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

  After Queen Margaret’s churching in late October, Henry VIII wanted her to journey south and join the lavish Christmas festivities at his court, but she was too ill to travel, or even to be moved.28 For weeks she lay bedridden at Harbottle with a “great and intolerable ache that is in her right leg, nigh to her body,” which may have been due to sciatica, a trapped nerve, or a fracture. It was not until November 26 that she was well enough to travel. Dacre settled her and her infant in a litter and set off for Morpeth Castle, nearly thirty miles southeast of Harbottle, but “her Grace was so feeble that all of this way she could not suffer no horses to go in the litter,” so it had to be borne by “honest personages of the country.”29 On the way they had to rest for four days at fourteenth-century Cartington Castle, a strong fortress of stone. Their next stop, on Sunday, December 2, was five miles away at Brinkburn Priory, and the following morning they came to Morpeth, where Dacre had summoned local dignitaries to greet the Queen.

  The castle at Morpeth had been built in the thirteenth century on a steep bank south of Ha’ Hill, replacing an earlier eleventh-century structure. Its keep, the Great Tower, stood within a bailey surrounded by a curtain wall.30 Dacre had spared no expense to welcome the sister of his sovereign. John Younge, Somerset Herald, wrote: “Never saw I a baron’s house better trimmed in all my life: the hall and chambers with the newest device of tapestry, his cupboard all of gilt plate with a great cup of fine gold, the board’s end served all with silver vessels, lacking no manner of victual and wildfowl to be put on them.”31

  When Henry VIII learned that Queen Margaret had borne her child, he commanded all the important gentlemen of Northumberland “to do them pleasure.”32 He lifted the ban on any Scot attending upon her, which meant that Angus was now free to join her at Morpeth and meet his new daughter. Lord Home was of his party. When Garnish visited Queen Margaret in December,33 bringing a letter from the King assuring the Queen and Angus a warm welcome at the English court, she received him lying in bed, and was much cheered by her brother’s kindness.

  In fact Henry was loudly proclaiming to all how badly his sister had been mistreated by Albany, and accusing the Regent of tearing her from her children, insulting and abusing her, stealing her jewels, forging her handwriting, and forcing her, in late pregnancy, to flee for her life. It was reported in France that “if the Duke of Albany did not abstain from and make reparation for his injuries to Margaret and her children, Henry would make him do so,” and was already planning to invade Scotland.34 Albany tried to defend himself, protesting that he had had no idea that the Queen had intended to escape, and went on begging her to return to Scotland. The French ambassador added fuel to the flames by claiming that she had been in no danger and had run off in a temper, but no one wanted to listen.

  Queen Margaret was still weak on December 8, when she was carried out of her bedchamber in a chair to inspect the rich gifts the King had sent her. Among them were twenty-two gowns of gold and cloth of tissue, silk and velvet, trimmed with fur.35 Garnish informed Henry VIII that she was “one of the lowest-brought ladies, with her great pain of sickness, that I have seen and [es]cape[d death],” and was suffering such agony in her leg that, when she had to be moved or turned in bed, “it would pity any man’s heart to hear the shrieks and cries that her Grace giveth; and yet, for all that, her Grace hath a marvelous mind upon her apparel for her body.”36 She seems to have been more preoccupied with her new wardrobe than with her baby. Showing off the gowns to Lord Home, she cried, “Here ye may see that the King my brother hath not forgotten me, and that he would not that I should die for lack of clothes!”37

  On December 17, Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian envoy in London, reported that when Queen Margaret was better, she would “by his Majesty’s orders come to the court in London.”38 But at Christmas, although “great house” was kept at Morpeth,39 the intolerable pain in the Queen’s leg worsened. The local physician and surgeon having failed to cure her, Dacre wrote to Henry VIII asking that a royal doctor be sent north.40 Apparently—possibly for want of any word on her progress—it was assumed at the English court that the infant Margaret Douglas had died, for on January 2, Cardinal Wolsey informed Giustinian that Queen Margaret “is yet most grievously ill, having been prematurely delivered of a daughter, who had subsequently died.”41 In fact the baby was thriving.

