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

  The cruel end of Margaret Pole, whom she knew well, must have shaken Margaret, as it did many people, but that summer and autumn she would have been diverted by accompanying the Queen when Henry VIII made a great progress to Grafton, Doncaster, York—where they stayed at the King’s Manor—Pontefract, and Lincoln, lodging at the Bishop’s Palace. Henry’s objectives were to meet his nephew, Margaret’s half brother, James V, and receive the submission of the north after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Queen Katherine was attended by four ladies: Margaret, the Duchess of Richmond, Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald—the poet Surrey’s “Fair Geraldine”—and Lady Rochford.25

  It was during this progress that Margaret received the sad news that on October 18, Margaret Tudor, the mother whom she had not seen for at least thirteen years, had died at Methven Castle. The late Queen was fifty-two, and there is little evidence to suggest that she and her daughter had been close. It seems clear that she had always preferred her son, James V, although she had been distressed by Margaret’s fall from grace in 1536, and done her best to save her from Henry VIII’s wrath. Yet there are no surviving letters or documents to show that mother and daughter had been in regular contact.

  As soon as the news reached the court, the Privy Council sent orders to Henry Ray, Berwick Pursuivant, to go to Scotland “to inquire of the death of the Queen, and whether she died intestate.” He reported: “She took a palsy [a stroke] upon the Friday before night, at Methven, and died on the Tuesday following before night, but, as she doubted no danger of death, omitted to make her will until past remembrance for that purpose. She sent to Falkland for the King, her son, who came not till after she was departed. Seeing death approach, she desired the friars, her confessors, on their knees, to beseech the King to be gracious to the Earl of Angus, and asked God mercy that she had so offended the Earl.”26 Her thoughts were with her younger child, and she desired “her solicitors to solicit from the King her son, from her, to be good unto the Lady Margaret Douglas, her daughter, and that she might have of her goods, thinking it most convenient for her, forasmuch as she never had no thing of her before.”

  But “the same day, after her decease, the King came to Methven and commanded Oliver Sinclair and John Tenant, of his Privy Chamber, to lock up her goods to his use. She left in money but 2,500 marks Scots.”27 Queen Margaret was buried in the Charterhouse at Perth. Her widower, Henry Stewart, who had been created Lord Methven, outlived her till 1552. Margaret was surely moved to hear that her mother’s last thoughts had been of her, and that she had wished to make up for her neglect, but she never did receive her bequest: Ignoring their mother’s wishes, James V appropriated her goods and gave her jewels to his new Queen, Marie de Guise.28

  James failed to rendezvous with Henry at York, for he did not trust him. Margaret may have entertained some curiosity at the prospect of being reunited with the half brother she had last seen in childhood, but any disappointment she felt was probably negligible compared with the sense of betrayal that struck her uncle the King, who was furious at James’s perfidy. He would have been even more furious had he known of another betrayal that was going on almost under his very nose, for during this progress Queen Katherine—whose upbringing had left a lot to be desired—was rashly carrying on a secret affair with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the privy chamber, with the connivance of Lady Rochford. And she was not the only one who was indulging in a clandestine liaison.


  Margaret had failed to learn a lesson from the terrible fate of Margaret Pole, or from the tragic consequences of her earlier involvement with Thomas Howard. In November 1541, after the court had returned to Hampton Court, she became involved in yet another scandal that coincided with the fall of a queen. On November 10, Chapuys informed Queen Mary of Hungary that Charles Howard, the Queen’s brother, one of Henry VIII’s gentlemen, had been “forbidden the King’s chamber.”29 Charles Howard was the grandson of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk and nephew to Margaret’s late betrothed, Lord Thomas Howard. Little is known of him, save that until now he had been in good favor with the King, who on March 8 had granted him Hurley Priory, Hampshire, the manors of Hurley and Easthampstead, with rectories, tithes and fishing rights, and a license to import French wines and dyes.30

