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

  Cecil endorsed Bishop’s articles, and the Council authorized them to be “published in the Star Chamber, by authority, or by Statute.”21 That same day Cecil, having listened to Bishop’s earlier diatribe, and wishing to establish the Lennoxes’ financial position and how far they were obligated to the Crown, had Bishop draw up a list of “Remembrances to answer the Earl of Lennox for my Lady his wife.” He left nothing out.

  “If the Earl and Countess, upon strait handling, may brag upon the covenants made with Henry VIII,” he began, Cecil should answer that the government had fulfilled its obligations under the couple’s marriage treaty, and given the couple 100,000 crowns more, but Lennox had never kept his side of the bargain. Margaret, Bishop pointed out, should no longer benefit from Henry VIII’s settlement: As Lennox’s wife, and an English subject, she was bound to keep the promise her husband had made never to “enter into any private bond” with a foreign power, but she had broken that promise.

  Bishop asserted that Lennox “has had wrongfully from the Queen 200 marks [£22,700] of land for these 17 years past.” He informed Cecil that the Earl received 6,000 marks Scots (£51,000) in rents annually, which was more in rents of assize than the Earls of Angus and Morton had between them. Bishop thought that, as Lennox had the equivalent revenues of three Scottish earldoms, he should surrender Settrington to the Queen. He added that the Earl had no right to pursue his claim to Scotland as he had surrendered “all right and title” to Henry VIII. There was more, mostly trivial and malicious, or things that Cecil already knew.

  Margaret, Bishop claimed, had had a loan of £200 (£34,000), but had treated it as a gift. As a parting shot he insisted that she had “no right to the earldom of Angus.”22


  Two days later, on May 9, in the presence of Cecil, William Forbes made a fourteen-point deposition—a statement of witness testimony—which corroborated much of what Bishop had said. It is this that proves—if other proof were needed—that he had been employed as a spy in the Lennox household, because the Council’s other informants—Yaxley, Lallard and Lacy—would make confessions to the Council rather than depositions.

  In her thesis on Lennox, Sarah Macauley has observed that the information given by Forbes was in parts worded very similarly to that laid by Bishop, and cites two passages in particular. One refers to Margaret’s reaction on hearing that Queen Mary had returned safely to Scotland. Bishop wrote: “She sat down and gave good thanks, declaring to those by how God had always preferred that prince at all times.” Forbes’s version is: “She sat herself down, held up her hands, and gave God thanks for preserving the Scottish Queen, saying how God preserved that Princess of all times.” Bishop wrote elsewhere: “As for Queen Mary, she said all the world knew that she was lawful, and for herself she desired nothing but her right, which she trusted to have one day.” Compare with Forbes: “As for Queen Mary, all the world knew that she was lawful, and for herself she desired no thing but her right, which she knew God would send her one day.” It is possible to imagine Bishop and Forbes checking their stories with each other and perhaps even making them up.

  In his deposition Forbes stated that he knew of “the despatch of letters sent to the Queen of Scotland from Lord and Lady Lennox and Lord Darnley,” and “heard in all the house that the Countess is next the crown.” Forbes too hinted that Margaret had practiced witchcraft. In June 1561 the steeple of St. Paul’s Cathedral had burst into flames and crashed through the roof into the church below. The cause was probably a lightning strike, but both Protestants and Catholics had attributed it to God’s displeasure. Forbes, however, implied that Margaret had set her occult forces to work, deposing that “on the day that Paul’s steeple was burnt, six of Lord Robert’s men, and divers of the Queen’s guards, were struck with sudden death in St. James’s Park.”

  Forbes echoed Bishop word for word when he stated that the Earl of Westmorland loved Margaret more than any other woman. He said that Lallard had made “a commentary upon the prognostications of Nostradamus, to the pleasure of my lady, with which he wrote to my lord of Westmorland, who gave him ten crowns with great entertainment and thanks.” Michel de Nostradamus, who enjoyed high favor at the French court, had published his book of prophecies in France in 1555, but the English edition would not be published until 1572, so probably John Elder and Darnley had brought a copy back with them from Paris.23 Margaret had searched Lallard’s commentary for a prophecy “that the highest should have declined,” meaning that Elizabeth would die or be dethroned, but Forbes took it to refer to the collapse of St. Paul’s steeple, which she herself had supposedly brought about by witchcraft.

