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Margaret of Denmark AN ENIGMATIC QUEEN

Dr Amy Hayes continues her series on the late medieval Stewart queens of Scots by exploring the life of Margaret of Denmark, wife of James III, mother of James IV and possibly the most mysterious of all the royal consorts

Margaret of Denmark was queen of Scotland from her marriage to James III in 1469 until her death in 1486. Unlike her two immediate predecessors, Joan Beaufort and Mary of Guelders, Margaret died before her husband, and therefore leaves fainter trace in terms of political impact on the realm. The relationship between Margaret and James III was curious. Margaret and James had three sons in the first eleven years of marriage, after which the queen lived at a distance from her husband, being based in Stirling with her sons, including the heir to the throne, the future James IV. Meanwhile, James III remained in Edinburgh. In 1488 rebels against James III claimed that the king had had his wife poisoned, yet the year before James had made an attempt to have Margaret canonised. Margaret is often described as ‘pious’ but there is little in the surviving record that suggests sainthood. Norman Macdougall, biographer of both James III and his son, James IV, simply describes Margaret as ‘an enigma’. The truth may simply be that, like many of Scotland’s queens consort, Margaret of Denmark requires closer study.


Margaret of Denmark was the only daughter of Christian I of Denmark-Norway, and his wife, Dorothea of Brandenburg. Her exact date of birth is unclear, but she was most likely born in 1457; at easter 1474, as queen, she gave out Maundy alms to seventeen people, and this type of gift-giving usually related to age, suggesting the queen was seventeen in 1474. This would have made Margaret twelve years old on her marriage to James III in 1469, which was the youngest age that the church would accept for the marriage of a woman. Negotiations for Margaret’s marriage may actually have begun as early as 1457, when James II and the Danish king were negotiating over the Norwegian ‘annual’ – a payment due from Scotland to Norway for possession of the Western isles, agreed in 1266 but rarely paid in the two centuries since. Scottish and Danish ambassadors met at Bruges in 1460 under the auspices of Charles VII of France, who held alliances with both countries, and the marriage alliance may have been discussed then, but no agreement was reached.

Stirling castle, where Margaret kept court in a separate household from her husband James III
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About History Scotland

The March/April issue of History Scotland is packed full of the latest research news and in-depth reads from experts in the fields of Scottish history, heritage and archaeology. Highlights include: 'The Stewart Queens of Scotland: Margaret of Denmark. New research on the life of Margaret, who reigned alongside James III of Scots Scottish coastal history: a wide-ranging overview of Scotland’s coastline over the centuries A guide to Agricola’s campaign in Scotland Curator review of the new Ancient Egypt Rediscovered gallery at National Museum of Scotland Underwater archaeology at Loch Tay New excavations at the prison of Mary Queen of Scots in Sheffield Castle Plus: Family history advice, archaeology dig reports and finds analysis, history of art series and lots more…​