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

  In his Commemoration, published in London soon after her death, John Phillips referred to Margaret’s “goodly life,” “her constancy in suffering” and “her constant and perfect patience in time of misfortune,” which was a “bulwark against the brunts of fickle Fortune.” Since infancy Margaret had been “tossed with both fortunes, sometime in adversity, and sometime in prosperity.”76 She had been “a noble lady compassed with care” and “pursued by dolour,” who had “felt the fullness of Fortune’s fallacies.” Yet, from being “drowned in griefs,” she had come to be “comforted by hope.” Some might argue that misfortune had been her destiny. Her royal blood had been a dangerous inheritance. It had inescapably drawn her into the politics and controversies of her day; it had brought danger and tragedy in her youth, when she had attempted to marry for love; and it had fueled her perilous, driving ambition to secure a crown for her descendants,77 which in its turn brought even more tragedy.

  Although life had dealt with her harshly,78 in some ways she was luckier than her cousins.79 Her marriage had been an enduring and successful love match, unlike those of poor Katherine and Mary Grey, who had been cruelly parted from the husbands they had loved and secretly wed, or Lady Jane Grey, who had been forced against her will to marry Guildford Dudley. Margaret had had the joy of bringing up two beloved sons, whereas Katherine’s elder son had been taken from her and she had died before she could see the younger grow up. Like all her cousins, Margaret was a victim of Queen Elizabeth’s animosity toward her female heirs; like them, she was imprisoned, but, unlike them, she was freed. Despite everything, she had managed to retain her position at court through four turbulent reigns, a lucky survivor in the brutal world of sixteenth-century politics.80 Furthermore, she died in her bed, not by the ax like Jane Grey or Mary, Queen of Scots, or in prison like Katherine and Mary Grey; and she lived out what her contemporaries would have seen as her allotted span. Perhaps that is why her story is more obscure than theirs—and that is one of many reasons why it needs to be told.


  “A Progenitor of Princes”

  “The Countess of Lennox, my mother-in-law, died about a month ago,” the Queen of Scots wrote to James Boyd, Archbishop of Glasgow, in May 1578. It was in this letter that she recalled how she and Margaret had been reconciled “these five or six years bygone.” She also informed the Archbishop that “the Queen of England has taken into care her ladyship’s granddaughter.”1

  That month James VI, now twelve, sent Robert Pitcairn, the benefice holder, or Commendator, of Dunfermline, on an embassy to London. The Spanish ambassador reported:

  The principal cause of their coming is to claim the inheritance of the Countess of Lennox, grandmother of the King of Scotland, and when this is obtained the King would claim to be the heir to this throne. It is asserted that his succession is barred by a law made by Henry III or Henry IV, and confirmed by Henry VIII, by which an alien cannot inherit property here; but as the words used in the Act are in partibus ultramarines [in the regions beyond the sea] it appears that Scotsmen are not debarred, as they are born in the same island, and the kings of Scotland formerly possessed the county of Huntingdon.2

  James argued that he was not “the first born in Scotland, nor the first Scottish king, that hath succeeded to lands in England, respecting that this objection of foreign birth could have no place against the Countess of Lennox nor her son, both born in England, if they were alive.”3 But that was still regarded as highly debatable, and Queen Elizabeth “would not give ear to those who affirmed that the Lady Arbella was next heir to the lands in England.”4

  On June 17, 1578, Pitcairn was instructed by James VI “to enquire the state and order of his dearest grandmother’s the Countess of Lennox’s will, who were her executors with her jewels, plate, and movables; what order is taken for the payment of her creditors, etc.” He was also to inquire about the livings and rents that Margaret and Lennox had held in England, for James had been “instructed of his right thereto in succession.” The Commendator was “to crave of the Queen and her Council that the same may be preserved to him,” and in aid of that he was to “speak with some of our grandmother’s servants that were privy and skillful in her affairs as ye ride up through Yorkshire, or at London for your better information, before passing to the court.”5 But two days later Elizabeth revoked Margaret’s lands, having no intention of allowing James to claim them, and they reverted to the Crown. Three months after Margaret’s death her landlord, Richard Carew, sold the King’s Place at Hackney to Lord Hunsdon.6

