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

  Henry paid the wages of Margaret’s two gentlewomen and a male servant, and provided the gentlewomen with gowns of tawny camlet lined with tawny velvet, kirtles and sleeves of worsted and tawny velvet, gowns of black cloth with sleeves lined with tawny velvet, and velvet partlets lined with sarsanet.13 That Christmas, at Greenwich Palace, he gave Margaret a gift of £6:13s.4d. (£2,150).14

  Early in 1531, Henry VIII demanded that Parliament and the clergy recognize him as supreme head of the Church of England. Already he had determined to break with Rome. That summer he finally separated from Katherine of Aragon—riding off with Anne Boleyn from Windsor without a word of farewell—and the abandoned Queen, who was to maintain till her death that her marriage was lawful, was sent away from court to a succession of increasingly bleak houses. After 1532 she and her daughter Mary would never again be allowed to meet. Mary was sent to Richmond, with Margaret in her train as the chief lady of the Princess’s privy chamber, her personal household.15 The King, who had not yet fallen out with his daughter on account of her support for her mother, may well have felt that the company of a royal cousin of her own age would provide a welcome diversion for Mary at this time.

  On October 21, 1531, the King settled accounts for more clothing for Margaret, and paid for the expenses of her two gentlewomen and a servant,16 and on the 26th, at Waltham Abbey, when ordering cloth and liveries for Mary’s household, he provided Margaret with a lavish new wardrobe appropriate to her royal status and her rank in the Princess’s privy chamber, issuing a warrant to Andrew, Lord Windsor, Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, to deliver to “Lady Margaret, daughter of the Queen of Scots,” sumptuous gowns of tinsel (taffeta), black damask, and black velvet, the latter furred with powdered ermine; kirtles and sleeves of crimson satin, black velvet, and black satin; crimson and white satin for making partlets; six lawn partlets; and black velvet and crimson satin for habiliments. She also received thirty ells of Holland cloth, for nightgowns (“rails”), kerchiefs, and smocks, and thirty more for sheets, as well as two French hoods of black velvet, a dozen pairs of hose, six pairs of black velvet shoes, eight pairs of leather shoes, ribbon for laces, garters, and girdles, twelve pairs of gloves, a hundred needles, thread, pins, two brushes, and a standard or banner on which presumably her arms were embroidered.

  The King provided Margaret’s two gentlewomen with black cloth for gowns, tawny velvet for lining, worsted for kirtles, black velvet for sleeves, partlets, and bonnets with crimson velvet frontlets.17 They also received hose, shoes, lawn, pins and Holland cloth for rails, kerchiefs, and smocks. Her manservant got cloth for a coat, black satin for a doublet, Holland cloth for shirts, hose, shoes and one bonnet.18 Margaret’s two gentlewomen are not named, but one may have been Margaret Maxton, who, having “dwelt a good season with Lady Margaret Douglas,” had license in August 1546 “to pass into Scotland.”19

  The cousins, Margaret and Mary, had much in common besides being near in age: Margaret was just sixteen, Mary five months younger. Both had suffered as a result of their parents’ marital troubles, and both had been taken by their fathers from their mothers. Both would grow up to be devout Catholics. It followed that Margaret would become Mary’s close friend and that they would form a lasting attachment to each other.20 Margaret was with Mary through much of the suffering that the latter experienced as a result of her father’s determination to divorce her mother and marry Anne Boleyn, whom Mary hated, and it would have been natural for her to sympathize and take Mary’s part; the influence of her aunt, the French Queen, probably predisposed her to this. Significantly, in the Commemoration, Mary is referred to as Henry’s “daughter by right.”21 Yet Margaret was wise enough publicly to keep a still tongue and not involve herself in controversial matters, and in doing so she retained the King’s affection and high opinion, unlike so many swept up in the maelstrom of his Great Matter.

