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Death in Scotland

Chapters From the Twelfth Century to the Twenty-First


Peter C. Jupp and Hilary J. Grainger

For the past twenty years, Scottish death culture has emerged as a focus of scholars drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Death comes to us all but too often we treat it as a private or personal matter. The former taboo about death is slowly lifting and contemporary research is playing an increasing part. Accordingly, the fifteen essays gathered in this book probe the multi-facetted role of death in Scottish history and culture. They explore personal fears of death, anxieties about Predestination, prayers for the dead and the appeal of Spiritualism. They analyse the public face of death in law, economics and medicine: changes in capital punishment, funeral poverty, the teaching of anatomy and prevention of stillbirths. Within the worlds of religion and ritual, they consider the making of saints, burial practice following the Scottish Reformation and the tradition of keening within the Gáidhealtachd. With an Introduction by Professor Jane Dawson, these essays by specialists in the field not only highlight the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland but reveal how death studies identify key features of Scottish life and society across ten centuries.

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1 The Death of a Queen and the Birth of a Saint: The Memorialisation and Canonisation of St Margaret of Scotland (Claire Harrill)


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1 The Death of a Queen and the Birth of a Saint: The Memorialisation and Canonisation of St Margaret of Scotland


St Margaret of Scotland, wife of Malcolm III, has been the subject of much historical study. This essay will lead on from the historical understanding of Margaret, and approach it from a literary perspective, focusing primarily on Margaret’s Vita and Miracula as they appear in the ‘Dunfermline’ Manuscript, now Madrid, Biblioteca Real MS II 2097. This chapter examines Margaret’s literary representation before and after her death in order to demonstrate that the manner of Margaret’s death – from extreme starvation – is essential to understanding her transition from worldly queen, contained by the gendered expectations of earthly queenship, to a saint who appears as a divinely sanctioned national defender. This chapter argues that Margaret’s death through bodily self-destruction allows her to take on a wider range of gender roles and to access more power and authority.


St Margaret of Scotland (d. 1093) makes a rather unusual eleventh-century female saint: though by all accounts she led a pious life, she was a woman of the world with a taste for luxury goods, and a mother of eight children. The literary representations of Margaret in her Vita and Miracula negotiate the gap between worldly and saintly and reconcile the deeds of a pious but practical woman in life with her posthumous legacy as a saint. Much...

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