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

  Kilspindie’s wife, Isobel Hoppar, had taken refuge at Tantallon, and was acting as Margaret’s lady-in-waiting and perhaps her governess. Aged about thirty-eight, Isobel was the daughter of a rich Edinburgh merchant of high standing. After her first husband died in 1515 and left her a wealthy widow,36 she had married Kilspindie, who was Lord High Treasurer and Provost of Edinburgh. While Angus and the Douglases were in control of the government and the King, the couple prospered, and Isobel had been highly influential in Scottish politics.

  It was well known that Kilspindie was under his wife’s thumb,37 and through him she had clearly exercised a not always beneficial influence on Angus himself. A contemporary chronicler observed, “His prideful wife was called my Lady Treasurer, and it is said she was an compositor [arbiter] in the justice eyres [circuit courts].” The “common voice” was that but for her haughtiness Angus would have been peacefully living in Scotland.38 Thomas Magnus, the English ambassador, believed that the pernicious influence of Kilspindie, Isobel, and George Douglas was responsible for Angus’s “trouble and business.”39 Isobel and her husband had been among the first to suffer from the toppling of the Douglases: Their house and lands were seized by the King and given to his supporters.40

  This was the strong-minded woman who was now in attendance on Margaret and helped to mold her character. If she also acted as governess she would have been responsible for the virtuous nurturing of her charge, which was seen as more important than any formal education. Margaret was well educated; she grew up to be highly literate and to write lively letters and competent poetry. How far this was due to the tutoring of Isobel Hoppar cannot be estimated, but the example of that strong-willed, ambitious, domineering and feisty lady, following on from that of Margaret’s demanding, troublesome mother, may have had its own impact, because Margaret herself was to display similar character traits in adulthood.


  In this fraught period young Margaret learned what it meant to be in opposition to the King. Angus was determined to hold Tantallon Castle against the royal forces, but on October 2 he was obliged to venture south with two hundred men to Coldingham Priory to attend the deathbed of his brother William, the Prior. At the same time James V advanced on the priory with seven hundred soldiers and laid siege to it. Warned before he arrived that the Prior had died, Angus and his men escaped and pursued the King to Dunbar. A furious James mustered eight thousand men, and Angus realized that he had, of necessity, to take refuge in England, to avoid the army that the King was bringing against him.41

  It was announced, by heralds galloping throughout the Borders, that the King was offering a reward to anyone who could return his “base sister,” Margaret, to their mother, the Queen, who could provide her with an establishment suitable to her rank.42 But it is unlikely that Margaret, who was now thirteen, wanted to return to her mother. According to the later testimony of Alexander Pringle, a Scottish servant of the Douglases, she wanted to marry the Earl of Bothwell, although Queen Margaret favored James Stewart, captain of Doune and younger brother of Harry Stewart, her own husband.

  Patrick Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was sixteen, fair-haired, handsome, and a good match.43 Sir James Stewart of Beath was probably older, having been born before 1513, but he was landless and well below Margaret in rank and status, and marriage to him would have drawn her irrevocably into her mother’s faction. Angus was utterly opposed to that, especially as it appeared that his ex-wife’s chief motive was to secure for her brother-in-law the confiscated estates of the earldom of Angus.44 It was this that decided him to get his daughter to a place of safety, well away from her mother’s machinations. He resolved to steal her away into England,45 anticipating that her uncle, Henry VIII, would welcome her. She was, after all, a highly desirable bride and would be an asset to the English King.

  Returning to Coldingham, where he had apparently left Margaret, Angus decided to take her to Norham Castle, seventeen miles away, just across the River Tweed on the English side. On October 5, 1528, he stole away south to the English border. Shouting from the Scottish side of the Tweed, he parleyed with Roger Lascelles, steward of the Earl of Northumberland, asking him if chambers could be provided at Norham for the protection of Margaret and Isobel Hoppar, who would wait on his daughter. The steward shouted his assent, and it was also agreed that, if driven to it, Angus himself could seek safety in Norham. Angus sent Margaret to Norham Castle before October 9.46

