Though much has been written of Scotland’s sainted Queen Margaret, English bride to Malcolm Canmore in the 13th century, Fraser King delves beyond myth to the more human face of a titled princess who arrives on the shore of Scotland fleeing the Norman invaders in her own country. A pivotal voice in the unfolding drama is that of the female bard Eva, comely granddaughter of Lady Macbeth, who rules her northern Scotland kingdom in defiance to Malcolm’s dictates.
Through Eva’s eyes, we have another perspective as Margaret makes her mark on her new country, one that balances the new queen’s fanatical religious inclinations with an equally stubborn nature that brooks no resistance. Key to the conflict - and Eva’s inevitable fate - is the bard’s promise to Lady Macbeth as she is brought into Margaret’s household: “One queen might call it treason, the other tradition. But I might call it vengeance.” Eva is in a unique position in court as a spy for her grandmother and in gathering information about a book Malcolm has commissioned on the history of Scottish kings, a work Lady Macbeth fears will distort the truth on Malcolm’s behalf.
While this author offers a more temperate image of the Scots queen, Margaret remains stubbornly fanatic, carrying the religious habits of her years in exile in a convent in England into her married life. Whatever joy she finds in marriage to the hardy Malcolm is balanced with long hours of prayer and fasting. Ironically, Margaret’s ablutions seem only to fuel her religious pride, hoarding her prayers and midnight devotions to alleviate an exaggerated guilt. In other words, Margaret lives up to her personal concept of a queen’s role, a rigorous standard she has set for herself. How could the lively Eva fail to be more appealing, with her passion for music and fiery opinions? In contrast, Margaret is a tedious taskmaster unable to curb her own pride: “A little edge of hunger keeps me vigilant… my figure is too lush and earthy of late.”
There is a case to be made for Margaret’s generosity on behalf of the poor and her fidelity to the Pope, not to mention her intentional reshaping of Malcolm from rustic warrior to noble king. Although Margaret’s vision for her life is one of prayer and reflection, by force of birth she is cast into the role of queen. In that capacity she introduces Norman ways to Scottish culture, capturing the affection of her subjects through charitable works. (She gives away her cloak and shoes, but it is later revealed that after the first incident the queen has these items prepared, none of which are her personal garments.)Without Eva to soften Margaret’s actions, the image of this queen would be quite different: one of tedious piety and self-sacrifice, an asceticism that is quite fanatical and rigid, prayerful and fasting diligently even when she is pregnant.
Were such things discussed at that time, the subject of the queen’s denial of self would surely indicate anorexia and religious hysteria as coping methods for the demands of her life. The author describes a country in the throes of change, the influence of the Norman’s encroaching on the old ways of the Scots. I would like to have learned more about the barbaric Malcolm who wed an educated princess, a besotted man who clearly will not gainsay his queen. Perhaps Malcolm’s perspective might soften Margaret’s sharp edges.