  Charles’s disgrace coincided with the major tragedy that was overtaking Henry VIII. Some days earlier, the King had been shown proofs that Katherine Howard had been guilty of misconduct before their marriage; and soon there would be evidence that she had probably committed adultery after it. Following a grueling interrogation at Hampton Court, during which she admitted the misconduct but denied the adultery, Katherine and the Howard family were poised for a fall. Yet Charles Howard was not forbidden the King’s chamber on account of that. His offense had been to involve himself in a love affair with Margaret, which had probably begun during the progress and come to light during the questioning of the ladies of the Queen’s household. As Katherine Howard herself was not questioned about the matter, she was probably not thought to have any knowledge of it,31 and it is clear too that Margaret, unlike several other women in the Queen’s household, was not suspected of complicity in her mistress’s intrigues. This suggests that the two women were not close, and that not everyone in the Queen’s household knew about Katherine’s assignations.

  The affair between Margaret and Charles had no doubt begun as a flirtation at court. Margaret should have known better, but she seems to have been as impulsive in affairs of the heart as her mother had been.

  Poem 62 in the Devonshire Manuscript may reflect her shock at hearing gossip that Howard had been banished, and her fear that he would flee before he had declared her reputation to be unsullied.32

  As for my part, I know no thing

  Whether that ye be bound or free,

  But yet of late a bird did sing

  That ye had lost your liberty.

  If it be true, take heed betime,

  And if thou may’st honestly fly,

  Leave off and slake this foulest crime

  That toucheth much mine honesty.

  I speak not this to know your mind,

  Nor of your counsel for to be,

  But if I were, thou should me find

  Thy faithful friend assuredly.

  On November 11 the French ambassador reported that Charles Howard “is banished from Court without reason given.”33 Charles fled to Flanders to escape the King’s wrath.34 From there he traveled to France, where in 1543 he participated in a tournament between the English and the French at Therouanne, in which he “did run well and made very fair courses.” In 1544 he returned to England, which is sufficient evidence that his liaison with Margaret had not been seriously compromising. As further proof of that he was given a command under Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, when the latter invaded Scotland; there Charles took part in the sacking of Haddington and Dunbar, and was knighted on May 13. He is thought to have been killed in France sometime after that,35 possibly at the siege of Boulogne later in the year.

  Poem 95 in the Devonshire Manuscript, copied by Margaret, may reflect her disillusionment with a suitor who had run away and left her to face the King’s wrath:

  Fancy framed my heart first

  To bear goodwill and seek the same;

  I sought the best and found the worst,

  Yet fancy was no deal to blame,

  For fancy hath a double name,

  And, as her name, so is her kind:

  Fancy a foe, and fancy a friend.

  Fancy followed all my desire

  To like whereas I had best lust [desire].

  What could I more of her require

  Than for that thing36 which needs I must,

  And forceth me still for to be just.

  In this she showed herself my friend,

  To make me lord of mine own mind.

  This feigned fancy at the last

  Hath caused me for to beware

  Of windy words and babbling blast

  Which hath oft times cast me
in snare

  And brought me from my joy to care,

  Wherefore I make this promise now:

  To break my fancy and not to bow.

  The unfinished poem 101, which Margaret also wrote, perhaps reflects her regret that she had involved herself with Charles Howard:

  Might I as well within my song belay

  The thing I mean as in my heart I may,

  Repentance should draw from these eyes

  Salt tears, with cries, remorse and grudges.

  Margaret was very lucky in that, devastated by the truth about his “rose without a thorn,” as he had called Katherine Howard, Henry VIII was remarkably lenient with her. It is not hard to imagine how vexed the King and his Privy Council were at having to be bothered with Margaret’s misconduct at such a time, but there were to be no dire consequences as there had been in 1536. That again suggests that the affair with Charles Howard had been little more than a flirtation, as does the fact that Margaret got off very lightly.