  It was not until the end of January 1516 that Queen Margaret began to recover. On March 15, Dacre reported to Henry VIII: “She amendeth continually and is greatly desirous to be coming towards your Highness.” But, fearing for her health, Dacre was keeping back some tragic news. On December 28 a Scottish delegation had brought word from Stirling Castle that the Queen’s favorite son, twenty-month-old Alexander, had died. The cause is not recorded, but in an age long before antibiotics, many children died in infancy, as had four of Alexander’s older siblings. Garnish observed, “If it comes to her knowledge, it will be fatal to her,”42 and when, in March, Dacre felt that she was sufficiently strong to bear the news, she collapsed in grief. Dacre did not “suspect any danger or peril of life,” but he again asked the King to send a physician from London all the same.

  Encouraged by an indignant Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor blamed Albany for Alexander’s death, and in her formal complaint against him would state that “it is much to be suspected he will destroy the young King, now that her son, the young Duke, is dead, most probably through his means.”43

  Two weeks later she suffered another blow when Angus told her that he would not be accompanying her to the English court. “More simple than malicious” (as the French ambassador to Scotland described him at this time),44 he wanted to make peace with Albany and secure the restoration of lands confiscated by the Regent. Without even taking leave of his wife, he left her and their daughter and returned to Scotland with Lord Home.45 Dacre, who saw this as no less than abandonment, chased the escaping lords as far as Coldstream, but none of his reproaches or pleas could persuade them to return. True to Angus’s expectations, Albany pardoned him, received him and Home into favor, and promised to return his lands, and thereafter Angus remained a close associate of the Regent.

  Angus’s sudden departure “made [the Queen] much to muse.”46 She took it “right heavily, making great moan and lamentation,” and looked to her brother for succor, crying that without it, “the King her son and she are likely to be destroyed.”47 This is the first evidence of a rift between the Queen and Angus, the first sign of the marital strife and power struggles that were heavily to overshadow Margaret Douglas’s childhood.


  Meanwhile a temporary peace between England and Scotland had been agreed, and Scottish envoys were on their way to London to discuss terms for Queen Margaret’s return to Scotland. The Queen was to follow in their wake. She was sufficiently recovered to leave Morpeth on April 7, 1516, but the litter and horses sent by Henry VIII did not arrive until four o’clock, so she and Margaret, now six months old, set off the next day. They were escorted by Lord Dacre and others as far as Newcastle.48 Here they were greeted by the city dignitaries and Sir Thomas Parr (father of the future Queen Katherine), before proceeding south the next day to Durham, where there was another civic welcome. From here Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, accompanied the Queen’s party to York, where Angus, sent by Albany, unexpectedly caught up with them and asked the Queen if he might join a Scottish embassy that was preparing to enter England. Still disgruntled with him, she refused, whereupon he returned to Scotland.

  On April 27, Queen Margaret was at Stony Stratford in Northamptonshire, and on May 3 she reached Enfield, Middlesex, where she stayed at Elsyng Palace,49 the home of Sir Thomas Lovell, treasurer of Henry VIII’s household. The next day she rode on to the village of Tottenham, north of London, and it was here, in Bruce Castle, the newly built manor house of a favored courtier, Sir William Compton,50 that Henry VIII was waiting to greet her and his infant niece. Brother and sister had not seen each other for thirteen years. When Margaret Tudor had g
one to Scotland, Henry, two years her junior, had been a boy of twelve. Now he was a handsome, athletic, talented and egotistical man of twenty-five, and had been ruling England for seven years. Queen Margaret saw before her a tall, broad-shouldered Adonis with flame-red hair and a beardless chin; Henry would not metamorphose into the bearded, overweight colossus of later years for another two decades.

  After a short conversation, the King escorted his sister, his niece and their retinue the rest of the way to the City of London, and at six o’clock that evening Queen Margaret, royally attired and riding a white palfrey, passed in procession along Cheapside, preceded by Sir Thomas Parr and followed by many lords and ladies. Thus she came to Baynard’s Castle by the River Thames, a royal residence that she would have remembered well from her childhood. Here lodgings had been made ready for her and her daughter.51 After resting there until May 7, mother and child joined the court at Greenwich Palace.

