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

  Margaret Tudor was now sick and had to be nursed by Agnes Stewart, Lady Home,4 and it was probably from Coldstream that she wrote to Henry VIII craving “mercy and comfort.”5 She had to wait until a messenger had returned from London with express directions from King Henry as to where his sister should be received and made welcome. It would have been a relief when Lord Dacre arrived to escort her into England, because Albany’s forces had already captured Lord Home.

  King Henry had agreed that Queen Margaret might be received into England on condition that no Scottish man or woman accompanied her. He was determined that, in his kingdom, his sister should be subject to no outside influence. Moreover, she was to stay in Northumberland until she “knew further of his wishes.”6 Margaret Tudor therefore had to bid farewell to Angus and the rest of her escort. Before Angus returned north, Dacre made him swear an oath that he would never come to terms with Albany.

  The King had designated Dacre’s official residence, Morpeth Castle, as Margaret Tudor’s temporary abode, but Dacre, concerned about her condition, felt that Harbottle Castle, out in the wilds near the village of Otterburn, was more easily accessible. On Sunday, September 30, like a “banished person,”7 the Queen crossed into England and so to Harbottle.8 Her desperate flight ensured that the circumstances of her daughter’s birth were as dramatic as her life would be.

  Northumberland in the sixteenth century was wild and remote country, a lawless place scarred by centuries of Scottish raids and border warfare. Unlike the peaceful south of England, where castles were no longer built for defense, medieval fortresses still provided security for local nobles and the officers who commanded the English military presence, which was still a necessity in this unsettled region.

  Harbottle Castle stood on a high mound at the head of the outstandingly beautiful Coquet Valley, an area known for its healthy air. It was an old royal fortress, first erected in 1157 by Henry II, and rebuilt in stone around 1200. The name derives from “here-botl,” an Old English word for an army building. The rectangular keep was one of Lord Dacre’s residences as Warden of the Marches, whence he governed a large and turbulent area and dealt with the constant border warfare between the English and Scots and local clans. Harbottle was essentially a military base and a prison. Surviving records show that the main accommodation was in the keep, and that the castle was kept in good repair at royal expense.9 But it was ill prepared for a royal confinement.

  In the last weeks of the Queen’s pregnancy she “lay still at Harbottle.” Dacre was an attentive host, and Margaret Tudor had much cause to be grateful to him, especially after her labor began too soon. It lasted for forty-eight hours.10 According to her own account, she gave birth “fourteen days before her time,” on October 7.11 The child was a girl.


  “A Fair Young Lady”

  Margaret Tudor was the eldest daughter of Henry VII, the first Tudor King of England, and his Queen, Elizabeth, heiress of the royal House of York. She had been born in November 1489 and was just thirteen when, in 1503, in the interest of forging good relations with Scotland, England’s traditional enemy, she had been married to James IV, King of Scots, who was sixteen years her senior and renowned for his lechery. Four of their six children died in infancy, but in 1512 Margaret Tudor bore a son, also called James, who thrived.

  However, the following year James IV invaded England, seeking to take advantage of Henry VIII’s absence on a campaign in France. The English were not unprepared, however, and a large force under the command of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, marched north to confront James. The two armies met on September 9, 1513 at Flodden in Northumberland, and by the end of the day King James and the flower of the Scottish nobility lay slaughtered in the field. It was one of the most cataclysmic events in Scottish history, immortalized in ballads such as “The Flowers of the Forest,” in which it is claimed that twelve thousand were slain. Nearly every notable family lost at least one of its sons, and the impact of this disastrous defeat would be felt for generations.

  Scotland was now under the nominal rule of an infant, James V, and subject to yet another long minority; such had been its fate for more than a century, as king after king had succeeded in childhood. It was a kingdom dominated by huge interrelated families, notably the Stewarts, the Douglases and the Hamiltons, and this age-old clannish system of kinship groupings had nurtured a fierce sense of family. Allowed virtual autonomy during a succession of regencies, the factious Scottish nobility had come to enjoy great power and pursue deadly rivalries. Alliances and loyalties constantly shifted, and blood feuds could persist for centuries.