  In a letter of 1603, Arbella wrote of her hopes of having “recovered a little land which a most noble great-great uncle of mine [Henry VIII] gave his niece [Margaret] when he bestowed on her a noble exiled gentleman,”7 meaning Lennox. As it turned out, of her grandmother’s properties, she was permitted to retain only the manor of Smallwood, Cheshire, which yielded an annual income of about £900 (£112,760) in rent. It was not listed in the grant of lands given by Henry VIII to the Lennoxes on their marriage, so was probably acquired by Margaret during her widowhood. It was to be the subject of a number of lawsuits between Arbella and her tenant before she sold it in 1607.8

  Margaret had died believing that she had left much in the way of worldly goods to her granddaughter, as well as something of worth and sentimental value, namely her jewels. There survives a letter from Fowler, her treasurer, dated April 1590, stating that “my Lady Margaret’s Grace committed her casket with jewels into the hands of Mr. Thomas Fowler to be delivered to the Lady Arbella at the age of fourteen.”

  Fowler itemized the contents of the casket. This fascinating list shows that although the widowed Margaret had always worn black, she had been very richly adorned with jewels, namely:

  A jewel set with a fair table diamond.

  A table ruby and an emerald with a fair great pearl.

  A cross all set with fair table diamonds with a square-linked chain.

  A jewel set with a balas [a red or orange semi-precious stone] and a fair table diamond set beneath it.

  A “H” of gold set with a rock ruby.9

  A burnish[ed] set with a fair diamond.

  A rose set with fair diamonds.

  A carcanet [necklace] set with table diamonds.

  A girdle set with table diamonds.

  A border set with table diamonds.

  A border set with table rubies.

  A border set with rock emeralds.

  A table [tablet], the head of gold set with diamonds.

  A fair pearl chain.

  A chain set with rock rubies, pillar-wise.

  A chain of small turquoise set upon a three-square pillar.

  A clock set in crystal with a wolf10 of gold upon it.

  Buttons of rock rubies to set on a gown.

  Table diamonds to set upon a sleeve.

  Two tablets of gold, the one with two agates with divers small turquoise, the other enameled [in] the form of a globe.

  Bracelets, two pair, one of agate, and the other of plain gold, with other things that be not yet in memory.11

  It has been suggested that the Lennox Jewel was left by Margaret to Arbella,12 but it does not feature on this list. Another theory is that Margaret left the jewel to her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Cavendish, who in turn, on her death in 1582, bequeathed it to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth Cavendish did leave a “poor remembrance” to the Queen, but that would hardly have described the Lennox Jewel, and there is nothing else to support this theory.13 The Jewel probably passed to James VI, and thus came into the Royal Collection.

  On September 19, 1578, the Queen of Scots issued a warrant requiring Thomas Fowler, “sole executor to our dearest mother-in-law and aunt, the Lady Margaret, Countess of Lennox, deceased, to deliver into the hands and custody of our right well beloved cousin, Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, all and every such jewels as the said Lady Margaret before her death delivered and committed in charge to the said Thomas Fowler for the use of the Lady Arbella Stuart, her gran
dchild, if God send her life till fourteen years of age; if not, then for the use of our dear son, the Prince of Scotland.”14 But Fowler, respecting Margaret’s wish that the jewels remain in his possession until Arbella reached fourteen, held them in safekeeping until he traveled north to Scotland to take up service with James VI. On the way they were stolen from him during an ambush by Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, who entrusted them to King James; but James gave them as securities to his creditors. When Arbella reached the age of fourteen in 1589, Burghley made representations to him for their return, and he was still making them after Fowler died in 1590, when James claimed the jewels “in recompense” for the legacy he had not received from his grandmother. In June 1590, Sir Robert Bowes informed Burghley, “I am still deferred that, upon sight of the Lady Margaret’s will, the King will take order in all these things.”

