Maid of Norway

From New World Encyclopedia

Queen of Scots (disputed)
Reign 1286-1290
Coronation None
Born 1283
Died 1290
Buried Bergen
Predecessor Alexander III of Scotland
Successor John of Scotland
Consort None
Issue None
Father Eirik Magnusson, King of Norway
Mother Margaret, daughter of Alexander III, King of Scots

Margaret (1283 – 1290), usually known as the Maid of Norway, literally The Virgin of Norway, sometimes known as Margaret of Scotland (Margrete av Scotland), was a NorwegianScottish princess who is widely considered to have been Queen of Scots from 1286 until her death, although this is disputed because she never actually lived in Scotland. Her death sparked off the disputed succession in which thirteen people laid claim on the Scottish throne, which led to the Wars of Scottish Independence. Princesses were often pawns in the diplomatic moves of monarchs, who used marriage to extend their own spheres of interest or even to acquire additional territory. Edward I of England who arranged Margaret's marriage with his son probably had some sort of union in mind between England and Scotland, one that actually occurred in 1603. Margaret was too young to be a player in the game, although she might have made some moves herself had she not died so young. Union between two geographically small countries, with close cultural ties, was probably inevitable.



She was the daughter of King Eirik II of Norway and Margaret, daughter of King Alexander III of Scotland. Margaret was born in 1283, while her year of death is uncertain. The most probable date for her mother's death is April 9, 1283 as given in the Gesta Annalia, but the Chronicle of Lanercost gives February 27–28.

When the treaty arranging the marriage of Margaret and Eirik was signed at Roxburgh on July 25, 1281, Alexander III's younger son David had already died in June of 1281. With only one son of the King, also named Alexander, then living, the treaty included a provision for the children of Margaret and Eirik to succeed to the kingdom of the Scots. "If it happens that the king of Scotland dies without a lawful son, and any of his sons does not leave lawful issue [not sons] and Margaret has children [not sons] by the king of Norway, she and her children shall succeed to the king of Scotland...or she, even if she is without children, according to Scottish law and custom."[1]

Alexander III made similar provisions when arranging the marriage of Alexander to Margaret, daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, probably also in 1281. The treaty arranging the marriage, signed in December 1281, included a lengthy and complex document setting out the customs and usages which determined the succession. As well as a general statement of principles, the annex includes specific examples of the rights of "A and M" and their children in particular cases. The document, while confusing in places, appears to favor primogeniture for male heirs, or their descendants, and proximity of blood for female heirs and their descendants.

When Alexander, the king's son died on January 28, 1284, leaving only his granddaughter Margaret living out of his descendants, Alexander III summoned all thirteen Earls of Scotland, twenty-four barons and the heads of the three main Gaelic kindreds of the West, Alexander of Argyll, Aonghas Mór of Islay and Alan MacRuari of Garmoran. Done at Scone on February 5, 1284, the signatories agreed to recognize Margaret as "domina and right heir" if neither Alexander had left no posthumous child and the king had left no children at the time of his death. However, it is unlikely that this was intended to allow Margaret to rule alone as Queen regnant, but rather jointly with her future spouse, whoever he might be. While unexceptional in the circumstances, this would appear to show that Alexander III had decided on remarriage. He did remarry, to Yolande de Dreux, but died on March 19, 1286.

Lady and Right Heir of Scotland

After King Alexander was buried at Dunfermline Abbey on March 29, 1286, the magnates and clerics of the realm assembled at Scone in parliament to select the Guardians of Scotland who would keep the kingdom for the right heir. At this time it was thought that Queen Yolande was pregnant, so that Margaret was not yet the obvious successor. It is uncertain what happened to Yolande's child; most likely she had a miscarriage, although other accounts say that her child was still-born at Clackmannan on Saint Catherine's day (November 25, 1286) with the Guardians in attendance to witness the event; just possibly she had a false pregnancy, and there was even one dubious English claim that she was faking pregnancy.

