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

  She left James VI, “for a remembrance of me, his grandmother, my new field bed [a four-poster bed with an arched canopy] of black velvet embroidered with flowers of needlework, with the furniture thereunto belonging, as curtains, quilt and bedstead, but not any other bedding thereunto”—possibly because it was too worn. These were to be delivered to James within six months of her death.

  Margaret left £50 (£7,470) to Margaret Wilton, “my woman (if she be with me in service at the time of my death)”; and to every other servant of hers, male and female, a year’s wages. She bequeathed to “old Mompesson, my servant,” £20 (£2,990). These bequests were to be funded from the sale of the household stuff from all Margaret’s houses, after her funeral and burial expenses had been paid.

  “For his good and faithful service done to me and mine many years past” Thomas Fowler was to receive all Margaret’s flocks of sheep, to the number of “eight hundred at six score to the hundred.” These sheep were then grazing at Settrington in the charge of Laurence Nesbit, Simon Dodsworth and Rowland Fothergill. The will mentions that Margaret owed Fowler £778:15s. (£116,280), and that was to be paid out of the proceeds of the sale of her “goods, chattels, plate and jewels.” She left him “all my clocks, watches, dials, with their furniture,” and appointed him joint executor of her will together with John Kaye of Hackney, Esquire, who was clerk of the greencloth in the royal household. Kaye was to be given £40 from the money raised, “for his pains.”

  Margaret appointed Burghley and Leicester overseers of her will. To Burghley she left “my ring with four diamonds set square therein, black enameled,” and to Leicester “my chain of pomander beads netted over with gold, and my tablet with the picture of King Henry the Eight therein”—a small portrait painted on a “table” or board, which perhaps had sentimental value for her.40

  The rest of her possessions—whatever was left after her expenses and bequests had been met—were to go to her granddaughter, Arbella. She directed that her worldly goods be entrusted to Fowler’s safekeeping until such time as they were sold or disposed of, and “sundry bonds and covenants of warranties” had been made good; those intended for Arbella were to remain in his hands until she married or attained the age of fourteen.

  “In witness whereof, and that this is my lawful last will and testament,” Margaret concluded, “made and determined advisedly by good deliberation and upon good considerations, I, the said Lady Margaret, being in good and perfect mind and remembrance, and in good health of body (thanks be to Almighty God), have put hereunto my hand and seal of arms.”41

  Although she had stated in her will that she was in good health, it must have been obvious that Margaret was failing. On March 5, Shrewsbury was sufficiently concerned to apply for Arbella’s wardship; clearly he and Bess feared that Margaret’s death might lead to their losing control over their granddaughter. In the event, the Queen was to make Arbella her own ward.42

  Margaret’s last illness was sudden and short. On the evening of March 7, 1578, she entertained the Earl of Leicester at dinner at her house at Hackney. After he left she became seriously ill. According to John Phillips, as her sickness increased, her strength began to fail; no medicine could restore her to health, “for Death against life [be]gan to prevail.”43 On the evening of March 1044 she died peacefully, aged sixty-two. She made a “godly end,” bidding her last farewell to the noble persons who were present at the hour of her death,45 and embracing death “most joyfully,” according to her tomb epitaph.

  Phillips states that she was “lastly so supported with truth” that her misfortunes seemed “incredible”—he could not believe that one so serene could have suffered so much. Coming from a Puritan preacher, this statement might suggest that on her deathbed Margaret may have embraced the Protestant religion; yet that cannot have been the case, for in the Commemoration, Margaret states that “even till Death do finish my days, nor pain nor cross could my faith remove”; and if being “supported with truth” reflects her staunch Catholic faith, then Phillips was a man of generous heart. While he “lamented her estate,” he “triumphed in her.” And yet she had stood for much of which he could not have approved.

