Margaret Douglas: Life Story

Chapter 3 : Scottish Years

Henry VIII saw his sisters first and foremost as a means to take and retain power for his dynasty. His view was that a Scottish regency favourable to England was an outcome to be promoted by whatever means possible. At this time, even after the live birth of Mary, it was looking increasingly likely that Henry’s nearest male heir would remain the young king of Scots: a most unwelcome prospect to Henry.

At the very least if he could influence the boy through his mother, and, ideally, have him brought to England, the prospect might not be so bad.To achieve this, he needed Margaret in Scotland, not idling her time away at his expense in Westminster. Finally in December 1516, the terms of a treaty were agreed that would permit Queen Margaret to return to Scotland.

Queen Margaret and Lady Margaret, now eighteen months old, set out from London on 18th May 1517 in some state. On 15th June they were met at Berwick by Albany’s deputy. Angus was also waiting for them at nearby Lamberton Kirk, and, ignorant as yet of the existence of Lady Janet of Traquair and her daughter, Queen Margaret was delighted to see him. Queen Margaret took up residence at Holyrood Palace, and, presumably, Lady Margaret was with her. The rapprochement between Queen Margaret and Angus did not last long, and Queen Margaret was soon writing to her brother.

‘Also, please you to wit that I am sore troubled with my lord of Angus, since my last coming into Scotland, and every day more and more, so that we have not been together this half year.’

So far as is known, Margaret remained with her mother at this time, but there are no records of her upbringing or education during this period. Late in 1517, Queen Margaret began to wonder if she could have her marriage to Angus annulled, but was persuaded against the idea at that time. By 1520, Margaret’s parents were again on good terms, but by 1521, the relationship had broken down completely. In that year Angus, who had tried to undermine Albany’s regency, was exiled to France.

Eventually, Angus travelled to England, where he was well-received by Henry, and began an alliance with his brother-in-law which required him to promote English interests in Scotland. Henry seems to have got on well with Angus, apparently preferring him to Queen Margaret, and certainly ignoring all her complaints about him.

Many writers have accepted the theory that Angus took Margaret with him to France, and then to England. However, this seems unlikely, as no mention of it is made in the records (we could fairly infer that Queen Margaret would have made huge protests to her brother.) A letter that purports to date from 1524 from the Queen, complaining that Angus had kept her child from her for the preceding three years, should, according to the records in the Douglas Book, probably be dated to 1528. Margaret’s most recent biographer, Alison Weir, concurs with this and believes that Margaret remained with her mother until at least 1525, although it is possible she was at one of Angus’ castles, perhaps Tantallon, or with his other family.

Wherever Margaret was, there is no record of her education, but some information can be gleaned from later records, and the customs of the time. She would have learnt to read, and probably, but not necessarily at this time, to write. Her later writings are all in English, whereas one must suppose that during this period of her life she would have spoken Scots (Scots is a Germanic language, which developed in parallel with English from Anglo-Saxon languages, not be confused with Gaelic, the Celtic language of the West and the Highlands). It seems likely that Lady Margaret would also have had at least some understanding of French, which her mother and both the Scots and English courts spoke widely.

If Margaret were brought up away from her mother, it is likely she would have been educated as was usual for young noblewomen, with an emphasis on the practical skills of running a great household as a woman of Margaret’s rank would have been expected to be able to care for the estates of her future husband. It is unlikely that at this point Angus would have had any ambition for her beyond marriage to one of his fellow peers.

If Margaret remained with her mother during these years, she might have profited from a more sophisticated education such as her own mother had received, with perhaps a smattering of Latin and history. Wherever she was educated, she would certainly have been taught to sing, and probably play the lute and the virginals. Plenty of physical exercise would have been part of daily life - riding, hunting and possibly falconry.

She would also have been brought up to practise traditional forms of religion. In this regard Margaret remained loyal to the teaching of her childhood and did not move with the times. She remained an adherent of the Catholic Church throughout her life. The veneration of images and relics and undertaking of pilgrimages was as widely-practised in Scotland as elsewhere, although amongst the intellectuals of Europe these practices were being laughed at and questioned as hinting at idolatry. This scepticism did not rub off on Margaret, who was later noted as a great lover and collector of relics.