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

  In that June of 1551, England finally conceded defeat and concluded a peace with Scotland, sealed by the Treaty of Norham. It left Lennox in an anomalous position: He could not return to Scotland because of his attainder,33 yet after John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland—he who had escorted Margaret to Kenninghall ten years earlier—ousted Protector Somerset from power in October that year, Lennox was also regarded with suspicion by the English government, probably because he had been an associate of Somerset.

  There was no diminution in Margaret’s standing. In November 1551 she was among the privileged courtiers chosen to play a prominent role when Marie de Guise came to Whitehall during a state visit to England. Marie had been visiting her daughter in France, and wanted to meet with Edward VI on her way home. The English government, eager to cement the peace, granted her a safe-conduct and prepared a warm welcome. Lennox, of course, could not be present, for he was still an attainted traitor in Scotland and its Queen could not receive him. For Margaret, this was a chance to meet the woman whom Lennox had once schemed to marry.

  On November 4 Margaret and her cousin, Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, led the great ladies who accompanied Frances’s husband, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, and “many other lords and gentlemen” when they went to welcome Marie de Guise at the Bishop’s Palace by St. Paul’s Cathedral. Followed by the Duchesses of Richmond and Northumberland, Lady Jane Grey, the Suffolks’ fifteen-year-old daughter, and over a hundred other high-ranking ladies, they conducted the Queen Dowager through London to Westminster, where she was received by the Duke of Northumberland and the great officers of the household.34

  “She was most honourably and princely received and welcomed by the King’s Majesty in the hall, and led up to her chamber on the Queen’s side, where his Majesty dined with her, and in the afternoon departed; she taking her leave of him with most hearty and earnest thanks for the kingly usage of her and hers.”35 In his journal Edward records that “the court, the hall and the stairs were full of serving men; the presence chamber, great chamber and her presence chamber was [sic] full of gentlemen. She dined under the same cloth of estate at my left hand. At her reward [favor] dined my cousin Frances and my cousin Marget [sic]. At mine sat the French ambassador. We were served by two services of sewers, cupbearers, carvers and gentlemen. There were two cupboards brought in, one of gold four tiers high, another of solid silver six tiers high. After dinner, when she had heard some music, I brought her to the hall, and so she went away.”36 Neither Margaret nor Marie de Guise could have foreseen at this time that their children’s fates would be inextricably linked. In fact it cannot have been a comfortable experience sitting next to the Queen Dowager when you were the daughter of one traitor to Scotland and the wife of another.

  Two days later Northumberland, and the earls of Pembroke and Wiltshire, attended by their liveried retinues, with many ladies, including—as the King recorded—“my cousin Margaret and the duchesses of Richmond and Northumberland, accompanied the Queen to Shoreditch, through Cheapside and Cornhill, and there she was met by the gentlemen of Middlesex, a hundred horse, and so she was conveyed out of the realm.”37


  By the spring of 1552, Margaret and her father had become reconciled—the circumstances are not recorded—and on April 7, Northumberland informed the Secretary of State, Sir William Cecil, that “Lady Margaret Douglas wishes to return home [to Scotland], being pregnant,” and wished to be back in England in time to be confined in her own house.38 She was expecting one of her unnamed daughters, who was almost certainly born within the year. But Northumberland did not trust Angus, or Margaret, and after sounding out Cecil’s views, he refused her permission to cross the border. In December, Angus invited her to stay with him at Tantallon, saying he wanted to see her once more and had something important to tell her,39 but still Northumberland would not allow either her or any of her family to go, although it appears that she had intended to travel alone for what Angus had insisted would be a private visit. In a letter to Cecil about the “affairs of Lady Lennox and her husband,” written on December 11, Northumberland expressed his concerns:

  I pray you, remember what I showed you concerning the Lady Lennox, you and I seeming to be of one mind. Nevertheless, forasmuch as I hear no word mentioned of her husband, who, if he mind to remain here, and also keeping her children within the realm, and circumspectly looked to in her absence, the danger can be nothing. And further I remember that her husband dare not come within the realm of Scotland because of a deadly feud between the Governor’s [i.e. Châtelherault’s] blood and him; and also that he pretendeth a title for lack [of] issue of the young Queen, before the Governor, and hath offered to prove the Governor to descend of a base line. All which considered, I cannot think so much danger in her going to her father as I did when you and I did commune of it. And so it may hap that he would open some matter to her worthy the hearing. Wherefore it is to be considered by the great wisdom of the lords what is to be done in it.