This, according to the oaths taken, made Margaret the heir, but within weeks Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale and his son Robert, Earl of Carrick—the grandfather and father of the future King Robert Bruce—had raised a rebellion in the south-west, seizing royal castles. This rebellion was soon suppressed, and a Norwegian ambassador came to Scotland in the winter of 1286-1287 to argue Margaret's cause. Nothing came of this, and until 1289 the Guardians maintained the peace in Scotland between the competing claims of Margaret, Robert Bruce and John Balliol.

Far from the Scots displaying any desire to bring Margaret to Scotland, it was Margaret's father Eric who raised the question again. Eric sent official ambassadors to Edward I of England, then in Gascony, in May of 1289, with papers referring to Margaret as "Queen." Negotiations from this time onwards were between Edward, who returned to England later in the year, and Eric, and excluded the Scots until Edward met with Robert Bruce and some of the Guardians at Salisbury in October of 1289. The Scots were in a weak position since Edward and Eric could arrange Margaret's marriage to the future Edward II of England, or some other if they chose, without reference to the Guardians. Accordingly the Guardians signed the Treaty of Salisbury, which agreed that Margaret would be sent to Scotland before November 1, 1290, and that any agreement on her future marriage would be deferred until she was in Scotland.

That marriage of Edward, Prince of Wales, was in King Edward's mind is clear from the fact that a papal dispensation was received from Pope Nicholas IV ten days after the treaty was signed. Sometimes thought to show bad faith on Edward's part, the Papal Bull did not contract a marriage, only permit one should the Scots later agree to it. Edward, like Eric, was now writing of Queen Margaret, anticipating her inauguration and the subsequent marriage to his son. Edward and the Guardians continued their negotiations, based on the collective assumption that Margaret would be Queen and Edward of Wales King.

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.

Although derived from a text written more than a century later, it is thought by some historians that the earliest Middle English verse written in Scotland dates from this time. The ballad Sir Patrick Spens has sometimes been supposed to be connected to Margaret's ill-fated voyage. Some years later a woman appeared claiming to be her, the False Margaret, who was executed by Haakon V, King Eric's brother and successor, in 1301.

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.


As Margaret was never crowned or otherwise inaugurated, and never set foot on what was then Scots soil during her lifetime, there is some doubt about whether she should be regarded as a Queen of Scots. This could ultimately be a matter of interpretation. Most lists of the monarchs of Scotland do include her, but a few do not. Some contemporary documents, including the Treaty of Salisbury did describe her as "queen," but it has been argued that she should not properly be considered Queen regnant.

Part of the problem here is the lack of a clear historical precedent. In the whole of Scotland's history as a fully separate country before the Union of the Crowns in 1603 there was only one occasion when a similar situation arose, i.e., on the death of the monarch the heir was outside the country and not available to be crowned more or less immediately. This was when, on the death of Robert III in 1406, his heir, who became James I, was a prisoner in England. James was eventually released and crowned in 1424. In the intervening period official documents simply referred to him as the "heir," and the Regent Albany issued coins in his own name. Nevertheless, James's reign is now usually considered to start in 1406, not 1424.


  1. A. A. M. Duncan, The Kingship of the Scots 842–1292: Succession and Independence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002, ISBN 0748616268).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Crawford, Robert and Mick Imlach. The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse. London, UK: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 014058711X
  • Duncan, A. A. M. The Kingship of the Scots 842–1292: Succession and Independence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002. ISBN 0748616268
  • Hendry, Frances Mary. Quest for a Maid. NY: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1988. ISBN 0374461554
  • Macdougall, Norman. "L'Écosse à la fin du XIIIe sieclè: un royaume menacé" in James Laidlaw (ed.). The Auld Alliance: France and Scotland over 700 Years. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
  • Oram, Richard and Michael Penman. The Canmore Kings: Kings and Queens of the Scots, 1040–1290. Stroud: Tempus, 2002. ISBN 0752423258

External Links

All links retrieved November 5, 2022.


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