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

  Mary responded to Lennox on March 1, denying that she meant to defer bringing the murderers to justice. She wanted them apprehended “the sooner the better.” If Lennox could name those he thought worthy to suffer trial, she would approve proceedings against them.27

  When, shortly before March 1, Melville visited Margaret, she had calmed down and was more circumspect in regard to Mary. She

  told him she could not believe that his Queen had been a party to the death of her son, but she could not help complaining of her for her bad treatment of him. He asked her to write to her, and she said she could not do so without leave of this Queen, who seems to have taken great pity on her, and has sent to her her other son, who was confined in the Dean of Westminster’s house.

  Every day it becomes clearer that the Queen of Scotland must take steps to prove that she had no hand in the death of her husband, if she is to prosper in her claims to the succession here. The spirit of the Catholics has been greatly weakened by this event.28

  In Edinburgh there were “great suspicions” but “no proof or appearance of apprehension yet.”29 On March 8, Lennox sent Henry Killigrew to Cecil “touching this late, unnatural and most cruel murder of the King my son,” and urged Cecil to press Elizabeth “to revenge the shedding of her Highness’s own innocent blood.”30 But it was a month before Elizabeth offered even covert support, and by then it was too late.

  On March 12, Winchester, the Lord Treasurer, reported to Cecil: “I perceive my Lady Lennox is resting now with my Lady Dacre and my Lady Sackville, by the Queen’s order, and without money to help herself, and therefore thinketh some unkindness in me that I do not help her.” But he was unable to do so because the money raised from the Lennox estates was at York and the Queen’s receiver, who looked after the assets of sequestered properties, was in London. For now Margaret was effectively destitute and reliant on the charity of her hosts. The hardship of her case moved a harrassed Winchester to offer to borrow money for her to pay the Lieutenant of the Tower for the expenses incurred by him on her behalf, and he expressed his wish that “the Queen’s Highness would let her have her land again in her own receipt, and so she would be best pleased, whereof I shall be very glad.”31

  Margaret’s custodian, Cicely Baker, Lady Sackville, was a great beauty, but was to acquire a dubious reputation: In a satire of the period she is thrice damned as a prostitute and called “my Lady Lecher.”32 Anne, Lady Dacre, was Thomas Sackville’s sister, an imperious woman with a strong character. One might wish for some insights on relations between these two interesting ladies and Margaret, for they were to keep her company for about three more months. In March she was set fully at liberty,33 but she was to remain at Sackville Place until a suitable lodging could be found for her.


  As Queen Mary seemed unwilling to proceed against Bothwell, Lennox wrote to her on March 17 demanding his arrest and trial, and that of half a dozen other suspects—apparently on his own arbitrary assumption that Bothwell was guilty. He could not resist adding that, “as for ye names of ye persons foresaid, I marvel that ye same has been kept from your Majesty’s ears,” considering the proliferation of placards naming Bothwell as Darnley’s killer. Lennox also asked to be appointed the governor of his grandson, Prince James,34 in place of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, whom Mary had chosen to have charge of him. It was customary for heirs to the throne to be given their own households and governors, even in infancy.

  Six days later Mary authorized Lennox to proceed with a private prosecution of Bothwell and his associates. She informed him that she would command them to stay in Edinburgh for a week, pending the setting of a date for their trial.35 The next day, March 24, Lennox officially charged Bothwell with the murder of Darnley.36 On March 28 the Council decreed that the trial should be held on April 12, and Lennox was formally summoned.37 But most people felt intimidated by Bothwell, who was not only in constant attendance on the Queen and still high in her favor, but could also command a formidable armed following and the royal arsenal at Dunbar. Thus when news of the forthcoming trial spread, what little support Lennox had in Edinburgh began to melt away.38

  Lennox was worried about Margaret. He marveled “what the cause should be that since his wife’s liberty she has not let him understand the present state she is in,” and on April 2 desired Sir William Drury “to advertise him what he hears of her.”39 We do not know the reason for Margaret’s silence. Possibly she had been too sunk in grief to write to him, or her letters had been delayed.