  At Beaulieu in Essex and Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, the Princess’s principal residences, Margaret shared lessons with Mary, and came under the influence of yet another woman of strong character, the Princess’s lady governess, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who herself had royal blood, having been born a Plantagenet and been the niece of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III. Margaret Pole was a devoted friend of Katherine of Aragon. A devout Catholic, she represented the old guard at court, the reactionaries who detested Anne Boleyn and her reformist faction. Her sincere piety—Henry VIII had called her “the most saintly woman in England”—and her loyalty to Mary must have made some impression on the adolescent Margaret, and may even have inspired her to remain true to the Catholic faith.

  On December 4, 1531, when the King gave “my Lady Princess” £20 (£6,440) “to pass the time in Christmas,” Margaret received £6:13s.4d. (£2,150). In January 1532, “Lady Margaret Angwisshe” was listed among the duchesses and countesses who received a New Year’s gift from Henry.22 In 1532 the Great Wardrobe paid out £2,261:12s. (£728,460) “to my Lady Princess and my Lady Margaret, and for the King’s stable.”23 On December 23, 1532, Margaret again received from the King £6:13s.4d. (£2,150) “to disport her with all this Christmas.”24 She was clearly living—and being treated—like a princess.25

  In May 1532 the clergy submitted to the King’s jurisdiction over ecclesiastical law, further severing ties between the English Church and the Pope in Rome. The radical Thomas Cranmer was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury in March 1533, and it was he who, on the following May 23, declared Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon invalid, and their daughter, the Princess Mary, a bastard. The King had already secretly married Anne Boleyn, who was pregnant. Until her child was born, Margaret was second in line to the throne after her mother, and effectively heiress presumptive, since no one ever considered the volatile Margaret Tudor’s claim, and James V was barred because he was Scottish. Anne first appeared at court as queen at Easter that year, and went in virginal white, heavily pregnant, to her coronation on June 1. Neither the Princess Mary nor Margaret attended.26 The death of the King’s sister, Mary Tudor, on June 25 made Margaret the second lady in the land after the new Queen.27


  On September 7, Queen Anne bore not the long-desired son and heir but a daughter, the future Elizabeth I. The former Princess Mary—the Lady Mary, as she was now known—refused to acknowledge Elizabeth as her father’s heir, or her mother as Princess Dowager of Wales, nor would she concede that her mother’s marriage was incestuous and unlawful. Her father reacted with anger. At the end of September her establishment was reduced, although it remained under the control of Lady Salisbury. Margaret, who was paid £10 a year (£3,200), stayed on in Mary’s household throughout these tense months—on October 1 she is listed as the chief of her nine ladies and thirteen gentlewomen28—until the King, exasperated with his daughter’s obduracy, disbanded it in December. More than 160 servants were dismissed,29 including the ladies who had waited on the bastardized Princess. The Countess of Salisbury, one of the richest women in England, offered to support Mary’s household herself, but she too was sent away. A distraught Mary was packed off to the Bishop of Ely’s palace at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, to wait upon her new half sister in the nursery household established there that month.

  Phillips states that, after the Princess Elizabeth was born, the King “so tendered [offered]” Margaret that (she later recalled) “with her in the court I had my chief being.” This was taken by Margaret’s nineteenth-century biographer, Agnes Strickland, and others to mean that Margaret was also placed in the household at Hatfield, as first lady of honor to the infant Princess.30 But Phillips is more likely to have meant that Henry offered Margaret the high honor of waiting upon Elizabeth when the latter was brought to court (which was not very often), because other evidence shows that Margaret was immediately placed in Anne Boleyn’s household.31 Mary was taken to Hatfield on Christmas Day 1533, and Margaret had arrived at court by New Year’s Day 1534, as her name is included in the list of the duchesses, countesses and ladies honored by the K
ing with a gift.32 Thus she was spared the sight of her former mistress and friend being made to wait upon Anne Boleyn’s child, and being herself accorded precedence over Mary. It is apparent from other sources that Margaret was at court in March 1534, and likely that, in deference to her own royal rank, she was appointed first lady of honor to Queen Anne, a role she would retain under all Henry VIII’s successive wives. Thus she ended up serving the woman who was the cause of Mary’s troubles.