  Henry VIII and his Queen, Katherine of Aragon, received her there joyfully, and with them was the youngest Tudor sibling, Mary, the widow of Louis XII of France. A year before, Mary, the beauty of the family, had caused a scandal by secretly making a second marriage, for love, with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Henry had been furious, and had imposed a crippling fine on the couple before receiving them back into favor. Now there were feasts, revels, jousts and a banquet in the Queen’s chamber.

  In February 1516, Katherine—whose first four children had died in infancy—had at last presented the King with a healthy daughter, Mary, who now took precedence over Margaret Tudor and Margaret Douglas in the English succession. The two cousins were much of an age, but of course they were far too young at this time to form any friendship. It is likely that Margaret only stayed in the royal nursery at Greenwich while her mother was there, and that after their visit she went to stay with her at “Scotland,” where Queen Margaret was allocated lodgings during her sojourn in England.

  “Scotland” was a palatial complex that lay south of Charing Cross. It had acquired its name from being used as a residence for visiting Scottish monarchs, and was convenient for Westminster and Parliament, which they attended in their capacity as English barons. First built by the Saxon King Edgar in A.D. 959 so that Kenneth III of Scots would have suitable accommodation when he came annually to London to pay homage, the buildings in the complex were called Little Scotland Yard, Middle Scotland Yard, and Great Scotland Yard. They were built around a courtyard, enclosed with a brick wall, and had “large pleasure-grounds extending to the river.” According to the Elizabethan historian John Stow, the palace was “a very great building,” but little else is known about it, and no clear image of it survives. Here Queen Margaret lived quietly, with “little or no semblance of state.”52

  In November 1519 an annuity of £10 was granted to Queen Margaret’s former nurse, Alice Davy, who had cared for her in her infancy from 1489 to 1491.53 This was “for services to the Queen Consort and Margaret, Queen of Scotland.”54 It was not unusual for royal servants to be rewarded after a lapse of years, but the annuities that Henry VIII had granted to those who had served his mother, Elizabeth of York, who died in 1503, had been assigned by 1515. The fact that Mrs. Davy had rendered services to Katherine of Aragon and Margaret Tudor suggests that she had been employed more recently in their nurseries, and that Queen Margaret had called upon her old nurse to look after her baby.


  Margaret and her mother remained in England for a year. Angus, despite having been given leave by Albany, had refused to join them. He had also appropriated his wife’s rents, so the Queen had little money of her own, and although Henry VIII made occasional payments to her, at Christmas 1516 she was forced to beg Cardinal Wolsey for financial help.55

  In the summer of 1517, Albany returned to France to tend to his sick wife, leaving James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, as president of the Scottish Council, with Angus and other lords serving alongside him. It was to be a volatile partnership, as Angus was unable to work amicably with Arran, but was bent on pursuing his bloody feud with the Hamiltons.

  In the wake of the truce between Scotland and England, Queen Margaret’s hopes of regaining the regency flourished anew. On May 18, 1517, furnished with a safe-conduct from the young King James and assurances of the restoration of her revenues,56 she departed from London, taking the eighteen-month-old Margaret with her. Escorted by George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, they set out on the long ride north, the King having summoned various lords and gentlemen to receive them with due ceremony along the route.57 The Queen fell ill at Doncaster, but pressed on to York, where the Earl of Northumberland waited upon her, and thence to Durham, and Berwick, where she hesitated, reluctant to return to the kingdom where she had suffered so many troubles. “Her Grace,” Thomas Magnus reported, “considereth now the honour of England, and the poverty and wretchedness of Scotland, which she did not afore, but in her opinion esteemed Scotland equal to England.” But she had to go back, and on June 15 young Margaret crossed the border into Scotland for the first time.58

  At Lamberton Kirk, three miles from Berwick, Angus, accompanied by his kinsman, James Douglas, Earl of Morton, and other lords, was waiting to greet his wife and child. He had not come voluntarily but had been sent by the Scottish Council. According to Margaret, he “behaved right courteously to her,”59 and a reconciliation of sorts took place. Attended by an escort of three thousand men-at-arms, they rode together toward Edinburgh, where, on the evening of June 17, the Queen was received with some state and lodged in Holyrood Palace, recently vacated by Albany.

