The Maid of Norway

History is full of sliding doors moments, and when looking at medieval Scotland such a moment can be seen with the death of Margaret, the Maid of Norway.

Margaret, the Maid of Norway in stained glass window at Lerwick Town Hall. Image courtesy of Colin Smith under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

The young Norwegian princess was the daughter of Eric II of Norway and Margaret of Scotland. She was born around 1283, and it’s believed her mother died in childbirth. She was the only child of her parents’ union.

Her maternal grandfather Alexander III of Scotland had no surviving sons by the time of his sudden death in 1286. His second wife Yolande of Dreux was pregnant, but sadly did not have a surviving child. This left the young Margaret as the dynastic heir to the Scottish throne. A child monarch was never ideal, and one based in a different country even less so.

Margaret, the Maid of Norway’s family tree.

For the next four years, Scotland operated under a guardianship of nobles whilst it was decided what would happen next. Understandably Eric has misgivings about sending his daughter into an unstable political climate. During this period Margaret was the heir designate, but she would not be considered a queen until crowned at Scone.

In September 1290, when she was around 7 years old, Margaret set sail for her mother’s homeland to take up her role as Queen. Arriving in Orkney, after becoming ill on the voyage, she died in the arms of Bishop Narve, who was one of her escorts. Her tragic death put the wheels in motion for the First Scottish Wars of Independence, as there was now a full-blown succession crisis.

What would have happened had Margaret lived? The one and only thing we know is that she would have been the first Queen Regnant of Scotland.

Young Margaret was returned to Norway, where she was buried alongside her mother at Christ Church in Bergen. Her father was later buried there too.

What are your thoughts on the Maid of Norway’s story? Can you think of other sliding doors moments from history?

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ODNB: Margaret [called the Maid of Norway] by A. A. M. Duncan

Scottish Queens 1034-1714 by Rosalind K. Marshall

King & Queens: The story of Britain’s monarchs from pre-Roman times to today by Richard Cavendish and Pip Leahy

Wikipedia: Margaret, the Maid of Norway. Eric II of Norway. Yolande of Dreux. Guardians of Scotland. Christ Church, Bergen.

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