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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter II: Queen Margaret


THE first epoch of importance in the history of the Castle is reached with the advent of the Malcolms. The romantic story of Malcolm III and his wooing of Queen Margaret, is one of the bright episodes in Scottish history. Malcolm’s father, Duncan, was slain by Macbeth, and Shakespeare in his Tragedy of Macbeth, with his customary licence, has made Margaret the mother of Malcolm instead of his wife. Macduff is made to say:

The Queen that bore thee,
Offner upon her knees than on her feet
,
Died every day she lived.

She was a very beautiful woman, and her life in the Castle of Edinburgh was one long story of piety and kindness, of tending the poor in sickness, of feeding the hungry, and of aiding the oppressed. Legend credits her with feeding three hundred people daily at the Castle gates, waiting upon them on her bended knee, like a vassal of her household. Not only did she sacrifice her own rich robes and treasures for the benefit of the poor about her home, but on more than one occasion she drained the treasury to succour them in their need.

Her first meeting with Malcolm was the work of accident, and took place in the picturesque setting of an escape from vengeful pursuers, a storm at sea, and a shipwreck on a rocky coast. Margaret left England after the death of Harold about 1067 because of the Conquest by William of Normandy. After many minor adventures, she reached the Forth in safety, but was caught in a storm and wrecked on a part of the estuary known to this day as St. Margaret’s Hope. (The exact landing place is perhaps a little vague, as in some chronicles it is referred to as “ the landing place of the headland ” at Rosyth.) It would seem clear, however, that after finding shelter in St. Margaret’s Hope, she, with her brother the Atheling, her mother and sister, and the refugee English lords, gained the mainland, and were there nobly received by Malcolm Canmore, who had himself once received Saxon hospitality whilst in exile.

During the days that followed, Malcolm, with the ardour of his time and race, pursued Margaret and true love, and eventually gained his reward at Dunfermline, when she became his Consort and Queen of Scotland. With inspired wisdom, he placed in her hands the internal polity of his kingdom, and she, inspired in her turn, ministered to him in such ways as would most gratify him. His meals were served to him on dishes of gold and silver, but so illiterate was he that he was unable to read the dainty missals which his tender wife wrought and presented to him from time to time. He would show his appreciation of these loving tokens by pressing them solemnly to his bosom and kissing them reverently.

Five children blessed their union—three sons, Edward, Edgar, and David, and two daughters, the elder of whom, Matilda, lived to become the popular queen of Henry I of England. Until her death, which took place in a tower of the Castle, destroyed later in the great siege of 1573, Margaret lived with her children in a state of quiet happiness that was unusual in royal families of the period. Among the monuments remaining to her memory is the little oratory near the Mons Meg Battery, the predecessor of which on the same site she herself built as a private chapel during her residence at the Castle. Outwardly it possesses all the charm of simplicity, and is regarded as the oldest and the smallest Chapel Royal in Scotland. The mixed masonry work in the south wall will at once attract the attention of the archaeologist since it illustrates the various periods of restoration. To the casual observer it suggests a patchwork device in stone. The measurements of the nave of this tiny house of prayer will give some idea of its general size; it measures within but 16 feet by 1 o feet! A modern western entrance has been built up, and the ancient one re-opened at the north-west corner of the nave, giving on to the Mons Meg Battery.

The chancel, which is semicircular, is divided from the nave by a fine Norman arch, decorated with zigzag mouldings, with, on the exterior, a border of lozenge-shaped ornaments. The plain barrel roof of the nave has been restored in ashlar, and the old coved roof has been re-plastered, so that little is left of the original. The small round-headed windows which fill the chancel with a dusky light now carry stained glass. The eastern one commemorates a lady recently connected with the Castle. The other in the chancel represents St. Margaret, and the two on the south side of the nave represent Malcolm Canmore and their son, David I. The window in the east gable bears a sacred monogram in Latin inscription. For some years the oratory was used as a powder magazine, but largely by the zealous efforts of Dr. Daniel Wilson and others, it was recovered from such base uses, and was, as the inscription shows, restored in 1853. The restoration extended practically to the entire building. The arch dividing the apse from the nave was happily preserved intact, and in some of its crevices one may still find vestiges of the colouring with which the chapel was illuminated in the fourteenth century. The original Norman stone font has been replaced by a replica, given by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and here all children of the soldiers’ families who are born within the Castle walls are christened.

To this quaint little shrine Queen Margaret would daily resort, and she spent many silent hours in prayer for the safety of her family and the Scottish army during the siege or Alnwick Castle, then held by William Rufus. It was the news of the result of this expedition that brought about her death. She was already suffering from severe illness, brought on by exposure while pursuing her acts of devotion during a cruel winter, and when the story came that Malcolm and their eldest son had both fallen in battle, she died of grief two days later, on November 16, 1093, in her forty-seventh year.

