I recently wrote a piece on Henry VII and Elizabeth of York where I suggested that we could see their love for each other reflected in the actions of their children. Arthur Tudor was tender even considering the realms of courtly romance to Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII famously fell in love with numerous women and married a number of them, despite the lasting and far-reaching consequences. Both of Henry VII’s daughters, Margaret and Mary were married to strengthen England politically, but upon the deaths of their husbands both defied convention, and their brother, to marry again for love.
Margaret took this one step further, as she didn’t just defy social norms by marrying in secret for love, but she did the unthinkable and divorced her second husband only to remarry her acknowledged lover. Her brother, Henry VIII, described her as, ‘a shame and disgrace to all her family,’ and her behaviour was considered a scandal. But despite all this, very few came to her aid when she was mistreated by her second and third husband and she remained a capable and able politician who grasped the nuances of the Scottish political landscape even when her brother and his advisors did not.
Queen of Scotland
When nine-year-old Margaret Tudor was betrothed to the twenty-five-year-old King James IV of Scotland, not all the Tudors rejoiced. Margaret’s mother and grandmother opposed the marriage, fearing for the girl who was considered small for age, while her prospective husband already had five acknowledged bastards. For the Tudors, the potential injury to a young girl made prematurely pregnant was well known, as the damage done to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, giving birth at just thirteen years old had ensured he remained an only child. With this in mind, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort went to the king and convinced him to delay the marriage until Margaret was of a more suitable age.
Margaret was married by proxy in 1503 when she was thirteen, to James, represented by the Earl of Bothwell. She was now regarded as the Queen of Scotland and later in the year undertook a grand progress North to meet her husband. But for all the worries of her mother and grandmother, James proved to be an attentive and thoughtful husband from the start and their marriage would be a successful one, though it would only last ten years.
James met Margaret shortly after she had crossed the border though this was not supposed to have been their first formal meeting. Instead, and in keeping with tradition, James had just happened to be hunting nearby with some nobles of his court when he suddenly decided to surprise his bride by showing up unexpectedly.
All, of course, were dressed for the occasion.
Immediately they discovered a mutual love of music (James had brought instruments with him in lieu of hunting weapons) and passed a merry evening listening to minstrels and dancing. James returned to Edinburgh, however when he heard that a stable fire had broken out in the night, killing Margaret’s favourite horses, he immediately returned to her side so that he may comfort her. He then proceeded to spend the day with her, and the next, and the next, during which time they seemed to enjoy the other’s company and he gave her a number of gifts, including some horses to replace those lost in the fire.
When Margaret joined him at Edinburgh, James rode out to meet her and among the traditional displays and pageants of welcome, he invited Margaret to share his saddle and the two rode into the city together.
On the 8th August Margaret and James were married in Holyrood Abbey and the couple dressed to match, with both of their outfits trimmed with the same shade of crimson. Between the wedding and the feasting, Margaret was anointed and crowned Queen of Scotland, during which time James remained beside her and affectionately held her. Then followed a great celebration of feasting and dancing before the two were put to bed.
In keeping with the customs of the Kings of Scotland, the morning after their wedding James gave Margaret a wedding gift, in this instance the lands of Kilmarnock and the two began married life with a tour of her dower lands. James continued to give his wife gifts and during their tour, he took her to palaces that had been refurbished for her arrival. Though the two seemed to be getting along well, harmony was disturbed when they arrived at Margaret’s dower castle of Stirling which, unbeknownst to her, was housing the king’s children. They did not remain there long.
When they returned to Edinburgh they settled into seemingly affable married life, though it was no doubt disturbed by James’ visits to Darnaway Castle where he visited his son, James Stewart and the woman who bore him, James’ previous mistress Janet Kennedy who he had housed there. Although James continued to visit Janet, he did not neglect his wife who enjoyed his attention and frequent gifts. However, Margaret did not conceive for the first few years of their marriage, though we do not know if this was because Margaret struggled to fall pregnant or because James held off until Margaret was older.
