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A Dunfermline love story

A Dunfermline love story

It could be said that Dunfermline was founded on a love story.

Queen Margaret sometimes known as the “Pearl of Scotland” was born in exile in the Kingdom of Hungary, she was the sister of Edgar, the short reigned and uncrowned Anglo-Saxon King of England and the great-niece of King Edward the Confessor of England. Margaret and her family returned to the Kingdom of England in 1057, but fled to the continent for their safety in 1066.  It is believed that their ship was blown of course and it landed in Scotland where King Malcolm gave them refuge.

Malcolm greeting Margaret at her arrival in Scotland; detail of a mural by Victorian artist William Hole

By this time, King Malcolm had already lost his first wife Ingibjörg, the daughter of Thorfinn Sigurdsson the Earl of Orkney. On her arrival in Scotland, Margaret was about 21 at the time. The King took an instant liking to her. He proposed but Margaret declined as she wanted to be a nun. Usually this was the only way out of an unwanted marriage, but Margaret was one of those “important” people and an alliance between England and Scotland was politically advantageous. The Malcolm pursued her for two years and Margaret eventually accepted his proposal. Historians are not sure whether she warmed to him or simply caved in to the pressure of her family. Either way, her decision led to great things for Scotland.

The little known settlement of Dunfermline was chosen as the location of their marriage in favour of larger more prestigious locations as it is believed the boat carrying Margaret, along with her mother and brother was washed ashore at a bay not far from Dunfermline.

Queen Margaret was a devout Roman Catholic; she is depicted as a pious and noble character who had a huge influence over her husband and Scotland. It would seem from the history books that Malcolm was in awe of her and did whatever he could to make her happy. The limited historical records show that Margaret and Malcolm were married by the end of 1070, the accepted date is Easter Monday of the year, given the dates importance in the Christian Calendar.  Thus 2020 is the 950th anniversary of their marriage.  Shortly after her marriage she set about making plans to create a priory in the town.  This was to house Benedictine monks she had brought from Canterbury.  In order to assist the pilgrims that travelled between St Andrews and Dunfermline, she also had a free ferry started to carry pilgrims over the Firth of Forth. Margaret was as pious privately as she was publicly. She spent much of her time in prayer and studying the bible. This apparently had considerable effect on the more uncouth Malcolm, who could not read, he so admired her piety that he had her books decorated in gold and silver.

A monk named Turgot, Margaret’s confessor and biographer records this story:

‘Hence it was that, although he could not read, he would turn over and examine books which she used either for her devotions or her study; and whenever he heard her express a special liking for a particular book he also would look at it with special interest, kissing it and often taking it into his hands. Sometimes he sent for a worker in precious metals who he commanded to ornament that volume with gold and gems, and when the work was finished the king himself used to carry the book to the queen as a loving proof of his devotion’.

Malcolm III and Queen Margaret from the Seton Armorial 1591

King Malcolm and Queen Margaret would go on to have 8 children, 6 sons and 2 daughters. Her husband Malcolm III, and their eldest son Edward, were killed in the Battle of Alnwick against the English on 13 November 1093. Her son Edgar was left with the task of informing his mother of their deaths. She died 3 days later and it is said the cause of death was grief. She was canonised in 1249 by Pope Innocenti IV.

This ancient love story of two such different people, had a profound impact on this town. It laid the foundations for an incredible story, the legacy of which we get to see today.

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