Kingdom Women: Queen Margaret of Scotland by Jen Underwood
I wandered around the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, appreciating its magical beauty but sensing a heaviness, almost an oppression, behind it. I knew some of the history of this place, knew the wonderful movements of Christianity that had begun right here, that had shared the Gospel in both word and deed.
But now, in the present, I noticed one church turned nightclub, another posting very limited hours, another that was obviously more a tourist site than an actual place of worship. I noticed evidence of dark spiritual forces rather than light.
Later that same day I toured Edinburgh Castle, which perches at the highest point of the Royal Mile. Exhibits here took me further back into Scotland’s past, into its complicated royal lines and the many times the castle was captured, besieged, and re-captured. Then came a moment of clarity, a bright spot in the middle of the shadows.
I entered the small prayer chapel and met Queen Margaret (1047-1093), a foreigner so beloved by the Scots they called her the Pearl of Scotland. I learned she, too, came to this country when it experienced spiritual darkness, and she was used to bring the light of Christ.
Now, once again, Scotland needs transformation. After my visit to Edinburgh, I visited several small churches. At each one, fellow believers grabbed my hands and asked me to pray for them. “The faith is dying here,” they said. “We desperately need revival.”
I heard the same dire statistics again and again: fewer than 3% of the population now identify themselves as Christian; researchers predict the church in Scotland will be non-existent in 15 years.
When I pray for Scotland—and for my own country, when I wonder how I should live to shine the light of the Gospel most brightly in my area of influence, I often think of Queen Margaret. The more I have learned about her, the more I have learned from her. I consider it a privilege to share these lessons and her story with you.
1. Margaret allowed God to use her past and direct her future.
Margaret never intended to go to Scotland. She was born in Hungary in 1047, her father the exiled Saxon heir to the English throne, her mother a Hungarian princess. She never set foot in England until Edward the Confessor, king of England, invited Margaret’s father back to be his heir.
Her father died soon after the family arrived in England, but Edward allowed his widow and children to live at the court. When Edward died in 1066 and William the Conqueror took the throne, the family again went into exile, boarding a ship bound for the continent.
But bad weather drove the ship up the North Sea and into the Firth of Forth. Nearby was Dunfermline, where King Malcolm of Scotland had his court, and he gave them refuge.
Margaret was not yet 20 but already wise beyond her years. She was beautiful as well. Soon Malcolm (the same Malcolm of Shakespeare’s Macbeth) asked her to marry him. Margaret wanted to enter the cloister, so she refused him. But he persisted, and her feelings—and perhaps her vision—changed.
Margaret had seen God at work on a national level both in Hungary and in England. Did she look at the spiritual and social darkness in Scotland and realize God might be calling her to be its queen? I think she did. She let go of her dream for a quiet, contemplative life and married Malcolm in 1070. She was 23, Malcolm about 40.
2. Margaret used every bit of her influence for holistic good.
Margaret put her fingers in many pies. She educated church leaders for the purpose of reforming the church; she built monasteries and churches for the spreading of the Gospel and for use as education and hospital centers; she enforced Sunday as a day of rest for laborers; she held court in the open fields to encourage justice among all the people; she worked to ransom and free the English serfs who had been captured during the wars between her husband and William the Conqueror; she dignified and supported those who were poor, sick, or defenseless.
3. Margaret did not rely on her own strength; her actions flowed from a deep relationship with Christ. She regularly fasted and prayed, often spending hours during the night in penitence, intercession, and praise. She worshipped both corporately and privately. She studied as well, gathering sacred books and copies of the Scriptures and inviting learned clerics and scholars from abroad for discussions and lectures. Her biographer and confessor, Turgot, wrote, “(I)t very often happened that these doctors went from her much wiser men than when they came.”
4. Margaret stayed humble, remembering that beneath her queen’s robes was a woman like any other.
Her motto was “To give our Lord perfect service, Martha and Mary must combine.” Each morning she supervised the clothing and feeding of nine orphans. Each evening, six beggars were invited into the castle, where Margaret washed their feet herself and gave them gifts of clothing and food. She also supported more than 20 elderly people whom she invited to live at court. She was so approachable, her generosity often exceeded her resources, and she was known to take coins from Malcolm’s own purse to give to beggars who came to her.
5. Margaret didn’t neglect her family. Her influence began at home.
Malcolm, known as a fierce, even ruthless, warrior before their marriage, was devoted to his wife, and her gentleness made him long for his own relationship with God. Though he could not himself read, he was known to hold and kiss Margaret’s Bible, and he, too, spent much time in prayer.
Most amazing was his habit of joining Margaret in washing the feet of the beggars who came to the castle and helping her serve them food. He pretended to be unaware of Margaret’s regular “thefts” from his purse. Turgot wrote, “Now and then he caught the queen in the very act, with the money in her hand, and laughingly threatened that he would have her arrested, tried, and found guilty.”
Her eight children also followed her walk with the Lord. She made certain they were well educated and disciplined and frequently called them to her and instructed them about Christ. “If you love Him, my darlings,” she would say, “He will give you prosperity in this life and everlasting happiness with all the saints.”
Margaret was already very ill when her husband and eldest son went off to fight in a new war between Scotland and England. They were both killed, and Margaret died days later. She did not live to see all her children grown, but her influence on them continued.Her daughter Matilda commissioned Turgot to write Margaret’s biography, and her son David had the prayer chapel built that still bears his mother’s name. David, who eventually became king of Scotland, continued his mother’s work of building up a devout, scholarly, and free church in Scotland.
Scottish historian David McRoberts wrote this about Margaret: “Like the Divine Master on Whom she modeled her life it could be said of her: pertransit benefaciendo—she walks through our Scottish story doing good.”
Lord, we pray for revival in Scotland and for revival in our own land. Give us the courage and resolve to be like Margaret. May we speak Your Good News and do it as well. May we be instruments of Your peace and love.
What about you? How do you live out your love for God?
Sources on Margaret:
Jen Underwood lives with her husband, Dave, their four kids, two international high-school students, and a dog in the western suburbs of Chicago. She works as a writer/editor, blogs at http://jenunderwood.org/ and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.