  The great lords were all hungry for power, and it was rare for a widowed queen to be granted custody of her children; nevertheless Queen Margaret was named regent of Scotland during the minority of her son and given the guardianship of the young King and his infant brother. She had been newly pregnant when her husband was killed, and in April 1514, at Stirling Castle, she had borne another son, Alexander, Duke of Ross.

  On August 6, 1514, less than a year after her husband’s death, Margaret Tudor secretly married again without consulting the Scottish lords or her brother, Henry VIII. Her bridegroom was Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus—“Ard,” as he styled himself1—a member of her Council and the head of the faction that supported her rule. Handsome, charming, courteous and accomplished in chivalric exploits, he was the son of George Douglas, Master of Angus, and a widower, having lost his first wife, Margaret Hepburn, the year before. Angus, who at twenty-six was the same age as his bride, was “very lusty in the Queen’s sight.”2 He was a man of mild temper, dry humor and undoubted courage, and although his enemies saw him as treacherous, he was good at building and maintaining friendships. He was ambitious, wholly committed to the aggrandizement of his family, and hungry for power. Although this was a love match on Margaret Tudor’s part, it was probably prompted more by self-interest on Angus’s.

  The Douglas family was an ancient one and could trace its origins back to the Dark Ages. A William Douglas had fought for the Emperor Charlemagne, and Sir James Douglas had carried King Robert the Bruce’s heart to the Holy Land; since then the arms of his descendants have borne a crowned heart. Their crest, which Margaret Douglas would also use, was the salamander. They were an ambitious tribe, into which Margaret’s strong character fitted well, and “family envies were strong,”3 leading in 1380 to the clan splitting into two feuding branches, the senior being the Black Douglases and the junior the Red Douglases, to which line the Earls of Angus belonged.

  The 5th Earl, Archibald “Bell-the-Cat” Douglas, the most powerful noble in the kingdom, had played traitor against King James IV in 1482, allying himself with Henry VII of England, but he was back in favor a decade later, having established the Douglases as the foremost family in Scotland. He had won his nickname—“belling the cat” means “performing a challenging task”—by getting rid of a royal favorite. But his son, George Douglas, Master of Angus, Margaret Douglas’s grandfather, had perished at Flodden.

  The history of the Douglas clan was a violent one; few of its prominent members had died in their beds, and it looked very much as if Angus, who succeeded “Bell-the-Cat” as earl in 1514, might be of their number, for it soon became apparent that he was determined to rule Scotland. His marriage to the Queen, and her subsequent advancement of the Douglases to high offices, excited the jealousy of the Scottish nobility and provoked the pro-French party at court, which was headed by James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, a man renowned for his heroic triumphs in the tournament field; it reignited a centuries-old feud between the Douglases and the Hamiltons, and gave rise to a civil war in Scotland. Scotland had long been allied to France, and both countries had a long history of enmity with England; but Margaret Tudor was determined to continue as regent with the pro-English Angus at her side. Her opponents asserted that, under Scottish law, by remarrying she had forfeited the office of guardian (“tutrix”) to her underage children. The Arran-led Council resolved to rep
lace her with John Stewart, Duke of Albany, a grandson of James II and the next royal heir after her sons. Albany was an honorable man and a capable administrator, but he regarded himself primarily as a Frenchman—he had been brought up in France, where he owned vast estates—and was reluctant to take up office in Scotland.

  At once the Queen withdrew with her children to the safety of her mighty dower fortress of Stirling, set high on its volcanic crag at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, against the spectacular backdrop of the Trossachs and the Ochil Hills; whereupon the Scottish lords rose in arms against her. Angus was ousted from power, and Albany, who was still in France, was offered the regency.

  Queen Margaret appealed repeatedly to her brother, Henry VIII, for aid, impressing on him that “all the welfare of me and my children lies in your hands.”4 Henry threatened Scotland with war, while privately urging his sister to escape with her children to England, but she dared not attempt it because her enemies were keeping her under constant watch.