  Touching her father’s inheritance, I am sure she cannot have no [any] profit except she would refuse her habitation here and remain there, as I doubt not but all my lords do know it to be likely and true. Wherefore it museth me to think what occasion should be that moveth her father to seek to have her come so far only to speak to him, but some mystery there must be in it, whatsoever it be, as knoweth the Lord.40

  Possibly Northumberland feared that, through Margaret, Lennox would stir up trouble in Scotland by allying with Marie de Guise against Châtelherault. Certainly he was perturbed at the prospect of Margaret’s children, with their royal blood and Catholic claim to the English throne, being taken into Scotland. It is clear from his letter that the family were under surveillance, and also clear that if Margaret were to inherit the earldom of Angus, she would not be able to stay in England. Interestingly the reference to her children in the plural indicates that at least two were living at this time, Darnley and probably the daughter born that year.

  Someone—either Margaret or Angus—continued to put pressure on the Council to allow the visit. On April 7, 1553, Northumberland suddenly ordered Cecil to expedite the issue of a passport with such convenient speed as possible, stressing the necessity for Margaret to ask the King to sign it; he himself would be at court the next day to authorize its issue.41 On April 8 the Council wrote to Lord Wharton, Deputy Warden of the Marches, “touching the Countess of Lennox’s repair into Scotland,”42 and sent a letter to Margaret “touching the same matter.” Finally, “after a long suit,” a license was granted to her to see her father for two months, while her husband and children remained in England.43

  There was a compelling reason for Northumberland’s change of heart. It was now clear that Edward VI was dying of tuberculosis, and that the Duke’s power was under threat, for the King’s next heir was the Catholic Lady Mary, who had long battled with Northumberland for the right to celebrate Mass. There was no doubt that Mary would overthrow the Protestant faith in England and the Duke with it. So he was plotting to marry his son Guildford to the devoutly Protestant Lady Jane Grey, the daughter of Frances Brandon, and set Jane up as queen. Under the terms of Henry VIII’s will, failing the heirs of his body (who were now to be set aside), the crown was to pass to the heirs of the Lady Frances. Margaret, a Catholic descended from a senior line, might well contest that, so it would be politic to have her out of the way, safely in Scotland, with her family in England as hostages for her good behavior.

  Marie de Guise had granted Margaret leave to enter Scotland,44 and she journeyed alone to visit her father at Tantallon.45 There is evidence to suggest that she stayed with Angus until the autumn of that year,46 so she was probably at Tantallon when Edward VI died on July 6, 1553, and therefore she missed the dramatic coup that ensued. On his deathbed Edward drew up a Device for the Succession, in which he designated Lady Jane Grey as his heir. He made no mention of the claims of Mary, Queen of Scots, Margaret, and Lord Darnley, his nearest male heir. All, of course, were Cath

  Jane’s reign lasted for only nine days because the people rallied in force to the Lady Mary, the rightful heir, and she was proclaimed Queen on July 19. This news, reaching Tantallon, must have brought joy to Margaret’s heart.


  “The Person Best Suited to Succeed”

  Queen Mary was crowned at Westminster Abbey on October 1, 1553, and it is likely that Margaret had hastened back from Scotland to be present,1 no doubt rejoicing that a Catholic monarch, her good friend, once more sat on the throne.

