… And All That (cont.): The Mysterious Magyar Origins of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland: II   1 comment

In my third posting commemorating the anniversaries of the two eleventh-century conquests of England, the Danish one of 1016 and the Norman one of 1066, I continue to explore the continental connections between the two events, stretching as far as southern Hungary. This reminds us that, above all, they were part of a complex set of dynastic, religious and political relationships which brought both the ‘English’ and the ‘Scottish’ into the mainstream of the cultural life of western European Christendom.

The Agatha Mystery Solved?


Although from a pagan branch of the House of Árpád (his father had led a pagan rebellion against István (above) in about 1037-8, which had led to Andrew’s exile),  Andrew I, ‘the Catholic’ (1046-60) had converted and, as his nomenclature suggests, become a devout Christian. István’s successor, Peter Orseolo (1038-41 and 1044-6), son of his sister and the Doge of Venice, had traded Hungary’s independence for the German Emperor’s help in restoring him to the throne. The feudal lords had turned to Andrew and his brothers, exiled in Poland, to re-establish order. The brothers first encountered a pagan rebellion of great force, which even claimed the life of Hungary’s primate, Bishop Gellért. On becoming king in 1046, Andrew I did not want to put the clock back, but suppressed the pagan rebels and restored István’s state. His younger brother, Béla, then defeated the German invaders.  It therefore seems unlikely that Agatha, soon to become bride to Edward the Exile, son of Eadmund Ironside, would have remained at the Hungarian court during this period if she had been a German princess.


Nevertheless, Agatha was related, through her mother Gisella, to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, who was also István’s brother-in-law, and her close connection with the powerful family would have been a good recommendation for her children when travelling across western Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also states that Edward, who returned to England in 1057, had been brought up to ‘manhood’ in Ungerland. The monk, Florence of Worcester, compiled his Chronicon ex Chronicis from other contemporary sources, including the writings of the Venerable Bede and Bishop Asser, relating events up to 1117 (he died in 1118). It is more than probable that everything he recorded regarding the Princes of Wessex came from the Worcester chronicles of Ealdred, Bishop of Worcester until 1060, when Ealdred became Archbishop of York. It was impossible for Agatha to have been the Emperor’s daughter, since Henry II, although married, remained celibate and had no children. Later in his Chronicon, Florence related Bishop Ealdred’s ambassadorial mission to Cologne to obtain the return of the Anglo-Saxon Prince and his family. He then wrote of Edward’s return to England in 1057 and his death in London. The translation of the Latin phrase filiam germani imperatoris Henrici is the daughter of the Emperor Henry’s brother-in-law, identifying Agatha as the daughter of István and Gisella, the Princess of Bavaria, whose retinue of knights and priests helped István to establish Hungary as a strong, Christian state and to defend it against pagan rebels and his power-hungry relatives, the Pechenegs, before his death in 1038.

Thus, the evidence points to Agatha, Edward’s wife and the mother of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland, being the daughter of King István and the niece of the German Emperor, István’s brother-in-law. The sources which recount her descent from Agatha’s descent from the King of Hungary, originate in Normandy and Northumbria. The records are by Ordericus Vitalis, Gaimar and Ailred. It was in the interest of none of these to emphasise the German connection to such an extent as to obscure her Hungarian descent. Ordericus Vitalis was born in England in 1075 and was educated at a monastery in Normandy from the age of ten. He wrote his great historical work, Historia Eccleasiastica between 1124 and 1142. In this, two of the three children of Edward and Agatha, Queen Margaret of Scotland and Edgar, are frequently mentioned. Margaret’s husband, King Malcolm (Canmore), was at war with William of Normandy, also fighting for the cause of his brother-in-law Edgar. We can read of Scottish-Northumbrian events already mentioned in Ordericus Vitalis’ Historia. In connection with the deaths of Malcolm and Margaret he also recorded the parentage of the Queen of Scots. Vitalis confirmed the marriage of Edward to the daughter of the King of Hungary, filia regis Hunorum, and claimed that Edward ruled over the Hungarians. Indeed, it has been suggested that István’s preferred successor was Edward, not Peter Orseolo.

Little is written of the period in Hungarian history between the death of István and the accession of Andrew I, but it is entirely possible that Edward, as the husband of the King’s daughter, himself raised in Hungary from a child and therefore Hungarian-speaking, might have had a key role to play in the governance of the country as a young man. Indeed, there is a suggestion that, following Imre’s untimely death, István transferred the hereditary rights to the throne to his son-in-law. However, the accepted view is that Stephen designated his nephew, the son of his sister from her marriage to the Doge of Venice, Peter Orseolo, as his successor, summoning him to court and preparing him to rule. The order of hereditary succession and the potential insecurity of the Hungarian Crown could have served as a pretext for the Emperor, Henry III, to interfere in Hungary’s internal affairs, in the question of the succession. Territorial associations, extant to the present, also suggest that István may have presented certain lands to Edward on the Saxon Prince’s marriage to his daughter, or thereafter, which formed the basis of the rumour that the exiled Prince exercised power over Hungarian tenants. This is probably what the English records refer to when they suggest that Edward ‘ruled over the Hungarians’.

