A few days ago, on 4th September 2017 to be exact, the Queen opened the #3 crossing of the River Forth, at Queensferry. The date was chosen, I assume, because it was 53 years to the day since she had opened the #2 crossing, the original Forth Road Bridge, back in 1964 (shown below with the Queensferry Crossing beyond).
The Queen did not, of course, open the original Forth Bridge; that was done by her great-grandfather, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1890.
Forth Bridges come in threes
So now there are three bridges across the Forth: the iconic 19th century Forth Bridge, in all its red oxide glory, carrying trains; the 20th century Forth Road Bridge, carrying far too many cars and lorries for its own good: and the 21st century Queensferry Crossing, designed to take much of the load from the 20th century bridge. Utilitarian, perhaps, but in the early morning light, taken all three together, they look ethereal to me (even though the 20th century Forth Road bridge, in the middle, is almost invisible).
Queensferry crossing — but which queen?
There are two Queensferries, one on each side of the River Forth, aptly (though not very imaginatively) named. South Queensferry is on the Edinburgh side and North Queensferry is on the Fife side.
They are indeed named after a queen, but not one that many outside of Scotland have heard of. She was Margaret (later Saint Margaret), an English princess of the house of Wessex. Her brother was that Edgar Ætheling who was proclaimed King of England in 1066 after the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Edgar didn’t last long and was never crowned. He soon lost out to William’s superior military might and eventually fled to Scotland along with his mother and sisters.
In Scotland, Margaret married the King of Scots, Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore) in 1070. She’s shown here in a window in Edinburgh Castle’s St Margaret’s chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
Margaret was extremely pious and, among many charitable works, she established the ferry across the Firth of Forth for pilgrims travelling to St Andrews in Fife. The settlements at the north and south ends of the crossing were named after her.
Three of Margaret’s sons followed one another as King of Scots. Depending on how you count, it’s possible to argue there were four. Her daughter Eadgyth (also called Matilda) was the first wife of Henry I of England, possibly chosen because she brought him Anglo-Saxon legitimacy that he, as a Norman and son of the bastard William of Normandy, lacked. Eadgyth’s grandson was Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings of England so Saint Margaret’s line had influence on both sides of the border. She died in 1093 and was canonized more than a century later, in 1250.
Naming the new Forth bridge
The new bridge was named after a public poll. Voters had 5 choices, two of which harked back to Queen Margaret:
St Margaret’s Crossing
the Firth of Forth Crossing
[There was no option of the Boaty McBoatface variety!}
Picture credit: bigthink.com
St Margaret didn’t win in her own right. But the crossing points named after her did. The largest number of votes went to Queensferry Crossing, so that is the name it was given.
Building the Forth bridges
Bridges can be magical and these add to the heritage that we Scots are so proud of. The 19th century bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and encapsulates much of the engineering prowess that we used to boast about. The same can be said of the 20th century road bridge, designed and built by British engineers and craftsmen.
So I was saddened to learn that the 21st century bridge, for all its dancing beauty, has very little British (or Scottish) input. Its main designers were American, Danish, Dutch, Swedish and German. The main contractors were American, German and Spanish. And the materials came from China (steel), Germany (concrete) and Switzerland (cable stays). So much for Britain’s great industrial heritage?
I am ashamed to say I knew nothing of Margaret or Eadgyth, so thank you for this.
You’re welcome, Lesley. I have a half-written book set in that period which is why I’ve done some of the research.
Henry I, who married Eadgyth/Matilda, had “interesting” ideas about kingship. He believed that he was more royal than his elder brothers William Rufus and Robert Curthose because he (Henry) had been born in the purple, after his father became king. There’s a wonderful word for that: porphyrogeniture 😉 That may be part of the reason why he didn’t marry until after he had become king in 1100. But he was quick about it after that, marrying Eadgyth/Matilda the same year. And of course it was his naming of their daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his successor to the throne of England that led to the Anarchy from 1135-1153.
Fascinating bit of history. I know more of Henry II from The Lion in Winter and books on Eleanor of Aquitaine, but this earlier piece is new to me. I love this kind of tidbit, though. It makes history come alive, so thank you.
Glad you enjoyed it, Liz. Yes, a lot of people know about Henry II and about his sons, especially Richard the Lionheart and John, but Henry I doesn’t get much airtime. I think the closest we get is the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters (and TV series) that are set in the Anarchy after Henry’s death and the tussle for the throne between his nephew King Stephen and his daughter, Empress Matilda.
Henry II (son of Empress Matilda and grandson of Henry I) was a fascinating character though, astonishingly driven, and able to hold together a huge empire in the days when all travel was by sail or on horseback.
There’s a splendid biography of Empress Matilda by Marjorie Chibnall which I can recommend.
So enjoyed this, Joanna. I remember reading a novel published in the 30s some time (navy blue, cloth binding) which had somehow found itself on the bookshelves of my primary school and I was 8 or 9. It was about Henry I – in disguise, or at least not acknowledging that he was king – coming across Eadgyth in her convent and wooing her. It was so compelling that I smuggled it out of school so I could finish it at home – and I was normally the most puritanical, not to say terrified, of good girls. But the romance simply wouldn’t be gainsaid.
Fascinating, Sophie. I wonder who wrote it?
I think there was some controversy over whether Eadgyth had taken vows as a nun. She denied it, vehemently, and so the marriage went ahead. They had two children but their son died in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120 which precipitated the business over nominating the daughter Matilda as Henry’s successor. By that time, Henry had married a second time, but had no children by his second wife. He was a randy old goat, of course, and had loads of illegitimate children but times had moved on since William the Bastard became king and so Henry wouldn’t/couldn’t nominate any of his illegitimate sons to follow him.
Fascinating piece of history, thanks Joanna. Off to share…
Thank you, Rae. Glad you enjoyed it. I wouldn’t have liked to live in 1100 — life was definitely nasty, brutish and short — but I do enjoy reading and researching that period.