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History Scotland exclusive read: Margaret Tudor, an English queen


Dr Amy Hayes explores the life of Margaret Tudor, the controversial wife of James IV and a woman whose turbulent career as a dowager has both earned her a poor reputation and overshadowed her years as consort.

Margaret Tudor is perhaps the most infamous Scottish queen consort, generally remembered as the ever-complaining sister of Henry VIII. As the wife of James IV, Margaret was queen consort of Scotland for ten years until the death of her husband in 1513 thrust her into a position of political power that she was entirely unequipped for. Margaret would be dowager queen for a period of 28 years, and spent the majority of her time being pulled between the conflicting interests of powerful men, whilst fighting a losing battle to gain access to the revenues and incomes that could have helped her to wield more effective political control.

Margaret’s inability to establish working government, and her tendency to switch political allegiances, has left her with a poor reputation, dogged by accusations that she was ‘frivolous’ and ‘unreliable’. Yet this ignores the complex circumstances of Margaret’s queenship, both as consort and dowager, and overly simplifies the difficulties she faced as an English-born queen in late-medieval Scotland. 


Margaret Tudor was born on 28 November 1489 as the second child and eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The daughter of an English king still new to his throne, Margaret had significant importance in the marriage market, and as early as 1496 her father opened negotiations with the Scots for her marriage to James IV in order to end hostilities between the two countries.

After a period of war, negotiations resumed, eventually culminating in the treaty of perpetual peace, of which Margaret’s marriage to James IV formed a part. The treaty was agreed in 1502, and on 15 January 1503, Margaret married James IV by proxy. She was thirteen years old. Margaret began her journey to Scotland in July, making a grand progress north in stages.

She first met her husband at Dalkeith, where she stayed for three days before her entrance into Edinburgh. Determined to present himself as a model of chivalry and courtly love, the king visited her each day. They played cards together, and he performed on his lute for her. Margaret is said to have commented that his beard was too long, and James promptly had one of her ladies clip it short. 

Whilst travelling towards Edinburgh, the king arranged for various demonstrations of courtly love, including presenting the queen with a tame hart (deer) for her to hunt. The king himself rode a horse with trappings of cloth of gold, and Margaret rode pillion behind him as they entered the city of Edinburgh, where on her arrival an angel handed her the keys to the kingdom.

Other tableaus and re-enactments greeted the young queen as she travelled through the city, including one of the judgement of Paris, who chose Venus, goddess of love as the fairest goddess, and scenes of the marriage of the Virgin Mary and Joseph. On 8 August, James and Margaret were married, and this was followed immediately by Margaret’s coronation as queen consort. She wore a gown made of white damask with a border of crimson velvet and gold figuring. After the ceremonies the court feasted and then the king and queen retired.


Even by medieval standards, Margaret was at the age of thirteen a relatively young bride. Although marriages in this period could be conducted at a young age there were still concerns over the health of these very young brides, and Margaret Tudor was no exception to this. It is notable that when her marriage to James IV was initially proposed, Margaret was only nine, and both her mother, Elizabeth, and her grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, strongly objected to the notion that she might be sent north to Scotland too soon.

Henry VII claimed that ‘the Queen and my mother are very much against this marriage […] they fear the King of Scots would not wait but injure her, and endanger her health’. Tellingly, Margaret Beaufort was married and pregnant by the age of twelve, and it is likely that her experience of childbirth was traumatic. She never carried another child after her son, the future Henry VII, was born, and clearly wished to protect her granddaughter from a similar experience. Although Margaret was married by proxy in January when she was just thirteen, the treaty explicitly stated that she should not be expected in Scotland until she was nearer to the more ‘mature’ age of fourteen. 

Read this article in full in the Jul/August issue of History Scotland - on sale now.


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