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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


:a brave prince, demanded instant restitution, and, at the head of an army, laid siege to the Normans in the border stronghold. At this time,the winter snow was covering all the vast expanse of leafless forest, and the hills-then growing only heath and gorse-around the Castle of Edinburgh; and there the queen, with her sons Edmond, Edgar, and David, and her daughters Mary and Matilda (surnamed the Good, afterwards queen of Henry I. of England), were anxiously waiting tidings from the king and his son Edward, who?had pressed the siege of Alnwick with such severity that its garrison was hourly expected to surrender. A sore sickness was now preying on the wasted frame of the queen, who spent her days in prayer for the success of the Scots and the safety of the king. and prince. All old historians vie with each other in praise of the virtuous Margaret. ?? When health and beauty were hers,? says one writer, ?she devoted her strength to serve the poor and uncultivated people whom God had committed to her care; she fed them with her own hand, smoothed their pillow in sickness, and softened the barbarous and iron rule of their feudal lords. No wonder that they regarded her as a guardian angel among them.? She daily fed three hundred,? says another authority, ?waiting upon them on her bended knees, like a housemaid, washing their feet and kissing them, For these and other expenses she not only parted with her own royal dresses, but more than once she drained the treasury.? Malcolm, a Celt, is said to have been unable to read the missals given him by his fair-haired Saxon, but he was wont to kiss them and press them to his heart in token of love and respect. In the castle she built the little oratory on the very summit of the rock. It stands within the .citadel, and is in perfect preservation, measuring about twenty-six feet long by ten, and is spanned by a finely ornamented a p e arch that springs from massive capitals, and is covered with zig-zag mouldings. It was dedicated to her in after years, and liberally endowed. ?There she is said to have prophetically announced the surprise of the fortress in 1312, by causing to be painted on the wall a representation of a man scaling the Castle rock, with the inscription underneath, ? Garak-vow Franfais,? a prediction which was conveniently found to be verified when the Castle was re-taken from the English by William Frank (or Francis) and Earl Randolph ; though why the Saxon saint should prophesy in French we are left to conjecture.? Comzcted with the residence of Edgar Atheling?s sister in Edinburgh Castle there is another legend, which states that while there she commissioned her friend St. Catharine-but which St. Catharine it fails to specify-to bring her some oil from Mount Sinai; and that after long and sore travel from the rocks of Mount Horeb, the saint with the treasured oil came in sight of the Castle of Edinburgh, on that ridge where stood the Church of St Mary, built by Macbeth, baron of Liberton. There she let fall the vessel containing the sacred oil, which was spilt; but there sprang up in its place a fountain of wonderful medicinal efficacy, known now as the Balm Well of St. Catharine, where the oil-which practical folk say is bituminous and comes from the coal seams-may still be seen floating on the limpid water. It figuted long in monkish legends. For ? vges a mound near it was alleged to be the tomb of St Catharine; and close by it James IV. erected a beautiful little chapel dedicated to St. Margaret, but long since demolished. During the king?s absence at Alnwick, the queen, by the severity of her fastings and vigils, increased a heavy illness under which she laboured. Two days before her death, Prince Edgar, whom some writers call her brother, and others her son, arrived from the Scottish camp with tidings that Malcolm had been slain, with her son Edward. ? Then,? according to Lord Hailes, who quotes Turgot?s Life of SL Margaret, ?? lifting up her eyes and hands towards heaven, she said, Praise and blessing be to Thee, Almighty God, that Thou hast been pleased to make me endure so bitter anguish in the hour of my departure, thereby, as I trust, to purify me in some measure from the corruption of my sins; and Thou, Lord Jesus Christ, who through the will of the Father, hast enlivened the world by Thy death, oh, deliver me ! ? While pronouncing ? deliver me? she expired.? This, according to the Bishop of St. Andrews, Turgot, previously Prior of Durham, was after she had heard mass in the present little oratory, and been borne to the tower on the west side of the rock ; and she died holding in her hand a famous relic known as ?the black rood of Scotland,? which according to St. Elred, ?was a cross an ell long, of pure gold and wonderful workmanship, having thereon an ivory figure of our Saviour marvellously adorned with gold.? This was on 16th of November, 1093, when she was in the forty-seventh year of her age. Unless history be false, with the majesty of a queen and the meekness of a saint Margaret possessed a beauty that falls but seldom to the lot of women ; and in her time she did much to soften the
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