  It is possible that Arbella eventually received at least some of her legacy: The long rope of fine pearls that she wears in several portraits may have been Margaret’s “fair pearl chain”; in one portrait she is holding what may possibly be the clock set in crystal, and in another there hangs around her neck a cross, which might be the one Margaret bequeathed her.15


  Margaret’s death brought Arbella a step nearer to the throne. Queen Mary had appealed to James Boyd, Archbishop of Glasgow, to press the child’s claim to the earldom of Lennox, but on June 16, 1578, Morton, in King James’s name, conferred it on Margaret’s brother-in-law, Robert Stewart, Bishop of Caithness, the next male heir.16 It has been noted17 that Morton did not take this decision until Margaret was no longer alive to contest it, which is a measure of how formidable an opponent he had accounted her. James VI would always maintain that he himself, as Darnley’s heir, was the rightful inheritor of the earldom of Lennox.18

  All the Lennox claims to the throne and the lands of the earldom were now vested in Arbella, and Bess of Hardwick informed the Queen of Scots that Arbella had a better claim than she did.19 Elizabeth chose to ignore the entail that had been attached to the Lennox inheritance, and took up the cudgels on Arbella’s behalf in regard to the earldom of Lennox. On July 30 she informed the Scottish ambassador: “Her Majesty finds it very strange that any disposition should be intended of the earldom to any other to the prejudice of the young lady, only daughter and heir of Charles, late Earl of Lennox, who had that estate assured to him and his heirs of his body generally; whereof it is great reason, for justice sake, that the King be made privy, that by ignorance he be not counselled to do any open wrong to an infant, a lady, and one of his next cousins in blood.”20

  On July 28 the Commendator of Dunfermline requested “that the King of Scots may have the lands and living in England sometime appertaining to the Earl of Lennox and the Lady Margaret, his wife, now falling to his Highness by just title of order and lawful succession.” James had been much offended by Elizabeth’s revocation of those lands, “wherefore his Highness would never think that her Majesty—who otherwise has been so careful and favourable a mother to him—will in this point suffer him to be frustrate of his right by the rigour of any such law.” But “this persuasion availed nothing.”21

  James’s final attempt to obtain the Lennox lands was made in 1583, but again Elizabeth refused him.22 It was in that year that the Lord Chancellor, Sir Walter Mildmay, described the seven-year-old Arbella as “a very proper child, and to my thinking will be like her grandmother, my old Lady Lennox.”23 After Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, Bess anticipated that “Arbell,” as she called her granddaughter, would be chosen as Elizabeth’s successor—a view shared by many—and commanded family members to curtsy to her. There was a time when Elizabeth dropped heavy hints that Arbella would indeed be her successor, but it was James VI who succeeded in 1603, and like his predecessor he did not trust his heirs or approve of them marrying without his consent. He saw Arbella, as Elizabeth had seen Margaret, as a threat to his security.

  Arbella seems to have inherited Margaret’s impulsiveness, and her talent for ruffling the feathers of those in power, and in the end it was her own conduct that brought her to a tragic fate. In 1610, continuing a tradition set by her mother, her grandmother Margaret, and her great-grandmother Margaret Tudor, she made a secret marriage. But in her case it was with a man who had his own claim to the throne, William Seymour, the grandson of the Earl of Hertford who had rashly taken Katherine Grey as his wife. For this crime James I invoked the 1536 law that had been passed in the wake of Margaret’s marriage to Thomas Howard,24 and Arbella was imprisoned in the Tower, where she apparently starved herself to death in 1615 at the age of forty. She was buried in Mary, Queen of Scots’ vault in Westminster Abbey.