  Many kings and queens had come to Norham in the past. Dating from 1121 and commanding a strategic position on a rocky bluff high above the River Tweed near Berwick, the pink stone castle was one of the foremost border strongholds. Well fortified with walls twenty-eight feet thick, it had been besieged thirteen times, the last, successfully, by James IV just before Flodden, but it had since been returned to English hands and extensively restored and rebuilt. In the inner ward the Bishop’s Hall abutted the keep, and there was a kitchen range. Yet Norham was no longer a suitable habitation for the daughter of a queen. Just days before his parley with Angus, Lascelles had complained to Henry VIII that it had not one chamber fit to shelter anyone, and that rain streamed in from the roof to the dungeons.47

  Here, nevertheless, Margaret would be well guarded. The castle was surrounded by the ravine and the river on one side and a broad moat on the other. Another moat divided the inner and outer wards. The massive twelfth-century keep, built in 1160 and sixty-five feet high, stood on the large mound in the center; it had been remodeled in the early fifteenth century, and would be again in the sixteenth. There was a mighty gatehouse on the west face, accessed by a drawbridge across the moat; an inner gatehouse; and four towers were linked by an outer wall thirty feet high.48 Lascelles no doubt did his best to ensure that his young guest was accommodated in as much comfort as possible, but he was wondering how long he would have to keep her. This is clear in a letter he wrote informing Henry VIII that Angus “hath sent unto your Grace’s castle of Norham the Lady Margaret, his daughter, who here doth remain until such time as I may know further of your Grace’s pleasure.”49

  But Margaret did not receive an immediate summons south to the English court. At this time Henry VIII was preoccupied with his “Great Matter,” being determined to have his marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, a dark-haired enchantress with charm and ruthless ambition. With a Papal legate already in England to try the case, and many tensions within the court, it would not have been appropriate for Margaret to go to London.50 Instead she remained at Norham for eight months, with Isobel Hoppar serving as her gentlewoman.

  Angus probably wanted Margaret safe and near at hand, a valuable bargaining counter in case the situation in Scotland changed. During those months he held out against James V’s forces. On October 18, James had returned with his army and laid siege to Tantallon. “Never was so much done in vain to win one house.” But the castle proved impregnable, and on November 4 the King, seeing that the task was hopeless, left for Edinburgh, whereupon Angus sallied forth with his men and appropriated the artillery he had left behind. Then, protesting his loyalty to James, he sued for peace, though the terms the King offered made it plain that he still regarded Angus as a rebel and a traitor.51

  In December 1528, James V and Henry VIII concluded the Treaty of Berwick, whereby James was to take the Douglas lands on condition that Angus was permitted to seek asylum in England. The treaty was ratified in March 1529,52 and in April, Angus surrendered Tantallon in hope of a pardon that was never forthcoming, and fled into England. At Norham he demanded that Margaret be released to him, and Lascelles had no choice but to agree.

  Angus rode eastward with Margaret along the border to Berwick, where he sought shelter in the castle with Sir Thomas Strangeways, comptroller of the household of her godfather, Cardinal Wolsey. Berwick Castle was a safe haven, being a strong keep on a high mound, surrounded by what became known as the White Wall; it was arguably the most important border fortress, for it commanded the most viole
ntly disputed country between England and Scotland. Berwick itself had changed hands thirteen times over the centuries, and had been English since 1482.53

  In May Angus asked Strangeways to take Margaret into his household while he himself traveled south to seek the support of Henry VIII. He told Strangeways there was a real possibility that Margaret might be “stolen and withdrawn into Scotland”: either the Queen would try to get her daughter back or James V would seize her, so it was essential that she was well guarded. Angus promised to recompense Strangeways for her expenses and those of Isobel Hoppar and anyone else who would be waiting on her. Strangeways, aware that Wolsey was Margaret’s godfather and that Angus had no “convenient place for her to be in,” said he was content to take her “and to do her the best service” that lay in his power, until he had been advised of the Cardinal’s pleasure in the matter. In May, Angus departed for the English court with the blessing of Henry VIII.

