01 January 2021
Mary McGrigor shares the history of Margaret Douglas, who masterminded the marriage of her son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, to Mary Queen of Scots.
She was born, on 7 October 1515, as her mother fled from enemies, in a castle with a leaking roof. Margaret, named after her mother, was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England and widow of James IV of Scotland killed in the battle of Flodden in 1413.
She had remarried the nineteen year old Archibald Earl of Angus greatly to the fury of her late husband’s cousin, John, Duke of Albany, acting as regent since his death. Now as she was escaping with Angus, to the safety of brother’s court, her baby was born prematurely in the border fortress of Harbottle Castle, where the wind blew through cracks in the walls.
She did reach England eventually, with her red-haired baby girl to whom Henry VIII took an instant liking, calling her little ‘Marget’ as he tossed her above his head.
Returning to Scotland, she was seized by her father from her mother, to live with him at Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, where, riding above the sea, her red hair flying in the wind, he taught her to fly his famous Tantallon hawks.
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Then forced to escape from the sea gate as her father’s enemies approached, she lived like a gypsy, her clothes in rags, until rescued by Lord Strangeways, the Governor of Berwick-on-Tweed. Eventually, given her uncle’s permission, she lived at Beaulieu, with her cousin, Princess Mary (later Mary I) who, like herself a Catholic, became her lifelong friend. In charge of them was the pious Lady Salisbury, later to die a martyr for her faith.
AT THE TUDOR COURT
Imprisoned in the Tower of London, by the unpredictable King Henry, for falling in love with the poet Thomas Howard, uncle of Anne Boleyn, Margaret was then restored to favour, to the point where when Henry disowned both his daughters, she briefly became his heir. As first lady of the court, she was bridesmaid to Jane Seymour and following Jane’s death, was sent to meet Anne of Cleaves. Then, when Henry married Katherine Howard she was once again in disgrace. A brief romance with Charles Howard, brother of his unfortunate fifth wife, being enough to make her tyrannical uncle send her once more to the Tower.
Restored yet again to favour, Henry found a use for her in marrying her off for political reasons to Matthew, Earl of Lennox. Descended from a daughter of James II of Scotland, Matthew, sent as boy to France, was both charming and urbane.
Surprisingly, the arranged marriage turned into a love match and most unusually for those days, they used each other’s Christian names. The King granted them Temple Newsam, land forfeited from a Catholic family in Yorkshire, where they lived in great state during the subsequent reigns of Edward VI and Queen Mary, at whose wedding to Philip of Spain Margaret was maid of honour as Mary’s trusted and closest friend.
But when Mary died and her half-sister the Protestant Elizabeth became queen everything drastically changed.
Margaret incurred the enmity of Queen Elizabeth, not only on account of her Catholic religion, but because Elizabeth blamed her as being party to her own imprisonment and disinheritance by her father. A spy placed in her household reported all that was happening to Elizabeth’s secretary William Cecil, later to become Lord Burleigh, who reported it back to the queen.
Because of fighting in Scotland Margaret, at her father’s request, gave sanctuary to their Douglas relations who included his illegitimate son, George Douglas. Little could she then guess at the part this half-brother would play in the dreadful conspiracy which would end the life of Henry, her own precious son.
Elizabeth was merciless to Margaret, summoning her to leave Yorkshire for London in the dead of winter when two of her children, thought to have been girls, died during the journey. Reaching London however, at his mother’s instigation, Henry Lord Darnley (pictured), her eldest son, mysteriously disappeared. A tall youth, easily recognized, he nonetheless reached France, where, for the first time, he met the young dauphiness, who, in her own right, was Mary Queen of Scots.
Meanwhile the Lennoxes, released from house arrest, in the Tower of London and elsewhere, returned home to Settrington, the house where they were now living, to find themselves ruined, thieves having ransacked their property and stolen sheep and cattle and all else they could find.
On Queen Mary’s return to Scotland, in 1561, Margaret, with great ingenuity, sent Henry to join his father, at that time struggling to save his own lands in the west of the country stretching from Loch Lomond to Glasgow. The Queen, infatuated with Darnley, married him to his parent’s intense joy. Elizabeth however, was furious, claiming that as her subject, he had acted without permission for which, in her estimation his mother, Margaret, was to blame.
Imprisoned yet again, on a charge of treachery, Margaret was told that both her son and her husband had died. This, in the case of Matthew, proved untrue. But Henry, strangled in the garden at Kirk o’Fields, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, was most certainly dead. Blaming Mary for participation in Henry’s murder, Margaret was so prostrated with grief, that Elizabeth, for once showing compassion, sent her own doctor to attend to her before setting her free.
Despite her mistrust of Margaret, Elizabeth did then agree to Matthew Lennox going to Scotland supposedly to bring back their little grandson James VI. Arriving there, however, he was persuaded to become regent over a country divided in loyalty between adherents of the now imprisoned queen and her five year old son James VI. Attending a parliament in Stirling with the little boy, Matthew was shot in the back by an assassin. Carried into the castle his last words were for the care of his dear wife Meg.
Heartbroken by the assassination of both her husband and her son, Margaret commissioned the famous Lennox jewel, now in the Queen’s gallery at Holyrood. Reduced almost to penury she struggled on in a grace and favour house at Cold Harbour near London. Still however she was scheming, arranging on a visit in a carriage pulled by mules to the Countess of Salisbury, the famous Bess of Hardwick, for a marriage between her younger son Charles and Bess’s daughter Elizabeth.
Once again Queen Elizabeth was enraged because she had not given permission for the marriage to take place. Margaret was again sent back to the Tower, imprisoned, as she put it, ‘for the third time for love.’
Strangely, while incarcerated, she became reconciled to another prisoner, Mary Queen of Scots. The two exchanged both letters and pieces of embroidery, some of it stitched with Margaret’s once lovely red hair, now by age and anxiety turned grey.
QUICK LINK: The prisons of Mary Queen of Scots
Sadly both Charles and his wife Elizabeth died tragically young, leaving their orphaned daughter Arbela, to become the joy of Margaret’s old age. Indomitable as ever, but living again very frugally at Cold harbour, she was 68, old for those times, when Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester, came to visit her.
She died the same night, supposedly poisoned by him, although, on the evidence of her own letters, she had long been suffering from colic, possible a gastric ulcer. Sadly her adored granddaughter Arbela did not long survive, but Margaret was to have her revenge on the cousin who had so misused her, when, on the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, Margaret’s grandson, King James VI of Scotland, inherited the throne of England as James I.
Mary McGrigor is the author of The Other Tudor Princess, published by History Press.
Mary McGrigor tells this compelling and exciting part of Tudor history for the first time with all the passion and thrill of a novel, but this is no fiction – the untold story runs through the course of history, and Margaret secured the throne for her Stuart ancestors for years to come.