‘A workshop of sacred art’: Public Acts of Visual Splendor within the Royal Household of Saint Margaret of Scotland

Sarah Williams Clausen
In Volume 3, Issue 1
Special Issue: Medieval Women

Abstract

St Margaret of Scotland provides an intriguing problem for medieval scholars. Much of the information available to modern historians about Margaret’s life is suspect; so little factual information remains, and the most complete written records we have were both clearly written with bias by those wishing to illuminate the great character of this queen and for a variety of political reasons. Anglo-Norman chroniclers perceived Margaret as having a ‘civilizing’ influence on the Scottish court, and evidence for this can also be found in the Vita. Her life is presented as one of marked piety where she maintains an almost perfect balance between the image of the devoted worldly queen, ensuring the grandeur of her husband’s court and the image of the pious ‘handmaiden of God’, dedicating her life to prayer, charity and extreme self-sacrifice. The image of the Saintly Mother, modeled after the mother of Christ was popularized by medieval clerics as an idealized example of perfect domesticity, but one that many women found difficult to emulate. St Margaret of Scotland appears to have had great success in this role, partly due to the transformation of the royal household into ‘…a workshop of sacred art.’ Using textual examples found in The Vita of St Margaret of Scotland, this paper will examine the concurrence of the roles of queen and mother that characterize Margaret’s life, and her cultivation of a stately and sacred royal household, which offered a visual symbol of her queenly power. This paper aims to provide a stimulus for further work on the fascinating textual dichotomy that portrays a queen whose worldliness was as great as her piety.

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