As capital of Scotland for several hundred years from the 11th century, Dunfermline forged early links with Europe. Two royal personages of European birth stand out in this: Queen Saint Margaret and Queen Anne of Denmark. The recent upsurge in pilgrimages also reminds us that Margaret started the Queen’s ferry across the Forth to help pilgrims going to St. Andrews.
More recently European people influenced Dunfermline’s weaving industry. Damask weaving methods came from Huguenots in the 18th century. Swiss people came here in the 1920s to help revitalize the town’s ailing textile industry by moving to silk production. Following the second world war the Polish population was enhanced as military personnel based here, particularly from Donibristle airfield, made their homes here.
King Malcolm III (1031-1093), Malcolm Canmore, the Malcolm in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, had two wives both born elsewhere in Europe. The first was Ingibiorg Finnsdottir, the niece of two kings of Norway, Olaf II and Harald Hardraade. After her first husband, Thorfinn Sigurdsson of Orkney, died she married Malcolm. Orkney was under Norwegian control at the time. There are no sights in Dunfermline today relating to Ingibiorg. After her death Malcolm married Margaret, born and brought up in Hungary. She became his Queen and had an enormous impact on Scottish religion and daily life and has left much to see in the town today.
Through the Canmore dynasty Scotland had several kings with mothers from Europe. Duncan II was the son of Malcolm by his first wife Ingibiorg. Three more kings of Scotland were children of Malcolm and Margaret, Kings Edgar, David I and Alexander I.
There’s quite a tale as to how Margaret got here. She was the daughter of Edward the Exile (1016-1057), briefly the uncrowned King of England driven out by Canute after the Danish conquest. He settled in Hungary and was married to Agatha, thought to be from eastern Europe. They had three children in Hungary, Margaret (in about 1045), her sister Cristina and brother Edgar Aetheling. The family moved to England in 1057, hoping that their father Edward could regain the English throne, but he died just days after arriving in London. Following the Norman Conquest Margaret, Cristina, Edgar and Agatha fled northwards from London to seek safety in Northumbria. Trying to sail to continental Europe from Northumbria a storm drove them into the Forth coming ashore at what came to be called St Margaret’s Hope (1) between North Queensferry and Rosyth. A century ago this was a sandy bay with rocky outcrops and was presumably so in Margaret’s time. With dumping on this bay of dredge spoil from the naval dockyard and domestic refuse from Dunfermline it silted up and has since developed into St Margaret’s Saltmarsh which is a Site of Special Scientific interest, with considerable bird interest, and it is close to the Fife Coastal Path.
(Further guidance on access to the marsh is available here.)
Malcolm welcomed Margaret’s family to Dunfermline. Malcolm already knew Margaret and eventually they married.
Margaret had an immense effect on both local and Scottish life. She civilised the brutal Malcolm and his court. She was deeply religious and very caring for the poor and the orphans of Dunfermline. She invited the Benedictine monks from Canterbury to establish an Abbey in Dunfermline but died before seeing it done.
There are several places in Dunfermline that can be visited in a walk relevant to Margaret.
St Margaret’s Marsh image credit – Martin Wilkinson Map credit – OpenStreetMaps