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

  And I beseech you not to think that any fancy doth remain in me touching him, but that all my study and care is how to please the King’s Grace and to continue in his favor.

  And, my lord, where it is your pleasure that I shall keep but a few [servants] here with me, I trust ye will think that I can have no fewer than I have, for I have but a gentleman and a groom that keeps my apparel, and another that keeps my chamber, and a chaplain that was with me always in the court. Now, my lord, I beseech you that I may know your pleasure, if you would that I should keep any fewer; howbeit, my lord, my servants hath put the house to small charge, for they have nothing but the reversion [whatever was left] of my board, nor do I call for nothing but that that is given me; howbeit I am very well entreated.

  And, my lord, as for resort [company], I promise you I have none except it be gentlewomen that comes to see me, nor never had since I came hither; for if any resort of men had come, it should neither have become me to have seen them, nor yet to have kept them company, being a maid as I am. Now, my lord, I beseech you to be so good as to get my poor servants their wages66 and thus I pray our Lord to preserve you, both soul and body.

  By her that has her trust in you, Margaret Douglas.67

  By August 12 slightly garbled news of Margaret’s disgrace had been “brought with speed” to Queen Margaret in Perth, and “afflicted her much.”68 That day, horrified to learn that her daughter had been condemned to death, and no doubt remembering that Henry VIII had only recently sent his own wife to the block, the Dowager Queen “thought fit to write to the King,”69 begging for leniency:

  Dearest brother,

  We are informed lately that our daughter, Margaret Douglas, should, by your Grace’s advice, promise to marry Lord Thomas Howard, and that your Grace is displeased that she should promise or desire such thing; and that your Grace is resolved to punish my said daughter and your near cousin to extreme rigour, which we can no way believe, considering she is our natural daughter, your niece, and sister unto the King, our dearest son, who will not believe that you will do such extremity upon your own, ours and his, being so tender to us all three as our natural daughter is.

  She beseeched Henry to “have compassion and pity of us and of our natural daughter,” and to grant Margaret “your pardon, grace and favour.” She suggested that it might please the King to send her daughter back to Scotland, “so that in time coming she shall never come in your Grace’s presence.” She begged him to grant her “piteous and most humble request.”70

  Of course Henry VIII was unlikely to agree to the troublesome Margaret, with her claim to the English throne, going north to join her equally troublesome mother and perhaps making mischief north of the border. She could be of far more use to him in England—when she had had time to repent of her stupidity. He had already shown magnanimity in reprieving Margaret, and presently Margaret Tudor learned of it. On October 20 she wrote to thank him “for the nobleness you have shown my daughter, who will never have my blessing if she do not all you command her.”71 On December 27, Henry wrote to assure her that although Margaret had “used herself so lightly as was greatly to our dishonour and her own great hindrance, yet if she will conform herself to what is convenient henceforth,” he would “be good to her.”72

  He was certainly thawing toward Margaret, and he did not forget her at New Year’s. On December 31, 1536, there is a record of parcels of costly silver and crimson silk fringe being delivered to her, with a chair of crimson velvet, Venice silver fringe, crimson silk fringe and two thousand gilt nails, which had been specially made for her at Henry’s behest. The total cost for these items was £33:18s.10d. (£10,430).73 Margaret’s spirits must have lifted with the new year of 1537, as it seemed that freedom was in her sights.


  “Now May I Mourn”

  Eight of the Devonshire Manuscript poems (numbers 41–48) thought to have been composed by Margaret and Thomas were written during, or about, their captivity in the Tower. None are dated. They read like an exchange of letters written in sequence, and lines in Margaret’s poems echo those written by Thomas; for example, where he wrote, “My love truly shall not decay, for threatening nor for punishment,” she responded, “For me his love will not decay,” “with threatening great he hath been paid, of pain and eke of punishment.”1 These poems were all written down in the same hand, and the evidence suggests, but does not prove, that Thomas wrote them.2

  Possibly they were composed by others in his circle who were aware of the couple’s feelings, and incorporated into the manuscript later, when it was safe to do so, in which case they are only an interpretation of what they experienced and felt. But it is unlikely that Thomas and Margaret were permitted many visitors, and certainly not anyone who came on a sufficiently regular basis to understand what they were going through. Moreover these poems are deeply personal and minutely relevant to their plight; they contain references to what was happening in the Tower; and the sequence of verses traces an emotional trajectory that relates convincingly to known events. This all suggests that they were composed at the time, and it is even possible that the lovers were able to make contact while in the Tower.

  This is not as far-fetched a theory as it sounds. In the 1560s Margaret’s cousin, Lady Katherine Grey—who was also imprisoned for making an unsuitable love match—was permitted, through the offices of a kindly jailer, to receive secret conjugal visits from her husband, and became pregnant as a result. It was only recently discovered that Mary Shelton’s brother, Thomas, was a groom porter at the Tower.3 He may well have been willing to act as go-between. Facilitating contact between prisoners would have been a relatively easy matter.

