Margaret 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.
James 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.
Margaret 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.
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.
Having 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.
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