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

  She told Leicester how Bess had pressed her to stay, and how she had been unable to refuse, and insisted that neither she nor Lady Suffolk had known of Bess’s invitation “till the morning after I came to Newark. And as I meant simply and well, so did I least mistrust that my doings should be taken in evil part.” Here she related the interview she had had with the Queen before her journey.

  Now, my lord, for the hasty marriage of my son, after he had entangled himself so that he could have none other, I refer the same to your lordship’s good consideration whether it was not most fitly for me to marry them, he being mine only son and comfort that is left me. Your lordship can bear me witness how desirous I have been to have had a match for him other than this. And the Queen’s Majesty, much to my comfort, to that end gave me good words at my departure.

  She ended by craving “some comfort from her Majesty to help to lighten me of the heavy burden of this most wearisome journey” and begged for Leicester’s “kind influence in her favour.”41

  Margaret also wrote that day to Burghley:

  My very good lord,

  Assuring myself of your friendship, I will use but few words at this present other than to let you understand of my wearisome journey and the heavy burthen of the Queen’s Majesty’s displeasure, which I know well I have not deserved, together with a letter of small comfort that I received from my lord of Leicester, here enclosed, the copy of my letter now sent to my lord of Leicester; and I beseech you to use your friendship towards me as you see time. Thus with my hearty commendations I commit you to Almighty God, Whom I beseech to send you long life to your heart’s desire.

  Your lordship’s assured loving friend, Margaret Lennox.42

  Fearful of the Queen’s displeasure, most of Margaret’s friends had abandoned her, but Leicester interceded with Elizabeth on her behalf and let Margaret know that he had done so.43 Yet surely she did not expect either Leicester or Burghley to believe that she was so naïve as to have overlooked the need to inform the Queen of Charles’s proposed marriage.

  On December 4, Shrewsbury wrote nervously to Elizabeth, still trying to make the affair sound as innocent as possible, and to exonerate himself:

  May it please your Majesty,

  I understand of late your Majesty’s displeasure is set against my wife for the marriage of her daughter to my lady of Lennox’s son. I must confess to your Majesty, as true it is, that it was dealt in suddenly and without my knowledge, but as I dare undertake and ensure to your Majesty for my wife, she finding her daughter disappointed of young Bertie, whereof she hoped, and that the other young gentleman [Charles] was inclined to love with a few days’ acquaintance, did her best to further her daughter to that match, without having therein any other intent or respect than with reverent duty thought towards your Majesty.

  In other words, Bess had despaired of finding a husband for her daughter, and had merely seized this unlooked-for opportunity. Shrewsbury went on:

  I wrote of this matter to my good lord of Leicester a good while ago at great length. I hid nothing from him I knew was done about the same, and thought it not meet to have troubled your Majesty therewith, because I took it not to be of any such importance as to write of, till now that I am urged by such as I see will not forbear to speak and devise what may procure any suspicion or doubtfulness of my service here. But as I have always found your Majesty my good and gracious sovereign, so do I comfort myself that your wisdom can find out right well what causes there are that move them thereunto, and therefore I [am] not afraid of any doubtful opinion or displeasure to remain with your Majesty of my wife or me, whom your Highness and your Council, as good cause is, have tried many ways in most dangerous times. We never had thought or respect but as your Majesty’s most true and faithful servants, and so do truly serve and faithfully love and honour your Majesty.44

  Margaret’s bedraggled and exhausted party arrived in London on December 10. They had received orders to go to Hackney, there to remain under house arrest pending official inquiries. On the Queen’s command, the newly married couple were separated.45