Peter ascended to the throne in 1038, but internal opposition considered him to be too much in the power of foreign lords, and ejected him in 1041, making his ‘palatine’ Samuel Aba, István’s brother-in-law, the new king. In 1044, Samuel Aba also had to fight internal rebellion, murdering fifty lords in order to retain the throne. Peter then returned at the head of an army provided by Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor. Samuel fell in one of the battles for the throne, possibly by the hand of a treacherous assassin in his own ranks. Peter was then restored to the throne, but in the autumn of 1046 he was again forced to flee when Andrew, one of the sons of Vazul, or Vászoly, of the House of Árpád, claimed the throne and had him captured and blinded.  This was not a new form of punishment, and was probably an act of vengeance by Andrew for István’s even more gruesome punishment of his father following his pagan-inspired uprising against the Christian king in the fortieth, and last, year of his reign. The three brothers had fled to Poland  after this and when Andrew returned to become king, he entrusted a third of the country to his younger brother, Béla. In the same year that the Wessex family returned to England, 1057, Andrew had his infant son Solomon crowned king and betrothed to a princess of the Holy Roman Emperor a year later, thus securing the succession of the Árpád dynasty.



It is interesting to note that certain English forms and ceremonies were observed at Salomon’s coronation. When Edward returned to England, certain envoys came to fetch him, and it may be that the Hungarians heard about the English coronation ceremonies from them. At the Várkony Scene, Andrew challenged his brother Béla to lay claim to the crown and choose the sword in single combat against him. Prince Béla then chose to go into exile in Poland once again,  this time returning to Hungary yet at the head of his own army, with which he defeated and dethroned his brother, who died soon after, in 1060, and was buried at Tihány Abbey near Lake Balaton.

Béla I (1060-63) was then succeeded by Solomon (1063-74), who died childless, so Béla’s sons sat on the throne thereafter, Ladislas I (1077-1095) becoming the next great ruler, matching István’s saintliness, though not his length of reign. In retrospect, given these turmoils, the Wessex family may not have regretted leaving Hungary when they did, even though this meant returning to England already caught up in dynastic and political disputes. Geoffrey Gaimar of Lincolnshire wrote a chronicle in Old French, betraying his Norman origin, in about 1140. He wrote this in rhyme on the request of Custance, the wife of Ralph Fitzgilbert, founder of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. In this abbey, through the Abbot Ailred, more was known of Queen Margaret of Scotland than in any other monastery.

Gaimar had much to say about the Scottish Royal family, but he also recounts the fate of the Anglo-Saxon princes. In his poetic work the two princes are sent abroad on the advice of Eadmund Ironside’s widowed Queen. The two boys are entrusted to a Danish warrior named Walgar, who takes them to Denmark, where they remain for twelve years before being taken by Walgar to Hungary. They travel for five days through Russia until they reach the city of Gardimbre, where they are met by the Hungarian king and his wife. Walgar is known to the king and queen and he places the two boys in their care. They are aware that the princes are heirs to the English throne, receiving them affectionately and educating them at their court. Edward, the elder, marries the king’s daughter and the king promises his realm to him. The daughter of Edward and his wife is Margaret, the precious pearl who becomes the wife of King Malcolm of the Scots. Gaimar also tells us that King Edward the Confessor, while still living in Normandy, came to Hungary to aid his nephews, rightful heirs to the Hungarian throne, against the people of ‘Velacase’. If this episode, not mentioned elsewhere, has any historical basis, then it would be the only proof that the Anglo-Saxon princes living at the Hungarian court maintained any connection with their English relatives during this time. Although we cannot attribute any historical authenticity to these poetic tales, they do correspond with the chronicles in naming Agatha as the daughter of the King of Hungary and in stating that the Anglo-Saxon prince was, at one time considered heir to the throne of Hungary.

Aildred, the Abbot of Rievaulx, who spent many years at the Court of King David of Scotland, the youngest of Margaret’s six sons, reported some things he heard from David himself. In particular, the king told him of his father, Malcolm. In a letter in his work Genalogia Regum Anglorum, Aildred addressed Prince Henry, later Plantagenet King Henry II of England, encouraging him to be worthy of his great relative. King David, whose last hours and death he recounted. On his death-bed, David asked for his mother’s black cross. This cross is not described in detail, but it could have originally belonged to Gisella, given to Agatha in about 1045, when István’s queen left Hungary after his death, to return to Bavaria, where she lived out her life as a nun and died in about 1060. It is gold, but set with dark stones. According to Aildred’s testimony, the royal family considered Margaret to be descended from English and Hungarian kings. This record helps to confirm Agatha as the daughter of István and Gisella, and Margaret as their granddaughter.

