In order to escape “the king’s sword”, says Symeon of Durham (‘Historia Regum’), Bishop Æthelwine and “the chiefs of the people” had, on the 11th of December 1069, departed from Durham, taking with them the “uncorrupted body” of St Cuthbert, to take refuge on Lindisfarne.
After a stay of “three months and some days” they returned to Durham, and, on the 25th of March 1070, “restored the sacred corpse to its place with hymns and praises”. Bishop Æthelwine, though, “observing that the affairs of the English were everywhere in confusion, and dreading the heavy rule of a foreign nation”, had made up his mind to leave England:
“A ship, therefore, furnished with the necessary supplies, lay ready for him in the harbour of Wearmouth, waiting for a favourable wind.”
Also at Wearmouth were some ships under the command of Edgar Ætheling. With him were his mother, Agatha, his two sisters, Margaret and Christina, Mærleswein, Siward Barn (of whom more later):
“... and many others, who, after the storming of the castle of York (the Danes who had been their auxiliaries having returned to their own country [in June 1070].), were in dread of the king’s indignation against themselves, and were preparing to go as refugees into Scotland, and awaited there a prosperous voyage. During the same time a countless multitude of Scots marched through Cumberland under the command of King Malcolm, and turning to the east, ravaged with fierce devastation the whole of Teesdale, and the parts bordering it on each side. And when they came to the place called in English Hundredeskelde, that is, the Hundred-springs, having there slaughtered some nobles of the English nation, the king (keeping part of the army), sent part home by the way they came with a vast booty. By this craftiness he designed that when the wretched natives (who, from fear of the enemy, had hid themselves in whatever lurking-places they could find safety) should return to their villages and homes, supposing the enemy to have altogether departed, he might by a sudden inroad come upon them unawares. And this happened accordingly. For having pillaged Cleveland in part, by a sudden foray he seized Hartness, and thence, savagely overrunning the territory of St Cuthbert, he deprived all of their whole property, and some also of their lives. Then he destroyed by fire, under his own inspection, the church of St Peter, the prince of the Apostles, at Wearmouth. He burnt also other churches, with those who had taken refuge in them. When he was riding along the banks of the river, beholding from an eminence the cruel exploits of his men against the unhappy English, and feasting his mind and eyes with such a spectacle, it was told him that Edgar Ætheling and his sisters, who were beautiful girls of the royal blood, and many other very rich persons, fugitives from their homes, lay with their ships in that harbour. When they came to him with terms of amity, he addressed them graciously, and he pledged himself to grant them and all their friends a residence in his kingdom as long as they chose. Amidst these pillagings and depredations of the Scots, Earl Gospatric (who, as before has been said, had obtained for money from King William the earldom of Northumbria [i.e. Northumbria beyond Yorkshire].) having called in some bold auxiliaries, made a furious plundering attack upon Cumberland. Having done this with slaughter and conflagration, he returned with great spoil, and shut himself, with his allies, into the strong fortress of Bamburgh; from which making frequent sallies, he weakened the forces of the enemy; for Cumberland was at that time under the dominion of King Malcolm, not held by right, but subjugated by force. Having heard (while still gazing on the church of St Peter as it was being consumed by the fire of his men) of what Gospatric had committed against his people, scarcely able to contain himself for fury, he [Malcolm] ordered his troops no longer to spare any of the English nation, but either to smite all to the earth, or carry them off captives under the yoke of perpetual slavery. Having received this licence, it was misery even to witness their deeds against the English. Some aged men and women were beheaded with the sword; others were thrust through with pikes, like swine destined for food; infants snatched from their mother’s breasts were thrown high into the air, and in their fall were received on the points of lances and pikes thickly placed in the ground. The Scots, more savage than wild beasts, delighted in this cruelty, as an amusing spectacle. These children of the age of innocence, suspended between heaven and earth, gave up their souls to heaven. Young men also and maidens, and whoever seemed fit for toil and labour, were bound and driven before the face of their enemies, to be reduced in perpetual exile to slaves and bondmaids. Some of these females, worn out by running in front of their drivers further than their strength would bear, falling to the earth, perished even where they fell. Seeing these things, Malcolm was yet moved to pity by no tears, no groans of the unhappy wretches; but, on the contrary, gave orders that they should be still further pressed onward in the march. Scotland was, therefore, filled with slaves and handmaids of the English race; so that even to this day, I do not say no little village, but even no cottage, can be found without one of them. After Malcolm’s return to Scotland, when bishop Æthelwine was commencing his voyage towards Cologne, a contrary wind arising soon drove him back to Scotland....
