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

  In 1537 Margaret was included in a list of payments made by Sir Thomas Heneage, Groom of the Stool, to all those “at your Majesty’s wages, exhibition and finding.” She was receiving £40 (£12,300) a year for her clothes and those of her servants.44 Cromwell’s “remembrances” for April 1538 include a note to settle her charges at Syon,45 which indicates that she had left the abbey. We do not know where she went to live, but it has been suggested that it was with her old friend the Lady Mary.46

  At Easter 1538, which fell on April 21, and at midsummer, the King paid the wages of Margaret’s servants and gentlewomen, totaling £24:7s.101/4d. (£7,500). He also outlaid £20 (£6,150) for “Lady Margaret Douglas, to the hands of Dr. Cromer, for preparations against Easter.” The large sum paid to Dr. Cromer suggests that Margaret had been in poor health during her time at Syon, and had perhaps not yet recovered from her illness and grief of the previous autumn. Another sum of £20 was a “reward, by her to be employed about her necessaries.”47 In June 1538 Margaret was at Beaulieu, where the Lady Mary repaid her 20s. (£310) that she had loaned her,48 and on July 16, Henry paid out for clothing for Margaret.49

  It may have been in this period, when perhaps the Devonshire Manuscript had been returned to her after Thomas’s death,50 that Margaret, reflecting on her doomed affair with Thomas Howard, transcribed the poems she had composed in the Tower, and wrote in her own hand the word “Amen” after poem 7:

  I have loved and so doth she,

  And yet in love we suffer still;

  The cause is strange, as seemeth me,

  To love so well and want our will.

  O deadly yea! O grievous smart!

  Worse than refuse, unhappy gain,

  I love! Whoever played this part

  To love so well and live in pain?

  Was ever heart so well agreed,

  Since love was love, as I do trow,

  That in their love so evil did speed

  To love so well and live in woe?

  This mourn we both and hath done long

  With woeful plaint and careful voice.

  Alas, alas, it is a grievous wrong

  To love so well and not rejoice.

  And here an end of all our moan.

  With sighing oft my breath is scant

  Since, of mishap, ours is alone

  To love so well, and it to want.

  But they that causer is of this,

  Of all our cares, God send them part,

  That they may know what grief it is

  To love so well and live in smart. Amen.

  Poem 83, less defiant, may also belong to this period:

  When I bethink my wonted ways,

  How I ere this have spent my time,

  And see how now my joy decays

  And from my wealth how I decline,

  Believe, my friends, that such affrays

  Doth cause me plain [pain?] not of the spleen,

  But mourn I may those weary days

  That are appointed to be mine.

  Mary Shelton may have been with Margaret at this time, as Mary wrote another, similar version of poem 83 (poem 87). It was perhaps in response to this that Margaret wrote poem 88:

  Lo, in thy haste thou hast begun

  To rage and rail and reckon how,

  And in thy rage forthwith to run

  Further than reason can allow.

  But let them leave that list to bow [in defeat],

  Or with thy words may so be won,

  For, as for me, I dare avow

  To do again as I have done.

  These were no empty words, in view of what would happen three years hence, when Margaret became entangled with another of the Howards.


  “Beware the Third Time”

  On July 19, 1538, a correspondent of Lady Lisle informed her that he had “heard say that my lord of Wiltshire will marry Lady Margaret Douglas.”1 The Earl of Wiltshire was Thomas Boleyn, father of the late Queen Anne; for colluding in his daughter’s fall he had never lost the King’s favor. He was now sixty-one to Margaret’s twenty-two, and had been a widower for only three months, yet such considerations weighed little against the advantages to be gained from an arranged marriage. What benefit could have accrued to the King from bestowing his highly eligible niece on Wiltshire is doubtful, although for an ambitious earl anxious to recover his former high status at court she would have been a great prize. But we hear no more of this marriage, so talk of it was probably mere gossip.