  Margaret Tudor was six months’ pregnant with her first child by her new husband when, on July 12, 1515, the anti-English Albany was formally installed as regent. He treated her with courtesy at first, but when he learned that Angus, fearing for the safety of the young King and his brother, was plotting to send them to England, he laid siege to Stirling, seized the little boys from the Queen, and made himself their custodian. Margaret Tudor had no choice but to consent; her supporters had either fled or been taken, and she herself was now a captive. In grief at losing her sons, she drew up a long “remembrance” of her complaints, which she sent to Thomas Magnus, the English ambassador to Scotland, who was then staying in Northumberland.5

  Thereafter relations between Queen Margaret and Albany grew ever more tense. He made her write to her brother that she was content, and other letters “contrary to her own mind,” and he kept her “strict prisoner” and under surveillance in Edinburgh, so that she was unable to see her sons, whom Albany had “in ward.”6 He had also deprived her of her revenues, leaving her in extreme poverty.7 She entreated Henry VIII to send someone to mediate between her and the Regent; “she was in much woe and pain, and besought remedy for God’s sake.”8 But Albany was hostile to England, and for years would make every effort to raise an army and attack it. Effectively forcing Margaret Tudor into a position where she felt the need to flee from Scotland was an insult to Henry VIII, who naturally took her part and responded by offering her refuge.9

  It was to the Queen’s advantage that the birth of her child was approaching, for she was planning to flee to England before it was born. No one would suspect a woman going into seclusion of plotting an escape, for once she had taken to her chamber, she would remain there until she was fit enough for her churching, the ceremony of thanksgiving and purification that marked the end of a woman’s confinement and her return to normal life.

  On August 1, Margaret Tudor wrote from Edinburgh to Henry VIII: “Brother, I purpose, by the grace of God, to take my chamber and lie in my palace of Linlithgow within this twelve days, for I have not past eight weeks to my time, at the which I pray Jesu to send me good speed and happy deliverance.”10

  Knowing that she could count on the aid of her brother, she sent her trusty servant, Robert Carr, to Thomas Magnus and Lord Dacre to ask them to inform the King of her secret plans, and ask for his assistance, which he had already commanded Dacre to extend to her.11

  Lord Dacre was then forty-eight, fierce, indefatigable and politically astute.12 In 1485 he had fought for the last Plantagenet King, Richard III, against the future Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth, but had quickly made his peace with the Tudor victor, who had made him a Knight of the Bath. Dacre had been serving on the Scottish Marches since 1485, and had been made Warden General in 1509 by Henry VIII. He had fought against the Scots at Flodden, but he had been willing to help Margaret Tudor smuggle her sons into England earlier in 1515. At that time she had expressed fears that Scotland was so infested by robbers as to render traveling dangerous, but that seemed the lesser evil now. Dacre and Magnus assured their master that, “notwithstanding her Grace is within six weeks of her lying down, yet she hath ascertained us she hath good health, and is strong enough to take upon her this journey.”13 On September 1, 1515, Lord Dacre wrote to Queen Margaret, urging her to make haste to steal away to Blackadder Tower. Its owner, Andrew Blackadder, had fought and fallen under the Douglas standard at Flodden, and his widow and daughters were loyal. Dacre assured Margaret Tudor that, considering she was near her time, this was the best course of action. She would want for neither household goods nor money, and if all went to plan, her children would be safely restored to her and she herself would be restored as regent. Dacre himself would rendezvous with the Queen and escort her through the marsh where Blackadder Tower stood, “so that you can resort [there] without any danger.”14

  But on September 3, Margaret Tudor informed Dacre that she had a strategy of her own.15 Feigning sickness, she obtained Albany’s permission to remove with her husband to Linlithgow Palace for the birth of their child.16 She and Angus traveled there on September 11, closely followed by a letter from Lord Dacre informing the Queen that Henry VIII had been advised of her plight, and had confirmed his offer of asylum in England. Everything was now in place for her escape.


