Forgotten Queens: The Queens Consort of Fourteenth Century Scotland

Beth Reid

14th century Scotland is famous for its warfare and political turbulence.

Throughout this period, key figures emerged that have remained popular within Scottish myth and historical study, such as Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Moreover, the century witnessed the beginning of the royal Stewart dynasty, which would hold the throne for the next 300 years and be central to constitutional changes across the British Isles. For such a dramatic century of foundational change, it is remarkable that the contributions of elite women in this period have been largely forgotten. This article will attempt to rectify this by examining the political influence of the five forgotten queens consort of 14th century Scotland: Elizabeth de Burgh, Joan of the Tower, Margaret Drummond, Euphemia Ross, and Annabella Drummond. The opening queen consort of this century is Elizabeth de Burgh, wife and queen to Scotland’s most famous king – Robert the Bruce. Despite her well-known husband, there has been little interest in Elizabeth’s role in this period in Scottish history. Elizabeth became Robert’s queen in March 1306 when he controversially seized the Scottish throne. Facing significant opposition in Scotland as well as the impending wrath of Edward I of England, Elizabeth was said to have denounced the whole event by saying “alas, we are but king and queen of the May”. She was not wrong - by June she and her husband were on the run from their Scottish and English opponents. While Robert fled west, Elizabeth fled north with Robert’s female supporters but was captured by the Earl of Ross in late 1306. They were promptly handed into English custody and taken to England, where Elizabeth spent the next eight years under a strict house arrest. Elizabeth was finally released from captivity in September 1314 in a prisoner exchange after the Scots’ victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. A year later, Robert invaded her homeland of Ireland in order to pressure Edward II’s English administration there. This invasion may point to Elizabeth’s role as a potential political advisor for her husband. Born c.1289 to Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, Elizabeth’s Anglo-Irish upbringing means that she was likely familiar with the families and politics of the Irish Sea world. This invasion was a direct attack on Elizabeth’s father – a key adherent of the English crown – who was defeated by the Bruce forces in 1315 and was only able to claw his power back after the major Bruce defeat at Foughart in 1318. Elizabeth, as the daughter of the Earl of Ulster, must have shared some part in her husband’s invasion. It is interesting to consider where her potential motives to support the invasion came from: did her father abandon her during her years of imprisonment, making this a personal event for Elizabeth? Elizabeth died in 1327 at the age of thirty-eight, having fallen from her horse at Cullen in the north-east of Scotland. Since she was to be buried at Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, the parishioners of Cullen took great care to prepare her body for the long journey south and held Masses to pray for her soul. Grateful for the treatment of his late queen, Robert established a chaplaincy at Cullen and annually paid in perpetuity for prayers for Elizabeth’s soul. Still to this day (besides a brief interlude from 1975-2011) this sum is paid to the church at Cullen, and a prayer is said in Elizabeth’s honour at an annual memorial service for those in the community who have passed. This is a sure testament of Elizabeth’s legacy as queen and is a fitting practise to remember the trials and triumphs of the life of a woman who was key in shaping Scotland’s history. Scotland’s next queen consort, Joan Plantagenet, faced significant challenges during her marriage to David II of Scotland, which muted her potential political role. Seven-year-old Joan married four-year-old David in July 1328 as a condition of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which sought peace between Scotland and England. Less than a year later in June 1329, David became king at the death of his father, Robert I, but he and Joan were not crowned until November 1331 due to the unsteady political situation in Scotland in the wake of Robert’s death. With warfare soon erupting during the second stage of the Scottish Wars of Independence, Joan and David fled to France for safety. There they were welcomed by Philip VI, spending the next eight years at Château Gaillard. Upon their return to Scotland in 1341, David took control of his government and began to operate a staunchly anti-English approach to ruling. While this was likely a form of pressure from Philip VI after sheltering the couple for so long, it cannot have been popular with Joan and points to her place as an English outsider in the world of Anglo-Scottish warfare. In October 1346, David was captured at the disastrous Battle of Neville’s Cross; he would remain in English captivity for the next 11 years. This left Joan without political or financial protection in Scotland, and she quickly became reliant on her mother for financial support and security. Even her brother, Edward III of England, appears to have shown little interest in the struggles of his youngest sibling.
Forgotten Queens: The Queens Consort of Fourteenth Century Scotland
Robert I and Elizabeth de Burgh. The Forman Armorial, c.1562.

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Forgotten Queens: The Queens Consort of Fourteenth Century Scotland
David II and Joan Plantagenet. The Seton Armorial, c.1591.

Despite growing up together, Joan and David did not have a successful marriage.