  In 1683 the vault below Margaret’s tomb,25 which led off the much larger one of Mary, Queen of Scots, was broken into, and the shriveled body of Charles Stuart was visible in its broken coffin. In 1868 the vault was again opened and three coffins were found lying on top of one another. Margaret’s lay on that of Charles, and on top of hers was the coffin of Esmé Stuart, Duke of Richmond, who died in 1624.26


  Margaret did not live to see her dynastic ambitions brought to fruition. How she would have exulted to see her grandson ascend the English throne as James I, first monarch of the House of Stuart, uniting the kingdoms of England and Scotland under one ruler. It is what she had hoped and schemed for all her life. And it is her blood, not that of Henry VIII or her rival, Elizabeth I, that has flowed in the veins of every sovereign since.27

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  Margaret’s Portraiture

  The portraiture of Margaret Douglas has been much debated by historians and in many online forums. With a dearth of authenticated portraits, and the one that is unquestionably authentic (in the Darnley Memorial of 1568) showing her later in life, there has been an understandable quest for hitherto-unidentified likenesses among the many that survive of anonymous, undocumented sitters. A portrait of Margaret is recorded in Lord Lumley’s inventory of 1590, and another in the 1601 inventory of Bess of Hardwick’s collection at Hardwick Hall.1 Both are presumed lost.

  In the Darnley Memorial, dating from 1568, Margaret bears a resemblance to her cousin, Mary Tudor, although the facial structure suggests that in youth she was as attractive as she was reputed to be. At fifty-two she had a snub, slightly uptilted nose, inherited from her mother, heavy-lidded, deep-set eyes, a strong jaw, a pointed chin and a small mouth with upturned lips. There is also a hint of her Plantagenet ancestry when one compares her portrait with those of King Edward IV, her Yorkist great-grandfather. The fact that she is middle-aged in this portrait makes it hard to draw comparisons with portraits of younger women who might be her.

  Unfortunately we have no certain portrait of Margaret in her youth, although we know that she gave one to Thomas Howard in 1535–36; it may even have been painted or drawn by Hans Holbein, who was working for Henry VIII at that time. A three-quarter-length of a young woman, inscribed “A. W. // pingebat [painted by A. W.], 1536,” originally in the collection of Arthur, Viscount Lee of Fareham, and now in the collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art, was once identified as Margaret. She does wear clothing identical to that which Henry VIII ordered for his niece in 1531: a black gown with a low, square, richly bordered neckline, with a high-necked ruffled chemise or smock beneath it, covered with a semicircular black partlet with a stand-up collar. Her kirtle and undersleeves are of rose or red silk and she wears a French hood. “HIS” is engraved on one of her rings, and there is a heavy gold chain around her waist; she holds a white flower and her other hand rests upon the base of an elaborate gold cup. High-necked, frilled chemises like this can be seen in Holbein’s drawings of Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, the Duchess of Suffolk and at least six more of his female sitters. Partlets with stand-up colla
rs appear in his portraits of the 1530s, as in the drawing of Elizabeth Jenks, Lady Rich. French hoods of this style feature in Holbein’s sketches of ca.1533–36 of Mary Zouche and Grace Parker. The date of the portrait is therefore authentic, but the sitter has a longer nose than Margaret’s as it appears in the Darnley Memorial, and her tomb effigy.

  The engraved letters “HIS” are not a christogram, nor can they be initials, as middle names were unknown in early Tudor England. They might be the initials of a motto, or simply the word “his,” denoting belonging. If this is Margaret—although the evidence for the identification is very slender—then they might be a discreet allusion to her love for Thomas Howard.

  I support Leanda de Lisle’s suggestion2 that a much-debated portrait of a young woman in the collection of Shaun Agar, 6th Earl of Normanton, at Somerley, Hampshire—thought by some, on no evidence at all, to be Anne Boleyn—might be Margaret. The buttons at her cuff are engraved with an “M” and a “D.” The jewel, or flower, at her breast is a daisy, or marguerite. Facially there is a resemblance to later portraits, and the face shape is similar to that of her mother, Margaret Tudor.3 The portrait is attributed to a follower of Raphael, Luca Penni (ca.1504–56), a Florentine artist of the School of Fontainebleau, but there is no record of his ever working in England. However, the attribution is by no means certain, although it is likely that the artist who painted the Somerley portrait had worked at the French court, and we know that Italian artists also worked at Henry VIII’s court. Possibly the portrait was painted in 1534 or 1538 in connection with Henry VIII’s plans to marry Margaret to an Italian prince.

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