Their first child, James Stewart, was born in February 1507 and James was evidently overjoyed to have a legitimate son and heir. James Stewart was created Prince of Scotland, Duke of Rothesay and there was a great deal of celebration. The festivities were cut short when it became clear Margaret was gravely ill and to aid her recovery James went on a pilgrimage walking 120 miles to St Ninian’s. His devotion was rewarded and Margaret recovered, allegedly at the very moment he arrived there and prayed.
The two had six children together, however only one of them would survive infancy. Their eldest son James died at a year old, while Margaret was pregnant with their second child. This child, a daughter, died the same say she was born. A third child, Arthur, followed in 1509 but died before he reached a year old. In April 1512 another James was born, who would survive and go on to become James V but it would seem his father was concerned at the early losses of his children which may explain how Margaret was delivered of another child eight months later. But the daughter, probably premature, died as her sister had, on the same day. Their last child together, Alexander, Duke of Ross would never be seen by James, who died before his birth at the Battle of Flodden.
Lady Angus*, Dowager Queen of Scotland
On 9th September 1513, the forces of Scotland met those of England at the Battle of Flodden Field. By now Margaret’s brother, Henry VIII, was King of England and tension between the two kingdoms had been brewing for some time. Even though Henry was abroad on a military campaign in France when James led the Scottish army over the border, the troops that maintained the border had remained behind and had been preparing for such an invasion since he’d notified them in advance of his intent.
Margaret, pregnant with Alexander, became increasingly convinced that James would be lost if he made war on England, but he was not deterred and went through with his plans. Despite their larger numbers, Scotland was defeated and with few exceptions, every noble house had lost someone. The Scottish nobility was devastated having lost not just their king but over two dozen earls, nobles and knights as well as a number of prominent churchmen.
When Margaret was brought the news of the defeat she was already so convinced by her premonitions that James was dead that she did not send out search parties. She became the regent for her son James who was seventeen months old at the time, though she could not act without the support of six lords of the council (three spiritual and three temporal). The will of James IV specified that she would remain as regent until she married or their son came of age, however as a woman and the sister of the enemy king she was not overly welcomed, and a faction soon formed demanding that John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany as third in line to the throne and the closest male relative to the young James V return from France to take over as regent.
In the months that followed Margaret worked to unify the Council, make peace with England and bring some order to Scotland which now had so few people left to enforce the law. She also gave birth to Alexander, Duke of Ross who would inherit the throne if anything happened to the young James.
Less than a year after Flodden however, Margaret surprised everyone by marrying in secret. Her choice of husband was Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus which caused massive division within the Scottish council. The marriage successfully alienated the Scottish nobility not just because she had allied herself with a particular clan, but because Angus himself was so unpopular. Shortly before his marriage to Margaret he had been betrothed to Lady Jane of Traquair, with whom he was supposedly very much in love before ambition compelled him to court the Dowager Queen. By marrying Margaret had arguably given up her position as regent and so Albany was recalled from France. Margaret’s second marriage would be dominated by Albany’s return and the resulting politics.
Margaret was commanded to relinquish control of her sons, but for the moment she remained regent even though the division had brought Scotland to the brink of civil war. With so many enemies about the place, Margaret relied heavily on the Angus clan which compounded the alienation of the Scottish lords to the point where she was considering fleeing into England for her safety.
Albany arrived to take up the regency in May 1515, but by now Margaret, against Angus’ advice, had taken her sons to Stirling Castle, where she only surrendered them when Albany launched a siege. At the time Margaret was pregnant again and retired to Linithlow Castle where she was to go into confinement. Angus joined her there, but instead of settling to have the baby, the two managed to escape across the border and into England. When they arrived at Harbottle Castle Margaret was able to tell of her treatment at the hands of Albany which had included practical imprisonment, her movements (when she had been permitted) had been watched, her letters intercepted and of course, her sons taken from her. As Albany had also seized her goods Margaret arrived in England with little more than the clothes she was wearing and so her brother and his wife arranged for her to have everything she might need in preparation for her lying in.
