western Saxons. He sent to Sweden secretly the two princes, who were named Edward and Edmond. The Swedish monarch notwithstanding the instructions he had privately received to take away the lives of the two princes, refused to imbrue his hands in innocent blood, and this conduct was rendered still more honorable and noble, by the fact of his having reason to dread the cruelty and power of Canute.
The king of Sweden therefore sent Edward and Edmond to the court of Hungary, where they were received with great honors, and the king of that nation undertook to educate them both in a manner conformable to their birth.
Edmond, the eldest of the princes, died without posterity. Edward, his brother, married Agatha, sister of the queen of Hungary. She was a most virtuous princess, and gifted with every good quality of head and heart. She became the mother of Edgar, of Christina, who took the religious habit, and of Margaret concerning whom we are going to write. Canute died after a reign brilliant in the eyes of the world, but stained by injustice and ambition. He was succeeded by Harold and Hardicanute, who after a very short reign transmitted the English crown to Saint Edward, the kinsman of our Saint.
As soon as this prince was seated on the throne, he invited Edward, the last son of Edmond, to come from Hungary to England with his children. He received them in London, A.D. 1054, with every possible mark of honor and affection.
Both the king and the prince whom he had recalled from Hungary having died, Edgar naturally succeeded to the throne of Saint Edward; but as he was as yet very young, and having been born in a foreign country, these circumstances were made an occasion to exclude him from the crown, and place it on the head of Harold.
The latter pretended that Edward had appointed him to be his successor. William, Duke of Normandy, set up a similar pretension. In consequence of this, he crossed the sea, conquered England, and killed Harold in the celebrated battle which was fought near Hastings, October 14th, 1066. Many of the English people declared for Edgar, but all to no purpose. This prince was too weak to support himself by force of arms, and he and all his nobility were obliged to receive their vanquisher at London.
At last being constrained to fly from the tyranny of William the Conqueror, he embarked with his sister, Margaret, on board a ship which was cast by a storm on the coast of Scotland. Malcolm, king of that country, gave a warm reception to them both. He was the more anxious to act thus, as he himself had been once in a situation resembling theirs.
William sent to Malcolm, demanding the surrender of the fugitives into his hands, but the generous prince refused to be a party to such black treason. His refusal kindled the fires of war, but the Scotch defied William's troops, and the latter was obliged to sign a treaty of peace, one of the conditions of which was, that William should act towards Edgar as though he were his friend.
In the midst of all those heart-breaking vicissitudes, Margaret displayed the greatest patience and resignation, and we are now going to narrate some of the countless virtues which won for her the veneration of all Scotland.
Hating wordly vanities and appreciating all its pomps and glories according to their just value, her whole ambition was to render herself agreeable to the King of Heaven, who, while here on earth would not reign over the people, except from the cross of Calvary bedewed with His blood. Mortification, meditation, and prayer, constituted her chief delights. Living for Jesus Christ alone, it was her joy and consolation to commune with Him in the silence of the tabernacles. Outside the holy temples, she beheld. Him in his representatives, the poor, and seized every occasion of ministering to their wants, and assuaging their sorrows.
Malcolm was deeply affected by the contemplation of so much virtue, and began to conceive the greatest esteem for Margaret. He proposed to unite himself to her by the bonds of marriage.
Margaret acquiesced, and was crowned queen of Scotland, A.D. 1070. She was then twenty-four years of age.
Her gentleness, her respectful bearing, her condescension, and other virtues, soon gave her undivided control over her husband's heart. She employed this control, to make religion and justice flourish throughout the whole kingdom. Her examples and conversations caused the king to love and venerate the maxims of the Gospel, and in the school of Margaret, Malcolm became one of the most virtuous of the kings of Scotland. Charmed by the wisdom of his consort, he committed to her the administration of all his domestic affairs, and consulted her in all public matters regarding the common weal. In the midst of all these occupations, Queen Margaret preserved her recollectedness of soul, and armed herself against all danger of dissipation.