  After the birth of her daughter Margaret Tudor “fell into such extreme sickness that her life was despaired of by all.”17 Given the drama of her flight and the stress she had suffered, that was hardly surprising.

  Dacre evidently thought the birth of a daughter of little importance, and it was not until October 18 that he informed Henry VIII that on “the eighth day after that the Queen of Scots, your sister, came and entered into this your realm, her Grace was delivered and brought in bed of a fair young lady.” He added that “the sudden time, by God’s provision so chanced,” took them all unawares. His excuse for not writing sooner was that he had been too busy, and he had not thought it worth sending a letter for the sole purpose of informing the King that he had a new niece.18

  The Queen’s child was christened the day after her birth,19 on October 8, the ceremony probably being held in the castle chapel; at the font she was given the name Margaret, after her mother.20 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the minister who was all-powerful at the English court, had been chosen by Queen Margaret as a godparent, in absentia.21 Dacre was to explain to the King that the baptism had taken place “with such convenient provisions as could or might be had in this barren and wild country,” although everything had been “done accordingly as appertained to the honour of the same,” considering the suddenness of the birth.22

  Because she was born in Northumberland, the “fair young lady” started life as an English subject. Her uncle, Henry VIII, had as yet no surviving child to succeed him; his nearest heirs were his sister, Margaret Tudor, and her children, James V and now Margaret Douglas. Although Henry VII, in his will, had not excluded Margaret Tudor’s issue from the succession, James V was not an Englishman; since the fourteenth century there had been a common-law rule against alien inheritance,23 and a majority opinion in England held that that applied to the royal succession. Hence Margaret Douglas was second in line to the English throne after her mother until such time as Henry’s Queen, Katherine of Aragon, bore a living child—and Dacre was wrong to regard her as a person of little political importance.

  On October 10, three days after the birth, Queen Margaret was sufficiently recovered to write reprovingly to Albany: “Cousin, I heartily commend me unto you, and where I have been enforced for fear and danger of my life to depart forth of the realm of Scotland, so it is that, by the grace of Almighty God, I am now delivered and have a Christian soul, being a young lady.” She demanded to be reinstated in the regency, desiring him “in God’s name, as tutrix of the young King and Prince, my tender childer, to have the whole rule and governance” of them and of Scotland.24

  Albany refused, informing her that “the governance of the realm expi
red with the death of her husband, and devolved to the estates” and “that she had forfeited the tutelage of her children by her second marriage”; if she would not listen to reason, he would be compelled to resort to sterner measures to prevent the disunion between the two kingdoms.25

  Angus, meanwhile, had entered into a solemn covenant with several powerful, sympathetic nobles to liberate James V and his brother and unite in opposition to Albany. That was sufficiently alarming for Albany to offer the Queen apologies, terms and the return of her jewelry; he said he would even take Angus into favor if she would return to Scotland; but she refused.26

  When, on October 18, Dacre informed Henry VIII of Margaret’s birth, he asked what was to be done with his royal guest. Her lying-in was proving “uneaseful and costly” because all necessities had to be carried some distance to Harbottle, so he was “minded to move her Grace to remove to Morpeth” as soon as she had been churched. Dacre evidently feared that Margaret Tudor would make difficulties about the move, as he suggested to the King that “it may like your Highness to signify your mind and pleasure unto her, that we may move her accordingly.”

  As soon as he had been informed of his sister’s imminent arrival in England, Henry VIII had sent one of his gentlemen ushers, Sir Christopher Garnish, north with suitably royal clothing, plate and other necessities for her and her child. Garnish deposited these at Morpeth, then traveled to Harbottle with a letter from Henry that was “greatly to the Queen’s comfort.” Because she was still lying in, and was expected to keep to her chamber for at least three weeks, Dacre advised Garnish to return to Morpeth and remain until she was fit to travel there and receive her brother’s gifts.27

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