  That day, as soon as she arrived at Hackney, Margaret wrote to thank Leicester for presenting her excuse to the Queen. She again justified her visit to the Countess of Shrewsbury at Rufford, saying she had had no idea that it would offend the Queen, whose command she had obeyed. “I neither went to Chatsworth, which was the place her Majesty did mislike of, nor yet near Sheffield, by thirty miles at the least.” As for consenting to the “marriage of my son with the daughter of the Countess of Shrewsbury, surely my lord, as touching the marriage, other dealing or longer practice was there none, but the sudden affection of my son, as heretofore I have written unto your lordship to be a mean unto her Majesty to pity my cause and painful travel, and to have compassion on my widowish estate, being aged and of many cares.”46 But Shrewsbury had already said that the two countesses had been planning the marriage for a year, which proved that Margaret was lying. As far as the Queen was concerned, that smacked of a treasonable conspiracy.47

  On December 12, Fénélon reported to King Henry III of France: “Lady Lennox came this day to court. She fears greatly the indignation of Queen Elizabeth, and that she will send her to the Tower on account of the marriage of her son. Still she relies on friends, who she hopes will save her from this blow.”48 The next day Margaret was summoned to appear before the Queen.49 There is no record of what took place at the audience, but certainly Elizabeth was not interested in her excuses. Like her father, Henry VIII, in 1536, she had every right to be angry, for she felt that her prerogative had been usurped, and that in doing so Margaret had committed treason. But for now the Queen stayed her hand and allowed her to go home to Hackney. Margaret, Charles and Elizabeth were ordered, on pain of close imprisonment, not to stir from their abode, and not to speak to anyone save those persons whom the Privy Council permitted to listen to them.50

  The Queen now commanded that a commission of inquiry be set up under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham, her new principal Secretary of State, to establish how the marriage had come about. Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, in whose house Margaret and Bess had first met years before, was ordered to question both of them, and every servant in their households. Both the Queen of Scots and Shrewsbury hated Huntingdon—Mary feared him because he was a staunch Puritan and a threat to her with his rival claim to the throne, and there was rivalry between the two earls.51 Bess was placed under house arrest at Rufford pending the outcome of the inquiry.

  The government clearly suspected a far-ranging conspiracy. Huntingdon was to begin by questioning Margaret’s servants. On December 22, Walsingham informed him that the Queen’s pleasure was that Thomas Fowler and Charles’s former tutor, Malliet, be examined. Before Fowler was questioned he was to be kept in close custody for four or five days, and warned that “unless he shall dutifully confess what he knows, he is like to incur some greater peril. Some such kind of persuasion cunningly used may, perhaps, breed such fear and deep conceit in him as may cause him to utter such truth as otherwise may hardly be drawn out of him.” As for Malliet, if there was no cause to detain him, he could be set at liberty.

  Walsingham informed Huntingdon that the Queen had lately learned “by secret means that the Bishop of Ross and a Scotsman called the Laird of Kilsyth, about half a year past, who remained in London well near six months, pretending to be enemies to the Queen of Scots, have had before their departure out of England some secret access to the Lady Margaret’s house at Hackney.” This would not have been surprising, because Sir William Livingston, Laird of Kilsyth, was of the Lennox affinity; he had been a friend of Darnley’s, and remained a friend of Queen Mary. Anyone trying to communicate with Mary was suspect, and a compromising letter from Kilsyth had been intercepted. Walsingham had liked Kilsyth, and was appalled to think that the Laird had been playing a double game. As a result of English pressure, Kilsyth was banished from Scotland for seven years. Possibly he had helped to convince Margaret that Mary
was innocent of Darnley’s murder. In 1581 he would be on the jury that condemned Morton to death for it.52

  Huntingdon was also told that Antonio de Fogaza had conveyed letters to Sheffield and was “acquainted with the Lady Lennox, and, as is informed, some of her household”; and that Antonio de Guaras had, “since the late marriage, and especially since the Lady Lennox has been commanded to the keeping of her house, showed himself so inquisitive and fearful touching her case, as though some part of her dealings, not yet discovered, might reach unto himself, upon these advertisements her Majesty.” These two were to be closely examined. Fogaza and Guaras hated each other, but both represented Catholic powers that supported the Queen of Scots, and “Mr. Guaras was a friend of hers and bore affection to her.”53

