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St Margaret's Hope, where Margaret, Maid of Norway Died
St Margaret's Hope, where Margaret, Maid of Norway Died

Margaret, Maid of Norway lived from 9 April 1283 to 26 September 1290 and was Queen of Scotland from 19 March 1286 to 26 September 1290. She was the granddaughter of Alexander III. Her mother, also called Margaret, was wife of King Eirik II of Norway, but had died giving birth to her. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Alexander's death, en route to be with his new young bride Yolande de Dreux, threw Scotland into chaos. Robert Bruce (grandfather of Robert I) and John Balliol both made claims for the throne, and to add to the confusion, Alexander III's widow Yolande said she was pregnant. When her child miscarried or was stillborn, the Scottish Parliament appointed six guardians to look after Margaret.

The Scottish nobility called on assistance from Edward I of England in an effort to secure Margaret's position. Edward arranged the Treaty of Birgham in July 1290. Under its terms Margaret, Maid of Norway was betrothed to his son Edward (later Edward II of England). In return Edward I guaranteed Scottish independence and agreed to act as ward for the young Queen Margaret.

In September 1290, Margaret set sail in a Norwegian ship from Bergen bound for Leith and accompanied by Bishop Narve of Bergen. Storms drove the ship off course to Orkney, and it eventually landed at St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay. Here Margaret, Maid of Norway, died, apparently from the effects of sea-sickness, still aged only eight. Had her marriage to Edward gone ahead, the crowns of Scotland and England would have been united some three hundred years earlier than they eventually were, in 1603. And three hundred years of bloody history would probably have been very different.

As it was, Margaret's body was returned to Bergen and buried beside her mother, in the north side of the choir, in Christ's Kirk at Bergen. Before her burial, her father King Eirik confirmed the identity of her body. This is significant because in 1300, a year after the death of King Eirik, a woman turned up in Bergen claiming to be Margaret. There was much popular support for her claim, despite the identification of Margaret's body, and despite the fact that the woman appeared to be about 40 when Margaret would only be 17. The false Margaret was executed in 1301

The death of the Maid of Norway in 1290 brought to an end the rule of the House of Dunkeld or the House of Canmore, which had started with the accession to the throne of Malcolm III in 1058. It also paved the way for two years of chaos, with 13 claimants for the Scottish throne having their claims assessed by Edward I of England. The Wars of Independence from England were just around the corner...

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