The Referendum on Scottish independence brings to mind the fate of a little girl born to forge a much earlier Union.
In 1283, some three hundred years before England and Scotland were joined under a single monarch, a daughter was born to the sea-king of the north, Eirik II of Norway. The little Maid of Norway, as the baby Margaret came to be known, was the only surviving grandchild of the Scottish king, Alexander III.
In Scotland, Alexander set about rectifying the matter at once. Perhaps he did so too hastily, for he died of a fatal accident on horseback, hurrying to the side of his new wife, the young Yolande de Dreux.
Dismayed, the Scots looked to Edward I to support Margaret’s claim to the throne against those put forward by Robert the Bruce and John Balliol. The Treaty of Birgham was arranged by which Margaret would marry Edward, the English prince (later Edward II) in exchange for Scottish independence. She was sent by her father in a Norwegian ship to the British Isles, where she would be kept in wardship by her prospective father-in-law. Alas, famed Norse seamanship could not prevail against stormy weather off Scotland’s coast and the little Maid died on the shore of Orkney, only eight years old.
She had been, if only for a little while, the first queen regnant in the British Isles. Her passing was mourned in Middle English verse:
Christ, born in virgynyte,
Succoure Scotland, and ramede,
That stade is in perplexite.
–the earliest surviving example of Scottish poetry.
Had the Maid of Norway lived, England and Scotland might have been joined in a Union so ancient Time would have obliterated all memory of separation, and deprived us of a Braveheart moment.