  Worse still, he was conniving in a plot to rescue Margaret. Walsingham revealed that Guaras had “enquired often whether the Lady Lennox shall not be committed to the Tower, and seeks to have a vessel in readiness, as it is secretly informed, for the transportation of some whomsoever upon the sudden and need be.” Walsingham also knew of one of Charles’s servants called Wendslow, a cousin to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s steward, but “by former profession a Popish massing priest. What ill instruments such disguised men of his calling oftentimes have been, and are in these days most like to be, your lordship knows or may easily conjecture.”54

  In the event Walsingham himself interrogated Fowler. He fired numerous questions at him, most crucially “whether about midsummer last he was not sent to his mistress’ house at Temple Newsam,” and if so, for what cause. When he was there, had he gone to meet Bess at Sheffield or Rufford, how often, and on what “special matters”? Had he known, “or at least had some conjecture,” of Charles’s projected marriage?55

  Fowler was also questioned by Burghley as to whether, during Lennox’s regency in Scotland, there had been talk of plans for the English succession. Clearly the government feared that the Lennox marriage was part of a much wider conspiracy, almost certainly involving the Queen of Scots.56 Despite these close interrogations, the faithful Fowler revealed nothing of any import, and was soon released.

  Margaret fared far worse. On December 27, after what must have been a tense and dismal Christmas, she was imprisoned in the Tower. There she was accommodated in the Lieutenant’s Lodging, where she had been confined in 1565–67, and once again she lost control of her lands and property. Wendslow, who had confessed to encouraging Charles to marry Elizabeth Cavendish, was also sent to the Tower.57

  Prior to her arrest, Margaret had sent a desperate appeal to Shrewsbury, who did not delay in speaking up for her. On December 27 he informed Burghley that

  upon my Lady Lennox’s earnest request, I have written to my lords of the Council all I can find out of her behaviour towards this Queen [Mary] and dealing when she was in these north parts; and if some disallowed of my writing (as I look they will, because they would have it thought that I should have enough to do to answer for myself), let such reprove. I take it that Lady Lennox be a subject in all respects worthy of her Majesty’s favour, and for the duty I bear to her Majesty I am bound, methinks, to commend her as I find her, yea, and to entreat you and all my lords of the Council for her, to save her from blemish, if no offence can be found in her against her Majesty. I do not, nor can, find in the marriage of that lady’s son to my wife’s daughter can any way be taken, with indifferent judgment, [to] be any offence or contemptuous to her Majesty.

  It was but a right that “any subject may by law claim.”

  Shrewsbury shrewdly perceived that it was not so much the marriage that was exercising the minds of the Queen and her Council as the political agenda that might lie behind it. “But I must be plain with your lordship. It is not the marriage matter, nor the hatred some bear to my Lady Lennox, my wife or to me that makes this great ado and occupies heads with so many devices. It is a greater matter, which I leave to conjecture, not doubting your lordship’s wisdom has foreseen it.” He would not have Her Majesty imagine that there had been any “liking or insinuation” with Mary, Queen of Scots, which was at the hub of official fears—nor would he hide such for Margaret’s sake or his wife’s.58 He must also have been alluding to the dynastic possibilities of the marriage, a subject too dangerous to speak of openly.

  Late in January 1575, Bess was also summoned to London, and it has often been stated that she too was sent to the Tower, but there is no record of it, or of her coming south. It is likely that Elizabeth spared her imprisonment because she knew that there was no reason to doubt her loyalty,59 and because of the trust the Queen reposed in Shrewsbury.60 It would have been a political embarrassment to have the wife of the Queen of Scots’ jailer in prison for intriguing against the Queen.61 It was Margaret, with her royal blood and her infuriating maternal ambition, whom Elizabeth regarded as by far the more dangerous conspirator.