  Margaret’s last illness had come on suddenly, and in 1584, in a notorious hostile Catholic libel, a printed tract titled Leicester’s Commonwealth, it was asserted that Leicester, who had once been suspected of murdering his wife, Amy Robsart, had poisoned Margaret. Such rumors often attached to the sudden death of great personages,46 and the anonymous author of this libel was out to vilify Leicester in every respect. He asserted that in 1571 the Earl had poisoned Sir Nicholas Throckmorton at dinner; in the seventeenth century there was a persistent belief in the family that “when Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was poisoned and lay upon his death bed, he called one of his own gentlemen privately to him and charged him, ‘When I am dead and gone, tell that rogue Leicester that I say he hath poisoned me, but that I hope my daughter47 will outlive him and, when he is also dead and gone, will lift up her farthingale and piss upon his grave, and tell her from me that I charge her to do so!’ ”48

  Gossip credited Leicester with poisoning several people.49 According to Leicester’s Commonwealth, he had two Italian physicians in his household, both “poisoners so subtle that they can make a man die in what manner or show of sickness as long after as they like.” It was alleged that he had poisoned Odet de Coligny, Cardinal of Châtillon, in 1571, and Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, in 1576; in the first case, the Cardinal’s servant had probably been the culprit; in the second, an autopsy revealed nothing sinister, which suggests that the cause had been dysentery. Leicester would also be accused of trying to murder a French envoy, Jean Simier, later in 1578, and of poisoning Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, in 1583.50 His mistress, Douglass Howard, Lady Sheffield, would claim many years later that he had tried to poison her, and centuries afterward it was asserted that her hair and nails had fallen out as a result.51 These allegations should be treated with the contempt they deserve, since there is no contemporary evidence to support them.

  In Leicester’s Commonwealth the author states:

  It hath been told me also by some of the servants of the late Lady Lennox, who was of the blood royal by Scotland, as all men know, and consequently little liked, that a little before her death or sickness, my lord took the pains to come and visit her, with extraordinary kindness, at her house at Hackney, bestowing long discourses with her in private, but as soon as he was departed the good lady fell into such a flux [diarrhea or dysentery] as by no means could be stayed so long as she had life in her body, whereupon both she herself and all such as were near about her and saw her disease and ending-day, were fully of opinion that my lord had procured her dispatch at his being there. Whereof let the women that served her be examined, as also Fowler, that then had the chief doings in her affairs, and since hath been entertained by my lord of Leicester. Malliet also, a stranger born, then was about her, a sober and zealous man in religion, and otherwise well qualified, can say somewhat in this point, as I think, if he were demanded.52

  There is no proof to support this story, or any other in the libel, although whoever wrote it was well informed about Margaret’s household, which suggests unfounded servants’ gossip. After her death Fowler did become steward to the Earl of Leicester.53 It has been suggested that Leicester employed him because he had access to Margaret’s papers, in which there might have been proof that Mary, Queen of Scots, was innocent of Darnley’s murder, in which case Leicester envisioned that, should Mary ever become Queen, he would be the one to vindicate her;54 or that he could destroy the evidence of Margaret’s rapprochement with Mary.55 But this is pure speculation.

  Fowler’s record of service to the Lennoxes had been exemplary, and his son William would be a staunch supporter of Arbella Stuart. Fowler did stand—as he thought—to inherit a lot of money on Margaret’s death, but it is hard to believe that he would have connived with Leicester to do away with her. And what would Leicester have gained?
A pomander and a portrait were hardly sufficient reasons to commit murder. The days were past when Margaret posed a threat to the state, when Leicester would—if he were so moved, in the Queen’s interests—have had far more reason to remove her. Moreover, he had long been a friend to her, even when there had been nothing in it for him.

  If Margaret’s last illness was as described in Leicester’s Commonwealth, it could have resulted from food poisoning, which might well have seemed to observers to be of sinister origin. In January 1568 she had complained of her “old colic,” which had perhaps been a chronic condition engendered by stress; in the intervening years no more is heard of it, and it probably had no connection with her last illness. Had it been symptomatic of something more sinister, there would surely be more evidence that Margaret was in failing health.

  Possibly, having “passed a life of stress and agitation,”56 she died of a heart attack or stroke; her mother, Margaret Tudor, had been felled by a stroke at the age of fifty-two.


