Susan Fraser King Guest Post
Writing a novel about a medieval saint is not the easiest thing to do, as I discovered once I began researching and writing Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland, (now in trade paperback and ebook from Random House and Broadway Books). I had written about a medieval queen in my novel Lady Macbeth, and I had written several historical romances. But a saint was a new challenge: all that devoutness and devotion, all that goodness and virtue. As any writer can attest, a well-behaved character can be a lot harder to write than a feisty one.
Soon I discovered that saintly Margaret had a feisty side. She had been shipwrecked, became a wife and mother, was a needlework artist – and she was tough enough to stand up to the brutish king of Scotland, her own havoc-wreaking husband King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland; she not only stood up to him, but helped him to become a more civilized and sophisticated ruler. It is even claimed that well-educated Margaret taught her somewhat backward husband to read and to study the gospels, which he had neglected to learn otherwise.
A Hungarian-born Saxon princess, Margaret fled the Norman invasion with her siblings and was wrecked on a Scottish shore. The warrior king Malcolm Canmore gave the royal English family sanctuary, and soon offered for Margaret’s hand. A savvy political move, though medieval chroniclers noted that the king fell in love with the beautiful foreign princess, though she resisted the marriage (she wanted to be a nun), but finally relented—and what amounts to a natural fairy tale romance began.
Margaret has been called by historians one of the most fascinating and complex women of the 11th century and indeed the whole medieval era. She and Malcolm were complete opposites—the young educated cosmopolitan princess accustomed to charitable deeds and luxury surroundings, and the brutish, undereducated warlord raised in a savage warrior culture. Her personal confessor and friend left a rare medieval document in his biography of her, in which he describes her piety, her prayerful devotion, her perfection and compassion—and he mentions her temper, her sense of mischief, her pride, affection for friends, and strict demands of herself.
Despite his idealism, Margaret’s monk, Turgot, provides glimpses of a vital, unique young woman. She respected her tough husband, taught him to read, chided him for his table manners; he adored her, had her favorite book rebound, translated Gaelic for her when she hotly debated with his priests; she fed orphans from her own spoon, stole gold from her husband’s treasury to buy food for the poor, and released his ransomed prisoners; he called her his little thief, boasted of their sons, and begged her to stop fasting.
The fairy tale aspects of her true story are so genuinely the stuff of romance that I had to write about her—an exiled princess, a shipwreck, a brawny king and love at first sight; a tempestuous but adoring husband, eight healthy children, a mutual love and the affection of the Scottish people. Yet we also know that Margaret worked herself to exhaustion and fasted so intensely that even the priests told her to eat.
My challenge was to take the historical facts and the myths about Margaret and spin them into fiction. I wanted to unravel what was known and piece together a new puzzle. I wanted Margaret to become a real young woman for the modern reader, vulnerable and accessible, rather than just saintly and perfect.
Aside from their political, social and historical significance, Queen Margaret and King Malcolm proved that love blooms in the most unexpected unions, and that not all royal marriages were simply convenient. Their story is one of a beauty and her beast, two people who changed the course of Scottish, and medieval, history. I hope their romantic story (and that gorgeous cover!) will find a place on your bookshelf, and in your heart, this holiday season. And please be sure to check out the beautiful book trailer for Queen Hereafter posted on YouTube! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wep3gn7u1cM