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

  I beseech your Majesty fear not, but trust in God that all there shall be well. The treachery of your traitor is known better than before. I shall always play my part to your Majesty’s content, willing God, so that [it] may tend to both our comforts.

  And now must I yield your Majesty my most humble thanks for your good remembrances and bounty to our little daughter here, Arbella, who some day may serve your Highness.

  Almighty God grant unto your Majesty an happy life.

  Hackney, this 10th of November.

  Your Majesty’s most humble and loving mother and aunt, M. L.72

  Elizabeth Lennox added a postscript:

  I most humbly thank your Majesty that it has pleased your Highness to remember me, your poor servant, both with a token and in my lady’s Grace’s letter [i.e. from Mary to Margaret], which is not little to my comfort. I can but wish and pray God for your Majesty’s long and happy estate till time I may do your Majesty better service, which I think long to do, and shall always be as ready thereto as any servant your Majesty hath, according as by duty I am bound. I beseech your Highness pardon these rude lines, and accept the good heart of the writer, who loves and honours your Majesty unfeignedly.

  Your Majesty’s most humble and lowly servant during life, E. Lennox.73

  Inevitably—for Margaret was probably still under surveillance—the letter was intercepted and brought to Burghley, and it may never have been received by Mary, for in the nineteenth century Agnes Strickland found it among government documents in the State Paper Office in London.74


  “Till Death Do Finish My Days”

  Until the spring of 1576, Margaret, Charles, Elizabeth, and baby Arbella lived together at Hackney.1 Margaret’s life was not easy at this time; she was deeply in debt and Charles was suffering from tuberculosis, that scourge of Tudor males. Margaret’s uncle, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, her cousin, Edward VI, and her grandfather, Henry VII, had all succumbed to it, Arthur and Edward at just fifteen years of age. Margaret was “reft” when Charles died, probably at Hackney, in April 1576, at the tender age of nineteen, and she was left “his loss to lament with tears.” “Thus Fortune still bent my joys to diminish, [and] in this mortal life my cares did augment.”2 All her children were now dead.

  She arranged for Charles to be buried temporarily in St. Augustine’s, the early-sixteenth-century parish church of Hackney,3 then a fashionable place of worship among the local elite. She then commissioned a tomb for him and herself in Westminster Abbey. The sculptor is unknown, but work began on it at once, under the direction of Thomas Fowler, and was “almost perfected” in her lifetime.4 She did not choose to spend eternity lying beside Lennox, clearly feeling that her rightful resting place was among the kings her forefathers at Westminster.

  Margaret wanted the earldom of Lennox to descend to Charles’s daughter Arbella, not only because she felt that was Arbella’s right, but because she herself had come to depend on its revenues. On April 24 she wrote from Hackney to Lord Ruthven:

  My good lord and nephew, I have received your most natural and friendly letter, which showeth to me you fail not your friend for no adversity. I take no small comfort at your friendly remembrance of me at this time, and specially to hear of my sweet jewel, the King’s Majesty, who the Almighty preserve. This is the first that I have written to any since my son’s death, for I have small care of worldly matters. Yet have I been persuaded by some friends here, ere now, to have sent to some friend of mine there, to know how the state standeth of the earldom of Lennox, because my son hath left a daughter behind him. And having my most special trust in your lordship, these are to desire the same advertisement from you so soon as ye may, whether his daughter be heritable to the land or not, and what your advice is for me to do I will follow (God willing), and till I have received the same I will not write to the Regent nor other there. Always for my own part my lord my husband made good assurance to me in dower for the most part of the lands of Lennox and Darnley. I pray you also procure and send me a perfect pedigree of the descent of the earls of Lennox from the first of the House, with arms and matches in marriage, for I am about a monument which requires the help thereof.

  This was almost certainly a reference to the tomb she was planning for Charles and herself. She ended: “Thus being bold to trouble you, as him whom in those parts I have my chiefest trust in, I commit you to God’s Almighty protection. Your lordship’s most assured loving aunt and friend.”5

  It was an opening salvo, signaling Margaret’s relentless determination to devote her formidable energies to the interests of Arbella, in whom, with James of Scotland, were now vested the Lennox claims to the crown. James VI was male and had the prior claim, but he was an alien; Arbella had been born in England. Margaret’s chief hope lay in James, but whatever happened, it looked as if one of her grandchildren was destined to sit on the English throne.