  Margaret’s will was sealed on March 11, the day after her death, and proved by Fowler on March 27 in London before William Drury. Then Fowler and Kaye began winding up her estate. But Fowler soon had to inform the Queen that his mistress had died so poor that there was not even enough money to pay for her funeral. Indeed, she had “died in so great debt, and her goods so far unable to answer the same, that the Queen’s Majesty of natural favour, pity, and honour to her cousin, bestowed the charges of all her funerals, which were as honourably done as could belong to her degree.”57 Elizabeth, to her chagrin, had had no choice, Margaret being her cousin, yet she did allow her a state funeral complete with heralds and trappings. On June 19, to recoup the outlay, the Queen seized Margaret’s English estates, on account of the debt that the Crown had acquired from the estate of the Earl of Northumberland. However, she thereafter used the rents to maintain Charles’s widow, Elizabeth, and Arbella.58

  In March, Burghley confirmed “the proceeding at the funeral of the Countess of Lennox,” in which her noble pedigree in the form of the arms of the great marriages of her forebears was to be displayed in banners, from James Douglas, Earl of Angus, and Isabella, daughter of Robert II, King of Scots, to Angus and Margaret Tudor; Margaret’s own arms would be prominent.59

  The funeral took place on April 3. The coffin was borne in solemn procession to Westminster Abbey. “First, two yeomen conductors with black staves,” followed by “the priests and clerks, the poor women, the great banner borne by a knight, gentlemen mourners in gowns.” Margaret’s servants were at the front with her chaplains, secretaries, and executors following, then “the preacher alone, the steward, treasurer, and comptroller” of her household, Clarencieux Herald and Garter King of Arms, “having on each side of him a gentleman usher.” Then came “the corpse borne by eight gentlemen,” and in its wake “four barons, assistants to the body, six heralds bearing the six banner rolls above the corpse, two gentlemen ushers, the principal mourner assisted by the Lord Treasurer and the Earl of Leicester.” Next came “a baroness to bear the train,” assisted by Margaret’s chamberlain, “ten other mourners, all other ladies and gentlemen according to their degrees, two yeoman ushers in their coats, the yeomen of the household [and] all other yeomen, wearing black.”60 Prominent among the mourners was Bess of Hardwick, who had hastened to London to take part in the obsequies,61 which were conducted with Protestant rites.62

  Margaret was “most honourably buried,”63 as she had planned, in the same vault as her son Charles in Westminster Abbey,64 in the south aisle of the soaring Lady Chapel built by her grandfather, Henry VII, where the fine tomb she had wanted was nearly finished.65 It was another “sumptuous sepulchre” such as the one she had erected for her husband. “Thomas Fowler executor to the said Lady Margaret, did with the goods of the said lady erect a costly and stately tomb of rich stone and curious workmanship, with the picture66 of that lady, as lively and as well coloured as art might afford it, about which monument is graven [a] memorable epitaph declaring her nobility.”67 Built of different-colored marbles, the tomb had obelisks at each corner, of which two survive.68 The life-like painted and gilded alabaster effigy of Margaret, which was in place by the following October, had probably been sculpted by someone who had seen her. It portrays her in her robes of state: a red mantle lined with ermine over a gown of blue and gold with a ruff, and her golden countess’s coronet upon a white French cap. A crowned lion rests at her feet.69 At the sides of the tomb are weepers: the kneeling figures of her four sons—Darnley in armor and an ermine-lined mantle, having a crown above his head, as he was never crowned King of Scots—and her four daughters, all looking like young women in their Venetian gowns, paned sleeves and embroidered caps.70 On the chest are sculpted and painted coats of arms: Darnley impaling Scotland, a lozenge of Angus and Douglas, and Lennox impaling Angus and Douglas.