  During her imprisonment Margaret sent Mary a gift of a square of point tressé lace worked from her own white hairs “when she was in the Tower.” It was found among the possessions Mary left behind at Chartley Castle after her arrest in 1586, along with an ivory miniature of Margaret.62


  On February 18 and 20, during examinations of persons suspected of abetting the Queen of Scots, it emerged that in a letter to her supporters sent in November or December, Mary had been “desirous to know how the Queen’s Majesty of England liked of the marriage between Lord Lennox and Lady Shrewsbury’s daughter”; and that Mary had been informed that “it was thought that she was the deviser of that marriage,” to which she made no comment.63 This looked like proof that the government had been right to suspect that Charles’s marriage was part of a greater conspiracy, but for all its diligence it could uncover no evidence of one. That it had not taken seriously the protestations of Margaret and Shrewsbury that the marriage had been purely the result of a love affair is evident from its failure to question the Duchess of Suffolk. But soon afterward the commission concluded that there was no evidence to support formal charges of “large treasons.”64

  Elizabeth was still angry with Margaret, but she did sanction her release from the Tower. We do not know the date, but it was probably in the early months of 1575, as on April 19 (and also on October 13) Margaret leased land to a tenant at Settrington.65 On May 14, 1575, Bess’s stepson, Gilbert Talbot, informed her that recently his bearer, Master Tyndall, “was at Hackney, where he found them there well. And I trust very shortly that the dregs of all misconstruction will be wiped away, that their abode there after this sort will be altered.”66 Yet although Margaret had been freed, it seems that the family were still living under a cloud of displeasure, and it was not until October that the Queen finally decided that “money [was] at the ground of it” (i.e. the marriage between Charles and Elizabeth) and there was no other motive “that may cause twitch,”67 and Margaret was exonerated.

  There was more good news to come. On June 9, 1575, at Edinburgh, Margaret was designated as the nearest lawful heir after Archibald Douglas to her grandfather, George, Master of Angus.68

  By then, she had become a grandmother once again. Elizabeth had gone home to Chatsworth and there borne Charles a daughter.69 Now at last Margaret had cause to rejoice: “God, to my comfort, list to provide a young tender infant, mine heart for to cheer.” “That young lady fair”70 was given the medieval Scottish name Arbella, which, perhaps intentionally, had no obvious royal connections but was a variant on Annabella, meaning “graceful and beautiful”; in the fourteenth century there had been a queen of Scotland by that name, Annabella Drummond, the wife of Robert III. The christening may have been held at Edensor parish church, where other Cavendish babies had been baptized. Queen Mary, who had consented to be godmother but was not allowed to attend, sent a present for Arbella. Margaret was not among the sponsors, but she must have been delighted when the young parents returned to Hackney with her granddaughter, even if she had been disappointed that the baby wasn’t a boy. Even so, there were now three royal heirs of t
he Lennox line.

  Arbella’s arrival seems to have cemented the reconciliation between Margaret and Queen Mary, who was thrilled by the birth of her niece and sent Arbella more gifts.71 There was a gift for Margaret too, enclosed with a letter. Margaret’s reply, dated November 10, 1575, leaves us in no doubt that the two women were fully reconciled. It is inconceivable that she would have written in such loving fashion if she still believed Mary to be Darnley’s murderess. Her letter reveals that she knew how much Mary loved the child she had not seen since he was an infant, and who had been brought up to regard her as the personification of wickedness.

  It may please your Majesty, I have received your token and mind [remembrance] both by your letter and other ways, much to my comfort, specially perceiving what zealous natural care your Majesty has of our sweet and peerless jewel [James VI] in Scotland, not little to my content. I have been no less fearful than careful as your Majesty of him, that the wicked governor [Morton] should not have power to do ill to his person, whom God preserve from his enemies.

  We may infer from this that Margaret had found out that Morton had been one of the prime movers in the plot to murder Darnley, his own kinsman; small wonder then that she feared for James’s safety. She went on:

  Nothing I neglected, but presently, upon the receipt of your Majesty’s [letter], the court being far off, I sent one trusty [Fowler?], who had done so much as if myself had been there, both to understand the state present and for prevention of evil to come. He has dealt with such as both may and will have regard for our jewel’s preservation, and will use a bridle to the wicked when need requires.

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