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The Princesses Who Might have been Hostages: The Custody and Marriages of Margaret and Isabella of Scotland, 1209-1220s

The Princesses Who Might have been Hostages: The Custody and Marriages of Margaret and Isabella of Scotland, 1209-1220s

The Princesses Who Might have been Hostages: The Custody and Marriages of Margaret and Isabella of Scotland, 1209-1220s

By Katherine Weikert

Medieval Hostageship c.700-c.1500: Hostage, Captive, Prisoner of War, Guarantee, Peacemaker, edited by Matthew Bennett and Katherine Weikert (Routledge, 2016)

Introduction: In 1209, stemming from the Treaty of Norham, Scottish hostages were sent south into England. Margaret and Isabella, daughters of King William of Scotland, went along, too. Both daughters were intended to marry sons of King John, with the elder Margaret to wed the future Henry III before 1217.

By 1215, no such marriages had taken place though the daughters were still in England, and they were subsequently mentioned in the Magna Carta. In 1220, Alexander demanded the promised marriages of his sisters, still in England. Finally, in 1221 Margaret was married to Hubert de Burgh, the justiciar of England, and Isabella was married to Roger (III) Bigod in 1225. Both princesses, promised to possible kings, were married below their rank more than ten years after the promise of these positions as a condition of their holding by King John.

Contemporary and later medieval records as well as modern scholars seem uncertain in their terminology for the status of the princesses. While Roger of Wendover and, consequently, Matthew Paris refer to them as hostages to King John; the annals of Dunstable do not. In his recent volume on medieval hostageship, Adam Kosto considers the sisters hostages. These two princesses were certainly held by King John though their status has been previously much debated: were they hostages or undefined honoured guests in the manner of fosterage as their purpose in the English court was ostensibly to make marriages to the sons of John?


Their circumstance, as pointed out by Gwen Seabourne, makes complicated the idea of firmly classifying such persons as hostages in the medieval world; Margaret and Isabella might be best termed, as Seabourne suggests, as ‘quasi-hostages,’ and indeed the recently-discovered text of the Treaty of Norham does not refer to Margaret and Isabella as hostages, which may momentarily dam some of the debate as to their status.

Top Image: From the Queen Mary Psalter, British Museum image: Royal 2 B VII f. 168v.


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