Extreme exactitude in the performance of all her duties, as though the eye of God was upon her alone; the continual exercise of prayer, and the constant habit of mortifying herself, were the principal means that she employed to maintain herself in such a perfect state.
In Scotland, and far away in foreign lands, her prudence was a theme on which all men loved to expiate. Everyone admired her management of public and private affairs, and there was no one who did not laud her anxiety to make her subjects happy. In a word, nothing could have excelled her wisdom in the discharge of the duties attached to the royal authority.
God did not fail to bless a union that had been sanctified by so many virtues. She had a numerous family, all of whom reflected honor on those from whom they sprang. The queen became the mother of six princes, Edward, Edmond, Edgar, Ethelred, Alexander, David, and of two princesses, Matilda and Maria. The former married Henry I, of England, and the second was the wife of Eustace, count of Boulogne. Edward, Alexander, and David, successively ascended the throne of Scotland. Their respective reigns were signally marked by wisdom, piety and valor. David, however, was far more distinguished than his two brothers and of him it has been justly said, that he was the brightest ornament of the Scottish throne.
Under the guidance of so pious a mother, the young princes learned at an early moment, that true nobility and the chief happiness of man are to be found in a virtuous life. Margaret took great heed to guard them, while still mere striplings, against those dangerous shoals, whereon those who are born in courts are too often wrecked. While deeply impressing on their minds the vanity and nothingness of all sublunary things, she depicted virtue to their eyes in all its charms, inspiring them with a ho)y horror of sin, love of God, and salutary dread of His judgments.
Knowing well that the first impressions made on the souls of the young are hardly ever effaced, and that these impressions are made by those to whom their education is entrusted, she would not allow any to approach them save those whose piety was well established. Thus the preceptors of her children were men influenced by the holiest feelings of religion.
As soon as the princesses, her daughters, were of an age to profit by her examples, she associated them with herself in her spiritual exercises and holy works. She made them the mediums for distributing her alms, and it was with them that she was wont to pour out the incense of her prayers at the foot of God's throne. None but the virtuous were admitted to her court, and virtue was the only recommendation agreeable to her. Want of piety was enough to exclude all persons from places of trust, for she concluded wisely, that religion was the sole guarantee for the exact performance of duty.
All Scotland had undergone a happy change; holiness and holy men were flourishing everywhere throughout the realm; the Sundays, the festivals, and the laws of the Church, were faithfully observed; usury, injustice, and dissipation disappeared from every homestead; and peace, morality, and temporal wealth, everywhere abounded.
Does not religion bring every choicest blessIng in its train?
Margaret protected learning and encouraged the fine arts, and created various establishments, which wonderfully contributed to the prosperity of the kingdom.
This queen, so majestic, so venerated, and so powerful, was pleased to surround herself with orphans, old people, poor men and desolate widows. She called them her children; and, easy of access to them all, she was unremitting in her atte lons to each of them. She not only love the poor, with whom she filled her palace, for in them she beheld the representatives of her Divine Master, Jesus Christ; but she also venerated them, kneeling washed their feet, and fed them with the same meat that was brought to her own royal table.
She took especial delight in visiting the hospitals, and wherever she went the sick and the poor were filled with admiration of her humility and excessive tenderness to them. Even strangers were made the objects of Queen Margaret's bounty and charity. The English who fell into the hands of her husband, were often indebted to her for their deliverance from prison. Malcolm, profoundly grateful to God for having given him such a consort, gladly aided her in carrying out all her pious intentions.