.... Thither also it bore with a favourable course Edgar Ætheling, with his companions before named. King Malcolm, with the consent of his [Edgar’s] relatives, took in marriage Edgar’s sister, Margaret, a woman noble by royal descent, but much more noble by her wisdom and piety. By her care and labour the king himself, laying aside the barbarity of his manners, became more gentle and civilised.”‘Historia Regum’ s.a. 1070
The above ‘Historia Regum’ story presents King Malcolm as a stranger to Edgar Ætheling and his sisters when he meets them, by chance, at Wearmouth in 1070, and gallantly offers them refuge in Scotland. This, however, seems to be a romantic flight of fancy. As reported by Manuscript D of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (also Florence of Worcester, and thence the ‘Historia Regum’), Edgar, his mother and sisters (plus Gospatric and Mærleswein) found refuge with Malcolm in 1068.* In Manuscript D, this report is followed by a block of material apparently lifted from a ‘Life’ of St Margaret (as Edgar’s sister would become):
“Then King Malcolm began to yearn after his sister, Margaret, to wife; but he [Edgar] and all his men long refused; and she herself also declined, and said that she would neither have him nor any one else, if to her the heavenly Clemency would grant, that she in maidenhood might please the mighty Lord, with a human heart, in this short life, in pure continence. The king earnestly urged her brother, until he answered ‘Yea’; and indeed he durst not otherwise, because they were come into his power. It then came to pass as God had before provided, and it might not be otherwise, as he himself in his gospel saith, that not even a sparrow may fall into a snare without his providence. The prescient Creator knew beforehand what he wanted done by her; for she was to increase the praise of God in the land, and direct the king from the erroneous path, and incline him, together with his people, to a better way, and suppress the evil habits which the nation had previously cultivated: as she afterwards did. The king then received her, though it was against her will; and her manners pleased him, and he thanked God who by his power had given him such a mate, and wisely bethought him – as he was a very sagacious man – and turned himself to God, and contemned every impurity; according to what the apostle Paul, the teacher of all the gentiles, said: [Latin quote] ... that is in our tongue: “Full oft the unbelieving man is hallowed and healed through the righteous [“believing” added above the line] woman; and, in like manner, the woman through the believing man.” This aforesaid queen afterwards performed many useful deeds in the land to the glory of God, and also in royal qualities bore herself well, as to her was natural.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D*
Both ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts have Edgar Ætheling make an expedition to York in February 1069, only to be driven back to Scotland by King William in March. In September Edgar was in England again – assaulting the Norman castles at York, along with the Danes.* There is no mention of his female relatives, and it does seem improbable that they would have tagged-along on these highly hazardous expeditions. More likely, the ladies retired to Scotland in 1068, and were still safe there in 1070. It appears, though, that Margaret herself was not keen to marry Malcolm, and that Edgar only eventually agreed to it, under pressure, so it is quite possible that the wedding did not take place until after Edgar was obliged, once more, to retreat to Scotland in 1070, which is where it is placed in the ‘Historia Regum’.
In about 1105, Malcolm and Margaret’s daughter, Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I of England (a son of William the Conqueror), commissioned Turgot, prior of Durham, because of his “great friendship” with Margaret, to write a ‘Life’ of her late mother (Margaret died in 1093). Turgot, too, maintains that Margaret was reluctant to marry:
“... she was united in marriage with the most powerful king of the Scots, Malcolm, King Duncan’s son, by the will of her relatives more than by her own; or rather, by God’s disposition.”‘Vita Sanctae Margaretae Scotorum Reginae’ Chapter 3
Turgot also writes:
“And who can tell in number how many men, and how great, she restored to liberty, by payment of a price; men whom the ferocity of their enemies had led away captive from the nation of the English, and reduced to slavery? She had even sent secret spies everywhere throughout the provinces of the Scots, to find out which of the captives were oppressed with the harshest servitude, and treated most inhumanly; and to report to her minutely the place where and the people by whom they were oppressed: and she had compassion upon such [slaves] from her inmost heart, and hastened quickly to help them; to ransom them, and restore them to liberty.”‘Vita Sanctae Margaretae Scotorum Reginae’ Chapter 9