  When on November 11, Henry commanded that the Queen be sent to the dissolved Syon Abbey (which was now Crown property) pending the laying of her offenses before Parliament, he had already resolved that all her ladies were shortly to be dismissed—an ominous sign in itself of what Katherine’s fate was to be. “The King’s pleasure is that my Lady Mary be conducted to my Lord Prince’s house by Sir John Dudley, with a convenient number of the Queen’s servants; and my Lady Margaret Douglas to be conducted to Kenninghall in Norfolk, in whose company shall go my lady of Richmond, if my lord her father [Norfolk] and she [Mary Howard] be so contented.”37 In the meantime, Hampton Court, where the two ladies were then staying, was closely guarded, “and none but officers admitted.”38 This suggests that Margaret, like the Queen, was confined to her rooms.

  There is no contemporary evidence to support the frequently made assertion39 that Margaret had been staying with Mary at Syon Abbey, or was sent there in disgrace and later obliged to vacate her rooms there for Katherine Howard, who was conveyed to Syon on or soon after November 14; indeed there is no mention in the sources of Margaret staying at Syon at all in 1541. Being sent to Kenninghall was a punishment of sorts; after the Queen’s household was disbanded on November 13, there was no place for Margaret or any other lady at court, but the fact that she was not allowed to accompany the Lady Mary is indicative of the King’s displeasure. Yet there is no evidence that she was to be held at Kenninghall under house arrest, and Mary Howard was also her friend, and had been allowed a say in the matter, so it appears that Henry VIII had given some consideration to Margaret’s feelings.

  Amid the sensational scandal about the Queen, Margaret’s fall from grace rated barely a mention in official sources. The first reference to the affair dates from November 12, when Sir Ralph Sadler, principal secretary to the King, informed Archbishop Cranmer and others:

  His Majesty’s pleasure is that tomorrow you shall call apart unto you my Lady Margaret Douglas, and first declare unto her how indiscreetly she hath demeaned herself towards the King’s Majesty, first with the Lord Thomas, and secondly with the Lord [sic]40 Charles Howard; in which part you shall, by discretion, charge her with overmuch lightness, and, finally, give her advice to beware the third time, and wholly apply herself to please the King’s Majesty, and to follow and obey that [which] shall be his Highness’ will and commandment, with other such exhortations as good advices as by your wisdom you can devise to that purpose.41

  This reprimand and warning was the extent of Margaret’s punishment. But she must have been alarmed when Cranmer and the deputation of Privy Councilors arrived to see her on November 13, and greatly relieved to find that the worst she now faced was a stay in Norfolk in congenial company.

  Poem 105, which is also incomplete, suggests that she now saw Charles Howard in his true colors:

  The sudden glance chance did make me muse

  Of him that so late was my friend;

  So strangely now they do me use

  That I well spy his wavering mind.

  Wherefore I make a promise now

  To break my fancy and not to bow.

  What could he say more than he did?

  Or what appearance more could he show

  Always to put me out of dread?42

  Soon after November 13, Margaret departed with the Duchess of Richmond to Kenninghall. Norfolk was probably grateful to be of service to his royal master by taking Margaret into his house. He had spoken “with tears in his eyes of the King’s grief, who loved [Katherine Howard] much, and the misfortune to his [Norfolk’s] house in her and Queen Anne, his two nieces,”43 and no doubt he had feared that Katherine’s crimes would redound on him, for several members of the Howard family were already in the Tower on her account.

  Mary Howard had now been widowed for over four years. Her marriage to the Duke of Richmond had never been consummated, which was used by the King as an excuse to withhold Mary’s dower properties. She had therefore spent her widowhood either at court or at Kenninghall, pursuing her literary interests. There was no second marriage in view for her, after her brother, Surrey, had opposed their father’s plan to wed her to Jane Seymour’s brother, Thomas, in 1538.44

  Kenninghall, which derives its name from King’s Hall, after the ancient East Anglian kings, had been built by the Duke in 1525–28, to the northeast of the moat of an earlier house called East Hall. Designed in the shape of an H as a compliment to Henry VIII, it was a magnificent brick house that could have served—and later did—as a royal palace; there were fourteen tapestries in the great chamber alone, and twenty-eight portraits of “divers noble persons” on display in the long gallery. Turkey carpets adorned the floors and tables. In the lofty tapestry-hung chapel there was a large wooden retable and wainscot painted with scenes from the Passion of Christ.45 Margaret may have been accommodated in “the great and chiefest lodging” above the great hall, which was reserved for guests.46

