on 11 July 2008
The late Niles Tranter was a historical novelist who wrote many novels about the history of Scotland and those persons who impacted upon its history. They are well-written, very well researched, and entertaining. This book is no exception. In it, he regales the reader with the story of Margaret, the beautiful Saxon princess and sister of the true King of England, Edgar of the house of Atheling.
Edgar has just had his throne usurped by the Norman bastard, William the Conqueror. Fleeing England, Edgar and his entourage find themselves stranded in Scotland, where they meet up with King Malcolm of Scotland, who provides them with refuge. Margaret is befriended by Maldred mac Melmore, one of the King's men and son of the Earl of Atoll, who happens to be head of the Celtic Church in Scotland. It is through Maldred's eyes that the story unfolds.
Though Malcolm is married to his second cousin, Ingebiorg, daughter of Thorfinn the Mighty, the Earl of Orkney, and has fathered two sons with her, Duncan and Donald, theirs is not a happy union. When Margaret appears in his kingdom, Malcolm is smitten. Banishing his wife of almost a dozen years from the palace at Dunfermline, he exiles her to the palace at Kincardine. Then, he sets about wooing the beautiful Margaret. When his wife mysteriously dies, Malcolm achieves his heart's desire and marries Margaret, who is of the Roman Catholic faith. His love for her is such that he humors her religious devotion to her faith, setting in motion her conversion of Scotland from the Celtic church to the Roman Catholic.
With Maldred, who is a true Celtic son, the issue of religion is his only bone of contention with his new Queen. Yet, he simply adores her and is her devoted servant. Maldred marries Margaret's lady-in-waiting, Magdalen, with whom he has a happy union. Margaret is a devoted wife to her husband, who is at odds with William the Conqueror. While her husband engages in warfare, Margaret engages in good works and in establishing the Church of Rome in this Celtic stronghold. She is a much beloved Queen, intelligent, gentle, and devout, whose life would have a profound effect on the people of Scotland. Her legacy is such that her sons would forever be remembered as Margaretsons. She would later be canonized and known, forevermore, as St. Margaret.
Margaret's story is enmeshed in the fabric of Scotland's history. From her husband's ongoing aggression against William the conqueror, to his distrust of his other cousin, Cospatrick, whose Cumbrian lands were taken by the Normans, Margaret proved to be a steadying influence. Yet, the one weakness in the book is that of all the characters portrayed, hers remains the most ephemeral. For those who enjoy reading about the history of Scotland, it is, nonetheless, an entertaining work of historical fiction, making it clear why the late Niles Tranter is Scotland's most eminent historical novelist.