  Margaret was convinced it would be James. She wrote assuring him that he was her chief hope for the future.6 She sent him books on history, which stood him in good stead in later life, and hunting gloves embroidered with pearls.7 But she was fiercely protective of Arbella’s interests too. With Bess, the child’s other grandmother, she worked tirelessly to secure for her the earldom of Lennox.

  It seems that Burghley granted Margaret the wardship of her granddaughter, since the Shrewsburys were to apply for it later.8 Wardships could be profitable, but there was as yet no money in Arbella’s, and Margaret was poor. From now on she would marshal her considerable energy and powers of persuasion to protect Arbella’s interests. It was probably soon after Charles’s death that she and Bess agreed that Arbella and her mother should leave Hackney to live with Bess at Sheffield Castle. Bess had the wherewithal to raise the child in the manner to which the Countess of Lennox should have been accustomed, and maybe the widowed Elizabeth just wanted to go home to her mother. It has been asserted that Margaret was stricken with “a languishing decay” after Charles’s death,9 but she seems to have been active enough in the two years that followed it.

  Left alone at Hackney, Margaret probably missed Elizabeth and Arbella greatly, but she continued to focus her energies on securing her granddaughter’s inheritance and her own dower lands. She asked Thomas Randolph to lay Arbella’s case before the Regent Morton, arguing that, Mar having granted the earldom to Charles in 1572, it should now pass to Arbella by right of descent. Morton was obdurate, arguing that Arbella was too young to inherit the earldom, and that it must revert to King James until she was eighteen; in any case, since James had been a minor at the time the earldom had been conferred on Charles, “it may by the King be revoked at any time.”10 Morton himself was clearly against it being held by an alien: “he had rather the King should make choice, whom of his so near himself he would prefer.”11 Of course, if James reserved the earldom to himself, Margaret would lose most of her income.

  Indignantly Margaret wrote to the Queen, begging her to bring pressure to bear on Morton:

  1st. How the dower can be avoided by their laws. 2nd. How the Regent can disinherit the daughter of Charles Stuart, if he will not permit the dower to be answered. 3rd. If he will not permit the dower to be answered. 4th. If he will delay the admittance of Lady Arbella as heir to her father, then to demand that Lady Margaret have the right of the land of the Lennox during the King’s minority in right of wardship for her son’s child, etc., and her wages.12

  Elizabeth responded with a terse letter to Morton: “The Queen finds it very strange that any disposition should be intended of the earldom to the prejudice of the only daughter of the late Earl of Lennox.”13 But Morton remained impervious.

  Margaret was at Settrington on August 18, 1576, when she granted tenants a lease,14 but she and her cousin Lady Mary Grey were at court at Christmas, and their names head the list of those giving presents to the Queen.15 On New Year’s Day 1577, Elizabeth gave Margaret a small silver-gilt gift.

  Queen Elizabeth’s approach to Morton having
failed, Margaret appealed to Queen Mary, who was sympathetic and in February 1577 added a codicil to her will:

  I give to my niece Arbella the earldom of Lennox, held by her late father, and enjoin my son, as my heir and successor, to obey my will in this particular. And I restore to my aunt of Lennox all the rights that she can pretend to the earldom of Angus, previously to the grant made by commandment [in 1565] between my said aunt of Lennox and the Earl of Morton, seeing that it was then made by the late King, my husband, and me, on the promise of his [Morton’s] faithful assistance, if he [Darnley] and me were in danger and required his aid, which promise he broke by his secret understanding with our enemies and rebels that made the enterprise against his [Darnley’s] life, and also took up arms and bore banners displayed against us.

  In this will, drawn up the year before, Mary had left her right to the English succession to Charles Lennox “or Claud Hamilton, whichever shall serve us faithfully and be most constant in religion, should our son, James, persist in his heresy.”16 But Mary was no longer queen in Scotland so the document had no force whatsoever in law, and Morton ignored it.