  Margaret probably arrived at Kenninghall with a sense of having been lucky. She might well have guessed that Queen Katherine was about to fare far worse, and that Syon was only a step away from the Tower. During the winter, word would reach Kenninghall that Katherine had been attainted by Parliament and been conveyed to the Tower, where on February 13, 1542, she had been beheaded. The shocking news that the King had sent his twenty-one-year-old wife to the block would have given Margaret and Mary Howard much pause for thought.

  Margaret remained in Norfolk’s household for most of the next seventeen months. Kenninghall was situated in the middle of a large deer park, bounded to the north by woods and groves. Beneath the broad skies of the Breckland, with its vast dry heaths and numerous warrens, and in the congenial company of Mary Howard, she may have found peace after suffering abandonment, loss and fear. If she came to London with the Duke, she would have stayed at Norfolk House, a red-brick courtyard house near Lambeth Palace. It was the residence of his stepmother, Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and he lodged there when he was not at court.47

  In 1542 the King’s servant John Gates wrote himself a memo to find out the King’s answer to a request from Margaret for clothing.48 Henry apparently responded generously with the first of the many rich fabrics that he would give Margaret over the next five years.49 On October 2, Angus wrote from Berwick to Norfolk, thanking him for forwarding a letter from Margaret and for his goodness to her, and enclosing a letter for her.50 It is not often that we see the powerful, self-serving Norfolk in such a sympathetic light.

  Norfolk’s care for Margaret, her long sojourn under his roof, and her association with his daughter Mary show that she remained close to the Howards. Her religious conservatism may well have been encouraged and influenced at Kenninghall. In September 1543 we find mention of her in the postscript to a letter sent by Sir Ralph Vane to Sir Henry Knyvett: “I wish honour, long life and quiet minds unto my Lady Margaret’s Grace, and my Lady Richmond, and no less to my lord of Surrey.”51 Knyvett’s mother, Muriel Howard, had been Norfolk’s sister an
d Surrey’s aunt. Again we see evidence of Margaret’s affiliation to the Howards. Norfolk must have regretted the fact that his brother and his nephew had both been denied such a great matrimonial prize.


  All this time Angus had continued to support Henry VIII against Scotland. In 1542 he took part in English raids on the Scottish border, but the army in which he served was repulsed on August 24 by a force under George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, at the Battle of Haddon Rig. Afterward Angus made overtures for a reconciliation with James V, using Margaret’s hand as a bargaining tool. James agreed that his “base sister” might be married to the victorious Huntly, but Margaret, offended at the implication that she was illegitimate, declined.52

  The Scottish victory was overshadowed three months later by a devastating English triumph at the Battle of Solway Moss, and on December 14, ill and utterly defeated, James V died, aged just thirty, at Falkland Palace, leaving Scotland at the mercy of yet another period of minority rule, for his only surviving child was his infant daughter Mary, born a week earlier at Linlithgow. The lives of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Margaret Douglas were to be inextricably linked, with fatal consequences.

  After James V’s death, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, was nominated regent for the young Queen Mary. Aged about twenty-six and a Protestant, Arran was the son of Angus’s old enemy, who had died in 1529. His appointment had been opposed by the pro-French Keeper of the Privy Seal, Cardinal David Beaton, who feared that he would ally with Henry VIII, who had broken with the Pope. Arran was rich, affable and tolerant, but unremarkable as a politician, being indolent and infuriatingly vacillating. He was indeed to show himself friendly and amenable to Henry VIII, but he was an untrustworthy ally and increasingly came under the influence of his ambitious bastard half brother, John Hamilton, later archbishop of St. Andrews, who constantly tried to win him around to Beaton’s party. But for now Arran was keen to court the friendship of Henry VIII, a desire that was strongly reciprocated.

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