Life of Saint Margaret

Saint Margaret of Scotland, the Royal Princess of the house of Arpad

By Zsuzsanna Somos

On either side of the highway No. 6 running from Budapest to Pécs, in the Eastern-Mecsek, near to Pécs is the village of Mecseknádasd situated, called Nádasd in the Middle Ages; there are medieval castle ruins on either side: one of them being Schlossberg, the other is Réka’s Castle standing on an elevation. Viewed from the highway, the church from the age of the Arpad Dinasty in the roadside cemetery can be clearly seen. In the St. George church in the village, there is a huge painting depicting St. Margaret of Scotland. [Pic. 1] This painting was donated to the church by the Scottish Church. In the church there is another work of artrepresenting St Margaret, a statue that stands on a plinth erected with stones from Réka’s Castle. [Pic. 2] .


Statue of St. Margaret of Scotland [Pic. 2]


Painting depicting St. Margaret of Scotland [Pic. 1]

Hungarian archival sources, the charters from the Arpad Dinasty’s time are tight-lipped, there survives but a single reference in a deed that the land donated is bordering on the property of

the Brits of Nádasd (terra britannorum). This marvellous countryside rich in natural gifts and beauty played an important role already in Roman times, here ran the warpath leading from Eszék (Osiek, now in Croatia) to Buda. According to certain sources, the life of Prince Imre, son of St. Stephen (King Stephen I of Hungary) was cut short here during a chase.

But how had this neighbourhood become a property of British people? The history stretches far back both in time and space: In 1016 , King Edmund the Ironside of Britain, after a few months’ reign, died in fighting the Danish. The English throne was taken by the Danish Canute (Knut) the Great, who was followed by his sons on the throne. Edmund the Ironside left behind two tiny sons (possibly twins), Princes Edward and Edmund, who, because of their mother being of Swedishdescent,  were taken to the Swedish court for safekeeping. However, the children were given shelter neither there, nor in Kiev, nor in Poland, finally King St. Stephen of Hungary admitted them to the court At Esztergom, and he presently allocated the Nádasd property for the princes to stay at, their tutor probably being St. Gellért. Little Edmund died as a child, Edward grew up under the protection of St. Stephen: the prince married the king’s granddaughter, Ágota. They most probably lived at Réka’s Castle (unfortunately, the excavations begun several times were always stalled, owing to a lack of funds, the picture is not clear at all). The couple had three children born to them: Margaret, Christine, and Edgar. The children were educated by Benedictine monks, in accordance with their principles, to work and pray („Ora et labora”) until 1057, when they were invited to England. In the meantime, the political situation had changed: the oligarchs had expelled the Danish, the half-brother of Edmund the Ironside, Edward the Confessor became king.

Edward the Confessor, who on his mother’s side was of Norman origin, was educated along strict Benedictine lines, and he lived in accordance with these ideals, the royal court was more like a monastery than a kingly court. Being childless, he invited the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Edward and his family, who had grown up and still lived in Hungary. Unfortunately, after landing, the head of the family died under still unexplained circumstances and never even met his uncle. But Edward’s family were given shelter in the English royal court.

At the same time, the heir to the Scottish throne, Malcolm,  was also staying at the court; his father, king Duncan had been killed by MacBeth (king of Scotland 1040–1057), so well-known from the Shakespeare play. Prince Malcolm formed a very good relationship with the members of the family just arrived from Hungary. In 1054 he gathered an army and regained his inheritance, in the decisive battle MacBeth was also killed.

In 1066 Edward the Confessor died, and in the pretenders’ struggle for the throne, some of the oligarchs did not accept Edgar,  the prince from Hungary as heir to the crown as his father had not been a crowned king and he had not been born in England. Edgar, probably fearing for his life – and having been taught by his father’s fate – abdicated. It was now that the oligarchs, with one voice, chose to be king the son of the Earl of Godwine, Harold, who became Harold III. Harold had been in a shipwreck two years earlier and his life was saved by the Normanduke, William (later William the Conqueror): in return, Harold offered William the English throne. In 1066, William, having got news of the election of a king, got angry and, with papal blessing, he gathered an army to go for the English throne: now followed the famous battle of Hastings, which decided the fate of the English throne for a milennium.

The Battle of Hastings

At the end of August 1066 William was ready to fight. In the first combat, the English were victorious and then they withdrew deep into English territory. William, however, did not leave it at that, he gathered fresh armies, in fact, a „machine of war” unknown to the Anglo-saxons, in the battle he wanted to deploy horses that had been trained to bite and trample the opponent underfoot (the English troops consisted of footsoldiers only). William had to tarry and cool his heels with his troops on the norman shores for days waiting for favourable winds and when that had come about, he turned up at Hastings as fast as lightning. The English king’s army was at 400 kilometres away by this time but hearing the news they turned back towards the south. During the final battle the English army consisting of infantry took up a position on an elevation forming a wall of shields, which improved their chances. Harold the king fought in the first line, in the wall of shields: an arrow lodged in his eye, his body was never found. On hearing the news of the king’s death, the English army broke up. William proved to be a good strategist, by breaking the wall of shields, by deploying his machines of war, the horses, he won the day, he entered London and had himself crowned king. This way ten thousand Normans, who didn’t even speak the language, ruled over several hundreds of thousands of English.