Let us now hear Thierry, a monk of Durham, and Queen Margaret's confessor, speaking of her holy life."The pious queen had hours marked out for all her daily actions. Sleeping little, she always had ample time for her exercises of devotion. Nothing could have exceeded the meagreness of her diet; she ate only to keep herself from dying, and she studiously avoided everything that could flatter sensuality. Her works were more astonishing than her miracles: for she had also received the gift of miracles. Oh, how I loved the spirit of compunction which God gave her! She possessed it in an eminent degree; when she discoursed with me on the ineffable blessings of eternal life her words were accompanied with wonderful grace. So great was her fervor on those occasions, that she could not restrain the flood of tears that rushed from her eyes. Such was the tenderness of her devotion, that in witnessing it, I felt myself penetrated by the liveliest compunction. Never was one more recollected in the holy temple."The same author speaking of Malcolm, states this of him:"He learned from Margaret frequently to spend the night in exercises of piety. It was truly astonishing to see the fervor of this prince while at prayer; he possessed the spirit of compunction, and the gift of tears in a degree far above the condition of a man living in the world."The queen, says another author, excited the king to works of justice and mercy, and also to the practice of the other virtues. In all this she succeeded marvellously by an effect of the grace of God. The king was always ready to second her pious intentions. Seeing that Jesus Christ dwelt in the heart of Margaret, he never failed to follow her counsels.
Margaret's instructions had fully convinced Malcolm, that a king, being father of his people, ought to avoid war as the most terrible of scourges; that the most renowned conquerors were born for the misfortune of the world, and above all for that of the states which they governed; and that their exploits considered with eyes of faith, were nothing but a series of murders and robberies. Nevertheless, the prince knew that his duty as a king, obliged him to be acquainted with the art of war, in order that he might always be prepared to take up arms for the protection of his people, against the attacks of their enemies.
William Rufus, who had ascended the throne of England in 1087, compelled him to give proofs of his valor. This prince surprised the castle of Alnwick, in Northumberland, and ordered the garrison to be put to the sword.
Malcolm demanded that this place should be restored to him, and when this was denied, he laid siege to it. The English garrison finding itself pressed on all sides, and reduced to the last extremity, feigned a.surrender, and proposed that the king himself in person should come to receive the keys of the town; but the soldier who presented them on the point of his lance, seized the moment in which Malcolm was stretching out his hand, and basely dealt him a stroke in the eyes, of which he died.
Edward, his son, being exasperated, continued the siege, but his valor carried him too far, and he was killed in an assault.
Malcolm's death took place in 1093, and his reign had lasted thirty-three years.
Margaret had, need of great. resignation to sustain her amid all the misfortunes of which we have to speak; but her virtue did not fail her, and like holy Job she exclaimed: "Lord, thou gavest them to me, and thou hast taken them away from me; may thy name be blessed!"
Margaret was lying sick in her bed, when this intelligence reached her. We will now let the monk, Thierry, relate all that occurred during her last illness."On the day the king was killed, Margaret appeared to be sad and pensive. It was then she thus addressed those by whom she was surrounded: 'It is probable, that on this day Scotland may have sustained a loss such as never before fell to its lot.'Feeling that she was about to expire, she redoubled her fervor, and over and over again repeated these words:
"Some days afterwards, Edgar, her son, returned from the army. She asked him how were Edward and Malcolm. Edgar, not wishing to augment her sufferings, replied that they were very well. 'I know how it is,' observed Margaret. Then raising her eyes to heaven she addressed this prayer to God - 'Almighty God, I thank thee for having sent me this overwhelming affliction in the latest moment of my life. I trust that, with thy mercy, it may serve to purify me from my sins.'
"Margaret had had a revelation, informing her of the time of her death long before that moment arrived. Having desired to speak to me in private," continues Thierry, "she made a general confession of her whole life. Torrents of tears gushed from her eyes at every word she uttered. So lively was her compunction, that I myself was forced to weep. From time to time, sobs and tears so choked our utterance that neither of us could pronounce a word without great difficulty. She concluded by saying to me what follows:
"'Farewell, for I shall very soon disappear from the earth. You must soon follow me. I have two favors to ask of you: the first is, that you will remember my poor soul in your prayers and in the Holy Sacrifice, as long as God leaves you here below; the second is, that you will look to my children, and teach them to fear and love God. Promise to grant me what I ask in the presence of the Lord, who is the only witness of our conversation.'""Lord Jesus, who by thy death hast given life to the world, deliver me from evil!"At length her soul was liberated from the bonds of the body, 16 November 1093, in the forty-seventh year of her age.
She was canonized in 1251, by Pope Innocent IV, and in 1693 Innocent XII fixed her festival on the loth of June.