In addition, the Hungarian nobles who accompanied Agatha to England in 1057 must also have played an important role at the Scottish Court. The Drummond family, for instance, is descended in direct line from a Hungarian noble named Georgius, who accompanied Princess Agatha and her three children to Britain. He is said to have saved Agatha and her children when they were in peril of shipwreck at sea, in the ship which was to have taken the Royal Wessex family back to Hungary, probably via Hamburg. The storm drove their ship towards the coast of Scotland, then a lot further north. When Malcolm subsequently met and married Margaret, Georgius received, at Margaret’s instigation, a large estate from King Malcolm. He was probably a natural son of Andrew I of Hungary, known by name to the Hungarian chroniclers. The descendants of Drummond and other Hungarian nobles must certainly have enjoyed some standing at King David’s court, and the court must have known something of Agatha’s Hungarian parentage. Boece, a sixteenth century chronicler, mentions five Magyar-Scottish families – the Giffurds, Maules, Morthiuks, Fethikrans and Creichtouns, all of whom had originated in Hungary and received donations of money and land to help them settle in Scotland. A further great Scots family descended from the Hungarians settlers of that time were the Leslies, who were to play a major role in the Scottish Reformation and the civil wars of the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century, the historian Stephen Horváth called attention to the ancient Hungarian families of Scotland. The well-informed English and Scottish sources all tell the same story of Agatha and her children, though each in a different setting, and therefore with a different purpose or bias. It is doubtful if these noble families would have remained and settled in Scotland had Margaret herself not been of Hungarian, as well as Saxon, Royal blood.

Agatha was certainly related to the German Emperor, Henry II, through her mother, Gisella, the Emperor’s niece, but there can be little doubt that she was István’s daughter.  Writing in the middle of the last century, Sándor Fest also commented on the unusual name of Margaret’s youngest son, David, and suggested that he may have been named after her Hungarian relative, the second legitimate son of Andrew I. This David was a little boy of only three or four when Margaret left Hungary with her parents in 1057, aged twelve.  As a close relative, she must have known him well at Andrew’s court in Hungary. It is logical to suppose that her childhood memories induced her to give a name that was unusual in Scotland at that time to her youngest son, whom she would not then have expected to subsequently become King of Scotland.


To summarise from these accounts, the Princes of Wessex had been accompanied on their journey into exile by the Dane, Walgar, who was already acquainted with István and Gisella. Their renown as gracious monarchs of a young Christian country helps to explain why Hungary was chosen, and not another country. Only Gaimar’s chronicle mentions the journey through Russia (and Ukraine) as lasting five days. The other sources have nothing to say on the route taken. The German chronicler alone refers to Russia as their place of exile, but the Worcester version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contradicts this, stating clearly that Prince Edward grew up in Hungary and this is supported by the chronicle of Florence of Worcester. The contradiction here can be explained by the length of sojourn that the princes enjoyed en route through Russia to Kiev and perhaps by their time spent in Zemplén County, where they may have enjoyed the care and protection of the daughter of Yaroslav, Grand Duke of Kiev and future wife of Andrew I, until the reached their youth, when Eadmund died and Edward moved to István’s Court. Edward then married Agatha, daughter of István and Gisella, probably some time shortly after the death of Stephen’s son Imre in 1031. In 1057, during the reign of Andrew I (1046-60), Edward returned to England with Agatha and their three children, Margaret, Christine and Edgar in order to become the heir of Edward the Confessor. However, the plan of the ‘English party’ at the Confessor’s court went awry when Edward died soon after his return to London. After the Battle of Hastings, when their cause seemed lost, the widowed Agatha wanted to return to Hungary with her children. If she had been a German princess, she would surely have wanted to flee to the German Emperor for protection.


So, the last descendant of Alfred the Great and legal heir to the English throne found refuge from Canute’s outstretched murdering hand, first of all in eastern Hungary and then at the courts of King István and King Andrew I in the stormy early and middle decades of the eleventh century. It was on arriving at István’s court that he met and married the King’s daughter, Agatha, some time in the 1030s. The couple were given lands in Baranya County, referred to in a document from the reign of Andrew II which mentions ‘British Land’ (1205-35). Here, in Mecseknádasd, their firstborn child, who became Margaret of Scotland, was born in about 1045. There are also shrines and churches dedicated to Saint ‘Margit’ in the area. Edgar, their son and legitimate heir to the English throne, was born in 1051. Margaret died shortly after her husband, Malcolm III (Canmore) of Scotland, in 1093 and Edgar, having finally given up his claim to the English throne, died in 1126. All of Margaret’s six sons became kings of Scotland, ending with David I, and her daughter married the Norman king, Henry, son of William I, thus giving legitimacy to their dynastic rule over the English. 



One response to “… And All That (cont.): The Mysterious Magyar Origins of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland: II

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  1. I am not aware that all of Margaret’s sons became kings. One of her sons, Ethelred, abbot of Dunkeld, was a cleric. He wasn’t a king. I am a descendant of his line.

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