  This was a fitting resting place for one who had had a strong claim to the Tudor throne. At the further end of the chapel stood the fine Renaissance tomb of Margaret’s great-grandmother Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, who had died in 1509; Margaret’s was the first burial in the south aisle since then. The space between their tombs would, from 1612, be occupied by the grand monument of Mary, Queen of Scots, placed there by James I to underline her—and therefore his—legitimate descent from Henry VII.71

  On the ledge of Margaret’s tomb chest at the east end is a Latin inscription, which translates as: “This work was completed at the charge of Thomas Fowler, the executor of this lady, October 24, 1578.” At the west end is the epitaph referred to by Holinshed, also in Latin, and perhaps composed by the faithful Fowler:

  Sacred to the memory of Margaret Douglas, wife of Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, granddaughter to Henry VII, King of England, by his daughter; joined by the closest ties of kinship to most puissant kings, grandmother to James VI of Scotland; a lady of most pious character, invincible spirit and matchless steadfastness. She died the tenth of March, year of Our Lord 1577 [sic]. Margaret, mighty in virtue, mightier yet in lineage: ennobled by kings and by her forebears, descended from Scottish and English princes, she was also a progenitor of princes. Those things that belong unto death she released to death most joyfully, and sought God, for she belonged to God before.

  A later inscription on the side panels reads:

  Here lieth the noble Lady Margaret, Countess of Lennox, daughter and sole heir of Archibald, Earl of Angus, by Margaret, Queen of Scots, his wife, that was eldest daughter to King Henry the 7; who bare unto Matthew, Earl of Lennox, her husband, four sons and four daughters. This lady had to her great-grandfather King Edward the 4, to her grandfather King Henry the 7, to her uncle King Henry the 8, to her cousin germane King Edward the 6, to her brother King James of Scotland the V, to her son King Henry the First, to her grandchild King James the 6. Having to her great-grandmother and grandmother two queens, both named Elizabeth, to her mother Queen Margaret of Scots, to her aunt Mary, the French Queen, to her cousins germanes Mary and Elizabeth, queens of England, to her niece and daughter-in-law Mary, Queen of Scots. Henry, second son to this lady, was king of Scots and father to James the 6, now king. This Henry was murdered at the age of 21 years. Charles, her youngest son, was earl of Lennox, father to the Lady Arbell[a]. He died at the age of 21 years, and is here entombed.

  This inscription must have been added after 1603, in the reign of Margaret’s grandson, James I.

  Over the centuries Margaret’s tomb suffered the depredations of souvenir hunters and other damage. A Westminster Abbey guidebook of 1953 refers to it being “once painted and gilt” and to the crown above Darnley’s head being broken. It was restored and recolored in 1957–60, when Darnley’s crown was replaced, but since then there has been further damage: The hands of two of the weepers are missing, the heraldic unicorn devices have lost their horns, and Darnley’s crown has lost its cross.72

  Yet it is another, greater memorial in Westminster Abbey that bears testimony to Mar
garet’s dynastic importance, for on the canopy surmounting the joint tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary I is a shield bearing her arms impaled with those of Lennox, set between those of Margaret Tudor and James IV, and those of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Margaret’s son, Lord Darnley, all of them proclaiming the right line of succession.73


  Given her many intrigues and treasonable activities, her closeness to the throne, and Queen Elizabeth’s suspicions of her, it is surprising that Margaret Douglas lived so long. There had been occasions on which the Queen would have had every justification for sending her to the block, yet there is no evidence that Elizabeth ever contemplated such an extreme punishment.74 Although she feared the dynastic pretensions of her female cousins, and imprisoned them for it, she was not in favor of executing them, even Mary, Queen of Scots, over the signing of whose death warrant she agonized for three months. Possibly, despite all the bad blood between them, she came to like and admire Margaret, a strong character like herself. Maybe she recognized that her subversive activities had been driven to a great extent by her love and ambition for her children, as Margaret herself once admitted.

  William Camden, writing in 1615, declared: “She was a matron of singular piety, patience and modesty, who was thrice cast into the Tower (as I have heard her say herself) not for any crime of treason but for love matters: first, when Thomas Howard, falling in love with her, died in the Tower of London; then for the love of Henry, Lord Darnley, her son, to Mary, Queen of Scots; and lastly for the love of Charles, her younger son, to Elizabeth Cavendish, mother of the Lady Arbella.”75 Love had been the great blessing and the great curse of Margaret’s life, for she had truly suffered for it, and in the end had lost all those who were dear to her, including her adored husband and son, to violent deaths. She of all people should have learned that love and politics make dangerous bedfellows, but that seems to have eluded her, which shows that she had allowed her heart to rule her head.

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