  Developing that theme, and referring to the witch who lived in the Lennoxes’ household, Forbes stated that Margaret had said that “she hopeth for a day the which I trust she shall never see, her doings being espied betimes.” The implication was deadly, for to compass or imagine the death of the monarch, by sorcery or other means, was high treason.

  In testifying to Sir William of Malton celebrating Mass in Margaret’s bedchamber, Forbes was further incriminating her, for from April 1561 the government had cracked down on Mass being celebrated in private chapels, and in that month twenty-four members of the gentry had been arrested for that crime.24 However, there may have been some truth in Quadra’s statement that the local authorities had been fearful of challenging Margaret.25

  Forbes concluded, “I know that my Lady Margaret loveth neither God nor the Queen’s Majesty, nor yet your Honour, and that Francis Yaxley should have gone into France this year for her affairs. The said Yaxley sent her word of all things by Hugh Allen, and wrote at sundry times letters, which she hath burnt, and also he did send my Lord Darnley a fair turquoise in a token,” a gift from his mother.26

  Margaret was in mortal peril. In imagining the Queen’s death, branding her a bastard, trumpeting her own claims, and possibly plotting to become queen, she had committed treason, no less, and the punishment was death by burning, unless the Queen mercifully commuted it to decapitation. She might also be charged with witchcraft. Henry VIII had passed a law against witchcraft, repealed under Edward VI, but increasing public concern had led to a new Act being drafted in 1559 in Elizabeth’s first Parliament. Although it would not be ratified until early 1563, its provisions had been actively in force since 1560, and launched a wave of persecution. Under them, if harm had been caused by a witch, the penalty was death; otherwise it was imprisonment; and it could be argued that Margaret’s dabbling in witchcraft had led to harm. In 1561, Parliament, fearing that Catholics might resort to sorcery against the Queen, had passed another Act forbidding “fond and fantastical prophecies.”27 Margaret’s soothsayers had predicted two crowns for Darnley.

  Margaret was not as yet aware of the evidence laid against her, and being kept in suspense as to what was going on must have been nerve racking. Any day she might be summoned for trial or to the Tower, and she was no doubt haunted by thoughts of the bloody fates of other royal ladies accused of being traitors. She was also concerned about her husband, and began bombarding Cecil with letters. Her tone was righteous, her stance throughout that she and Lennox were innocent of the charges, it was wrong of the government to imprison them, and she herself was a good friend to the Queen, who ought not to treat her so badly. The first was sent from Sheen, on May 14, “To my very friend, Sir William Cecil, knight, Chief Secretary to the Queen’s Majesty, Master of her Wards, and one of her Highness’s most honourable Privy Council.”

  Good Master Secretary,

  After my right hearty commendations, this is to require of you some comfort concerning my husband’s liberty, either to be clearly out of the Tower, which should be most to my comfort, or else at the least some more liberty within it. I have stayed in troubling you for that my hope was to have had some good news, for that I myself do know the Queen’s Majesty to be of so gracious, so good and gentle nature that, if her Highness had been moved for my lord and me, she would have had some pity on us ere now, con
sidering the long time of trouble we have had, which has been since Christmas. Wherefore I shall beseech you to move her Majesty in this my humble and lowly petition, and that my lord may come to his answer again, for that ye sent me word by Fowler that he stood to the denial of all things laid to his charge. I trust he will not contend or deny anything of truth, and in so doing my hope is her Majesty will be his good and gracious lady, for he never meant to willingly deserve the contrary, as knoweth God, who have you in His keeping.

