Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland
In days of yore, the bards were a respected and integral part of the English and Scottish courts because of their ability to recount tales of recent and past glories through their gift for musical storytelling. In Queen Hereafter, Susan Fraser King tells the grand and sweeping story of a young English princess who found refuge alongside her family—including her brother the rebel prince Edgar who was fighting for the crown of England—under the protection of Warrior-King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. Princess Margaret was pious, willful, educated, and raised to be a queen, but wanted nothing more than to become a nun and worship God in a monastery. However, this was not to be her fate.
King Malcolm had lost his first wife and, looking for a wife of royal blood, asks for Margaret’s hand in marriage. Margaret reluctantly agrees to the arrangement to ensure protection of her brother, mother, and sister. Eventually, the reluctant young queen wins over the hearts and minds of the Scots because of her piety, intelligence, charity, and the kindness she bestows upon her adopted people and land. To this day, Margaret, whose reign ended in the eleventh century, is honored as Scotland’s only royal saint who brought Scotland into the medieval age.
In this fascinating and impeccably researched re-imagining of the early years of Margaret’s marriage to Malcolm, Margaret begins to put her stamp on the royal court almost immediately. She brings Malcolm’s castles up to her cosmopolitan standards with his grudging approval; she advocates for giving alms in the form of food and coinage for the poor in the kingdom, including her dispossessed and homeless Saxon countrymen who are streaming into Scotland after numerous skirmishes with the Norman supporters of King William. She also talks her husband into providing daily meals for young orphans who she sometimes feeds with her own hand.
The novel is narrated through the voice of the young Queen Margaret and Eva, a beautiful and gifted bard (and granddaughter of Lady Macbeth) who refuses to relinquish control of the Northern territories of Scotland to King Malcolm. The illegitimate daughter of the deposed King Lulach, Eva is sent to Malcolm’s court as a royal hostage and spy for Lady Macbeth. Margaret asks Eva to accompany her as she devoutly prays and asks for forgiveness for her sins at all hours of the day and night. Eva becomes friends with Margaret and has a bird’s eye view of the young queen’s challenges and triumphs in this captivating and somewhat forbidding land. She eventually comes to love and respect the earnest, young, and beautiful queen, but is conflicted by her dual loyalties to Lady Macbeth and Queen Margaret.
In her author’s notes, Fraser King admits to taking some liberties with her recounting of this story, including the character of Eva, but she says that Margaret’s life is well documented by Margaret’s personal confessor, Bishop Turgot, prior of Durham, who wrote about Queen Margaret in a laudatory manner that is typical of the era, but also because the process for Margaret’s sainthood had already been initiated. In contrast, Fraser King’s Margaret is both saintly and flawed. In an interview, the author describes Margaret as “charitable and compassionate and loving, but strict with her own children who became strong land influential leaders. Yet she was terribly hard on herself, starving her body into what was probably anorexia, while praying constantly and always finding herself wanting no matter her accomplishments.”
If you’re a lover of riveting stories and historical fiction from this era, as I am, Queen Hereafter will not disappoint.