  In the summer of 1538 there had been some discussion about the Lady Mary marrying Cosimo de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, but by late September, Henry VIII was negotiating for her to wed the Infante Don Luis of Portugal.2 Sir Thomas Wyatt, then on an embassy to Spain, suggested to a Florentine agent, Giovanni Bandino, that Duke Cosimo should still look to England for a bride, and choose from two beauties: either Margaret Douglas, whom his King loved as a daughter, or the Duchess of Richmond, the one being no less beautiful than the other. But Bandino was noncommittal.3

  Henry VIII was thinking seriously along the same lines. On October 16 the Emperor Charles V was informed that “the King will not stick for pure kindness to bestow his daughter Elizabeth, his niece Lady Margaret and therewith the Duchess of Richmond, by the Emperor’s advice, upon such of the princes of Italy meet to be retained in alliance for the conservation of Milan”—which had been conquered by the Emperor in 1525—“and for the defense of Naples and Sicily, as shall be thought convenient.”4

  It is often thought that Margaret had composed poem 175 in the Devonshire Manuscript immediately after Thomas Howard’s death, and it is clear that she wrote it—it is in her hand—when she was suffering great distress of mind. Yet evidence in the poem suggests that it was actually written a year after Thomas’s death, in the wake of Margaret learning that the King was thinking of marrying her to an Italian prince. It shows that she would rather have died and been reunited with her lover, for whose death she had come to believe herself responsible, and reveals that she was still languishing for him and expected to follow him to the grave very shortly. Indeed, she felt herself to be in such extremity that she had summoned her father, Angus, then still at the English court, to visit her, likewise her friends.

  Now that ye be assembled here,

  All ye my friends at my request,

  Specially you, my father dear,

  That of my blood are the nearest,

  This unto you is my request,

  That ye will patiently hear

  By these my last words expressed,

  My testament entire.

  And think not to interrupt me

  For suchwise provided have I

  That though ye willed it will not be.

  She had resolved to die, and they could not stop her. Her wording in the next verse suggests that she had read Surrey’s poem on the death of Thomas Howard in the “Tower strong and high”:

  This tower ye see is strong and high,

  And the doors fast barred have I

  That no wight my purpose let [prevent] should.

  For to be queen of all Italy

  Not one day longer live I would.

  Wherefore, sweet father, I you pray,

  Bear this my death with patience,

  And torment not your hairs grey

  But freely pardon mine offence

  Since it proceedeth of lover’s fervence

  And of my heart’s constancy.

  Let [forbid] me not from the sweet presence

  Of him that I have caused to die.

  It is the reference to Italy that places the poem in October 1538. We do not know where Margaret was living at this time, but certainly she had the freedom to lock her door, which she would not have had in the Tower. Her reference to the “tower…strong and high” could have referred to any tower—many great houses, castles and palaces were built with them—and not necessarily to the Tower of London.

  The marriage plans—which Henry clearly took seriou
sly, as the dispatch sent on October 16 is heavily edited in his own hand5—came to nothing, and Margaret lived to love another day.6 In the late 1530s she was back in London and a frequent guest of Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford, the wife of Jane Seymour’s brother, Edward, at Beauchamp Place.7


  Henry VIII had mourned Jane Seymour sincerely, but that did not prevent him from “framing his mind” to a fourth marriage for the good of his realm. It was two years, however, before a suitable bride was found in the person of Anne of Cleves, a German princess who, at twenty-four, was the same age as Margaret Douglas. By now Henry was no great catch for any bride: the golden youth, the splendid man, had been superseded by a prematurely aged, progressively immobile invalid with a girth of fifty-four inches and an increasingly maudlin, sanctimonious and tyrannical nature.