  From Sheen, the 14th of May, your assured friend to my power, Margaret Lennox and Angus.28

  A week later, on May 21, having had no reply to a letter, now lost, that she had sent to the Queen, and having heard from Cecil that there was new evidence against her and Lennox, perhaps arising from Forbes’s deposition, Margaret wrote again:

  I have received your answer by my man Fowler, but nothing touching the petitions in my letter, for that ye say there is new matter both against my lord and me, which, when it shall please the Queen’s Majesty, I shall be glad to understand, not doubting, with God’s grace, but both my lord and I shall be able to acquit ourselves, if right may take place [and] that our accusers may be brought before us. I assure you I am weary of this life and would fain receive some comfort from her Majesty, for, as methink, we have had punishment enough for a great offence.

  I cannot but choose to trouble you with this letter for that I have no kin and not many friends to sue for me; for if I had, I should have received some comfortable answers ere now. Wherefore I shall desire you to be my friend in being some means to the Queen’s Majesty of yourself, for my lord and me, for that I think her Highness will give better ear to you than to my letter.

  Good Master Secretary, God knoweth my innocency and uprightness, and my lord’s also, toward her Majesty and her realm, howsoever our doings is otherwise taken. But my sure trust is that her Majesty will have remorse of me, her poor kinswoman, who, never meaning to offend her, thinketh myself not worthy of this, her Majesty’s indignation and punishment. Notwithstanding, as her Highness’ pleasure is, I am content; but I shall pray to Him Who is the champion and defender of the innocent, to inspire her Majesty’s heart towards me according to the good nature I know her Majesty to be of. Declaring this unto her shall bind my lord and me to be yours assuredly.29

  Asking to be confronted with her accusers was a bold move on Margaret’s part, for she could have had no means of knowing what evidence had been laid against her.


  She had been at Sheen for nearly eight weeks when she was finally interrogated. Cecil’s notes “for the Examination of the Countess of Lennox,” made in his own hand on May 25, still survive. She was to be asked “what communication hath she had of the bastardy of Queen Mary and the Queen that now is [Elizabeth], and what words hath she uttered thereon against the Queen. When Paul’s steeple was burnt, what report was made to her of a certain number of men struck with sudden death in St. James’ Park? What moved her to say that touching the right to the crown she would give place to none of the rest? What message was brought to her from the Lord Seton concerning his furtherance in setting forth of Lord Darnley?” The document ends with a list of people about whom Margaret was presumably to be questioned: Galston, Lallard, Lacy, a fool in the house, the Scottish Queen and Hugh Allen.30

  Cecil and other Privy Councilors visited Margaret and questioned her, but she declared that she was innocent. She was to maintain steadfastly that she had been falsely accused and was being held unjustly, and would keep pressing to be brought face-to-face with her accusers, and to justify herself to Elizabeth in person. She acted throughout as if she and Lennox were the injured parties.

  On May 30 she wrote to Cecil:

  At your last being with me at Sheen ye opened so many new and strange matters that I am, as I told you, desirous to see them that made the same; and if, in case it be that they may not come so far as Sheen, I pray you let me take the pains to come to some of your chambers in the court, where I may answer for myself. Being so far off, I find the old proverb true, “Long ways, long lies.” And in that her Majesty will in no wise I come into her presence, ye shall be sure I will not seek to displease her therein, but shall content myself to be a suitor among you, my lords of the Council. For being there, so far off, and in her Highness’ displeasure, as all men know, no doubt but I shall have some of the worst sort to speak like themselves against me, in hope to win reward whereof they stand [in] need. Otherwise ye may keep me here still with new inventions every day, which would redouble the wrong I have already.

  I assure you, Master Secretary, it is a great grief to me, and the greatest that I ever had, to perceive the little love and affection that her Majesty bears me, and especially in this one matter [obtaining permission to see the Queen and plead her case in person] that I thought that her Majesty would rather have fortified and strengthened me in, than to have given hearing or sufferance to such a manifest wrong and injury against her poor kinswoman.

  Cecil, who does not appear to have taken the accusations of witchcraft too seriously, had also informed Margaret that her legitimacy was still subject to an inquiry by the Court of Star Chamber. At this she waxed vociferous:

  Even as God hath made me so I am lawful daughter to the Queen of Scots and the Earl of Angus, which none alive is able to make me otherwise without doing wrong.

  Master Secretary, I do perceive that Fowler, my man, has commandment from the Star Chamber not to come out of London. I trust he hath not offended, but in his absence I shall have want of him in my household, such as it is, for I have no other here to look to it. Wherefore I shall both thank you for your gentle using of him, and desire you that he may be coming and going, and he shall be always ready at commandment.31

  That same day Arthur Lallard made a “confession,” in which—at variance with the testimonies of Bishop and Forbes—he gave a rather different version of his mission to Edinburgh in the late summer of 1561, in which there was no mention of the Darnley marriage. Nor did he refer to Margaret sending him, but stated that Lennox, hearing three weeks before Michaelmas that Queen Mary was to return to Scotland, had instructed him to ride north with a message to the Queen asking if he could renew his suit for the restitution of his estates. “This was the chief cause of his sending.” He admitted that he had spoken with Queen Mary and made “his lord’s and her aunt’s commendations to her.” In response to Lennox’s plea, she had told him “that she was but newly and rawly come into her country, and that she could not give him such an answer as she would, but all that she might do for Lord and Lady Lennox, her aunt, for their right, she would with time and place; desiring his lady to be always her good aunt, with her commendations to them both.” Lallard insisted to the Council: “And this, my most honourable lords, is the very truth of both my journeys.”32

  It may be that Lallard’s instructions had been as he stated, but they were perhaps not the only reason for his journey. Lallard had testified that Lennox had also given him a message for Aubigny, but Forbes was adamant that Lallard had known before he set out that Aubigny would not be in Scotland;33 if that was true, the Lennoxes and Lallard had been lying.

  Hugh Allen was also interrogated on May 30, to discover “what gentlemen and commoners in Yorkshire and other places beareth their hearts and assistance to my lady.” He revealed that foremost among Margaret’s friends were Westmorland, Constable and Cholmeley, who was “a secret father to her and all her causes.”34 Cholmeley had already been questioned by the Council of the North earlier that month, without being penalized;35 he was more fortunate than George Chamberlain and Arthur Lallard, who were clapped in the Tower in June.36

  Quadra knew that he too was under suspicion. On June 6 he found out that Venturini had betrayed him, and informed King Philip that he was “greatly troubled about a disaster that has happened in my house. It is a case of a servant of mine who has been bribed by the Queen’s ministers and has divulged a host of things prejudicial to private persons and, even i
n public matters, has laid more on to me than he could truthfully do. I could satisfy the Queen about it if she would hear me, but, being a woman and ill-informed by the leading men in her Council, she is so shocked that I do not know to what lengths she will go.”37

  On June 8, Sir Henry Sidney informed Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, “The Earl of Lennox remains close prisoner in the Tower, and his wife at Sheen; she was very obstinate in her answers to the Council sent to her.” In the same letter he wrote that “the match between my Lord of Hertford and my Lady Katherine [Grey] as I hear is judged adultery, and the punishment thereof left to the Queen, as chief governor of ecclesiastical matters.”38 The treacherous misconduct of one female cousin cannot have left Elizabeth feeling well disposed toward another who had apparently committed worse crimes.

  That day Cecil reported to Sir Thomas Challoner, England’s ambassador in Spain: “At home all things are quiet. The Earl of Lennox remains in the Tower.” Charles Stuart must have been brought south from York to join his mother in captivity, as Cecil mentions that “Lady Lennox and her son are at Sheen, in the household of Sir Richard Sackville. They [the Lennoxes] are charged with two things, one with secret intimation that she has a right to the crown of England next to the Queen, and the other with secret compassing of marriage betwixt the Scottish Queen and her son, which matters they deny, although there are many proofs.” Cecil did not think that “any extremity is intended towards them.”39 But Margaret, of course, did not know that.

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