Tag Archives: Battle of Flodden

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

margaret-douglas-countess-2Margaret Douglas is an important link in the Tudor family tree and its later prospective claimants to the English throne.  Unsurprisingly given that the Tudors are involved there are some dodgy family trees involved and not a little tragedy.


Margaret’s mother was the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.  She was born in November 1489 and at the time when she married James IV of Scotland she was just thirteen.  In 1512 she gave birth to a son James (other children died in infancy) but then the following year her husband died at the Battle of Flodden.

archiboldouglas.jpgJames V was king but an infant.  There followed the usual power struggle.  The key families were the Stewarts, Douglases and Hamiltons. on 6 August 1514 without consulting her council or her brother Margaret married the pro-English Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus.   This effectively caused the Douglas faction to advance up a large ladder in the courtly game of snakes and ladders.  A civil war resulted and Margaret was replaced as regent by John Stewart Earl of Albany – who was anti-English.  Margaret having been queen and regent now slid down several rungs of importance and life became very difficult not least when Margaret lost custody of the young king and of his brother called Alexander who had been born after the Battle of Flodden. Margaret, fearing for her safety and the safety of her unborn child by the earl of Angus made plans to escape Scotland.

Her first step was to go to Linlithgow from there she escaped into England and little Margaret Douglas made her way into the world on 8 October 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland by the end of January news arrived from Scotland that the infant Alexander was dead.  Margaret Douglas born of an English mother in an English castle was treated as English rather than Scottish throughout her life and in terms of the English succession. Margaret Tudor’s husband the earl of Angus now deserted his wife and made his peace with the earl of Albany…and his other wife.

Angus had been married to Mary Hepburn but he had been widowed.  What Margaret Tudor didn’t know was that he had entered into a relationship with Lady Janet Stewart of Traquair before marrying her. They were ether engaged or married.  In either event Angus was contracted to another woman making his marriage to Margaret Tudor effectively bigamous. Angus wanted the return of his family lands which Albany had confiscated and in the meantime he took up residence with Lady Janet in one of Margaret’s properties.  As with Mary and Elizabeth Tudor the small fact of her father’s complicated love life must bring into question the legitimacy of Margaret Douglas and therefore her claim to the English throne by right of descent from Margaret Tudor.

Henry VIII did not send for his sister until 1516 and ultimately Margaret Tudor did return to Scotland when Albany went to France in 1517.  This meant that Margaret Douglas also went to Scotland and became the centre of a struggle between her parents when he also returned.  The earl of Angus snatched the infant Margaret from her mother’s arms.  Her existence gave the earl of Angus power.  She was in line to the English throne after all.  Ultimately Margaret Douglas found some degree of sanctuary in the care of her godfather, Cardinal Wolsey who arranged for her to be housed in Berwick.

If that weren’t complicated enough Margaret Tudor divorced the earl of Angus and married Henry Stewart, Lord Methven.  It was a match that didn’t work particularly well.  Methven ultimately moved in with a mistress and Margaret Tudor tried to move back in with the earl of Angus.  James V regarded Methven as a trusted advisor and refused to permit the divorce. Margaret Tudor bowed to her son’s wishes but died in 1541.

But back to Margaret Douglas’s story. After Wolsey’s fall from power and death in 1530 she found home in the household of Princess Mary at Beaulieu where she had been living since 1528.   When she reached adulthood she was appointed as Lady in Waiting to Anne Boleyn which must have been difficult as she was a lifelong friend of her cousin Princess Mary.  During Mary’s reign she was considered as a possible heir to the throne.  It helped not only that she was close to Mary but that she was Catholic in her sympathies.

Meanwhile, back in the early 1530s at court Margaret  had grown into a beautiful and creative woman who wrote poetry.  She met and fell in love with Lord Thomas Howard.  He was one of Anne Boleyn’s uncles (a young brother of the duke of Norfolk).  The pair became engaged.  They had not sought royal approval. In July 1536 Henry VIII discovered the engagement and was not a happy man.  By that time Anne Boleyn had fallen from favour and both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor had been declared illegitimate.  This meant that Margaret Douglas was quite high up on the list of possible heirs to the throne.  She was a very marriageable commodity. Margaret broke off the engagement but by then both she and Lord Thomas had been thrown into the Tower and charged with treason.  He died of natural causes on 31 October 1537. Margaret had been released from custody a few days previously.

Unsurprisingly given her mother’s complicated love life and Henry’s eye popping disapproval of his sister Margaret Douglas now found herself declared illegitimate by Act of Parliament.

In 1539 Margaret is on the list of Anne of Cleve’s ladies in waiting.

In 1540 she was back in hot water when she had an affair with Sir Charles Howard.  It probably didn’t help that he was closely related to Katherine Howard.  She was sent to Syon House but moved from there when Katherine Howard was also sent to Syon in disgrace.  She might have remained in obscurity if the earl of Angus hadn’t popped back up to cause trouble in Scotland.