  The Queen’s household had now to be reestablished, with the King reserving the senior positions for his female relations and the great ladies of the court. In November 1539, Margaret was appointed chief of the six “great ladies of the household.”8 The great ladies serving under her were Mary Howard, Dowager Duchess of Richmond; her friend from Westhorpe, Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, whom the Duke had married after Mary Tudor’s death; Mary Arundell, Countess of Sussex; Lady William Howard; and Elizabeth Blount, now Lady Clinton, the King’s former mistress and mother of Henry Fitzroy. Among the ladies of the Queen’s privy chamber were Eleanor Paston, Countess of Rutland, who had served with Margaret in the households of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour; and Jane Parker, Lady Rochford,9 widow of Anne Boleyn’s brother George. She had testified to the incestuous relations between her husband and his sister and helped to bring them to ruin. Margaret and twenty-nine other ladies and maids-of-honor now prepared to accompany the Queen’s chief officers to welcome their new mistress at Dartford. “Doing her due reverence,” they were to be presented to her by Archbishop Cranmer, and “so wait upon her till she approach the King’s presence” at an official reception at Blackheath.10

  Delayed by bad weather, Anne of Cleves did not arrive in England until late December, when an impatient Henry, who had been entranced by Holbein’s portrait of her, rode down to Rochester to receive her and “nourish love.” Alas, she was not as comely as he had expected—the full-face portrait did not reveal her long nose—and he was disgusted by the “evil smells” about her person. In a fury, the King stormed back to court, feeling most hard-done-by and declaring that he liked her not.

  Margaret and the rest of the new Queen’s household had been spending Christmas at Greenwich, awaiting the arrival of their mistress. On New Year’s Day 1540, Margaret was among the long list of courtiers who received a gift from the King: She got 1 mark, or 13s.4d. (about £200). The Lady Mary gave 7s.6d. (£120) each to Margaret’s chaplain, Charles, and her servant, Harvey.11

  In January 1540, Margaret is listed among those who had been assigned “double lodgings” in the Inner, Second and Outer Courts at Hampton Court Palace. “In the first is the Princess’s lodging, and there are lodgings of Mr. Heneage, Mr. [Anthony] Denny, Lady Margaret, Lady Mary,” and, among others, Cromwell.12 The Inner Court is the present Clock Court.13 Where the colonnade now stands in Clock Court, there was a range of lodgings built by Henry VIII between 1537 and 1547 and housing new second-floor apartments for the Lady Mary at the west end, extending into the Outer, or Base, Court. The ladies of the Queen’s household were lodged on the ground floor of the wing leading from that range to what is now called Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, which at the time of writing houses Apartment 36, used as a palace shop. Margaret’s lodging must have been in this range, possibly where the shop is, as that was then a large double lodging.14

  Double courtier lodgings—the most sought-after—consisted of two rooms and a privy, with molded Gothic mullioned windows and plastered walls that could be adorned with hangings. The floors were spread with rush matting.15 Those like Margaret who were lucky enough to be assigned such privileged accommodation could bring their own furnishings but had to share the limited space with personal servants. No doubt Margaret was pleased to be lodged on the floor below the apartments of her good friend, the Lady Mary.


  Desperate efforts were being made to find a loophole in the royal marriage contract as the magnificent formal reception of Anne of Cleves went ahead on January 3, 1540, at Blackheath. In a fine pavilion erected at the foot of Shooter’s Hill, Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland and Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, was waiting to receive her; then “the Lady Margaret Douglas, the Lady Marquess Dorset, being nieces to the King, and the Duchess of Richmond, and the Countesses of Rutland and Hertford, with divers other ladies and gentlewomen to the number of sixty-five, saluted and welcomed her Grace.” Anne of Cleves alighted from her chariot “and with most goodly demeanor and loving countenance gave to them hearty thanks and kissed them all,” then led them into the tents to warm themselves.16 The King played his part to perfection, showing his bride every courtesy. But Margaret, like her uncle, may have been dismayed to find that Anne, who was her own age, looked “about thirty years old” and was “tall of stature, pitted with the smallpox,” and had “little beauty,” not to mention a “firm and determined” countenance.17

  Henry VIII did his best to avoid proceeding with the marriage, but the contract seemed watertight, so he was obliged to put his neck into the yoke, as he sourly put it. The wedding went ahead on January 6, and afterward he instructed his doctors to make it known that, while impotent with his new Queen, he was able to perform the sex act with other ladies. Margaret must have heard the rumors, and the gossip that Anne remained a virgin.