Recent events and the hurried escape into England at eight months pregnant had taken their toll on Margaret who now collapsed but was then delivered of a healthy baby girl, Lady Margaret Douglas. As with her other pregnancies, Margaret again took a long time to recover and it was some months before she could be moved to more suitable accommodation.
The New Year of 1516 came but Margaret continued to suffer with her health. Then came the news from Scotland that her son Alexander, Duke of Ross had died in Albany’s care, and though there were many to suggest it, Margaret did not believe that Albany had directly murdered the boy. When she had sufficiently recovered Margaret and Angus were invited to London to her brother’s court and while Margaret was happy to accept the invitation, Angus had, much to Margaret’s surprise, decided to reach an accord with Albany and return to Scotland without her.
Angus returned to his own lands while Margaret journeyed to Henry VIII’s court where she was well received and stayed the rest of the year. During this time Albany had been cast as a villain throughout Europe and was now desperately trying to come to an agreement with Margaret. He invited her back to Scotland to take up guardianship of her son, James and had the goods he had previously seized returned to her in London. Despite the return of her jewels and wardrobe, Margaret had yet to receive any of the income due to her from her dower lands. In 1517, Henry and Albany, with the help of Wolsey concluded a treaty which allowed Margaret to return to Scotland and see her son.
In practice, however, Margaret’s access to the now five-year-old king was severely restricted as she discovered when she returned the same year. At the time Albany was in France visiting his wife and he invited Margaret to assume the regency in his absence. Now that she was reunited with Angus Margaret suggested that the two of them rule as co-regents, something which the Council vehemently opposed to a man. Their objections were not, as might have been thought, a continuation of their earlier disapproval of the marriage, but based on Angus’ more recent exploits, which until now Margaret had been blissfully unaware of.
When Angus had left his wife and returned to his Scottish lands he was not to remain alone. Away from Margaret he had reunited with Lady Jane of Traquair and was now openly living with her in Margaret’s properties off Margaret’s income, hence why it had not been forthcoming while she was in England. Although the Council supported Margaret against Angus, in practice this amounted to very little and she was unable to recover much of her income. As her situation worsened the Council did not step in and so she was reduced to pawning her goods to pay her servants. Margaret wrote to her brother, Henry, and asked that she might be allowed to return to England and live separately from her husband. Not only was Henry opposed to the idea but he was aghast she would even suggest it and in response sent a churchman to remind her of morality.
The situation continued to deteriorate and Margaret started dismissing her staff. Her attempts to collect the rents due to her were obstructed by Angus who demanded his share as her husband. Meanwhile, with Albany still in France, the lords’ squabbling broke into open fighting and Margaret sided with her husband’s enemies. Eventually, she wrote to her brother again, this time saying that she was determined to divorce Angus who was treating her so badly and that her next marriage would be at Henry’s discretion. Henry, however, was still horrified and wrote back that his support was contingent on her reconciliation with Angus or at the very least her toleration of his affair.
Whereas the early part of Margaret and Angus’ marriage had been dominated by Scottish politics, now the situation was reversed with their domestic squabbles becoming the major factor in Scottish politics. Albany returned to Scotland in November 1521 where he and Margaret put aside their previous hostility and became friendly. She was happy to support him as regent and he regarded her honourably as the King’s mother. He stripped Angus’ family of the offices they had seized in his absence and supported her divorce petition in Rome, while she worked with him to bring order back to the Council. Angus went into exile in France but continued to trouble his wife, this time by encouraging the rumours that Albany and Margaret were having an affair. Despite having never met him, Henry VIII was fond of his brother in law and accepted the rumours, refusing to support Albany lest he kill the young king and marry his mother, assuming the throne for himself. Any letters that Margaret wrote decrying such suggestions were seen as coercion on the part of Albany which simply fuelled speculation that this was his plan.
