Margaret Tudor: Life Story

Chapter 9 : Escape to England

Despite Albany’s protestations, Margaret was not happy. She determined to escape into England, although she was heavily pregnant. Margaret had refused previous offers from Henry and Dacre, on the grounds that it would be impossible to leave, if for no other reason than that she had no money, but now she wrote to him that she would leave Linlithgow secretly, if he would grant her protection. 

Angus was permitted to visit his pregnant wife, and the two of them slipped out and galloped for Angus’ castle at Tantallon, before advancing towards the border. Accompanied by Lord Hume and his wife, they travelled, probably via the Priory at Coldstream, to arrive at Harbottle Castle, a fairly primitive stronghold, just over the border in England in early October of 1515.  On 6th October, she wrote to the French Ambassador, who had been trying to effect a reconciliation with Albany, that she had been deprived of her jewels and her income, that her children had been taken from her by force, and that she had been forced by threats to sign letters not written by her. There, not two weeks later, Margaret gave birth to a daughter, whom she called Margaret, either after herself, or in memory of Margaret Beaufort

Three days later, Margaret wrote to Albany to announce the birth and to demand, once again, that as ‘Tutrix’ of the young King and Prince, she should be restored to governance of both of them, and of the whole kingdom of Scotland. Although her letter seems indicative of a woman in full control of herself, within days Dacre was reporting that Margaret was in extreme pain with excruciating sciatica (or so it was diagnosed at the time).  She was too ill to be moved to more luxurious accommodation.

Both of Margaret’s siblings received letters from Albany. To Henry, he wrote that he was aware that disturbances on the border were making it hard for Henry to believe in his desire for peace, but that his messenger would explain more about his sincerity, and to Mary, the French Queen, he wrote that he hoped she would continue her efforts for peace, and that he would do Margaret as much service as he possibly could.

Albany continued to write to Margaret as well, hoping to persuade her that his intentions were honourable and that if she returned to Scotland she would be treated with honour. He offered forgiveness for Gavin Douglas in relation to the dispute about the archbishopric, as well as donation to Margaret of the right to grant all church benefices within the properties within her dower, and the full control of her children. He pleaded with her not to listen to those who sought to create discord between Scotland and England.

But at this stage, Margaret was fully supported by her husband. Angus, Lord Home and the Earl of Arran made a pact that none of them would be reconciled to Albany without the agreement of the others and that they would try to remove the children from Albany’s control. The pact is dated 15th October, from Coldstream, suggesting that Angus’ support was more political than personal. He was not at Margaret’s bedside, despite her being in very poor health after the birth, too ill to be moved.

In November, she received more messages from Albany, again urging her to return to Scotland. Dacre suggested that if Albany were genuine in his protestations that he intended only to act as protector and not to usurp the throne, he would allow the younger child to be brought up in England, and would ensure Margaret could enjoy her dower rights. Dacre was not sure that even if Albany were driven out of Scotland and Margaret had control that matters in Scotland would be more stable, and asked for instructions from Wolsey.

Margaret lay immovable, so ill that Dacre was afraid to tell her that her little son, twenty month old Alexander, had died.  This would have been a terrible blow when she was informed as, according to Dacre, she had constantly talked of her younger son. 

Margaret's poor health and distress at her loss were not Dacre’s only problems.  He had no money for her or her daughter's keep and wrote pathetic letters to Cardinal Wolsey, to know what to do with them. 

In due course, Margaret recovered sufficiently to be moved to Morpeth Castle, with a few more of the creature comforts to which she was accustomed and she spent the Christmas of 1515 there. Henry and Katharine were very concerned for the welfare of both mother and child and sent gifts of clothes and jewellery that, apparently delighted Queen Margaret so much that she had the gifts laid out for Lord Home and other Scottish gentlemen to see as proof that Henry would not desert her. She appreciated the gifts not just for their political significance, but also their fineness, sending for them once or twice a day to look at.

In January, though, she was worse again. Dacre wrote that she was in severe pain with sciatica, and had no appetite – although his description of the problem does not sound as though Margaret was close to starvation:

‘nor at any time heretofore would [Margaret] take coleses, morterons, almond milk, good broths, pottages or boiled meats, but only roast meat with some jellies, and that very scantily.’

During this period Albany still hoped for reconciliation.  It cannot have looked good to either the people of Scotland or to foreign rulers that the King’s mother should be so scared or ill-treated by the Regent that she felt constrained to flee the country.  In March 1515, Margaret wrote out a list of her complaints against Albany, in which she states, rather surprisingly, given Albany’s married state, that, at his first entry into Scotland, the Lords had wanted them to marry. If this were true, it might be another reason for her hasty match with Angus. She then continued with his removal of her children, and his harsh behaviour to Angus’ grandfather and uncle, Lord Durmmond, and Gavin Dunbar. Worst of all, he had his eyes on the throne, and she accused him of having a hand in young Alexander’s death.

Albany still persisted in his efforts. He offered very generous terms to the Queen, including that Gavin Douglas and Lord Drummond should be released and that all her supporters would be restored to their lands.  Dacre, however, strongly influenced her to resist, and encouraged her to contemplate a trip south to see her brother and her old home.  He reported to Henry that

“(He) penned her letters in such wise as the Duke would not consent, to prevent any renewal of friendship between them."

He advised Henry to invite her south as soon as possible, as the continued efforts of Albany seemed to be causing Margaret to rethink her position.