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Unlucky Princesses: Margaret, Maid of Norway

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In 1543 King Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich, which included the betrothal of the future King Edward VI of England to his cousin, Mary the future Queen of Scots. Such a marriage could potentially have united the two crowns through the birth of one son and heir. Ultimately it failed as Edward died and Mary married the French Dauphin. But it wasn’t the first time such a marriage had been mooted, and it had also ended with an early death.

The life of Margaret "the Maid of Norway" was brief and sad. Born in 1283, she was the only child of King Eric II of Norway and his wife Margaret of Scotland, whose father was King Alexander III of Scotland. When Margaret of Scotland married in 1281 the possibility that the Scottish throne might fall to her was being considered – she only had one younger brother still living. King Alexander was aware of the problems this could cause and set out several documents detailing who should inherit and when. 

Margaret’s birth in 1283 was a mixture of joy and sadness for Alexander. It gave him another new heir but was followed by the death of her mother soon after she was born. Alexander was now reduced to a son and a baby granddaughter. He remarried in November 1285 to Yolande of Dreux. But King Alexander died in five months later in March 1286 after a riding accident. Out riding at night he appears to have missed the edge of a steep embankment. His body was found the next morning with a broken neck. Scotland held it’s breath as Queen Yolande was reportedly pregnant. The chronicles don’t mention what happened to her baby, leaving historians to presume she miscarried. When it became clear that Alexander’s only direct biological heir was three-year-old Margaret, the Bruce family rebelled. 

Alexander had seen the problems that his death could cause, and had appointed a group of Guardians to rule until Margaret came of age. After the Bruce rebellion fizzled out the Guardians were reluctant to move to punish them. They seem to have been equally as reluctant to summon their toddler Queen. In the end King Eric appealed to King Edward I of England. 

Edward I proposed the union of the two countries. His eldest son and heir, Edward of Carnarvon, would marry Margaret. Together they would be King and Queen of England and Scotland, and their future son would inherit both thrones. Having spent most of his reign battering the Welsh, the thought of adding the Scottish crown to the Plantagenet domains was just too tempting for the King. Especially since both Prince Edward and Princess Margaret were still children and therefore a long regency would be needed.

Margaret of course was being raised in the Norwegian court by her father. Eric wouldn’t remarry until ten years after his wife’s death. Actual records about Margaret’s life are scarce, but she would have been cared for in a nursery, albeit without the company of siblings.

In late August 1290 she was finally dispatched from Norway, bound for the island of Orkney. But on the journey over the North Sea the young princess fell ill. Her escort reached Orkney and disembarked for more comfortable quarters (and hopefully better care) but it was in vain. Margaret died on 26 September aged just 7 years old. She never saw Scotland or met her intended bridegroom. Her death plunged Scotland in to a constitutional crisis as two separate branches of the extended Royal family fought over the throne. Her body was taken back to Norway where her grieving father had her buried next to her mother in Christ Church cathedral, Bergen. Her grave, and that of her mother, was lost when the church was destroyed in 1531.

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