In 1543 Margaret Douglas was one of Katherine Parr’s bridesmaids.

matthew stuart.jpgMargaret finally married in 1544. He was a Scottish exile and his name was Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox.  The pair lived at Temple Newsam near Leeds, a gift from Henry VIII to his niece upon her wedding.  They had two sons – Henry Stuart Lord Darnley who would marry Mary Queen of Scots and end up murdered in an orchard in Kirk o Fields in 1567 and Charles Stuart who would fall in love with and marry Elizabeth Cavendish – Margaret Douglas’s grand-daughter was Lady Arbella Stuart.  Neither Henry Stewart nor Charles nor even Arbella would have been considered a legitimate claimant to the throne by Henry VIII who excluded Margaret Lennox from the succession through his will because she made no secret of her Catholicism.




Margaret Douglas  even lost her claim to the earldom of Angus because of her husband’s part in the Rough Wooing. Margaret was Angus’s only legitimate child but he left everything to his nephew. Margaret never stopped contesting the fact that her father had broken the entail that should have seen her inherit an earldom.

Matthew Stewart, Lord Lennox  was shot in the back and died in 1571 whilst fighting in Stirling. The marriage between the pair had probably been political but if the Lennox Jewel is anything to go by Margaret and her husband had fallen in love with one another.

lennox jewel.jpg


Whilst Mary Tudor was on the throne Margaret Douglas was at the centre of the royal court but once Protestant Elizabeth ascended the throne Margaret’s life became difficult not only because she insisted that Mary Tudor had said she ought to be queen but because of her Catholicism. Mathew Stuart found himself in the Tower and Margaret spent time under house arrest at Sheen.

margaret douglas hilliardHaving lost her own claims to the English crown Margaret then worked on her eldest son’s claims.  Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was she claimed a contender for both the English and the Scottish crowns. Margaret was careful to send Henry to visit Mary Queen of Scots in France on several occasions.  Her scheming would ultimately result in Darnley becoming Mary Queen of Scots’ second husband and effectively doubling their claim to the English throne.

Inevitably the match between Margaret’s second son (Charles) with his claim to the throne and Elizabeth Cavendish in November 1574 en route between London and Temple Newsam did not go down very well with Elizabeth I who suspected her cousin of Catholic plotting in Yorkshire.  Lady Arbella Stuart would pay a heavy price for her royal blood.

Arbella Stuart

Margaret was summoned back to London and sent to the Tower for her part in arranging the match between her son and Elizabeth Cavendish.  Elizabeth Cavendish’s mother escaped the Tower but Bess of Hardwick gave Elizabeth a blue satin cloak lined with velvet that Christmas suggesting that she knew that she was on a bit of a sticky wicket!

After the death of Margaret’s son Charles she concentrated her efforts on Arbella to whom she left her casket of jewellery when she died:

All the rest of my jewels goods chattels movable and unmovable, my funerals and legacies performed and my due debts paid I give and bequeath to the Lady Arbell Daughter of my son Charles deceased. Provided always and I will that where the one of my said Executors Thomas Fowler hath for sundry and divers bargains made for me and to my use by my appointment, authority and request entered into sundry bonds and covenants of warranties in sundry sorts and kinds that by law he may be challenged and constrained to answer and make good the same he the said Thomas Fowler my said executors shall out of my said goods, chattels movables plate and jewels whatsoever be answered allowed satisfied recompensed and kept harmless from any loss recovery forfeiture actions suits demands whatsoever may be and shall be of and from him my said executor lawfully recovered and obtained by any person or persons at any time or times after my decease. And provided also and I will that the rest and portion of my jewels, goods or movables whatsoever shall fall out to be shall remain in the hands, custody and keeping of my said executor Thomas Fowler until the said Lady Arbell be married or come to the age of fourteen years, to be then safely delivered to her if God shall send her then and so long to be living.

After her death on 9th March 1578 Elizabeth paid for her cousin to be buried in Westminster Abbey.  It is perhaps not surprising given the tumultuous life that she led that there is even a conspiracy theory around her death.  She dined with the earl of Leicester a few days before she died and that gave rise to the rumour that she was poisoned.


Weir, Alison.(2015) The Lost Tudor Princess. London:Vintage


Leave a comment

Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century

Cuthbert Tunstall – Bishop of London and Durham.

mw125060.jpgThe country here about Durham is substantially established in the abolition of the bishop of Rome and his usurped power. Would to God ye would send for the bishop of Durham and hear his advice for the utter extirpation of the said power, and how it might be extinguished for ever. I thought myself to have known a great deal and all that could be said in the matter; but when I heard his learning, and how deeply he had searched into this usurped power, I thought myself the veriest fool in England. If he would write a book upon it all the kings of Christendom would shortly follow our master’s steps, so great is his learning and reputation. In all other things concerning high judgment, Parliament matters, &c., he is not living that would advertise you more for your honor and prosperity. Expertus loquor. Your injunctions can have no effect in Durham Abbey in some things; for there was never yet woman was in the abbey further than the church, nor they (the monks) never come within the town. Newcastle, 26 Jan. – Layton

It’s been a while but I thought I’d have a look to see what Cromwell had on his mind at the end of January 1536.  His monastic visitors, the comedy double act, Layton and Legh had reached the county of Durham and as we can see from this letter the Bishop of Durham made quite an impression on Layton unlike the clergy of Bangor who wrote to Cromwell on the 30th January to complain about the injunctions for incontinence that had been placed upon them that would prevent them from offering hospitality to travellers – i.e. having women around the place.  The good brethren of Bangor complain that they will be forced to seek their living in “ale houses and taverns” if they cannot keep female servants and such women.  Nice try gentlemen!