  It would therefore have been possible for the Devonshire Manuscript to have been smuggled by friends into the Tower at Thomas’s request, so that he could pass the time in adding to it and recording the poetic exchanges between Margaret and himself, which suggests that those he received from her were crudely written and unfit for inclusion in their raw state. If Thomas did transcribe their verses, he was placing himself in an even more compromising situation, for the poems bitterly criticized the couple’s imprisonment and those who had separated them, and if they had come to Henry VIII’s notice Thomas and Margaret could have found themselves in serious trouble; it was tantamount to treason to question or criticize the decisions of the King, the Lord’s Anointed, who was believed to be invested with a wisdom denied to ordinary mortals. But the poems reveal that Thomas was an angry man; and he had already acted without thought for the future.

  In the first of the Tower poems, number 41 in the manuscript, Margaret laments:

  Now may I mourn as one of late

  Driven by force from my delight,

  And cannot see my lonely mate

  To whom forever my heart is plight.

  Alas! That ever prison strong

  Should such two lovers separate,

  Yet though our bodies suffereth wrong,

  Our hearts should be of one estate.

  I will not swerve, I you assure,

  For gold nor yet for worldly fear,

  But like as iron I will endure,

  Such faithful love to you I bear.

  The third verse has a partly illegible signature at the end, in which the letters “ma,” “r” and “h” can perhaps be identified. It could relate to any of the ladies who compiled the manuscript, but perhaps, given its context, it was written by Margaret herself; legally precontracted, she could style herself “Margaret Howard” as Thomas’s wife; the autograph “Lady Margaret How[ard]” is written on the flyleaf of the manuscript, although the last three letters are missing as the page is torn. The poem continues:

  Thus fare ye well, to me most dear

  Of all the world, both most and least,

  I pray you be of right good cheer

  And think on me that loves you best.

  And I will promise you again,

  To think of you I will not let [prevent],

  For not
hing could release my pain

  But to think on you my lover sweet.


  Poem 42 was clearly written by Thomas, probably in response:

  With sorrowful sighs and wounds smart

  My heart is pierced suddenly.

  To mourn of right it is my part.

  To weep, to fail full grievously.

  The bitter tears doth me constrain,

  Although that I would it eschew,

  To wite [the reproach] of them that doth disdain

  Faithful lovers that be so true.

  The one of us from the other they do absent,

  Which unto us is a deadly wound,

  Seeing we love in this intent:

  In God’s laws for to be bound.

  These last two lines make it clear that the couple had resolved not to consummate their love—which they could have done on the strength of the precontract—until they had received the blessing of the Church. Thomas continued:

  With sighs deep my heart is pressed,

  Enduring of great pains among,

  To see her daily whom I love best

  In great and intolerable sorrows strong.

  This verse suggests that Thomas could see Margaret each day from his prison. If she was held in the Bell Tower, the Lieutenant might have permitted her to take the air, under guard, in his garden or along the wall walk. If Thomas was held in the Lieutenant’s Lodging itself, or in the adjacent Garden Tower (later to be known as the Bloody Tower), from which the wall walk could be accessed, he might have caught sight of her. Possibly Margaret was allowed, under escort, to attend Mass in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. If Thomas was lodged in the Beauchamp Tower, where many high-ranking prisoners were kept, he could have seen her, from his window, walking across Tower Green. On the other hand, his poet’s soul could have been imagining what it was like to witness Margaret sunk in daily misery, like himself. He ended:

  There doth not live no loving heart

  But will lament our grievous woe

  And pray to God to ease our smart

  And shortly together that we may go.

  He still has hope that the couple have a future. At the end of the poem another hand has added “Margrt.” It is not a signature, but shows to whom the poem was addressed.

  The next poem, number 43, is more optimistic. It could have been written by Thomas, who perhaps felt that his previous offering had been too gloomy, and that he ought to write something to cheer his beloved. It could equally well have been written by Margaret to encourage Thomas out of his despondency and praise him for his devotion and constancy. Of them both, she had the greater cause for hope. The King loved her and had always shown himself an indulgent uncle. He had stayed his hand at sending them to the block, and his displeasure could not last forever. Yes, they did have a future, and must hold to that.

  What thing should cause me to be sad?

  As long [as] ye rejoice with heart,

  My part it is for to be glad:

  Since you have taken me to your part,

  Ye do release my pain and smart,

  Which would me very sore ensue

  But that for you, my trust so true.

  If I should write and make report

  What faithfulness in you I find,

  The term of life, it were too short

  With pen in letters it to bind.

  Wherefore, whereas ye be so kind,

  As for my part it is but due

  Like case to you to be as true.