  As Margaret was third in line to the English throne after the Princess Mary and Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII and Wolsey were also concerned about her security. But Wolsey was facing the greatest crisis of his career: the outcome of the legatine court in London, in which, as co-legate with the Cardinal sent by the Pope, he was expected to procure a favorable judgment on Henry VIII’s nullity suit. He had too much to occupy and worry him to be able to welcome his goddaughter and make provision for her, so he sent a herald, Mr. Carlisle, with instructions for Strangeways to keep her securely at Berwick “and entertain her”; she was to have “as much liberty and recreation, and rather more, than she hath had.”

  Informed of this by Strangeways, Angus was naturally “very glad and joyous” to hear that Wolsey was concerning himself with Margaret’s welfare, and clearly anticipated that the Cardinal would pay for her upkeep.

  On July 26, Strangeways wrote to assure the Cardinal that he was keeping a strict eye on his charge, and had been doing so before Wolsey’s command arrived. “And yet,” he added, “I know well she was never merrier, nor better pleased and content, than she is now, as she oft-times repeats.” He reminded Wolsey that he had now been looking after Margaret, Isobel and a manservant, as well as other friends and servants at times, for three months, and had given Angus bed and board, yet he had not received any payment. He assured the Cardinal that “what your Grace shall further command me in this matter, or any other, I shall be ready to accomplish the same with the grace of God.”54 He was evidently hoping that Wolsey would reimburse him.

  Margaret remained at Berwick in the custody of Strangeways until the following spring, and was treated well. But no money was forthcoming from Angus, and in August 1530, Strangeways had to ask Wolsey outright for 200 marks (£42,940) “for the bringing up of the Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of the earl of Angus.”55 Given the immensity of the sum, he must have kept his charge in some state. By then the Cardinal, having failed to secure Henry VIII’s divorce, had fallen from favor, and he died before he could pay Strangeways.56

  Angus, meanwhile, had been made welcome at the English court. In exchange for an oath of allegiance, Henry VIII granted him a pension and promised to make any peace with Scotland conditional upon his restoration to favor. James V nevertheless persisted in his policy of crushing the Douglas faction and refused consistently to make any concessions to Angus, so Angus remained at the English court.

  It was probably in the early spring of 1530 that Margaret at last received a summons from the King.57 Escorted south to the capital by Sir Thomas Strangeways,58 she arrived in London by April 6, on which date the King ordered various items of clothing for “our niece” from the Great Wardrobe: gowns of tawny (tan) velvet lined with the same, black damask lined with black velvet, black satin lined with tawny velvet, two kirtles (undergowns) with sleeves, one of black velvet, the other of black satin, and crimson and white satin partlets, or yoke-pieces (chemisettes), worn inside or outside the low-cut, square-necked bodices of the period, sometimes with a stand-up collar, and made of a variety of materials from lawn to velvet. In total these items cost the royal uncle £64:4s.8d. (£20,700).59 These high-status rich gowns were to befit Margaret for the English court; it is unlikely that she had brought anything of the kind from Scotland.

  Margaret would surely have been struck by the contrast between Scotland and England. Henry VIII was popular, rich and envied. England was a peaceful kingdom, not riven by internecine strife between nobles; its people were more prosperous and law abiding, its court magnificent and decorous, affording myriad pleasures: pageants, disguisings, masques, interludes, gambling at cards and dice, music, dancing, and tournaments. In the spacious gardens that surrounded every royal palace there were bowling alleys, banqueting houses, and tennis-plays. There was money aplenty, and hospitality was lavish. These delights must have come as a pleasant surprise after the comparative poverty of Scotland. But Henry VIII’s court would also have seemed a world away from the wild, rugged landscapes of Northumberland, the magnificent hills and Renaissance palaces of the Scottish Lowlands and the stark, magnificent fastness of Tantallon, which Margaret would not see again for another twenty-three years.


  “The Princess of Scotland”

  In October 1530, Margaret turned fifteen. She was blossoming into a charming young lady, her good looks crowned with the reddish-auburn hair of her race. Among her contemporaries she became renowned for her beauty and comeliness,1 and she has been described by modern historians as “the best-looking Tudor girl” and “the most beautiful woman of her generation.”2 Alas, there are no certain images of the young Margaret to bear this out.3 Her authenticated portraits date from many decades later, but they do show that she had deep-set, heavy-lidded eyes like those of her father, high cheekbones, a slightly retroussé nose, a small, upturned mouth and a prominent pointed chin. If—as seems possible—the famous Somerley portrait is indeed of Margaret,4 then she was enchantingly beautiful.

