Medieval women of the European royal families are usually fascinating characters to write about. Used as merchandise for political alliances with total disregard about their feelings or their life, thrown into foreign countries and delivered to unknown men, sometimes more than twenty years older than them, their history is a crossroads between the country where they were born and the one where they were married, and sometimes other lands affected by their parents or their children.
For instance, let’s take a look at the woman this post is dedicated to. She was the daughter of a Scottish King and an English princess, she was Queen of Norway and her descendants played a crucial role in a famous conflict between England and Scotland.
Margaret was the daughter of King Alexander III of Scotland and her mother and namesake was the daughter of Henry III of England (and, therefore, sister of Edward I Longshanks). This marriage was an attempt to consolidate the always complicated relationship between the two British kingdoms.
In 1281, when Margaret was twenty years old, she got married to Erik Magnusson, King of Norway, who had inherited the crown a year before the wedding. In the last previous years the Scottish-Norwegian relations, that had not been friendly because a dispute over the dominion of The Hebrides and the Isle of Man burst into an open conflict and the Norwegian King Hakon invaded Scotland. They were confronted by the army of King Alexander III of Scotland at the battle of Largs (1263) with an inconclusive result that ended with the retreat of the Norwegian forces.
In 1266, Scotland and Norway signed the treaty of Perth, where they put an end to the war. Norway acknowledged the Scottish sovereignty over The Hebrides, The Isle of Man and the rest of the continental territories. In exchange, Scotland agreed to pay an amount of money and acknowledged the Norwegian dominion over the Shetlands and the Orkneys.
As a part of this new era of cordiality the marriage between Margaret of Scotland and Erik of Norway was settled. Margaret was the only surviving child of Alexander III (her two siblings had died). Therefore, the capital point of the bridal agreements was that the sons of Erik and Margaret would inherit the Scottish crown.
Nevertheless, on April 9th 1283, Queen Margaret died in Tonsberg during labour. But her daughter, named after her, survived. She became known as Margaret the Maid of Norway and her mother’s death put Scotland in a very complicated situation: King Alexander III was a widower, his three children were dead and his only heir was a Norwegian girl.
The King of Scotland decided in 1285 to remarry the French princess Yolande de Drieux to try to give his country an heir. But in 1286, before the new queen got pregnant, Alexander died in a weird horse accident when he decided to ride at night under a heavy storm, fell from a cliff and broke his neck.
Scotland passed through very difficult times the following years. Six Guardians were named to look after the realm during the Maid of Norway minority, whose marriage was arranged to grant the stability of the kingdom. The chosen husband for the girl was the son of King Edward I of England, not before a harsh negotiation to make clear that this compromise had to respect Scotland’s independence and sovereignty. When the details were solved (“Scotland should remain free in itself, and without subjection, from the kingdom of England) the girl Margaret was commanded to travel from Norway to Scotland to be crowned and seal her bridal agreement. But unluckily, during her trip Margaret fell sick and had to stop in the Orkney Islands, where she died.
Scotland found itself in a tricky situation. With no king nor direct heir to the throne, with the two main families of the realm the Balliols and the Bruces, in open dispute regarding who had the best right to the throne and with Edward I of England waiting for the outcome of events to make his own movement… but this is another story.