  Unlike Anne Boleyn, this Queen did not lead or instigate court entertainments; in fact she led a retired life while the King, unknown to her, desperately cast about for ways to end their marriage. During these fraught months one of Margaret’s pastimes was gambling with the Lady Mary, who in April 1540 paid her £4 (£1,230) for “a frontlet”—a decorative band inset in a gable hood—she had “lost in a wager to my Lady Margaret.”18

  After six months the royal marriage was annulled and Anne, richer by a very handsome settlement, remained in England as the King’s “dear sister.” By then, Henry had fallen for the charms of pretty Katherine Howard, a young cousin of Anne Boleyn and niece of the Duke of Norfolk. On July 28, 1540—the same day that Cromwell was executed for heresy (although his true offense had been to push the Cleves marriage)—the King married her at Oatlands Palace, Surrey. In August, when the new Queen’s household was formed, Margaret, and Katherine’s step-grandmother, Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, were summoned to head it jointly as chief ladies of the privy chamber.19 With them went the Duchesses of Richmond and Suffolk and the Countess of Sussex. On August 22, 1540, Edmund Peckham, the King’s cofferer, raised with the Privy Council “matters touching the lodging of the muleteers of the carriage and Lady Margaret’s stuff” to the court from Reading, where she had been staying in the former abbey, the remains of which were now used as a royal palace.20

  That year Margaret and three other ladies of the Queen’s household received 13s.4d. (£205) each from the King.21 An inventory of Katherine Howard’s jewels reveals that she gave a pair of beads with pillars (tubular pendant attachments) to Margaret as a New Year’s gift.22 The inventory of the King’s jewels taken on April 24, 1542, lists “all kinds of silks and divers other kinds” that had been delivered to the King, the Queen, the Prince, the Ladies Mary and Elizabeth, Lady Margaret Douglas and others.23


  Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, the former governess to Margaret and the Lady Mary, was now a prisoner in the Tower of London. A descendant of the Plantagenets, with the royal blood of the House of York in her veins, and a devout Roman Catholic, she had made no secret of her loyalty to the late Queen Katherine of Aragon and the Lady Mary. She was already regarded with suspicion when, in 1536, her son, Reginald Pole, then safely in Italy and pursuing a career in the Church, had written a treatise c
astigating Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, which so damned him in the King’s eyes that Pole could never return to England while Henry lived.

  Henry had resolved to destroy Pole’s family. In 1538 it was made out that they and their friends had plotted to kill the King, and Margaret’s eldest son, Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, and his cousin, the Marquess of Exeter, were arrested and sent to the block. There was a roundup of their relations, and even the children were imprisoned in the Tower.

  During a search of Margaret Pole’s castle at Warblington, Hampshire, a silk tunic had been found bearing the royal arms—undifferenced, as they would be borne by a monarch. Margaret denied that she had ever meant to dispute the right of Henry VIII to the throne, but in March 1539 she too had been taken to the Tower, and condemned by an Act of Attainder to lose her life and possessions. The King seized her lands, and she lay in the Tower for two years, in grim conditions, until the spring of 1541, when there was a revolt in Yorkshire against Henry’s rule. The King, as ever, feared a plot to depose him and place someone else on the throne. He remembered that Margaret Pole still lived. She had had nothing to do with the revolt, but he chose to see her as a threat to his safety and ordered that the death sentence be carried out. On the morning of May 28, 1541, the Countess was woken by the Constable of the Tower and told she was to die that morning. Her end was bloody, for the public executioner was a hangman and unskilled at chopping off heads. Faced with this great lady, he panicked and hacked at her head, neck and shoulders until she was dead.24

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