  There was no hint in 1530 of the dynamic personality that would shortly emerge, although from what we know of the older Margaret, we might surmise that she was a feisty, fearless, independent-minded girl, thanks to her character having been honed by a difficult childhood in a strife-riven land; and that this spiritedness was possibly what Henry VIII liked about his niece. In fact he was much taken with her. She would recall: “So dearly loved me Henry the King, whose bounty and kindness I may not forget, that by me his Grace so greatly did set.”5

  She had escaped the tensions of a life overshadowed by feuding parents, only to arrive at a court riven by the Great Matter. The Pope had revoked the case to Rome and matters had reached a stalemate. At court, Queen Katherine was in residence in her apartments, Anne Boleyn in hers. According to John Phillips, Margaret initially went to live with her aunt, Henry’s younger sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk: “In Scotland my careful Queen Mother I leave to take the guard of King James, her young son; and to France my tale tends, ye may perceive, with the Queen mine aunt.”6

  Mary Tudor, however, had left France fifteen years earlier. She had not been to her brother’s court for three years. Thanks to the financial strain of paying the fine that Henry had exacted as the price of her marriage to Charles Brandon, she could rarely afford to go there. Furthermore she disapproved of Anne Boleyn, who was now riding high at court, waiting impatiently to be made Queen of England. It has been asserted that on learning that Anne Boleyn wanted to befriend Margaret, Mary Tudor stoutly objected, and invited her niece to stay with her.7

  It was not only on account of Anne that Mary Tudor preferred to stay away from court. Since 1525 she had been in failing health, and now she resided mainly at her country seat at Westhorpe, Suffolk. Recently completed, it was a moated courtyard house with corner towers, battlements, chimneys, and molded brick and terra-cotta ornamentation, including a large statue of Hercules seated beside a lion. Before the house was demolished in 1760, it was noted that “the hall was of large dimensions and had attached a chapel with cloisters in which existed a fine window o
f stained glass. The gardens of large extent were kept in the style of the continental pleasure grounds,” thought to have been based on those that Mary Tudor had seen during her brief time as queen of France.

  In this palatial house, Margaret would have had the company of her cousins, Mary’s children: Frances Brandon, who was her junior by twenty-one months, Eleanor, aged nine, and Henry, Earl of Lincoln, aged seven; and it was here that she would lay the foundations of a lifelong friendship with Suffolk’s eleven-year-old ward, Katherine Willoughby, who had joined the household in 1528.8 Suffolk was mostly at court; as the King’s close friend, he felt obliged to support him in his Great Matter, which cannot have made for harmony between him and his wife. Mary Tudor had long been a friend of Queen Katherine, and sympathized with her plight. She must have made her opinions known to her niece, who imbibed them with her first impressions of England and no doubt came to feel pity for the discarded Queen and her daughter, the Princess Mary, with whom she of all people could identify. Margaret seems to have become fond of her aunt, because after Mary Tudor’s death in June 1533 she felt “bereft.”9


  It was probably before December 1530 that the King decided that, to bring Margaret joy,10 she should be transferred to the household of his daughter, the Princess Mary.11 Lady Katherine Gordon, a kinswoman of James IV of Scots, and former wife of the Yorkist pretender, Perkin Warbeck, had served Mary as chief lady of her privy chamber from 1525 to 1530, and Margaret replaced her.12

  On December 14, 1530, probably in consideration of her new role in the Princess Mary’s household, the King paid for more clothing for Margaret: gowns of crimson velvet lined with cloth of gold and black velvet lined with the same, a nightgown of Turkey satin furred with black coney, one kirtle of crimson velvet, another with sleeves of black velvet, a black cloth cloak with black satin vents, a partlet of crimson satin, habiliments (trappings or ornamentation on court dress, probably borders for edging necklines or hoods) of black velvet and crimson velvet, rails (lawn night shifts), kerchiefs, smocks, and two French hoods of black velvet. This wardrobe cost him £96:17s.1/4d. (£31,200). Good black dyes being costly, black was a high-status color and therefore much favored by those of high rank; it also afforded a dramatic background for rich jewelry.

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