  My love truly shall not decay

  For threatening nor for punishment,

  For let them think, and let them say,

  Toward you alone I am full bent,

  Therefore I will be diligent

  Our faithful love for to renew,

  And still to keep me trusty and true.

  Thus fare ye well, my worldly treasure,

  Desiring God that, of His grace,

  To send in time His will and pleasure,

  And shortly to get us out of this place.

  Then shall I be in as good case

  As a hawk that gets out of his mew

  And straight doth seek his trust so true.

  Likening their imprisonment to that of a hawk in a mews betrays optimism, as hawks were mewed up so “that they may be discharged of old feathers, and be so renewed in fairness of youth.”4 One day soon, it is clear, the writer expects to be freed.

  Poem 44 is by Thomas, angry and indignant at the way he has been treated. The implication in the second verse is that he has been questioned in the Tower about his true intentions, and that pressure has been brought to bear, with arguments, fair words and inducements, to make him renounce the precontract.

  Alas that men be so ungent [harsh]

  To order me so cruelly,

  Of right they should themselves repent

  If they regard their honesty.

  They know my heart is set so sure

  That all their words cannot prevail,

  Though that they think me to allure

  With double tongue and flattering tale.

  Alas, methinks they do me wrong

  That they would have me to resign

  My title [the precontract], which is good and strong,

  That I am yours and you are mine.

  I think they would that I should swear

  Your company to forsake,

  But once, there is no worldly fear

  Shall cause me such an oath to make.

  For I do trust ere it be long

  That God of His benignity

  Will send us right where we have wrong

  For serving Him thus faithfully.

  Now fare ye well, mine own sweet wife,

  Trusting that shortly I shall hear

  From you, the stay of all my life,

  Whose health alone is all my cheer.

  Thomas’s vehemence was the measure of his feelings and his determination. Clearly this was no mere infatuation, but a love that had survived all the obstacles placed in its way. Not even imprisonment in the Tower, or the threat of death, had shaken it.

  The next poem, number 45, shows that he was despondent once more. It seems that he had again been pressed to renounce Margaret.

  Who hath more cause for to complain

  Or to lament his sorrow and pain

  Than I which loves and loved again

  Yet can not obtain?

  I cannot obtain that is mine own,

  Which causeth me still to make great moan;

  To see thus right with wrong overthrown

  Is not unknown.

  It is not unknown how wrongfully

  They will me her for to deny

  Whom I will love most heartily

  Until I die.

  Until I die I will not let [cease]

  To seek her out in cold and heat,

  Which hath my heart as firmly set

  As tongue or pen can it repeat.

  Poem 46 is by Margaret, who was still exulting in her love, and thinking ahead to the day when they would be reunited.

  I may well say with joyful heart,

  As never woman might say beforn,

  That I have taken to my part

  The faithfullest lover that ever was born.

  Great pains he suffereth for my sake,

  Continually both night and day.

  For all the pains that he doth take,

  From me, his love will not decay.

  Her next verse reveals the extent of the pressure that the King had ordered to be put on Thomas. There are many references to pain in the poems, most of them probably to the mental anguish the couple were suffering, but here the threat of pain suggests that torture had been mentioned, while that of punishment may indicate that Thomas had been warned that he was still an attainted traitor and liable to suffer the death penalty if he did not cooperate.

  With threatening great he hath been [a]ssayed,

  Of pain, and eke [also] of punishment,

>   Yet all fear aside he hath laid;

  To love me best was his intent.

  Who shall let [prevent] me then, of right,

  Unto myself him to retain

  And love him best both day and night

  In recompense of his great pain?

  If I had more, more he should have,

  And that I know he knows full well;

  To love him best unto my grave;

  Of that he may both buy and sell.

  And thus farewell, my heart’s desire,

  The only stay of me and mine;

  Unto God daily I make my prayer

  To bring us shortly both in one line.

  In poem 47 Thomas mentions Margaret’s “gentle letters,” and indeed letters may have passed between them, but in the sixteenth century the word “letters” meant simply that, not necessarily more than one item of correspondence. Letters could mean a letter or a poem, so Thomas was probably referring to poem 46. In the second verse it appears that he had not only received more threats, but had been offered money as an inducement to repudiate his betrothal. Verse three shows that he was aware that Margaret had chosen a husband far beneath her in rank, and that she had had other admirers.

  To your gentle letters an answer to recite

  Both I and my pen thereto will apply,

  And though that I cannot your goodness acquit

  In rhyme and meter elegantly,

  Yet do I mean as faithfully

  As ever did lover for his part,

  I take God to record, Which knoweth my heart.

  And whereas ye will continue mine,

  To report for me ye may be bold

  That if I had lives as Argus had eyen5

  Yet sooner all them lose I would

  Than to be tempted for fear or for gold

  You to refuse or forsake,

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