Monday, October 24, 2011

Queen Hereafter

Susan Fraser King wrote Queen Hereafter and I thought it was pretty good. It was an easy read, but I did find myself not really enjoying the main character. The book follows Margaret and her family as they are shipwrecked on the Scottisch coast. Her brother Edgar has been outlawed from England, when he should be King. Forced to leave the convent that Margaret and her sister were staying in, they travel overseas to seek refuge with the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore. In return for helping the Saxons return Edgar to England and his throne, he asks for Margaret's hand in marriage. While living among the barbarous Scots, Margaret and her mother and sister try to feel at home. Many of their things were lost or left behind during the voyage.

They soon notice that the manners of the court is very different in Scotland, and their king is rough and fierce. As time passes, Margaret is wed to Malcolm and the people are hesitant to rejoice a Saxon being put on the throne. Amidst the turmoils of the Scotland people being divided, and England's king coming to invade, Margaret finds that she is quite content to be queen. She instantly sets about redoing the castle as well as the way of meals and courtly manners. Her presence seems to calm Malcolm and he becomes less wild and more courtly in his manners. Margaret had desired a life as a nun, but instead finds her vocation in being queen. She is very pious and prays at all hours of the day, fasts constantly and eats little, and works hard to put the castle to rights. The tale is a little like Beauty and the Beast, where the pretty woman tames the beast and makes him handsome.

They have two boys rather quickly, but Margaret's pace does not falter. A Celtic bard is brought to court, named Eva, and she is brought as a hostage as well as to play for the court. The Lady Macbeth still rules in the north and they do not answer to King Malcolm. He keeps her as hostage the lady's good behavior; while her talents are known far and wide she becomes popular with her beautiful music. Margaret forms a bond with her and they are often together. The court eventually travels to Dun Edin, so that the King can show off his Queen as well as see to his kingdom. While there, Margaret sets again about redoing the palace and helping the people. She constantly gives alms to the poor, as well as food, and soon has many starving children sent to be fed in the palace. She even sits down and feeds many of them herself, from her own china and gold silverware. Many balk at her closeness to the people, but she is happy doing all she can to help the poor and hungry.

Many start calling her Saint Margaret for her good works and charitable donations. While on travels, she gives away of her own clothing and shoes for the poor, and demands her ladies do the same. Whenever she can, she helps give all she can. The King acquiesces and seems happy to allow her to do what she wills. The people are happy with their rulers for their generosity and goodness. Margaret tries to go on a pilgrimage, but is once again pregnant and is forced to ride on a horse or go by ship part of the way. Many cannot afford the fee to pass across by ship, so she changes it so anyone can pass through free of charge. She also has a church built in her name, and donates generously to the many churches and convents nearby. Soon word reaches them that William has entered Scotland with hundreds of warriors.

They meet in Dunfermline to meet William and his troops, and Malcolm is ready to enter a peace treaty with him. The terms of the treaty demand a hostage, and in place of their firstborn son, William says he instead ask that Edgar leave and never return. He also demands that her mother leave Scotland, and her sister to enter a convent as planned. Margaret is sad at them leaving, since she will no longer have her family around her. As things settle down over the Saxon rebellions, Margaret goes with Eva on a riding trip before returning home. Eva had secretly been a spy for the Lady Macbeth, sending her letters of the goings on at court. Margaret finds out her duplicity when she sees her secretly meeting with the Lady Macbeth, and the king's guardsmen fire arrows on her guardsmen. Eva is imprisoned for treason, as she was a hostage and not supposed to communicate with her home. Margaret implores for the king to release her, and he eventually does. Eva decides to stay and play for the court, as she has enjoyed living there with Queen Margaret.

Although Eva is a fictional character, the Lady Macbeth is not. Queen Margaret was known as a saint for her many good deeds. She had over 8 children, all who survived adulthood which was very rare. She was also a complex woman, drives by an obsession to pray constantly and fast. She died in her mid-forties after the deaths of her husband Malcolm and their son Edward. Some say she died of a frail heart from habitual fasting and anorexia. The author based this story on Margaret's good deeds in her early life, as well as the mystery of Lady Macbeth and queen Gruadh. Tiny lights, it is claimed, still float around her tomb in Dunfermline, proving that she still watches over Scotland this day. Traces of their blood continue to this day in British royalty.

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