  But she was still to be denied a share in the government and access to her son, James V. During the succeeding years she made abortive attempts to regain power, but there was no hope of that after Henry VIII made a new truce with the Scots without insisting on redress for the wrongs she had suffered, and she was in financial straits because of difficulties in obtaining payment of her dower revenues. This was the backdrop to Margaret’s childhood.


  “Disdained with Dishonour”

  Until she reached the age of ten or twelve Margaret remained in the charge of her mother. We do not know how much she saw of her, since royal children were normally looked after by nurses and servants; it was a queen’s duty to ensure that her offspring were well cared for and educated, sometimes in a household of their own, not to participate in their daily care. But Margaret Tudor, for all that she was preoccupied with political affairs and wrangling for what she believed to be her due entitlements, must have been one of the primary influences on her daughter. Her devotion to the interests of her son, James V, may have had some bearing on the younger Margaret’s ambitions for her own sons, and her willingness—in an age not noted for indulging children—to spoil them. We can see in the adult Margaret much of her mother’s passionate persistence in fighting for her rights.

  Margaret was brought up as a princess, probably spending most of her early years in the nurseries of the various royal palaces in which her mother resided. It is likely that she learned some English from the Queen, but Scots would have been her first language, and even though she would in time learn to speak and write fluent English, her letters in later life—written phonetically, as letters then were—betray a strong Scottish accent. She wrote, for example, “curt” (court), “dede” (did), “erl” (earl), “borden” (burden) and “warsse” (worse).1

  Strictly contemporary sources are for the most part silent on Margaret’s childhood, yet shortly after her death a Commemoration, in verse form, was published by John Phillips, who had served her and evidently knew her well.2 It is, predictably, laudatory and reverent, and yet Phillips, a student of divinity, was a Puritan preacher with no reason to approve of Margaret, who had for years been known—even notorious—for her strong Catholic faith. The fact that he chose to hallow her memory with praise says much for the enduring impression she made on him, and shows that his account was not mere flattery. The personal details in it strongly suggest that it was base
d on her own reminiscences and perhaps those of the people who served her, so Phillips can be forgiven for getting a little muddled in places, since he is treating of events that had occurred decades before. His Commemoration was written as if Margaret herself was looking back over her life, and therefore it has a deeply personal aspect. From it we know something of the tenor of her early upbringing and education. Like most highborn girls, she was “trained to virtue and grace, in faith and God’s fear,” in “obedience and truth. No lightness in me could any discern. My heart and my hand to do good was bent, and wisdom to learn I was well content.”


  Early in 1518, Queen Margaret discovered that Angus had been having an affair with the beautiful Lady Janet Stewart of Traquair. He had been betrothed to her before his marriage to Margaret Tudor, and had apparently become close to her during his wife’s long sojourn in England; worse still, he was using his wife’s revenues to enrich himself and his mistress. Margaret had forgiven him for allying with Albany and refusing to join her in England; now she became consumed with jealousy and a violent, enduring hatred, and decided to separate from him at once. Margaret, at only three, now found herself the only child of a broken marriage, for whom the term “warring parents” would become only too apt.

  It was to be a long and complicated affair, drawn out over nine years, and engendering much bitterness. There were vicious quarrels, in which the Douglases—and even Henry VIII, who thought it immoral for Margaret to leave her husband—sided with Angus, and Angus’s enemy, Arran, with the Queen. In October 1518 she wrote to Henry VIII, “I am sore troubled with my lord of Angus, and every day more and more, so that we have not been together this half year.” He had done her “much evil” and she was minded “to part with him, for I wit well he loves me not, as he shows me daily.”3 It would not have been surprising if, under her mother’s influence, Margaret had grown up to have a jaundiced opinion of her father. That would have been understandable, for Angus seized the Queen’s property and appropriated more of her revenues, obliging her to live “as a poor suitor” in Edinburgh. She, in turn, refused to allow him any share in the regency she hoped to secure, and made secret overtures to Albany for help in obtaining the divorce she desperately wanted. At one point she even alleged—blatantly falsely—that her second marriage was bigamous because her first husband, James IV, had still been alive three years after he had supposedly been slain at Flodden.4

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