  There were those in high places in Scotland, the real murderers of Darnley, who had a vested interest in silencing Lennox, and who feared that his persistent demands for justice would lead to their exposure. He knew he was in danger. By April 4, concerned for his grandson’s security, he had resolved with Moray, Atholl and other lords to ask that Prince James be kept in the care of four noblemen, not just one.40

  But he himself would not be one of them. Before Bothwell’s trial even took place, Lennox had already “procured his leave to depart out of Scotland.”41 He was fast realizing that lack of support and open hostility would hinder his case, especially since Bothwell “jetteth up and down the street with great companies of men.” On April 11 he wrote to Mary from Stirling, telling her that he was too ill to travel. He asked for a further postponement of the trial, so that he could have time to gather more evidence, and requested that she imprison Bothwell and grant Lennox himself a commission to apprehend anyone whom he suspected of having been involved in Darnley’s murder.42 He sent his servant Robert Cunningham to the Queen with this letter and two libels, in the first of which he compared Mary’s role in the murder of Darnley, that “innocent lamb,” to Judas’s betrayal of Christ.43 He could not have made it plainer that he considered the Queen a guilty party.

  Accompanied by three thousand men of his affinity, Lennox rode from Glasgow to Linlithgow. There he received orders from the Queen that he could take with him to Edinburgh only six of his company, whereupon he “refused to come in that manner.” Bothwell, on the other hand, was allowed to pack the Tolbooth with four hundred of his armed supporters.44 Lennox sent Robert Cunningham in his stead, “protesting that his absence was through fear of his life, and that any judgement by the assize would be in error.”45 He asked for the case to be postponed, but was refused, and without the only witness for the prosecution the case collapsed. Elizabeth’s messenger, come belatedly to urge Mary to postpone the trial, had been halted at the gates of Edinburgh Castle, and was not admitted until the proceedings were over. It was this that hardened Elizabeth’s attitude to Mary and earned her sympathy for the Lennoxes. At long last she publicly acknowledged Darnley, her “nearest kinsman,” as King of Scots.46

  On April 21, Silva reported that Margaret knew nothing of Bothwell’s acquittal.47 Possibly the news had been kept from her for the moment, it being felt that, in her fragile emotional state, it would be too much for her.

  Mary had given Lennox license to leave the country. “He has the Queen of Scotland’s leave for ten years’ absence, during which he may enjoy his Scotch revenues.”48 On April 15, at Stirling, knowing that he had no choice but to depart from Scotland, Lennox visited the ten-month-old Prince James and asked his friend John Erskine, Earl of Mar, “to have earnest regard to his charge.”49 Disgusted at Mary’s apparent inertia, and knowing that he was a marked man, he was obliged to go into hiding in Scotland until a ship could be found to take him to England. On April 23 he wrote to Drury: “Good Mr. Marshal, I shall desire you to dispatch this enclosed letter to my wife by the through post. It is unclosed, that you may see the contents. From my ship at the Gairloch.”50 He wrote to Margaret: “The Queen returns this day from Stirling,” where she had visited Prince James. “The Earl of Bothwell hath gathered many of his friends. He is minded to meet her this day and take her by the way, and bring her to Dunbar. Judge ye if it be with her will or no.”51

  The next day Bothwell effectively seized power in Scotland when he did intercept
the Queen near Edinburgh as she was returning from a visit to Prince James at Stirling, and carried her off to Dunbar, where he isolated and later raped her—some said with her consent. No one attempted to rescue her, which in itself indicates how widely it was believed that she had connived at her own abduction. Elizabeth showed herself “greatly scandalised” when she heard what Bothwell had done, but her ambassador in Paris was saying openly that Mary had arranged the murder of Darnley so that she could marry Bothwell, so it seems likely that Elizabeth herself believed that Mary had colluded with Bothwell.

