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

  But now it looked as if Elizabeth would never have a chance to permit that, even if she were so inclined. That October, while staying at Hampton Court, she contracted smallpox and became so ill that she was not expected to live. Her councilors, gathered together in anticipation of the worst, urgently debated the complex question of who was to succeed her. “Out of the fifteen or sixteen of them, there were nearly as many different opinions about the succession. It would be impossible to please them all.” The Marquess of Winchester put forward Margaret’s name, saying he thought it should be her or Darnley. When this was suggested to the Queen, she would not—or could not—comment, but Quadra was sure that in the end the councilors would form two or three parties, and that the Catholic party would have on its side a majority of the country, “although I do not know whether the Catholics themselves would be able to agree, as some would like the Queen of Scots and others Lady Margaret, who is considered sensible and devout.”64 Robert Dudley, knowing it was unlikely that Katherine Grey would ever be queen, and looking to a future in which Queen Margaret reigned, urged that Lady Lennox be set at liberty.

  But no one dared take that decision, so Margaret remained confined at Sheen, no doubt wondering if her moment of liberation and triumph was at hand. If the Queen died, there was a good chance that the Catholics, backed by Dudley and Winchester, would declare for Margaret or her son. But by October 25, Elizabeth had rallied a little, and on that day Margaret dutifully wrote to Cecil: “Thanks be to God of the Queen’s amendment, which is no small comfort to me, and I shall pray God daily to increase her Majesty’s health and strength, long to reign over us.” It seems she hoped that knocking at Death’s door would have softened Elizabeth’s attitude toward herself and Lennox, for she continued:

  Beseeching you to bear my lord and me in remembrance to her Highness, hoping by your good means that she will consider the long time of my lord’s imprisonment and mine, and our absence one from the other, specially he being in the Tower, the winter come, and that house both unwholesome and cold. I shall most humbly and lowly beseech her Highness, first for God’s cause, and next for nature’s sake, to suffer my lord my husband and me to come together.65

  Her plea was from the heart, and she had more cause than most to make it, for she could not have forgotten that her long-lost love, Thomas Howard, had succumbed to sickness and died in the Tower twenty-six years earlier to the month. The Queen was too ill to give heed to Margaret’s plea, nor did she do so when, against all expectations, she recovered soon afterward.

  Margaret now had a fresh cause for complaint. Her letter of November 12 to Cecil has an injured tone:

  At the time of her Majesty’s sickness, which (as before to you I have written) I did much lament (God be the judge), and being so near66 where her Highness lay, could not be suffered to show myself to her, according as both by nature and duty I am bound, it cannot but augment my grief. And now, her Highness being recovered, thanks be to God, therefore I, being most glad to hear the same, yet otherwise that I am restrained from her Majesty’s presence, the sight whereof would be most to my comfort, that I might, with the rest of her servants, rejoice at her restoring to health, I am enforced in my heart to think it rare and grievous.

  Again she complained to Cecil of the long imprisonment of Lennox, “how indisposed her husband was, and how unfit for his recovery the Tower was, likewise the ill air of the place, and the cold time of the year.” Once more she desired Cecil “to be a means with the Queen to procure the liberty of my lord and myself,” but if nothing further was to be granted, “I pray that he may be imprisoned with me and my children, and I shall be content.”67

  This time her plea bore fruit, for besides Cecil there were others at court—opponents of Katherine Grey—who were in a position favorably to influence the Queen and persuade her that Lennox really was no threat to her, and that Katherine and her supporters should be discountenanced. Soon afterward Margaret received the long-hoped-for, welcome news that he was at last to be freed from the Tower and allowed to join her at Sheen, although both were to remain under house arrest. This, Quadra reported on November 30, was

  by the favour of the Earl of Pembroke and Lord Robert, who are much against Lady Katherine. I think that the liberation of Lennox has two objects, first, to hinder Lady Katherine by providing a competitor, and secondly, to give a little satisfaction to the Catholics who are desperate at Lady Margaret’s misery, and place all their hopes in the Queen of Scots and the husband she may choose. By giving them some small hope that the succession may fall to Lady Margaret and her son they may cool somewhat towards the Queen of Scots. All this is convenient for the Queen, who wants to have the power to declare her own successor when she likes.68

  Lennox had left the Tower and been reunited—one imagines most joyfully—with Margaret by November 24, when, in her twelfth letter to Cecil, she thanked him “for exertions in behalf of her husband, and for the liberty which he now enjoys,” and expressed the hope that he would “vouchsafe to be like means to the Queen for the restoration of her favour.” She expressed her love for Elizabeth and earnestly desired that, with her lord, she be permitted to “pay her duty to the Queen’s person, as usual.”69 Cecil, in his reply, intimated that the time was now ripe for her to write to Her Majesty, and Margaret duly did so.

  In December—possibly because Sheen needed to be cleansed—the Lennoxes were temporarily moved across the Thames to Syon, where Margaret had sought a refuge in 1537 after the death of Thomas Howard. On December 6, Quadra reported that “the Earl of Lennox is at Syon House with his wife, and it seems that his release from the castle was rather a change of prison than a liberation.”70 Lennox no longer had to endure the horrors brought on by solitude, but he became ill sometime in December or January, which Margaret attributed in her next letter to Cecil to Elizabeth’s unkindness. This letter was sent on January 8, 1563, when the couple were back at Sheen. It was the first she had sent him for six weeks, for he had made it clear in his last response that her constant importuning was wearisome to him. But now the couple were not only thoroughly demoralized but also in financial extremity.

  Good Mr. Secretary,

  Having rested all this time not sending to you in attempting my suit to the Queen’s Majesty as before, perceiving in the answer you sent me by Fowler that my oft sending hath been a trouble to you, and being loth to be troublesome to any (so near as I can so long as I may) I have forborne till very need and necessity enforceth me to utter my grief, which oftentimes I have done to you; in especial, and last of all, writing so humble to the Queen’s Majesty, whereof I was put in hope to have ere now some comfortable answer; but in place I received from, by my said servant, an extreme and grievous answer. I impute the same to be the only cause of my lord’s sickness at this time.

  Mr. Secretary, considering how we have continually begged and craved, in most humble wise, her Majesty’s favour, together with the punishment my lord in especial hath received, and thereby so extremely impoverished, and yet so remaining must needs make me account that I am but unnaturally used, being her Majesty’s poor and next kinswoman of her father’s side, who neither hath, nor willingly will deserve, such lack of her Highness’ favour, as God and the world knoweth.

  And now, seeing we cannot as yet obtain her favour, which thing is most to our grief, we are constrained to enter into another suit to her Majesty, which our poverty driveth us unto, beseeching you most heartily to move her Majesty therein, that whereas I ever since my coming to Sheen (being before far in debt), I have bought all things with ready money, for the furniture of our family and household, travelling and other necessaries; which money having not of our own, I was driven to borrow it of Lady Sackville and others, the most part. And now, the same being spent, not knowing where to get any to support our needful charges upon being here—at more charges than if we lay in the City, by almost the third part—I shall therefore most humbly beseech her Highness to appoint us something to live upon in the country, or else
to allow us other ways, as to her Majesty shall seem good, for our farther relief; for that in our present necessity is such as, without the same, we are not able to continue.

  And if her Majesty will not grant us one of these suits, we shall be forced to require her Majesty’s licence (which we would be most loth to do) to repair into the country where our poor living lieth, till such time as it may please God we may have her Highness’ favour, without which, if we might otherwise choose, we should be loth to go or abide in any place.

  And thus, with my most hearty commendations, desiring you of answer, I commit you to the tuition of Almighty God. Your assured friend to my power, Margaret Lennox and Angus.71

  To press home her point, Margaret wrote another letter along the same lines to her servant William Robinson, whom she instructed to carry both to Cecil.72 This tried the Secretary’s patience too far, and he vented his anger on the unfortunate Robinson. In a letter sent on January 17, Margaret apologized, assuring Cecil that she did not blame him “for the slow progress of my suits to the Queen’s Majesty; on the contrary, I have just cause to thank you for your advocacy and am grateful for your good offices.” She made it quite clear whom she thought was responsible.

  Marry, I must needs think I have some back friends [backbiters], but I can judge none, or I must otherwise account that it proceeds from the Queen’s Majesty’s self, which I trust not. I assure you that my lord and I have so many injuries arising by her Highness’ displeasure, as first by the grief it is to us, then our necessity for money, and every evil-willer of ours in the country [of] Yorkshire encouraged thereby to encroach upon the small living we have there, as even at this present our servant, being coming from thence, declareth that matters of traverse [obstruction] is newly grown in seven several lordships of ours. Half the revenue we have will scant defend our right, having quietly enjoyed the same nineteen years without trouble, saving the Strangeways lands.73 I trust your wisdom will consider whether we have occasion to be weary of this life or not.74

  Yaxley was again examined by the Privy Council on January 14, 1563. It is not known how long he was imprisoned in the Tower, but he had been freed by August 1565.

  That January, Parliament again debated the problem of the royal succession. One of its members, John Hales, was moved to publish a tract, A Declaration of the Succession of the Crown Imperial of England, which controversially advocated the succession of Lady Katherine Grey. Margaret, Hales argued, could not succeed because she was an alien, nationality deriving from the father. Hales’s crime in pronouncing an opinion on so dangerous a subject was considered to be so serious that he was incarcerated in the Fleet prison for four years.

  But Katherine Grey now disgraced herself again. In February 1563, still a prisoner in the Tower, she gave birth to another son, Thomas, after the sympathetic Lieutenant had allowed her husband two illicit conjugal visits. This made Elizabeth more determined than ever to discountenance Katherine, and that meant showing favor to the Lennoxes. It was probably this, rather than her being convinced of their innocence, that prompted her decision to free the couple in February, when she sent word to them “that she had forgiven and forgotten their offence, yet she would not see them.”75

  Their release was conditional upon Margaret swearing a solemn oath that she would not allow her son to marry without the Queen’s consent.76 It has been stated that the Lennoxes were not formally pardoned,77 but in fact they had never been convicted of a crime. Nor were they now in a position to commit any, for their intelligence network had been exposed and neutralized.

  It is a measure of Elizabeth’s tolerance—in later years she would recall that in her time she had “winked at so many treasons”78—and her pragmatism that the Lennoxes were set at liberty, given the evidence against them.79 Margaret’s reported remarks about her right to the throne could have been construed as treasonable, but the Council was probably shrewd enough to know that Bishop was a hostile witness and that Forbes had perhaps been suborned. Witchcraft had not been proved, nor had Margaret’s part in Quadra’s intrigues. She had schemed to marry her son to Queen Mary, but Darnley did not come within the compass of the Act of Succession of 1536, so she could not be prosecuted for that. As she had told Quadra in November, she thought it no crime, as Mary was her niece, and that there was no harm in advising her to do what was best for her. So there was no real evidence of a treasonable conspiracy.80

  The last of Margaret’s letters to Cecil was written on February 3 from Sackville Place, Sir Richard Sackville’s town house, which lay to the south of Fleet Street. Built in the fifteenth century as Salisbury House, the London residence of the bishops of Salisbury, Sackville Place would become known as Dorset House after the Sackvilles became earls of Dorset in 1604. The Lennoxes stayed here temporarily after their release, but what Margaret now wanted was to be fully restored to the Queen’s favor and back at court where she should be. She told Cecil that she and Lennox could not “reckon themselves fully restored to the Queen’s favour, unless they be admitted to her presence,” and she requested him to intercede with the Queen to that effect.81