So, who was the Bishop of Durham who compares so favourably to virtually every other cleric in the country and who managed to extract a good account from Layton? The gentleman in question was Cuthbert Tunstall and he replaced Cardinal Wolsey who had been Bishop of Durham from 1523 until 1529. He might not have agreed with Thomas Cromwell but he was a law abiding citizen and obedient to the will of his king.

Tunstall was a Yorkshireman from Hackforth born on the wrong side of the blanket and educated in Oxford before moving to Cambridge where he became friends with Sir Thomas More. Tunstall’s career was initially that of diplomat.  He worked on the engagement of the young Princess Mary to Charles V.  His reward for his work was to become Bishop of London in 1522. Interestingly, although Tunstall learned towards humanism and reform from within as did Sir Thomas More his future would take a very different course even though they both held a number of identical posts.

During the 1520s Tunstall worked to flush out heretics, to burn proscribed books and the men and women who adhered to new dangerous beliefs.  It was Tunstall who was Bishop of London in 1527 when Thomas Bilney, a radical preacher from East Anglia, was tried by Wolsey and found guilty of heresy.  In the church court was Sir Thomas More – a layman.  He joined with the clerics in their questioning of Bilney. Having been found guilty he was handed over to Tunstall who persuaded him to recant after some time in prison.  he was forced to walk barefoot to St Paul’s amongst other things.  It has been said that it was Tunstall who persuaded him to recant but ultimately it did not save Bilney’s life.  After a stint in prison he set out to demonstrate that he had been in error in going back on his beliefs and was finally executed in 1531 in Norwich.

Tunstall’s life was not about to get any easier.  Henry VIII wanted a divorce.  Cuthbert sloe up for Catherine of Aragon but ultimately switched sides.  It was he and Bishop Lee of York who were sent to Kimbolton in 1534 to try and persuade Catherine to take the Oath of Supremacy and to accept that her daughter was no longer heir to the throne. Tunstall decided to opt for obedience to the King in all things and it perhaps for this reason that a man who would continue in post during the reigns of Edward VI and Queen Mary received a remarkably clean bill of health when Cromwell’s visitors arrived in the County of Durham.

Recognising, perhaps, that the monasteries were to be purged he did not put up a fight to save them.  He did, however, insist that Durham’s library be kept in tact.

In 1536 he managed to keep a low profile during the Pilgrimage of Grace by holing up in one of his castles and refusing to come out until it was all over.

Henry VIII recognised Tunstall as a loyal servant of the crown and made him an executor of his will or perhaps Henry’s wife Katherine Parr offered a good reference.  Tunstall had been the executor of Sir Thomas Parr ‘s will- Katherine’s father.   He and Thomas Parr were cousins and it was perhaps for this reason that Cuthbert assisted Maude Parr with the education of her children- somewhat ironic given Katherine Parr’s leaning to the new learning.  Maude left Tunstall a ring in her will…once again proving that everybody of note was related to some degree or other.

As an aside, Cuthbert’s legitimate half-brother Brian managed to get himself killed at Flodden in 1513 and was immortalised in Marmion by Sir Walter Scott. The 1827 memoirs of Marmaduke Tunstall identify Cuthbert’s mother as a daughter of the Conyers family – a notable Yorkshire name. His father was Thomas who provided for the boy and saw to his education.

He officiated at Edward VI’s coronation.

Tunstall had the courage to speak out against the changes that ran counter to his belief.  He spoke against the Act of Uniformity in 1549 for example.  He didn’t like the idea of married clergy or the changes in offering both bread and wine to communicants.  But as with his initial support of Catherine of Aragon once laws were enshrined he acquiesced to their rule. When the Duke of Somerset fell from power and was replaced by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (who swiftly got an upgrade to  Duke of Northumberland) he hoped that the religious policies would be reversed.  They weren’t.  Even worse, Dudley didn’t buy this lawful bishop’s promises of good behaviour so Tunstall found himself in the Tower on charges of felony and only got out of jail when Queen Mary ascended the throne.

In 1558, having weathered three Tudor monarchs Cuthbert, now in his eighties, found himself faced with a fourth.  After all those years he finally refused to backtrack from his Catholic position.  He refused the Oath of Supremacy, refused to consecrate Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury and was, as a consequence, deprived of his office and committed into house arrest at Lambeth. He died there a few weeks later at the age of eighty-five of natural causes.

The image of Cuthbert is one of three held by the National Portrait Gallery.


‘Henry VIII: January 1536, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 64-81. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp64-81 [accessed 20 January 2017].

Porter, Linda. (2010).  Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr. London:MacMillan

Townsend Fox, George (1827) Memoirs of Marmaduke Tunstall, esq., and George Allan, esq


Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors