The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir


  Which is my faithful and loving make [mate].

  Which faithfulness ye did ever pretend [maintain],

  And gentleness [noble kindness], as now I see,

  Of me, which was your poor old friend,

  Your loving husband now to be.

  Since ye descend from your degree,

  Take ye this unto your part,

  My faithful, true and loving heart.

  For term of life this gift ye have;

  Thus now adieu, mine own sweet wife,

  From T. H., which nought doth crave

  But you, the stay of all my life.

  And they that would either bait or strive

  To be tied within your loving bands,

  I would they were on Goodwin Sands.6

  The last poem in the sequence, number 48, reveals that Thomas was becoming increasingly aware of the hopelessness of his situation and dwelling morbidly on death. He copied almost word for word lines from Book IV of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, in which Troilus bitterly laments that Criseyde—whom he has loved secretly—has been sent from Troy as part of an exchange of prisoners.7 Thomas evidently saw himself as Troilus, and Margaret at Criseyde, and from the first couplet we might infer that something had happened to make him compare his plight to that of the Trojan hero. Had he been warned that he would never see Margaret again, or that the King would break their precontract and marry her elsewhere, or that she was being sent away from the Tower? Whatever it was, he obviously felt that there was nothing left for him in life but a speedy decline to the grave. It has been suggested that, when Thomas wrote this poem, he believed that he had not long to live and may have intended it as his epitaph,8 but the central theme of the verses is the departure of Criseyde. Troilus could do nothing to help himself, and neither could Thomas. He wrote:

  And now my pen, alas, with which I write,

  Quaketh for dread of that I must indite.

  O very Lord, O love, O God, alas,

  That knowest best mine heart and all my thought,

  What shall my sorrowful life do in this case

  If I forego that I so dear have bought?

  Since ye [blank] and me have fully brought

  Into your grace and both our hearts sealed,

  How may ye suffer, alas, it be repealed?

  Where there are blank spaces in Thomas’s poem, the name Criseyde appears in Chaucer’s original. It was too dangerous for Thomas to substitute “Margaret,” as it could have compromised anyone found with the letters on them.

  What I may do I shall while I may dure

  Alive, in torment and in cruel pain,

  This misfortune or this misadventure

  Alone, as I was born, I will complain.

  Nor never will I see it shine or rain,

  But end I will, as Oedipus [who blinded himself], in darkness,

  My sorrowful life, and so die in distress.

  O weary ghost that errest to and fro,

  Why would thou not fly out of the woefullest

  Body that ever might on ground go?

  O soul, lurking in this woeful nest,

  Fly forth out of my heart and [let] it burst

  And follow always [blank] thy lady dear.

  Thy right place is no longer here.

  O ye lovers that high upon the wheel

  Been set of fortune, in good adventure,

  God grant that ye find aye love of steel

  And long may your life in joy endure.

  But when you come by my sepulchre,

  Remember that your fellow resteth there,

  For I loved eke [also], though I unworthy were.

  Poem 70, signed by “T. H.,” seems also to have been written in the Tower:

  This rooted grief will not but grow,

  To wither away is not its kind;

  My tears of sorrow full well I know,

  Which, will I leave, will not from mind.

  There are poems in Margaret’s hand in the Devonshire Manuscript that are not of this sequence but may well have been composed in the Tower and copied down later. Poem 869 is one of them:

  My heart is set not [to] remove,

  For whereas I love faithfully,

  I know he will not slack his love,

  Nor never change his fantasy.

  In the next verse she reveals that she has done nothing to compromise her reputation, which is in keeping with Chapuys’s statement that the couple had never had sex, and one made in a poem by Thomas that their intent was to marry.

  I have delight him for to please

  In all that toucheth honesty;

  Who feeleth grief so it him ease

  Pleaseth doth well my fantasy.

  And though that I be banished him fro,’

  His speech, his sight and company,

  Yet will I, in spite of his foe,

  Him love and keep my fantasy.

  Do what they will, and do their worst,

  For all they do is vanity,

  For asunder my heart shall burst

  Surer than change my fantasy.

  The same defiance permeates poem 66:

  And this be this ye may

  Assure yourself of me,

  Nothing shall make me to deny

  That I have promised thee.

  In poem 61, however, there is a sense of resignation, perhaps born of the corrosive effect of trying in vain to hold out any longer against the powerful forces that were keeping her and Thomas apart:

  There is no cure for care of mind

  But to forget, which cannot be.

  I cannot sail against the wind,

  Nor help the thing past remedy.

  If any such adversity

  Do trouble other with suchlike smart,

  This shall I say for charity:

  I pray God help every woeful heart.10

  Sir Francis Bigod was the son of John Bigod of Settrington, Yorkshire, a place with which Margaret would later be closely associated. Brought up in Cardinal Wolsey’s household,11 Bigod, the son of a staunchly Catholic family, had early on become a secret Lutheran, and on Wolsey’s fall he had become friends with Thomas Cromwell and supported the King’s religious reforms. In the largely Catholic north, where his estates lay, he was unpopular due to his involvement in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and when the northern rising called the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in October 1536, he was captured by the rebels, whose aim was to restore the old faith. Bigod was unwise enough publicly to agree with them that “the head of the Church of England might be a spiritual man, as the Archbishop of Canterbury or such, but in no wise the King.” The rising was suppressed, but early in 1537, rightly fearing that the King’s promise of pardons for the rebels—with whom he was now numbered—was not to be trusted, Bigod raised the East Riding of Yorkshire. However, he could command no support and was forced to flee. He was arrested on February 10 and taken to Carlisle, where he was examined by the Duke of Norfolk before being escorted south and committed to the Tower on March 13.

  Here he made a deposition, and in it some strange assertions about Cromwell’s involvement with Margaret and Thomas Howard. He stated that in their council at York, the rebels concluded that Cromwell might be condemned for heresy for procuring the Act of Attainder of Thomas Howard for precontracting himself to Margaret Douglas, for the King had already “given” her to Cromwell in marriage. They asserted also that the Act of Succession had been passed in order that, if the King died before him, Cromwell would inherit the crown. Cromwell’s action was “determined to be heresy” because it was “against the laws of God.”12

  Bigod further asserted, in a letter to Cromwell himself, that Cromwell had procured the Act of Attainder because he wanted to “have had the Lady Margaret himself.” He claimed that this could be confirmed by Thomas, Lord Wentworth, who had helped to suppress the rebellion, and had said at dinner in Malton Abbey, “It is reckoned surely that Lord Cromwell hath caused this statute to be made because he would himself have had her to
his wife.” One of the rebels’ chief fears had been that the King, for lack of other heirs of his body, would name Cromwell his successor; it seems they believed that Cromwell had schemed to marry Margaret to this end, and had maneuvered Lord Thomas out of the way.13

  Norfolk, who despised Cromwell as a self-made man, was no doubt gratified to be able to send Bigod’s confession to London. The scandals of the previous summer had impacted on his own credit with the King, and he had struggled to reinstate himself in the royal favor. At the same time Cromwell had gained ascendancy, so it must have pleased Norfolk to have been able to report that Cromwell was thought to have aspired to Margaret’s hand in order to claim the throne.14 It was the exact accusation that had been leveled at Norfolk’s brother. Of course, there was no corroborative evidence, and almost certainly no truth in the accusations, or in an earlier rumor spread among the rebels that Cromwell had aspired to marry the Lady Mary,15 but Norfolk may have hoped that his letter was sufficient to plant a seed of suspicion in the King’s fertile mind. It did not, and Bigod was found guilty of treason and executed in June.