  On February 7 “a well-known Catholic gentleman, a member of Parliament,” confided to Quadra “that some of the nobles would like to set aside all these pretenders such as Lady Katharine, Lady Margaret, the Earl of Huntingdon and all these folks, and give the kingdom to the person to whom it rightly belongs, namely the Queen of Scotland,” especially if she married Don Carlos and restored the Catholic faith.82

  The Privy Council would not have agreed, but they certainly wanted to set aside Margaret’s claim to the throne, and were secretly taking steps to undermine it. But someone talked, because on March 28, Quadra reported that “the Queen’s council are occupied in proving Lady Margaret to be a bastard, and are taking evidence on the matter, though with great secrecy.”83 They had obtained a statement from William Barlow, Bishop of Chichester, that on an embassy to James V of Scots in 1534–35, he had been instructed to persuade Margaret Tudor to renounce Lord Methven and be reconciled to Angus. Methven had protested that the Queen was lawfully married to him, and shown Barlow “an authentic instrument of divorce made at Rome,” which showed that “the cause of the divorce was grounded upon allegations and proofs that before the Earl married the Queen he was married to another gentlewoman.”

  Lord William Howard, who had accompanied Barlow on this embassy, had told him he had a special command from the King’s Majesty “diligently to inquire” about Margaret Tudor’s marriage, and he and Barlow had obtained from Angus’s first wife a letter in her own hand, as proof of her marriage with the Earl.84

  On March 21, Cecil wrote a memorandum summing up this information85 and sounded out Maitland on the issue of Margaret’s legitimacy.86 But there could be no arguing with the well-known plea of Margaret Tudor that she had been ignorant of any precontract entered into by Angus, or the confirmation of that in the dispensation granted to her, and so Margaret’s legitimacy had to be upheld.87


  “Lady Lennox’s Disgrace”

  After a short sojourn at Sackville Place the Lennoxes returned to Settrington to sort out their troubled affairs,1 but Margaret did not stay long, and on May 14, 1563, it was reported that “Lady Lennox lies at St. John’s of Jerusalem,2 the old priory of the Knights Hospitallers in Clerkenwell, where Mary Tudor had stayed in some state in Edward VI’s reign. Having reverted to the Crown at the Dissolution, it was one of several properties that the Queen had at her disposal to make available to Margaret.

  Elizabeth was now in negotiations to marry the Archduke Charles of Austria, who was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and also a suitor of Mary, Queen of Scots, but Quadra reported that “the Catholics of this country are dead against the match with the Archduke.” They had told him clearly they would rather have Darnley as king than the Archduke, “as they are dissatisfied with the latter in the matter of religion.”3

  Margaret was making efforts to get into the Queen’s good boo
ks, and found that Elizabeth, eager to discountenance the supporters of Katherine Grey, was now full of goodwill toward her and her husband and ready to receive them back at court. In June she agreed to write to Queen Mary in support of their appeal to have the attainder on Lennox reversed, which was now a matter of the most urgent necessity, given his desperate financial situation. On June 16 she informed Mary that, “having sundry times been requested by our dear cousin, the Lady Margaret, and her husband, the Earl of Lennox, to recommend their several suits, which have continued long in Scotland,” and “having spoken to him, and considered the nearness of her blood” to herself and to Mary, “we thought neither we could deny this for our part, nor you mislike our request for your part.” She urged Mary “to give their causes such consideration as in honour and reason they shall merit.”4 This was not a wholly altruistic gesture, as Elizabeth was well aware that Lennox’s Scottish estates were worth far less than the property he owned in England, and that, if they were restored to him, his best interests would still remain in England, so he was unlikely to jeopardize them by trying to marry his son to the Scottish Queen.

  It may be that Elizabeth supported Lennox’s suit because she saw it as a means of being rid of him and his troublesome wife. Queen Mary was unlikely to tolerate Margaret’s pretensions to the English throne, since she wanted it for herself. Moray, who had shunted aside Châtelherault, was ready to welcome back the Duke’s rival as a counterbalance to the Hamiltons.5

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