  Margaret continued to put pressure on the Scottish government. On February 15 the English Council issued a passport to Thomas Helforth “to pass into Scotland in her affairs, and to return again,” and authorized the provision of “two geldings for him and his man,” on condition that he brought back “the said geldings at his return, and that the Marshal of Berwick shall take bonds of him for that purpose.”17 Helforth’s mission was almost certainly to gain support for Arbella’s claim to the earldom of Lennox.18 At this time Margaret was probably at Settrington, where on April 19, 1577, she granted another lease. She is not recorded there after this,19 although she may have stayed on for a few more months, as she was next recorded at Hackney in November.

  In late July, Leicester, taking the waters at Buxton, met with Queen Mary and Bess at Chatsworth. Pressed by Bess, he promised to use his influence with the Queen on Arbella’s behalf.20 There hangs at Hardwick Hall an exquisite portrait of the two-year-old Arbella, a grave, lavishly dressed little girl holding a doll and looking very much like her grandmother Margaret. Painted in the late summer or early autumn of 1577, it was almost certainly commissioned by Bess, who had it boldly inscribed Arabella Comitessa Levinae. Around the child’s neck is a triple gold chain with a pendant shield bearing a countess’s coronet and the Lennox motto, To achieve, I endure, in French. The portrait may have been intended to impress Leicester, or to be displayed at court when Bess and Elizabeth traveled south to London in September to press Arbella’s claim to the earldom of Lennox.21

  That July the Scottish Parliament finally ruled on “the dower of the Countess of Lennox in Scotland.” The lords recalled how in 1544, Lennox had promised to endow her with various parcels of land in Scotland; but now these lands had descended to the King with the earldom of Lennox. Margaret had demanded that Morton return them, but “he denies the same.” The Regent’s objections “against the right of the dower” were that “the covenant was made in England, and the Earl [Lennox] was banished” at the time, and that it was “against the common weal of Scotland.”22

  The lords then pronounced on Arbella’s title to the earldom of Lennox. Mar had given it to “Charles, late Earl of Lennox, and to his heirs for ever,” and Margaret had argued that after his death, “by reason of the said gift,” it should pass to Arbella. Morton had been asked to grant the wardship of the lands to Margaret, yet he “not only denied the same, but also denied to allow the lady [Arbella] as heir to the earldom; so that the Regent [Morton] will not permit her Grace to deal with the earldom either in her own right as for her dower, or in right of the young lady, as tutrix or guardian to her.”23 In this case Morton objected on the grounds that the earldom of Lennox, having been confirmed to Charles by the Earl of Mar, could be revoked by the King. If Morton allowed Arbella’s claim, “and the King hereafter should mislike, how should the Regent discharge himself?”24

  To be on the safe side, Morton had the earldom declared extinct, which meant that all the lands attached to it reverted to the Scottish Crown. He refused to grant Elizabeth Cavendish any dower or allow her to act in Scotland as Arbella’s guardian. She appealed to Burghley and then Leicester, but neither was in a position to help her.25 Queen Elizabeth expressed indignation at the disinheriting of Arbella, while Queen Mary was gratified that Margaret had now come to see how perfidious Morton could be.26

  Margaret’s efforts had been in vain. They were all gone now, the Lennoxes—Matthew, Darnley and Charles—and she was to remain in penury for the rest of her life, heavily encumbered with debt. Northumberland, who had been beheaded in 1572 for his part in the Northern Rising, had lent her money, and on his attainder, repayment had become due to the Crown. Bess had also made a loan to her, on which the interest was costing Margaret £500 (£74,650) a year.27 The Queen informed James VI that it was his responsibility to meet his grandmother’s debts, and that he could afford to do so now that he was in the possession of the Lennox estates. This fell on deaf ears.28 All Margaret now had to live on, and meet her debts, were some rents that had once been paid to Charles: “the old Lady Lennox before her death said that she was yearly satisfied for all that was due to her son Charles, late Earl of Lennox.”29