This may be evident through their lack of children, although it is thought that David may have been infertile considering that he produced no legitimate or illegitimate children. During his captivity in England, Joan only visited David a handful of times, and only in order to carry out political queenly duties. When David was finally released in 1357, he returned to Scotland with his mistress, Katherine Mortimer, by his side. At this point, it is clear that Joan became estranged from her husband, choosing to remain in England with her mother. Joan died on the 7th September 1362 aged 41 years old, possibly from the Black Death. Her life was fraught with political pressure and difficulties, but it is nevertheless key that her experience be acknowledged and understood. By comparison to Joan, David’s second queen consort – Margaret Drummond – was an impressive and politically active queen with considerable influence over her husband. Her ability to effectively exercise her own authority is likely a result of her being a Scottish noblewoman prior to marrying David, meaning that she had a pre-existing foundational role in Scottish politics – she was not an outsider. Born c.1330, Margaret was a member of the Perthshire family, the Drummonds. During her time as mistress to David, he began to favour the Drummond kindred, upsetting an already tense political situation in Perthshire with his rivals, the Stewarts. When it became clear that David and Margaret were to wed, a brief unsuccessful rebellion was led by the Stewarts and the Douglases. David accepted their submission at a lavish ceremony in May 1363 that also included he and Margaret’s marriage. While this has been interpreted as a defiant message from the king towards his nobles, it may actually have been Margaret’s own doing as a powerful member of the Drummond family. During her time as queen consort Margaret considerably expanded her and her family’s lands and title, and formed her own political alliances with nobles, independently of the king. She also orchestrated the marriage of her niece, Annabella Drummond, to the man second in line to David’s throne – the future Robert III. Moreover, Margaret even influenced David to remove the Earl of Ross from power in a hugely controversial move, and was also complicit in the arrest of Robert Stewart and his son in 1368. By this point, David and Margaret’s marriage was crumbling and the king was already planning to divorce her in order to marry his new mistress. His plan was completely foiled when Margaret herself travelled to Avignon to appeal to the papacy, who supported her claim and blocked the divorce. Even after David’s unexpected death in 1371, Margaret continued to lay claim to her fortune from her queenship until her own death near Marseille c.1375. Margaret’s actions have been criticised by medieval chroniclers and modern-day historians alike for being controlling and demanding. However, this reflects both prejudice and a lack of understanding of the realistic authority of medieval elite women. Queenly political influence was not uncommon, as shall be seen with Margaret’s successors. Overall, Margaret is an underrated example of a medieval noblewoman exercising her own ambition and influence effectively.
Ancestry UK

Robert II became king in March 1371, ushering in the royal Stewart dynasty.

However, his wife – Euphemia Ross – was not crowned queen consort for another two years, and the reason why is key in understanding her political contribution to this period. Thought to have been born in the 1320s, Euphemia hailed from the powerful Earls of Ross, a major family of northern Scotland. After 10 years as a widow, Euphemia married Robert Stewart in 1355 and together they went on to have four children, adding to Robert’s 10 legitimate children by his first partner. Robert’s multitude of sons became a problem when he became king in 1371; question over his line of succession came from his first ‘marriage’ with Elizabeth Mure only being declared legitimate in 1354, long after his eldest sons were born. This cast doubt over the legitimate claims that these sons had to his royal inheritance. This was a situation that Euphemia sought to exploit for the benefit of her own two sons by Robert. The delay to Euphemia’s coronation was likely a result of her challenging the legitimacy of the sons of Robert’s earlier marriage. This was no meagre feat - Robert’s three eldest sons were incredibly ambitious and powerful, and Euphemia’s delayed coronation confirms the gravity of this situation. In April 1373, Parliament passed legislation that confirmed Robert’s sons of his first ‘marriage’ as his heirs over he and Euphemia’s two sons. It was only after this legislation passed that she was finally crowned Queen Consort, demonstrating the strength of her political authority and the genuine threat that she posed to her three authoritative stepsons. Clearly no wallflower, Euphemia was a representative of a powerful northern dynasty, and prioritised the ambitions of her children over her passivity to her husband. Such authority is comparable to the independent actions of Margaret Drummond. Robert II’s long-awaited death in 1390 saw Annabella Drummond become Queen Consort to Robert III of Scotland. Born c.1350, Annabella achieved a royal marriage thanks to the political orchestrating of her kinswoman, Margaret Drummond. Married to John Stewart (the future Robert III) in 1367, the couple would be heirs for nearly twenty years before finally ascending the throne. John and Annabella spent their years as future king and queen struggling with John’s ambitious younger brother, Robert Stewart, Earl of Fife. This included a legal challenge to their inheritance in 1373, and Fife’s appointment as replacement Lieutenant in 1388 after John sustained a serious injury. Despite inheriting the throne in 1390, John’s continuing poor health allowed Fife to hold the reins of power. To challenge this, John (now Robert III) and Annabella worked hard to promote the authority of their heir, David. Annabella was particularly involved with David’s growing position, organising tournaments and political agreements to enable her son’s authority, including his elevation to Duke of Rothesay in 1398. In July 1394, Annabella gave birth to another son, the future James I of Scotland, and in the same year personally conversed with Richard II of England regarding potential marriages for her daughters. Her capability as queen is praised by chroniclers, and her death in 1401 lamented for the effect it had on Scottish politics. Within months of her passing, David was dead, allegedly at the hands of the uncle who had plagued his parents. This shows the extent and importance of Annabella’s role as queen in maintaining political stability and withstanding the ambitions of her husband’s brother. Annabella’s active involvement in politics has been argued to have been a benchmark for her 15th century queenly successors. However, nearly all of the Scottish queens consort of the 14th century wielded some form of political influence. Are we underestimating these women by assuming that they were on the sidelines of this iconic period in Scottish history? It is high time that their status as ‘forgotten’ be elevated to one of importance and inclusion in the modern-day interest of 14th century Scotland.
Forgotten Queens: The Queens Consort of Fourteenth Century Scotland
Robert III and Annabella Drummond. The Forman Armorial, c.1562.
Forgotten Queens: The Queens Consort of Fourteenth Century Scotland

Beth Reid

Beth Reid is an author, historian, and content creator specialising in the history of medieval Scotland and pursuing a mission to make Scottish history more accessible. After completing her undergraduate degree in Scottish history, she went on to achieve a Master of Research in Historical Research, with her research focusing on the lives of elite women in fourteenth-century Scotland. She continues this research in her upcoming book for Pen & Sword, 'Women in the Scottish Wars of Independence'. Beth runs a microblog on Instagram and has written for Hidden Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, The History Corner, and The Historians Magazine.
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