  —

  Queen Margaret had evidently been pressing Cromwell to intercede for Margaret and urge that she be released into her own charge. “If this is done,” she assured him, “I will answer that my daughter shall never trouble my brother more.”16 In May 1537, Cromwell informed her that, further to her “sundry letters,” he had “travailed with the King, who has of himself been glad to promote her quiet and commodity as the bearer will show.”17 The bearer probably carried news that Queen Jane was pregnant, and perhaps the assurance that, if she bore a prince, Margaret would be released; or that she would at least be treated more leniently.18

  James V had never forgotten how Angus and the Douglases had wielded power during his minority, or forgiven them for defying him. Angus, his brother, George, and his cousin, Kilspindie, had remained in exile out of James’s reach, and he had forbidden them to return to Scotland. The King’s resentment had festered, and now, thwarted of executing sentence on the greater offenders, he exacted a terrible vengeance on Angus’s sister, Margaret’s aunt, Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis. She was accused of attempting treasonably to communicate with her brothers, but she failed to respond to the summons and her estates were confiscated. James then had her tried for conspiring against his life. Found guilty of witchcraft, without any substantial proof, she was burned at the stake on Castle Hill in Edinburgh on July 17, 1537, her sixteen-year-old son being spared the same fate but forced to watch. News of this dreadful event must have reached Margaret in the Tower, and chilled her to her soul, for she too had been accused of treason. Angus would soon have his revenge by going north and joining the English in hostile forays over the Scottish border, attacks that did not achieve much but were effective in terms of nuisance value.

  Soon, however, Margaret would have cause to say: “And though Fortune did against my bliss grudge, yet Hope at the last her hate did restrain, and to the King’s favour did bring me again.”19 On October 12, 1537, after a long and difficult labor, Jane Seymour presented Henry with the son he had desired for so long, who was named Edward. His birth meant that Margaret was no longer in the perilous position of being Henry’s heir presumptive.20 With her political and dynastic importance diminished, she had ceased to pose a threat to the Crown and was immediately “pardoned by the King and set again at her liberty.”21 Long afterward, she would remember the relief of that moment: “My fault he remitted and took me to grace; my bondage was past, my hope [of] freedom won.”22

  It is clear from the account of Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald, that she was released between mid-October and Jane Seymour’s funeral on November 12. The news had reached Perth—a journey of at least a week—by October 30, when Margaret Tudor wrote a letter saying that she had learned of her daughter being set at liberty, and “that it was a comfort to hear that she was out of the Tower.”23

  Margaret Tudor might not have felt such relief had she known that, while still in the Tower, both Margaret and Thomas Howard had fallen ill. Thomas was suffering from “an ague,” or fever,24 possibly typhoid,25 and Margaret probably had the same complaint, as she was very weak for a long time afterward. While in the Tower she had been prescribed medicines by Thomas Aske, the King’s own apothecary.26

  It has been stated that Thomas was held in “atrocious conditions,”27 but as we have seen, prisoners of noble birth, whose families could afford it, were usually lodged in relative comfort in the Tower and allowed servants and food sent in. It has also been suggested that Margaret’s sufferings “told fearfully upon a frame unused to hardship,”28 yet they were almost certainly not due to her being kept in grim circumstances. But suffer she did, on account of her lost love, and stress and misery would have undermined her health still further. Margaret and Thomas had been prisoners for well over a year, and had their accommodation been insanitary they would surely have been afflicted with illness before now. If Thomas were still suffering the malaise in spirits evident in the Troilus poem, he might have been more predisposed to infections.

  His condition worsened. Thomas Aske supplied “certain medicines,” which were administered by Dr. Walter Cromer, one of the King’s own doctors, “and other physicians, and by the apothecary employed for the relief and conservation of the health of ye Lady Margaret Douglas during the time of her being in the Tower of London, and also since the same.” The King paid out the substantial sum of £14:0s.4d. (£4,310) for these costly medicines,29 which suggests that there were fears for Margaret’s health, and that her illness was of some duration.

  In Thomas’s case, the unexpected generosity of the King and the efforts of the doctors proved in vain. On November 3, Sir John Wallop informed Lord Lisle that “my Lord Thomas died in the Tower four days ago of an ague.”30 The date of his death, October 31, is confirmed by Charles Wriothesley: “This year, on All Hallows’ Even, the Lord Thomas Howard died in prison in the Tower of London.”31 An old tradition asserted that he had been poisoned,32 although there is no evidence for that, and it was also believed that he had expired of a broken heart. Later, his nephew, the poet Earl of Surrey, wrote:

  For…it is not long ago

  Sith that, for love, one of the [Howard] race did end his life in woe.