Bishop Turgot, in his Life of St. Margaret, has left a touching picture of the deathbed scene. In her last moments she lifted her hands to heaven, saying in a faint but unquavering voice : Praise and blessing be to Thee, Almighty God, that Thou hast been pleased to make me endure so bitter anguish in the hour of my departure, thereby, as I trust, to purify me in some measure from the corruption of my sins ; and Thou, Lord Jesus Christ, who through the will of the Father, has enlivened the world by Thy death, oh, deliver me!” Uttering the last two words she peacefully closed her eyes and died. A few hours previous to her death she had been carried to mass in her little chapel, holding in her hands a crucifix of gold decorated with an ivory figure, enclosing a relic, a fragment of the true cross, which became known as 'the black rood of Scotland.’

On hearing of the death of his brother Malcolm on the battlefield, Donald Bane, who on the usurpation of Macbeth had taken refuge in the Isles, proclaimed himself King, and at the head of an army of wild Highlanders from the West, clad in their primitive dress of deerhide, marched on Edinburgh. His immediate object was to take the life of Edgar, the youthful heir to the throne, while the Court and family, then lodged within the Castle walls, were mourning their triple loss. Relying on the almost inaccessible rock to hold his prey, Donald Bane, “The Fair-headed,” determined to secure the regular access facing the town on the east side. But fate was against him. Through a postern on the west side, down a steep declivity of the rock, the children escaped, and through it a few days later the body of Margaret was secretly conveyed and taken to Dunfermline Abbey. There is a legend to the effect that, during the escape, a miraculous mist arose from the sea which veiled the cortege from the view of the insurgents, and covered it for a distance of nine miles until it had crossed the Forth.

Margaret was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1251, and at the Reformation the Abbot removed her head in a jewelled casket, and fled with it to a Jesuit settlement at the Castle. Just before the birth of her son James, Queen Mary had the head of Queen Margaret brought to her at Edinburgh Castle, that she might receive benefit from the presence of the sacred relic. After her enforced flight, the relic remained for some time m safe custody in Scotland} it was afterward taken successively to Antwerp and

to Douai, and in the French Revolution it disappeared. The bodies of Margaret and Malcolm are said to have reached the church of St. Lawrence in the Escuriai, but apparently they are not now identifiable there.

Her son Edgar, who had fled to England to seek the protection of his uncle, Edgar Atheling, returned and recaptured the throne at the point of the sword. Fourteen years later he died at the Castle, and was succeeded by Alexander I. At this stage we find definite signs that Edinburgh was recognized as a Royal Borough and residence; and, indeed, many local features still existing trace their origin to the time of David I, heir to Alexander. He founded the abbey of Holyrood, on the site on which it stands today. Among the many gifts of the founder to his new monastery were the churches of the Castle and St. Cuthbert’s, and one plot of land belonging to the latter is marked by “the fountain which rises near the king’s garden on the road leading to St. Cuthbert’s Church.” The full story of the well and the garden, however, comes at a later stage in the history of the Castle.

King David, it will be remembered, is the central figure in the legend of The White Hart, which, Daniel Wilson says, probably had its origin in some real occurrence magnified by the superstition of a rude and illiterate age. It is recorded that on Rood Day, the 14th of September, in the harvest of 1128, King David, in the fourth year of his reign, was residing at the Castle which was surrounded by "ane gret forest, full of hartis, hyndis, toddis, and sic like manner of beistis.” After the celebration of mass on Rood Day, contrary to the dissuasions of a holy canon named Alkwine, he yielded to the solicitations of some of his nobles and set forth to hunt. Whilst riding through “the vail that lyis to the eist fra the said Castell, quhare now lyis the Canongeite,” the noise of the bugles aroused the wild beasts of the forest and brought them from their dens. By some mischance the King was separated from his party, and his horse flung him heavily to the ground. As he arose, bruised and shaken, he found himself confronted with a huo-e white stag, wearing a fearsome set of horns. Immediately, it lowered its head to attack him. The delinquent King drew his short hunting sword and prepared to defend himself as best he might, when there appeared before him a silver cloud, out of which swam a cross of surpassing beauty. Stretching out his hand in mute astonishment, he seized the emblem, whereupon the stag fled away through the valley. After some minutes’ rest, during which he sought to recover his senses, he returned to the Castle, chastened and humiliated. But the avenging spirit had not yet finished with him. No sooner had he fallen asleep on a couch in his apartment than there appeared to him the patron saint of Scotland, St. Andrew, who instructed him that on the spot where his erring life had been spared, he should found a monastery for the canons of St. Augustine. Here, accordingly, he built the Abbey of Holyrood, where the miraculous cross was preserved.

Before the completion of the Abbey, the monks were accommodated in the Castle, and occupied a building which was originally a nunnery ; but it was deemed expedient to transfer the nuns elsewhere, for, as was truly stated, monks were “fitter to live among soldiers than the nuns.”

David, who was one of the earliest monarchs to occupy the Castle as a permanent residence, was one of the finest of Scotland’s royal line. Of an easy, democratic manner, he spent most of his leisure in the cultivation of his garden and in the study of horticulture. He was found dead in the priory of Hexham whilst on his knees at prayer, and in the year 1153 his grandson Malcolm succeeded to the throne.


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