Malcolm III and Queen Margaret

The Blog on 15th November told something of the life and ‘good works’ of Queen Margaret. This one will tell more of her and King Malcom as depicted in another section of the same window in the former East Kirk.

King Malcolm III was later given the nickname ‘Canmore’, derived from the Gaelic, which literally means ‘big head’ but perhaps should be ‘Great Chief’. Lasting 35 years, his was a long reign at a time of considerable turmoil. Those familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth can equate the Malcolm of the play to this historical Malcolm. Indeed Malcolm killed Macbeth in Lumphanan on 15 August 1057. These were indeed turbulent times, with constant battles taking place and Malcolm was involved in many during his reign and the Battle of Alnwick was the one which ended his life.

His first wife was Ingibiorg Finnsdottir, widow of the Earl of Orkney. They had three sons, one of whom became King Duncan II. When Ingibiorg died is not clear, but Malcom was a widower when he encountered the future Queen Margaret following the shipwreck of the boat in which she and her family were trying to flee to the continent. She became a great influence on his life, bearing him eight children, six boys and two girls. All the children were given English names breaking the tradition of Scottish names. Four of the boys assumed the throne in later life – Edmund, Edgar, Alexander I and David I.

The death of Malcolm III came on 13th November 1093 at the Battle of Alnwick, along with his son Edward. His wife was already mortally ill in Edinburgh Castle which was being besieged by her brother-in-law. Her son Edgar brought the news of the deaths. Margaret died three days later on 16th November.

That is not the end of the story. Margaret’s sons and attendants managed smuggle her body out of the castle by a postern amidst thick mist. She was then buried in Dunfermline. However on 19th June 1250, her body and that of Malcolm III, were exhumed and removed to a magnificent new shrine. That date was celebrated for a long time as Margaret’s saint day until it was changed to the present 16th November, the date of her death. In 1560 the shrine was desecrated by Scots Calvinists and Mary, Queen of Scots had St. Margaret’s head removed as a reliquary to Edinburgh Castle. However, in 1597 Margaret’s head was taken home by a ‘private gentleman’, then arrived in Antwerp and finally reached the Scot’s College at Douai, France from where it disappeared during the French Revolution. Phillip II of Spain had the remains of Margaret and Malcolm Canmore taken to a shrine at El Escorial in Spain, but they are now missing.

Post 54 St Margaret and Malcolm Canmore
Queen Margaret reading to King Malcolm III

Margaret had been well educated whilst Malcolm was probably illiterate. It is reported that Margaret used to read, usually Bible stories, to her husband – a sign of the close bond between them. This final section of the window features the royal family with Margaret reading to her husband which accounts suggest was a common practice.