  In regard to Arbella, Margaret did not go down without a fight. She protested to Burghley, who on January 30, 1578, instructed Randolph “to recommend Lady Lennox’s causes to the Regent to be considered of, as in law and equity may be thought fit, in which she hopes he will be answerable to the care she has to right the subjects of Scotland who have sustained any loss by any of hers.”30 But it was a vain hope, and it has rightly been said that the struggle for Arbella’s inheritance overshadowed the twilight years of Margaret’s life.31


  In October 1577, Margaret was sixty-two. Phillips implies that she was worn down by the loss of her husband and children, and must have been lonely. Although in poor straits financially, she was still entertaining guests. On November 5, 1577, it was noted that “my lady of Essex came to Hackney a week past.”32 Lettice Knollys, the Dowager Countess of Essex, was the Queen’s cousin. Her late husband, Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, had died the previous year, and rumor had linked the Countess’s name to that of the Earl of Leicester, whom she would secretly marry the following year. Margaret may have been aware of the affair, as Leicester was her friend. The Countess brought with her to Hackney her two daughters, Penelope and Dorothy; all three were bound for the court to celebrate the Queen’s Accession Day, which by now had become an annual festival. Given Leicester’s connections with Margaret, it is possible that they visited her on the way.33

  Both Margaret and Queen Mary had been concerned that James VI, now eleven, was being brought up as a Calvinist, and to believe that his mother was an adulteress and a murderess. Mary had never recognized him as king in her stead, and in her will of 1577 she had bequeathed him her throne on condition that he become a Catholic. If he persevered in his “heresy,” her crown was to descend to Philip of Spain. In order to save James from being disinherited, and to boost her own cause, Mary wanted to have him spirited away to Spain, and in 1577–78 she corresponded secretly with Margaret to this end.34 But the plan, unrealistic and impractical as it was, came to nothing.

  Margaret was probably at court on New Year’s Day 1578, when she gave the Queen “a casting bottle of agate, garnished with gold and set with stone, with sparks of rubies, and a woman holding in her hand a scroll written with the word Abundancia.”35 In 1584, after Margaret’s death, Queen Mary, having fallen out with Bess (whom she blamed for spreading rumors that Mary had borne Shrewsbury a child), drafted what has become notorious as the “scandal letter” to Elizabeth, telling her how Bess had spread disparaging gossip about the Queen, and how she had ridiculed Elizabeth for having such a good opinion of her own beauty, as if she were “some goddess” and “glorious as the sun.” Mary recounted how, “in her last visit to you,
[Bess] and the late Countess of Lennox, while speaking to you, dared not look at one another for fear of bursting out laughing at the tricks she was playing on you.” Worse still, Margaret and Bess had asserted that the Queen was “not as other women.”36 But it is highly unlikely that the letter was ever sent (or possibly it was intercepted by Walsingham or Burghley), since there were no repercussions from it.37 Mary may have been referring to Margaret’s visit to court that New Year’s. One can imagine that, after the Queen had deprived her of her lands and income, Margaret did not feel very kindly disposed toward her.

  She could no longer afford to live in, or keep up, her Yorkshire mansions. On February 20, 1578, to augment her income, she leased the house at Settrington to Thomas Fowler, in consideration of his “good, long and faithful service.” After her death it was noted “what state the house was left” and that much of it was decayed. She had stipulated that it be left in the care of Laurence Nesbit and two other tenants, Simon Dodsworth and Rowland Fothergill, who remained in charge of it for four years, whereupon Fowler took possession again.38

  On February 26 she made her will,39 bequeathing her soul “unto Almighty God,” and directing that her body be buried in “the great church of Westminster, in the monument, sepulchre or tomb already bargained for, and appointed to be made and set up in the said church. Also I will that the body of my son Charles shall be removed from the church of Hackney and laid with mine both in one vault or tomb in the said church of Westminster.” She bequeathed £1,200 (£180,000) for her funeral and burial, to be raised from the sale of her “plate, household stuff and movables.” She wanted £40 of that money to be distributed to the poor “on the day of my burial,” and more allocated for the provision of gowns for a hundred poor women to wear as mourners, a visual testimony to her charity.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]