Margaret Chapel in the castle at Edinburgh [Pic. 4]


Edinburgh Castle [Pic. 3]

The Life of St. Margaret of Scotland (1046-1093)

When, in1057, the family arrived in England from Hungary, Margaret was twelve years old: she was slender, fine looking, tall, very well-educatedand clever in fancy work (her embroideries applying gold were displayed in churches as „Opus Anglicum”), she spoke several languages, she read and wrote Latin just like her siblings. When Harold was crowned king, the family was advised to return to Hungary; they did set out by ship but the vessel got into a terrible storm, it was blown towards the north, finally they were cast ashore at Dunfermline, the Scottish king’s residence. The bay where they put in iscalled St. Margaret’s Hope still today. Malcolm, who by now was a widower, father of a son, received the family with kindness in his court (which was more like a burnt-out place than a kingly court).

Margaret was twenty years old; now she faced a very primitive life: there was profound poverty, the folks were christian in name only (St. Columba took Christianity to Scotland from Ireland 500 years earlier but all that had almost been forgotten, activity in the churches was very low). All that had been brought about by the Skandinavian pirates’ constant attacks on Scotland, which wrought havoc on the land. Malcolm was about forty at this time, as usual in that age, illiterate but really well-disposed. He had always been attracted to Margaret, but she would rather live in a nunnery,  with time, however, under friendly pressure, she accepted the marriage proposal: they were married in 1070. Margaret reformed religious life in Scotland with the help of his spiritual guide, the Benedictine Turgot, who later wrote her biography.

Margaret (whose name is derived from the Greek „margaron” meaning „pearl” is also called the Pearl of Scotland) pointed out that the greatest figure of the Celtic era in the Scottish history was Columba and she raised Christianity to its worthy place. Althought she was but king’s consort, she had a strong effect on her husband and the tribal chiefs: it was enough to persuade the chiefs and folks followed them and became converted (this was almost a miracle because the Celtic clans took great care of their freedom and usually rejected reforms). The king kept kissing Margaret’s holy books and he forged objects for the church with his own hands.

Margaret loved not only God but also the poor people, she acted as a servant of Christ, which can be seen from the following:

  • Anybody could turn to her with their trouble: near Dunfermline you can still see a stone where, according to the custom of the age, the Queen received those who turned to her, and this stone is called Margaret’s Stone today;
  • she did good in the world: every morning, along with the royal couple, the poor and a few children could have breakfast, she seated the smallest one on her lap and fed him or her with her own spoon,
  • the Picts had had St. Andrew’s relic brought to Scotland in the 8th century, it was then housed in St. Andrew’s church specially built for that purpose, and that’s how St. Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. Margaret encouraged the people to go on pilgrimages, providing them with ships and lodgings free, where these ships put into port (Forth Bridge), the rows of houses on either side are still called „North and South Quinsferry”;
  • Columba founded a monastry on a small island called Iona but the establishment lay in ruins in consequence of Swedish attacks, and it was under Swedish authority. Malcolm recaptured the island, Margaret had the monastry rebuilt, it was then repopulated, and it still stands today, old documents are guarded there, among them a Bible;
  • she convocated councils to revive church life;
  • she reformed knightly life, making it more noble.

That’s why chronicles write about her that there never was a more beautiful character in Scottish history, „she was the incarnation of all chastity and holiness”. Margaret had eight children born to her: six boys and two girls. Her son Edward died in a battle, Aethelred died while still young, Edmund was the black sheep of the family, the three younger boys followed one another on the throne: Edgar, Alexander, and David, who reigned as David I for 24 years, his reign was a kind of golden age, he finished his mother’s work; as to her daughters: Matilda became the wife of Henry I (who as English king united the Norman and Saxon lines), their daughter Matilda in turn became the wife of Henry V; Mary married the Count of Boulogne, and their daughter married King Stephen of England. Margaret’s children played significant roles in both the Scottish and English royal families.

Margaret taught her children: „If you love
God, your lives will flourish and you will be happy for ever”.
At her death, Margaret was not yet 50, she passed away attended by her son Edgar holding a black crucifix in her hands, she survived her husband King Malcolm and her eldest son, Edward  by four days, who both died in battle. In her last words
she gave thanks to God and prayed.Her passing away was so quiet that it was thought that her soul moved on to the tranquility and silence of eternity.

Edinburgh Castle soaring on a rock pinnacle of volcanic origin is an ancient fortress [Pic. 3], it can be seen from most points in the city.

In the reign of David I there probably stood here a castle even if not in its present form. The oldest part of the castle, a masterpiece of Norman architecture was used by Margaret as dwellings, which is today the chapel named after her – Margaret Chapel [Pic. 4].


The altar in Margaret Chapel [Pic. 5]


Vitrage in the chapel depicting St. Margaret [Pic. 6]

St. Margaret’s Chapel is a contemporary of Canterbury Cathedral, even their builder was the same person, Lanfranc. The chapel is built in Norman style, probably there were quite a few similar ones all over Scotland in those days. Its dimensions are small: 14 feet wide, 32 feet long, the arch of the sanctuary was built by David I in memory of her mother [Pic. 5] (he also had Holy Rood Abbey established). The chapel was restored in such a way that it looks today as it probably looked in Margaret’s life. It was Queen Victoria who had the original of the chapel’s vitrage depicting St. Margaret made. [Pic. 6]


1/ Dümmerth, D.: Az Árpádok nyomában. Panoráma,1976.
2/ L. Menzies, R.A. Knox, R.S. Wright: St. Margaret Queen of Scotland and her Chapel.  Ed Edinburgh Castle.
3/ Skóciai Szent Margit. (A publication of the church at Mecseknádasd)

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