  In Tower both strong and high, for his assured truth,

  Whereas in tears he spent his breath, alas! The more the ruth.

  This gentle beast so died, whom nothing could remove,

  But willingly to lose his life for loss of his true love.33

  Thomas Cromwell instructed Queen Jane’s brother, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, to inform Henry VIII of Howard’s passing. Hertford responded: “My lord, I have showed the King’s Highness of my Lord Thomas’s death, as Master [Thomas] Wriothesley desired me, as also my lady his mother’s request for the burying of him. His Grace is content that she hath him, according to your advice, so that she bury him without pomp.”34 “His body was carried to Thetford in Norfolk, and there buried”35 alongside Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, in the priory founded by Thomas’s Howard forefathers, several of whom lay interred there.36

  Margaret, “that had lyen in prison in the Tower of London for love between him and her,” took the news of Thomas’s death “very heavily.”37 Although she had assured Cromwell in August 1536 that she no longer had any fancy for Thomas Howard, there is evidence in poem 175, in her own handwriting, in the Devonshire Manuscript showing that she was still devastated by his death a year later. This is borne out by her later remembrance: “His death with my tears I did often lament,” and “when of my lord I considered the case, and how, for my love, his life was undone, I wept [for] the young wight, that for my love his life did in bonds pay, and yielded his corpse to another in clay.”38

  There is no record of where Margaret stayed immediately after her release from the Tower, but her illness was still giving cause for concern, for in November the King ordered Cromwell to arrange for her to be moved to the healthier
environment of Syon Abbey, where she could be entrusted to the care of the Abbess, Agnes Jordan.

  It has often been said that Margaret was placed under house arrest at Syon, but she had already been pardoned and set at liberty, so she was actually sent there only to rest and recuperate. It was evidently a long process, as she was still being treated the following Easter.

  On November 6 the Abbess wrote to Cromwell assuring him that, “according to the will and pleasure of our liege lord and most gracious sovereign and prince, signified unto us by your lordship’s letters, as touching the Lady Margaret Douglas, I shall be ready and glad to receive her to such lodgings, walks and commodities as may be to her comfort, and our Prince’s pleasure, in our precinct. And what service and pleasure shall be in us to do unto her we shall be ever ready to do, with all our powers. Yet would I require of your good lordship that some person such as you trust may come and see such lodgings and walks as be with us, and to judge which be most convenient.”39 Wisely the Abbess wanted official approval of what Syon had to offer in comfort and security for her delicate charge. All was evidently in order, and on November 24, 1537, one George Hartwell was paid 11s. (£170) “for the conveying of my Lady Margaret to Syon by barge.”40

  Syon stood on the shore of the Thames at Isleworth, Middlesex, and was at that time one of the ten wealthiest abbeys in England. It had been founded by Henry V in 1415, and archaeological surveys suggest that it was almost as large as Salisbury Cathedral.41 Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Bridget of Sweden, it had been built between 1426 and 1431, and was named after Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It housed sixty sisters as well as priests, deacons and lay brothers, all under the rule of an abbess.

  There were thirty acres of orchards and gardens in which the convalescent Margaret could take the air, and the ancient mulberry trees under which she may have taken her walks were still be to seen there in the nineteenth century.42 Most important, she could benefit from the ethos of Syon Abbey, which was renowned for its piety and learning, its extensive library of over fourteen hundred books and manuscripts, and its preaching. Katherine of Aragon had come here seeking spiritual solace, and thereafter Syon had been associated with opposition to the Reformation. Richard Reynolds, its confessor general, had been put to death in 1535 for opposing the royal supremacy. It would not be long before the abbey was dissolved in the wake of many others in England, but for now, Margaret’s life was to be ruled by the bells of the great conventual church calling the community to the divine offices seven times a day.43

 
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