Born in 1045, Margaret was an English princess of the House of Wessex who was born in Hungary, where her family were exiled during the rule of the Viking kings in England. The daughter of Edward the Exile, she was the sister of Edgar Ætheling, who had a short rule as uncrowned Anglo-Saxon king of England. Edward, and his wife Agatha, for a time took shelter in Kiev and subsequently took refuge in the court of King St. Stephen of Hungary. Margaret's family returned to England in 1057, and as one of the last members of the Anglo- Saxon royal family, she was in danger after the Norman Conquest and took refuge at the court of Malcolm II of Scotland. Intelligent, beautiful and devout, Margaret married Malcolm in 1069 and the union was exceptionally happy and fruitful for Scotland. The present British royal family can trace their descent to Margaret and her daughter Matilda through Queen Elizabeth.
Margaret took a keen interest in the country. Through her, the Scottish courts were reformed and the church was revitalised. She founded many monasteries, hostels and churches. Her private life was devoted to prayer, reading, embroidery, almsgiving and the manumission of slave. She is said to have had a very civilizing effect on her husband who was initially considered a tough customer. Of Margaret and Malcolm, a biographer wrote "He saw that Christ truly dwelt in her heart. What she rejected he rejected. What she loved, he for love of her loved too."
Even while Malcolm was illiterate, he liked the books Margaret used at prayer and had them embellished with gold and silver binding. One of her books survives in the Bodleian library at Oxford.
Margaret had eight children. Of these, Alexander and David became kings of Scotland and her daughter Matilda married Henry I of England. Their son Ethelred became an abbot. Margaret lived just long enough to learn of the tragic death of Malcolm and their son Edward on a military expedition against William Rufus who had confiscated Edgar Atheling's estates. She died, it is said, of grief aged 47 years in 1093 at Edinburgh Castle just days after learning of her husband's demise. Margaret is buried beside her husband in Dunfermline, Scotland. It was at Dunfermline that she is commemorated for establishing a ferry for pilgrims visiting the monastery there: the towns of Queensferry and North Queensferry bear testimony to her charity.
Following many miracles attributed to her heavenly intervention, Margaret was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the bodies of both Margaret and Malcolm were taken, it is reported. to the Escorial palace near Madrid. She was named patron of Scotland in 1673.
St Margaret's feast day is currently marked on November 16 in the Roman calendar. Even so, some hold-outs still commemorate her on June 16, the traditional date. Anglicans also revere her memory.