  Margaret must have found her loyalties cruelly divided, although she had had little choice in the matter. The Lady Mary certainly did not hold it against her, for it was during these years that the friendship between them was cemented.33 Mary knew that Margaret was dependent on the King’s kindness and charity, and that to retain his favor she had no choice but to show herself amenable to the new Queen. Henry was evidently gratified to see it, especially after the intransigence of his daughter, who was still adamantly refusing to acknowledge Anne Boleyn’s marriage as lawful. At New Year’s he personally gave gifts to Margaret and to his daughter-in-law, Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, the wife of his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, and daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.34 In March 1534, Henry was showing special favor to his niece, “whom he keeps with the Queen his wife and treats like a queen’s daughter.”35

  In her new post, Margaret was well attended by her own train of servants: a chaplain named Charles, one gentleman, a servant called Harvey (probably the groom who kept her chamber), a groom of the wardrobe called Peter, three maids, and three grooms who looked after her horses.36 That her mother approved of her advancement and the new régime is apparent from a letter that Queen Margaret wrote to Anne Boleyn that year, saluting her as “our dearest sister.”37 To all appearances Margaret got on well with Anne Boleyn, and at court she was “liked and loved of all.” She was known as Lady Margaret Douglas or “Lady Margaret Angus,” but the Imperial ambassador, Eustache Chapuys, always referred to her as “the Princess of Scotland,” as did other diplomats, even though the title was a misnomer, for she was neither a princess by birth, nor a Scottish one.

  No taint of “looseness of life” sullied Margaret’s name38 in the charged atmosphere of a court in which men outnumbered women by at least ten to one. She could not have afforded to compromise her reputation, for she was a valuable asset to Henry VIII, who meant to bestow her hand in an advantageous political alliance. When, on March 16, 1534, he turned down Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, as a husband for the Lady Mary, on the grounds that he was not royal, he told the French ambassador, Louis de Perreau, Sieur de Castillon, that if the Duke wished to marry in England, he might have one of the King’s nieces, Lady Margaret Douglas or Lady Mary Brandon, Suffolk’s daughter by his second wife.39 He then seems to have thought better of that, for Margaret too was royal, and he hastened to say that, if the French King, Francis I, was seeking a royal bride for his son, he should favor “his niece, the daughter of the Queen of Scotland; and if any proposition were made for her he would make her marriage worth as much as his daughter Mary’s.” Although Mary had been disinherited, she was still Henry’s daughter and he was to use her marriage as a valuable political bargaining tool.

  Castillon reported that the King treated Margaret as if she were full sister instead of half sister to the King of Scots. “I assure you the lady is beautiful and highly esteemed here.”40 The Italian marriage proposal came to nothing, but the passing of the 1534 Act of Succession, which vested the crown in Anne Boleyn’s heirs, left Margaret effectively third in line to the throne after the Princess Elizabeth and Margaret Tudor, and a most desirable bride.

  In November 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which made Henry VIII “the only Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England.” The English Church was now finally severed from the Roman Catholic Church, although it remained Catholic in doctrine and observances, and the King replaced the Pope as its head. Those holding public or ecclesiastical offices were required to swear an oath recognizing him as such, and failure to do so was now misprision of treason.

  It was in this climate that, for the next two years, Margaret lived at the center of the court. Although apparently untouched by the reformist fervor of the Boleyn faction, she was probably not an overt devotee of the old faith, and so evident were her qualities that she attracted the admiration of Catholics and reformists alike.41 The ladies of the Queen’s household were perceived to have some influence, and when Honor Grenville, Lady Lisle, appealed to prominent persons at court for help in securing the release of her niece’s husband, Walter Staynings, from debtors’ prison, Margaret was among those she approached. The appeal was successful, and Margaret, although only nineteen, may have been instrumental in securing Stayning’s release.42

  On July 12, 1535, we are afforded a glimpse of her in the Queen’s service in a letter written by John Husee, the London agent of Honor’s husband, Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, Lord Deputy of Calais, to Lady Lisle, telling her that Margery Horsman, one of Anne Boleyn’s maids-of-honor, and “my Lady Douglas” had promised him tokens of esteem for her when next he was at court. “There is no doubt you shall have one of the best kirtles the Queen has.”43 Margery Horsman worked in the Queen’s wardrobe,44 so it is likely that they had been commanded by Anne Boleyn to select one of her fine undergowns for Lady Lisle.