In 1524 Angus was welcomed at the court of Henry VIII, and Henry wrote to Scotland proposing that the now twelve-year-old James, assume the throne under the guidance of Margaret and Angus. Regardless of her personal feelings towards him, Margaret knew that the Scottish lords would never countenance such a thing and she wrote back to her brother telling him to keep Angus away. As a result, Angus was kept at the border while James became king without a regent. Angus wrote to his wife while he was at the border, but Margaret refused to read them and returned his letters unopened. To Henry, it looked as though Angus was desperate to reconcile while Margaret had her brother keep him languishing at the border while she obtained her divorce. He, therefore, allowed Angus to return to Scotland. When news reached Margaret of her brother’s actions she wrote to him furiously that she would no longer rely on him for advice and she dismissed the English ambassadors from court. When Angus attempted to enter Edinburgh Margaret ordered him to withdraw and turned the city guns upon him to force the issue. Angus retreated but due to his natural position Margaret was forced to allow him his political dues and he rejoined the Council in February 1525.
Lady Methven*, The King’s Mother
Margaret and Albany remained cordial and he continued to support her petition to Rome, which she renewed with greater enthusiasm after her confrontation with Angus at Edinburgh. Though it was not Angus’ behaviour that prompted her desire to rid herself of him, rather it was her own. Margaret’s eye had fallen on a man at court, a distant cousin of her first husband, Henry Stewart whom she was said to have fallen quite in love with. The two became lovers and she promoted him to Captain of the Guard, which in turn alienated a number of lords who now supported Angus against her.
Angus, however, forfeited all support in November 1526 when he failed to surrender his temporary guardianship of James V and took custody of the boy. James wrote to his mother asking for help, but despite repeated rescue attempts, it was not until 1528 when James himself orchestrated his own escape that he eluded his captors. In the December before James’ escape, Margaret had received word that her divorce had been granted and she was a free woman. The divorce was granted on the grounds of Angus’ pre-contract with the Lady Jane, which meant that Lady Margaret Douglas remained legitimate. Margaret married Henry Stewart just a few weeks before James managed to escape and return to his mother, where he created his new stepfather Lord Methven.
Although Angus attempted to take back the king, James V had him and his supporters sentenced to death for treason. James went on to lay siege to the castles that Angus retreated to until the latter was forced to flee into England, taking refuge with Henry VIII. Even though Henry and Angus were no longer related, they were still friendly, even more so given how Henry still railed against his sister’s divorce. He allowed Angus to remain in England, granted him a pension and even promised to make his restoration a condition of peace with Scotland, something which infuriated James.
Margaret remained involved in politics, actively campaigning for peace between England and Scotland. She and her husband would have a child together, a daughter, Dorothea, but she died in infancy. Meanwhile, Methven proved to be as bad a husband as Angus and set up house in one of Margaret’s castles with his mistress, Janet Stewart. Together they had a son, Henry Stewart, who lived with his parents on Margaret’s income which incensed Margaret (after Margaret’s death Methven would marry his mistress thus legitimising Henry Stewart who inherited his father’s title). Once again, Margaret sought divorce but this time her son would not allow it. Without support in Scotland, Margaret wrote to her brother seeking assistance, but Henry rarely responded to her letters.
Without the prospect of divorce, Margaret and Methven were reconciled, in 1538, to greet Mary of Guise who was to become James V’s wife. The two women became friendly and Margaret found a new role as a much needed and much-devoted grandmother, in April 1541 her two grandsons died and James and his wife leaned heavily on Margaret who knew the pain all to well.
Later that year Margaret fell ill at her home in Methven Castle for the last time. Though she had been reconciled to her husband for some time before this, her later years had seen her preoccupied with Angus and it was of him that she spoke her last words. When she realised that she was dying she asked those present to ask the King to reconcile with Angus and her final words were of him, saying, “I beg God for mercy that I have so offended the Earl.”
*During her lifetime I don’t think Margaret was known by either of these titles, she was known as the Dowager Queen of Scotland.