Some lives change history. Some deaths change history. If Margaret, Maid of Norway, had lived, the entire history of Great Britain would have been altered and thousands of lives would have been spared from subsequent warfare.
Margaret, Maid of Norway, was born on 9 April 1283, the daughter of the 15 year old King Eric II of Norway and his 22 year old wife, Margaret of Scotland. Her mother died of complications shortly after her birth, and after the death of her uncle Alexander died on 28 January 1284, the infant Margaret became the only living descendant of Scotland’s King Alexander III.
King Alexander III got all thirteen earls of Scotland and twenty-four barons to recognize Margaret as “domina and right heir” provided that the king had no children or potential for a posthumous child when he died. Naming baby Margaret heir was just a precaution, because the was still young enough to remarry and have more sons.
The king contracted a marriage to Yolande de Dreux on 1 November 1285, and she was indeed pregnant when he fell to his death due to an equestrian accident on 18 March 1286. For a brief time the heir to the Scottish throne was Queen Yolande’s unborn child, but after she miscarried, the crown now belonged to a toddler in Norway.
King Eric of Norway, knew there were grown men ready to fight to take the throne from his tiny daughter. Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale and his son, the Earl of Carrick, had already staged one rebellion against King Alexander III. Eric therefore wrote to Edward I of England and started negotiating a marriage between Margaret and his two year old son, Edward, Prince of Wales. If Margaret was wed to the future king of England then Edward I, one of the most feared military rulers of his era, could be counted on to make damn sure she remained Queen of Scots so that his grandson through the prince and Margaret would inherit both kingdoms.
King Edward naturally jumped at the chance of an alliance between his eldest surviving son and Margaret. Although the Scots could not have stopped the marriage between Prince Edward and Margaret, both King Eric and King Edward were still trying to maintain a peaceful transfer of power and thus were careful not to ram the marriage down the Scots’ throats.
For his part, King Eric signed the Treaty of Salisbury, “which agreed that Margaret would be sent to Scotland before 1 November 1290, and that any agreement on her future marriage would be deferred until she was in Scotland.” King Edward wisely secured a papal dispensation for the match, but made sure that it “did not contract a marriage, only permit one should the Scots later agree to it.”
Tragically, everything was lost when the seven year old queen died “of the effects of sea-sickness” on 26 September 1290 near the Orkney Islands as she was on her way to Scotland to be crowned as queen. The little girl probably died of her physicians trying to cure her sea-sickness, in truth. Although they might not have bled her (it was against medical practice to bleed a child that young), God alone knows what they gave her to quell her vomiting. Arsenic? Mercury? These were go-to ‘cures’ at the time and lethal to a child.
I have a seven year old daughter, and just thinking about Margaret’s death – how small and fragile children still are at this age – makes me want to weep. I can only hope that the nurses who raised her were around her, and the nanny whom she would have thought of as her surrogate mother was holding her, when she passed away … and that she wasn’t scared or in pain.
The queen’s small body was taken back to Norway and “interred beside her mother in the wall on the north side of the choir in Christ Church, Bergen.” I can only imagine the grief of her father, who was only 21 himself. Who would have thought that agreeing to send his baby girl to Scotland would kill her? Who could have foreseen her dying of sea-sickness? He did everything he could to secure her crown and safety with a father-in-law that could make the world tremble, and now she was gone.
Margaret’s death opened up a disputed succession for the crown of Scotland and a cascade of disaster for her erstwhile realm. The loss of the heir led the Scots to ask King Edward to mediate, giving Edward to a chance to try to make Scotland into his vassal state, leading to the bloody and decades long Wars of Scottish Independence.