  On April 29, Lennox sailed from Scotland, and by May 10 he had arrived at Portsmouth. Before landing he sent to Elizabeth for permission to disembark and a safe-conduct. “She replied that he shall be well treated and may come to her without any need for discussing conditions about it.” She had just received “letters from Scotland saying that it is publicly announced there that the Queen will be married shortly to Bothwell at Dunbar with all solemnity.”52 The wedding took place on May 15 at Holyrood Palace, in the same chapel in which Mary had been joined to Darnley, although on this occasion the service was conducted according to the Protestant rite, Bothwell being of that faith—which shows the extent of his power over Mary. Lennox was then still at Portsmouth, awaiting Elizabeth’s permission to land, but now a storm drove his vessel across the English Channel to Brittany. When Margaret heard, she “sent a ship for him.”53

  On May 24, Silva reported that there was talk of delivering the Prince of Scotland to the English Queen to be brought up by his grandmother, Margaret, who had “sent to me a few days since to say, that as she heard the Earl of Leicester was coming to consult me as to the advisability of this Queen’s receiving the child here, the subject having been discussed in the Council, she begged me to advise that it should be done.” Whoever had the young King in their custody was in the strongest position to influence events in Scotland. Silva told Leicester that

  they should make every effort to get the child here, because if it was desirable that he should inherit the crown, they could have him in their own hands, and thus keep in check other claimants in this country, whilst if he were not to succeed they could put him into a safe place, so that in no case would any harm come to them from it. I said it was meet that the Queen should act promptly about it, as it was notorious that the French were endeavouring to get the child. I do not know whether the French will be more artful than they, but they are trying their hardest.54

  Having been detained briefly by the Governor of Brittany, Lennox had sailed for home and docked safely at Southampton. On June 7 he wrote to Queen Elizabeth seeking forgiveness for his past disloyalty. Killigrew had forwarded a letter from Margaret assuring him that the Queen would be sympathetic, and Lennox told Elizabeth he remembered her

  graciously sending to the Queen of Scots to stay that most partial and unreasonable day of law appointed for the cleansing of him who was the chief persecutor and murderer of the late King of Scotland, my son—I mean the Earl [of] Bothwell. Having a great desire to speak with you, I am now come to Southampton, minding not only to submit me wholly to your merciful hands next to God, but also to serve you, trusting that your highness will remember the murder of your poor kinsman, till upright justice may be had. I await your gracious answer before presuming to depart hence.55

  Having lost all faith in Mary, the Lennoxes would henceforth direct their appeals for justice to Elizabeth. On June 11, before Elizabeth left London for Richmond, “Lady Margaret went to see the Queen. She was well received, and to her prayer that the Queen would help her to avenge the death of her son she obtained a favourable reply.” Her friend Leicester “made her great promises, and Cecil as well, the latter informing her that all that had been done for her was owing to his efforts, and he would continue to help her. He assured her that she should have her grandson, which proves that they are trying to get hold of him. Lady Margaret thinks the French will not help the Queen of Scots.”56

  The next day, June 12, Lennox arrived in London and was reunited with Margaret, probably at Sackville Place. They had not seen each other for the best part of three years, and in that time their lives had been wrecked by tragedy; we can only imagine the feelings that overwhelmed them when they came together. Two days later Silva reported: “Lady Margaret has news that the Queen of Scotland, having sent word to the Earl of Mar that she wished to see her child, he answered that she might do so, but not Bothwell or any of those who are suspected of the King’s murder.”57

  On June 16, Margaret went to Richmond. “The Queen treated her well, and told her she could visit her whenever she liked and bring her son with her next time. The following day the Earl, her husband, went to kiss the Queen’s hand, and was also received kindly, staying with her over two hours giving her an account of what had happened in Scotland. He asked her aid to avenge his son and for the preservation of the Prince; and the Queen, after assuring him that she was satisfied with respect to the complaints she formerly made against him, said she was willing to help with men, money and all that was needful and in accordance with the Scotch lords, but she could not take any part against the person of the Queen.”58

