Giving all she had

Daily Reading for November 16 • Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 1093

To these two excellent gifts of prayer and abstinence she joined the gift of mercy. For what could be more compassionate than her heart? Who could be more gentle than she towards the necessitous? Not only would she have given to the poor all that she possessed; but if she could have done so she would have given her very self away. She was poorer than any of her paupers; for they, even when they had nothing, wished to have something; while all her anxiety was to strip herself of what she had. When she went out of doors, either on foot or on horseback, crowds of poor people, orphans and widows flocked to her, as they would have done to a most loving mother, and none of them left her without being comforted. . . .

Now and then she helped herself to something or other out of the King’s private property, it mattered not what it was, to give to a poor person; and this pious plundering the King always took pleasantly and in good part. It was his custom to offer certain coins of gold upon Maundy Thursday and at High Mass, some of which coins the Queen often devoutly pillaged, and bestowed on the beggar who was petitioning her for help. Although the King was fully aware of the theft, he generally pretended to know nothing of it, and felt much amused by it. Now and then he caught the Queen in the very act, with the money in her hand, and laughingly threatened that he would have her arrested, tried, and found guilty. Nor was it towards the poor of her own nation only that she exhibited the abundance of her cheerful and open-hearted charity, but those persons who came from almost every other nation, drawn by the report of her liberality, were the partakers of her bounty. . . .

Who can tell the number of English of all ranks, carried captive from their own land by violence of war and reduced to slavery, whom she restored to liberty by paying their ransom? Spies were employed by her to go secretly through all the provinces of Scotland and ascertain what captives were oppressed with the most cruel bondage, and treated with the greatest inhumanity. When she had privately ascertained where these prisoners were detained, and by whom ill-treated, commiserating them from the bottom of her heart, she took care to send them speedy help, paid their ransom and set them at liberty forthwith.

At the period of which we are speaking, there were in many places throughout the realm of Scotland persons shut up in different cells, and leading lives of great strictness; in the flesh, but not according to the flesh; for being upon earth, they led the life of angels. These the Queen busied herself in often visiting and conversing with, for in them she loved and venerated Christ, and would recommend herself to their prayers. As she could not induce them to accept any earthly gift from her, she urgently entreated them to be so good as to bid her perform some almsdeed or work of mercy, and this devout woman did forthwith fulfil whatever was their pleasure, either by helping the poor out of their poverty or by relieving the distressed in their troubles, whatever these might be.

From The Life of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland by Turgot, Bishop of St Andrews, edited by William Forbes-Leith, S.J., third edition (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1896).

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