Margaret Douglas: Life Story

Chapter 15 : Suspicion

On Queen Mary’s death, Margaret performed her last duty as the Queen’s friend and lady-in-waiting, acting as Chief Mourner at the funeral in Westminster Abbey. She also played a part in the coronation of the new Queen, Elizabeth, although she did not have the coveted office of train-bearer. But once these duties were done, Elizabeth made it quite clear that Margaret was not welcome at her court. Elizabeth disliked all her royal female relatives and certainly did not wish to give any hint that Margaret or her son could be considered as possible successors.

The Lennoxes moved further north from Temple Newsam, spending time at their properties in Settrington, and Jervaulx, in areas of the country that the Reformation had barely touched. The Act of Uniformity of 1559 required all subjects of England to attend the Anglican service in their parish church, however, it exempted gentlemen with private chapels. It was thus possible for the Lennoxes and many others of the nobility to continue to hear the Catholic Mass. There seems little doubt that Margaret did so, and also brought her sons up in the old faith.

The Elizabethan world was awash with spies and informers – Elizabeth and Cecil had paid informers in the Lennox household, and Margaret had spies in the Queen’s court. Everyone was spying on everyone else, till it becomes impossible to know where anyone’s loyalties actually lay. In the Lennox household was one Thomas Bishop. He had been secretary to Lennox before his marriage, but had fallen out with Margaret to the extent that he was dismissed. He held a permanent grudge against her for this, and, although Lennox had taken pity on Bishop when he was destitute and reinstated him, he repaid his employer by spying on the family and reporting, with the blackest possible spin, everything they said and did to Elizabeth’s government. Much of the information on the Lennoxes comes from this source, so should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.

There was continuing turmoil in Scotland. Marie of Guise was being challenged by the Lords of the Covenant who wished to institute Protestantism as the state religion. To counter them, she made overtures to Lennox, promising restoration of his estates and also that Margaret would be confirmed in the Earldom of Angus. The Lords of the Covenant requested the English government to refuse Lennox licence to leave the country.

Margaret, with two sons, was looking to the future – in the eyes of many Catholics, including herself, Elizabeth was illegitimate. Nothing in Margaret’s behaviour suggests that she sought directly to overthrow Elizabeth, but she clearly wanted her son to be recognised as heir. However, England was not the only possibility for Darnley. There was also the prospect of re-establishing him in Scotland, as Earl of Lennox and Angus, and, should the Queen of Scots not bear an heir (she was married to the young King of France, François II) then he had a claim to that throne too, through his father. Twelve year old Darnley was sent to France, at the urging of Lennox’ brother, Aubigny, to congratulate François and Mary on their accession and request the return of the Lennox estates. Queen Mary was gracious, but refused the request.

Lennox, whilst ostensibly conforming to Elizabeth’s policy of supporting the Lords of the Covenant, showing the government letters he had received from his brother, Aubigny, was also communicating secretly via the French Ambassador with Marie of Guise, furnishing him with a family tree, showing that the Lennox claim to be Mary, Queen of Scots’ heir was superior to that of the English backed Chatelherault’s.

This soon got the Lennoxes into trouble – the Council summoned them to London, and Margaret was questioned. Elizabeth’s Council also began to look into the matter of Margaret’s legitimacy – claiming that the divorce that Queen Margaret Tudor had obtained, back in 1527, on the basis of Angus’ pre-contract to Lady Janet of Trequair, rendered Margaret illegitimate. On the surface however, Elizabeth continued to support Lennox’ claim to his lands.

Despite this, Darnley was being openly talked of as a possible to successor to Elizabeth, who was beset on all sides to confirm the succession. She would not name Lady Katherine Grey, the preferred Protestant choice, and she certainly would not name Mary, Queen of Scots or Darnley, both of whom were Catholic, and likely to be controlled (in the English view) by France.

Before long, the Scottish throne looked as though it might come a little closer. François II died in December 1560, leaving Queen Mary childless – perhaps young Darnley, now 14 to the Queen’s 18, might make a suitable second husband, uniting their claims to the English throne, and strengthening the throne of Scotland?