  Margaret could now practice her religion openly, and showed herself to be a staunch Catholic like the new Queen, who would have applauded her steadfastness in the faith in King Edward’s time. “There was a special love [felt for her] by Queen Mary in the beginning of her reign,”2 and from the first Margaret found herself prominent and in high favor at court, for Mary regarded her as indisputably legitimate, the Pope having pronounced her so.3 Indeed, she would give every appearance of wanting Margaret to succeed her instead of the Protestant Elizabeth, the bastard half sister whom Mary disliked and feared. When her first Parliament met on October 5, she expressed her desire to repeal the 1544 Act of Succession that named Elizabeth as her heir but was warned that Parliament would not cooperate. After all, Mary’s own claim to the throne derived from that Act.4

  Margaret was present at a banquet hosted by the Queen on October 17 in the great hall of Whitehall Palace for the new Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard, and some departing envoys. The Lady Elizabeth and Margaret—to whom Renard refers as “my Lady Doubley [sic],5 who has come hither from Scotland”—were standing “at a window.” The four envoys sat at the Queen’s right, “and during supper the music of hautboys, cornets, flutes, harps and dulcimers ceased not to play.”6

  Bolstered by the knowledge that Margaret was high in Mary’s favor, Lennox (according to two reports of Antoine de Noailles, the French ambassador) was plotting to seize the regency in Scotland from Marie de Guise. Apparently his plan was for Margaret to return, ostensibly on another visit to her father, but in reality to pave the way for his success. However, Queen Mary scuppered the scheme by insisting that she could not part with Margaret, who must stay with her at court.7

  On November 25 the Queen, undaunted by Parliament’s response, summoned Renard to advise her, and told him that “for the kingdom’s tranquillity” she had to consider the question of the succession in case she were to die without heirs. She named the rival claimants: Mary, Queen of Scots, who had “the best right” by descent, but might be excluded because she had been born abroad; Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, although her legitimacy was dubious, given her father’s complicated marital career; and the Lady Elizabeth, who was the next heir under the terms of the 1544 Act of Succession and Henry VIII’s will. But “the Queen would scruple to allow her to succeed because of her heretical opinions, illegitimacy and characteristics in which she resembled her mother; and as her mother had caused great trouble in the kingdom, the Queen feared that Elizabeth might do the same, and particularly that she would imitate her mother in being a French partisan. The Queen thought that if God were to call her without giving her heirs of her body, the Lady Margaret Douglas would be the person best suited to succeed.”8

  Apparently no one agreed with Mary. Like Lady Jane Grey, Margaret was not well known in England.9 The Lord Privy Seal, William, Lord Paget, warned the Queen that “as Parliament had accepted the Lady Elizabeth as proper to succeed, it would be difficult to deprive her of the right she claimed without causing trouble. It would be very hard to take her claim from her without having the Act of Parliament repealed, which would be very difficult of accomplishment, although the Queen’s arguments were compelling and Elizabeth was notoriously illegitimate.”10

  By November 30, Mary, heedless of Paget’s advice, was making her intentions clear, for Antoine de Noailles reported: “Now the Princess [Elizabeth] has sometimes to give place to the Countess of Lennox, who is called my Lady Margaret here, and to my Lady Frances.”11 Mary was openly treating Margaret as her heir presumptive. She assigned the Lennoxes rooms at Whitehall,12 and furnished them with twenty-one pieces of tapestry and ten beds, Margaret’s being hung with royal purple velvet and cloth of gold, “with St. George figured on it in sundry places.” The Queen also ordered that they and their servants be provided with free food and drink from her own privy kitchen.13 She lavished gifts on them: for Margaret, two gowns of gold tissue and a large pointed diamond, once the property of Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset; for Matthew, Edward VI’s best horse; and for Darnley, his lutes (including one of ebony from Venice) and three suits of his clothing, which may have been seen as evidence that she regarded Darnley as her ultimate successor, and Edward’s.14 Lennox was appointed to the Privy Council for the first time,15 and made Master of the Hawks.16 It was probably at this time that the Lennoxes were granted possession of the demesne lands of Syon Abbey in Isleworth, and of lands in Heston, Middlesex, belonging to the Crown.17 Unsurprisingly people began to believe that, failing issue of the Queen’s body, Margaret would succeed her.