  Anne Boleyn presided over a lively circle of courtiers who enjoyed much “pastime in the Queen’s chamber.” Her chamberlain warned gentlemen absent from the court, “If any of you that be now departed have any ladies that ye thought favoured you, and somewhat would mourn at parting of their servants, I can no whit perceive the same by their dancing and pastime they do use here.”45 Among those pastimes were making music, jesting, dancing, flirting and writing poetry. The poems these ladies wrote, or enjoyed, were bound into books and circulated at court; one associated with the Boleyn circle, and originating in the Queen’s household, survives, the Devonshire Manuscript.46 Consisting of 124 pages, it still has its original stamped-leather binding and contains 184 poems, most of them in the centuries-old courtly love tradition. These do not all appear in chronological order (and in some cases must have been written down some time after they were composed), and they are in nineteen or twenty different hands. At least two, probably more, were composed by Margaret herself; some are by Mary Shelton, Anne Boleyn’s cousin, who was rumored to have been Henry VIII’s mistress for a brief spell early in 1535,47 and by 1546 had become the wife of Sir Anthony Heveningham; and some by Mary Howard, who, as the wife of the King’s bastard son, the Duke of Richmond, ranked equally with Margaret at court.48

  These three ladies, Margaret Douglas, Mary Shelton and Mary Howard, who were clearly all friends, are believed to have compiled the manuscript in the 1530s and early 1540s. They copied down their own poems and those of others, plagiarized some, wrote responses to others, and made notes and corrections. The manuscript contains transcriptions and fragments of verses by Thomas Wyatt; Geoffrey Chaucer; Thomas Hoccleve; Lord Thomas Howard, the younger half brother and namesake of the powerful 3rd Duke of Norfolk; and Norfolk’s heir, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. On one page there is an inscription to Margaret and Mary Howard.

  Sixteen poems are in Margaret’s handwriting.49 She had evidently learned to write fluently in English during her years at Henry VIII’s court, and in the manuscript she marked several verses with the words “and this,” probably as an aide-mémoire. Against poem 162 she wrote, “Learn but to sing it.”50 In ladies, the ability to compose, transcribe and edit poetry was a rare skill much admired at court.51 The manuscript seems to have been first owned by Mary Howard and then acquired by Margaret, probably after 1537.52

  Margaret had conducted herself until now with circumspection and wisdom, and, having never given her heart to anyone, thought herself armored against any grief that life would bring, but now “from reason, by love, so soon I did fall.”53 At least a dozen poems—including numbers 41–48, the most discu
ssed and debated verses in the Devonshire Manuscript—treat of real feelings, as opposed to the game of courtly love. Two were probably composed by Margaret, the rest almost certainly by Thomas Howard, and they attest to the couple having fallen deeply, even defiantly, in love. The poems were first linked to them in 1874,54 and it has been said that the language of courtly love enabled Margaret to “express a passion for which she was willing to break her duties as daughter and subject” and to protest against a social code that prevented women of her rank from loving and marrying where they wished.55

  Margaret herself did not copy any of these particular poems into the manuscript; they are written in another hand. They relate to events that happened a year and more after the affair began, and bear witness to the depths of the couple’s feelings. Other verses were almost certainly copied into the manuscript because they had a special resonance that echoed those feelings. Taken together, they tell the story of one of the most tragic episodes in Margaret’s life.


  “Suffering in Sorrow”

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