  That summer Elizabeth persuaded George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, to let the Lennoxes stay in his ancient and decaying mansion of Coldharbour, since—pending the restoration of their property—they had nowhere to live.59 Coldharbour stood on the northern foreshore of the Thames, in the parish of All Hallows in the City of London. In 1484, Richard III had granted the royal heralds this ancient house as a permanent home. Dating from at least the early fourteenth century, it had been a great mansion; among its famous residents had been Henry IV, Henry V, Sir John de Pulteney, four-time mayor of London and builder of Penshurst Place, and Alice Perrers, Edward III’s mistress, who added a tower to the house. The heralds had held the house for only a year when Richard III was killed and Henry VII canceled the grant of Coldharbour, which he gave to his mother, Margaret Beaufort, Margaret’s great-grandmother. In 1553 the house had been given to Francis Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who changed its name to Shrewsbury House. Now it retained only vestiges of its former glory.60


  By June 24 news of the Queen of Scots’ overthrow had reached the English court. Nine days earlier the forces of Mary and Bothwell had been defeated at Carberry Hill. On the promise of the lords to give Bothwell safe-conduct into exile, Mary surrendered and was taken prisoner. The lords then paraded her in shame through Edinburgh, where a baying mob howled for her blood. On the face of it, this was good news for the Lennoxes, but the capture of Mary would rebound on their hopes for justice, because Mary was an anointed queen, and Elizabeth, although she sympathized with the couple’s frustrations, was to do all she could to secure her sister monarch’s release and prevent the Scottish lords from executing her and creating a dangerous precedent. For this she needed the support of the Hamiltons, who were loyal to Mary. At the same time, she was anxious to see a Protestant government in Edinburgh, which would benefit England and bring about a closer relationship between the two kingdoms. None of these policies was acceptable to the Lennoxes.

  On June 23, Bedford, hastening southward, forwarded to Cecil “letters which he has received from the lords of Scotland,” explaining why “they had imprisoned their lawful Queen.” He added that the lords did not mean to crown the Prince, but Bedford, thinking that Elizabeth would want them to do so, intended “to request Lady Lennox to borrow money of the Queen for the furtherance of this action.”61 He had no doubt that Margaret would want to see her grandson crowned king of Scots in his mother’s place.

  Mary’s fate hung in the balance, as Robert Melville urged Cecil to send Lennox back to Scotland, where he was needed to counteract the influence of the Hamiltons, who were supporting their Queen. Melville also suggested that Thomas Bishop be sent to keep watch on the Earl.62 On June 26, Silva reported, incorrectly: “The Earl of Lennox has leave, and even orders, to go to Scotland.” It was true, though, that “the lords are k
eeping the Queen of Scotland in a castle on a lake.”63 This was Lochleven Castle, which stood on an island in the midst of a loch and offered maximum security.

  On June 28, Silva informed King Philip that “a base brother of Margaret”—Angus’s bastard, George Douglas, Bishop of Moray—

  has arrived here from Scotland, sent by the lords to her and her husband, the Earl of Lennox, to inform them of events, and to press them to ask the Queen for help in their enterprise and in the punishment of those guilty of the murder of the King. They say that they do not need men, but only money to pay them. Bothwell [who had escaped from the lords] is in the north country, raising troops.

  Margaret went yesterday to Richmond to speak to the Queen on these matters, and ask her for her decision. She stopped all night, and this brother of hers has gone today to give the Queen a detailed relation of affairs in Scotland. This Queen is sending Throckmorton to Scotland, and has ordered the estates of Lennox and Margaret in this country to be restored to them. She seems to be very sorry for their troubles.64

  At the end of June, instructed by Elizabeth to go north and save Mary’s skin, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton took leave of the Lennoxes at Coldharbour before departing for Scotland. He reported: “I have been with my lord and lady of Lennox, and declared briefly her Majesty’s honourable intent as to the Queen, the Prince, the lords, and justice on the murderers. They are much troubled with want of money. My lady wept bitterly, my lord sighed deeply. Surely her Majesty must needs have some commiseration of them, namely for her own service!” He added that Lennox was “desired in Scotland.”65

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