  Mary went on showing favor to Margaret. At Christmas 1553 she presented her with “a fair table diamond, a girdle of gold set through with diamonds and rubies, and a painted diamond of great value.” The girdle alone was worth £500 (£100,250). Jewels like these complemented the costly gowns that Margaret wore to Mary’s court; some were of taffeta, worn over embroidered kirtles,18 and others must have been made with the black velvets and bright satins that Margaret had hitherto favored.

  Serving alongside her in the Queen’s privy chamber were Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, and Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, old friends of Margaret and the Queen. Like Margaret, both had remained loyal to Mary in the dark days of her brother’s reign. But the Duchess of Richmond did not remain at court for long, for she had embraced the Protestant faith and was soon out of favor, which cannot but have affected her friendship with Margaret. Thereafter the Duchess lived quietly in retirement and died in 1557.

  The Lady Elizabeth—twenty-five years old, tall, slender, red-haired and potentially a formidable enemy—seems to have made no secret of her ill will toward Margaret, which is hardly surprising. Margaret had evidently long shared Mary’s dislike of Elizabeth, and both regarded her as a bastard and a heretic who was not to be trusted. As Elizabeth gave further proof of that by making protests about attending Mass, Mary’s initial flowering of goodwill toward her withered and died. She began to voice doubts that Elizabeth was not Henry VIII’s child, but Anne Boleyn’s bastard by a musician, Mark Smeaton, and she became ever more convinced that Margaret should succeed her. As Elizabeth’s star waned, Margaret’s rose ever higher.


  Everyone expected the Queen to marry and have heirs of her own. A small, spare spinster of thirty-eight, snub-nosed with a heavy brow, she had been prematurely aged by the troubles she had suffered, and was painfully modest. But she had fallen in love with the portrait of a man eleven years her junior, Philip of Spain, son and heir of the Emperor Charles V, and there were compelling political reasons for the match, for Philip was already known to be a staunch champion of the Catholic faith, which Mary was determined to restore in England. Her insular subjects, especially the Protestants, were against the marriage, and early in 1554 a Kentish gentleman, Sir Thomas Wyatt, led a rebellion against it. He was joined by, among others, the Duke of Suffolk, the father of Lady Jane Grey, who had been imprisoned in the Tower since Mary’s accession, and had had a death sentence hanging over her head since November; it was only the mercy of Queen Mary that had so far spared her. Rashly Suffolk now proclaimed his daughter queen once more. The Lennoxes were at court and lived through the frightening days when Wyatt marched on London and there was panic and hysteria at Whitehall. But Queen Mary showed great courage in going to the Guildhall and rallying the people.

  When the rebellion was suppressed, both Suffolk and Wyatt were executed, and Lady Jane’s fate was sealed, even
though the Queen had earlier resolved to spare her. On February 12, 1554, Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, were beheaded. The Lennoxes played no known part in these events.19

  Mary strongly suspected that her half sister Elizabeth had been involved with Wyatt, and Elizabeth was brought to London under guard and lodged in a ground-floor chamber in Whitehall Palace, immediately beneath Margaret’s apartments. Margaret had no time for the Protestant Elizabeth, and almost certainly shared Mary’s view that she had committed treason. Thomas Bishop, who seized every opportunity to denigrate Margaret, was later to assert “how that innocent lady [Elizabeth] cruelly by her was handled is well known”; how “unfaithfully,” when Elizabeth was sick, Margaret deliberately had her servants remove the hangings in the room above where she lay and bade them use it as a kitchen, with much “casting down of logs, pots, and vessels,” to Elizabeth’s annoyance.20 Bishop may have been exaggerating, but he would have been aware that his statement might be read by Queen Elizabeth, who could have corroborated it or not; and it is true that, after Elizabeth became queen, she took care to ensure that her apartments were nowhere near any kitchens.

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