Margaret Douglas: Life Story

Chapter 1: A Dramatic Birth

Lady Margaret Douglas was born on 7th October 1515 (not 8th, as in some sources) at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland. Her mother, Margaret Tudor, Dowager Queen of Scots, and Countess of Angus, had left her palace of Linlithgow in Scotland in secret some three weeks earlier. Queen Margaret, widowed after the Battle of Flodden in 1513, had been deprived of her position of Tutrix and Governor of the Realm during the minority of her son, James V, when she married Margaret’s father, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus.

Angus, described by his uncle, Gavin Douglas, as a ‘young, witless fool’, was head of the powerful ‘Red’ Douglas clan, based at Tantallon Castle, some 20 miles east of Edinburgh, and generally inclined to the pro-English party in Scotland, rather than the majority pro-French grouping. He failed to mention to Queen Margaret before their marriage that he was already pre-contracted to marry Lady Janet Stewart of Trequair, an issue that came back to haunt both him, and his daughter.

The other Scottish nobles resented the match, believing it would lead to Angus dominating the government and invited the Duke of Albany, the young King’s closest male heir, to return to Scotland from his home in France to take up the role of Governor.

Queen Margaret felt hounded when she was forced to relinquish her sons and her fears were stoked by Thomas, Lord Dacre, the English Warden of the East March. Dacre requested instructions from Queen Margaret’s brother, Henry VIII of England, in a letter of 7th September 1515 on what to do with Queen Margaret if their negotiation with her to leave Scotland should succeed ‘as we trust verily it shall, to the great disturbance of all Scotland’.

Eventually, Queen Margaret was persuaded to take refuge over the border and arrived at Harbottle a few days before her first child by Angus was due. Lady Margaret’s birth was difficult, unsurprising in the circumstances. Nevertheless, she thrived, and was christened on 8 th October, with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (represented by a proxy) named as her godfather.

The fact that Lady Margaret Douglas was born in England had an important long term effect on her position. Born in England of an English mother, she was treated as an English subject, and thus eligible to inherit the Crown. A Statute of Edward III prohibited inheritance to individuals born out of the realm although there were doubts as to whether this applied to the Crown.

Queen Margaret was very ill with sciatica following Margaret’s birth. She lay immovable, barely able to sit up in bed. In the meantime, it was rumoured in Europe that Henry intended to invade Scotland. His minister, Cardinal Wolsey, maintained that there was absolutely no English intention whatever to invade Scotland, or France. Nevertheless, he added menacingly, if Albany did not mend his ways with reference to Queen Margaret, Henry would be forced to make him. Albany continued, with little success, to reach an accommodation with the Queen.

After some to-ing and fro-ing of letters, it was decided by Henry and his Council to invite Queen Margaret and her husband, Angus, south for Christmas. In the event, the party did not travel to London in November, perhaps because of Queen Margaret’s continued frailty or because Henry had not yet decided on the best policy with reference to Scotland. Instead, Queen Margaret and the baby Margaret were moved in very slow stages of four or five miles each day to Morpeth, which had a few more of the creature comforts to which the Queen was accustomed, arriving on 23rd November 1515. They were met there by Angus, who appears to have returned to Scotland in the period after the original arrival at Harbottle.

Henry finally made arrangements for Queen Margaret and the baby Margaret to travel south, furnishing them with a litter and attendants. Mother and daughter set out on 8th April 1516, accompanied by Dacre and others, travelling first to Newcastle, where they were met by Sir Thomas Parr and then on to Durham.

Queen Margaret was no doubt thrilled to be travelling south at last, but, at the same time, she was in ‘much heaviness’ as, a couple of weeks earlier, Angus had resolved to return to Scotland and make his peace with Albany. Whether the Queen’s unhappiness stemmed from a sense of betrayal, or because she missed him, we cannot know. She would have understood Angus’ need to keep his estates that were threatened with forfeiture, and, when she knew that Angus’ return was inevitable, she wrote to Albany asking him to restore to Angus the castles of Tantallon and Bothwell. Henry was more condemnatory and characterised Angus’ actions as ‘done like a Scot’.

Whether Angus was sorry to leave Queen Margaret is another question. On his return home, he quickly renewed his relationship with Janet Stewart of Traquair, who, in due course delivered a daughter, known as Lady Janet Douglas.He chose to set up home with Lady Janet in Queen Margaret's own dower castle in Newark, a fact which, when it came to her notice, enraged her far more than the simple matter of adultery.

Queen Margaret and the young Margaret continued to travel slowly towards London. On 3rd May 1516, they entered London at Tottenham, as was traditional for Scots Ambassadors, before travelling to Greenwich, where the court was rejoicing in the birth of Mary, a live child at last, to Henry and Katharine, following at least four previous unsuccessful pregnancies.