Margaret Tudor: Life Story

Chapter 7 : Second Marriage

Margaret, having begun well, then made what turned out to be a disastrous mistake. She decided to marry Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Angus, described by his famous uncle, Gavin Douglas, Provost of St Giles, as a ‘young, witless fool’, was aged about twenty-four when they married secretly on 6th August 1514.  He had previously been married to Mary (or Margaret) Hepburn, daughter of the Earl of Bothwell, but Mary had died childless.  Margaret was, presumably, unaware that he was already engaged to, or possibly had even married, Lady Janet Stewart of Traquair.

After five hundred years, we cannot be sure of Margaret’s reasons for marrying Angus. Dr Linda Porter, in her excellent ‘Crown of Thistles’, suggests there may have been an element of compulsion. Alternatively, aged only twenty-five herself, and with two young sons in an environment that was hostile to her both as an Englishwoman, and in her role as Regent, she may have felt she needed male protection and chosen one of the most powerful nobles believing that she would benefit from his support and that of the Douglas family, who tended to a pro-English policy. She may, of course, have genuinely been in love, or perhaps it was a simple case of physical attraction.

Whilst historians tend not to question the physical or emotional health of individuals unless the person is known to have suffered some particular illness we should remember that Margaret had been widowed before she was twenty-four, after eleven years as the wife of a generous and powerful king. In the period 1507 to 1513 she had suffered the loss of her first born son at a few weeks old, had two further failed pregnancies before giving birth to James in 1512, had a further miscarriage in November 1512, and was already pregnant again when James IV took his army over the border, despite her entreaties.  She had been extremely ill after each birth. Even the most robust woman was likely to be feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and vulnerable. 

The burden of being Governor against the wishes of at least some of the lords, whilst gratifying to her personal and familial ambition, must have been daunting.  Women did not receive the education and training for power that their brothers did, but were expected to be effective as Regents for their sons or younger brothers.  Perhaps it was not surprising that she wanted someone to help her shoulder the enormous weight of responsibility she faced.  Unfortunately, she made a bad choice which she compounded by attempting to appoint Angus as her co-Governor.

Angus' reticence on the subject of Lady Janet, and his willingness to throw over one alliance for another, seemingly more propitious one, was but the first example of the pattern of his whole life. So far as can be determined from a distance of 500 years, Angus had no loyalty to anyone or anything save the advancement of himself first and the men of the Red Douglas clan second.

The Douglases were one of the most prominent and powerful families in mediaeval Scotland.  Based in the Borders, there were two branches, the older, "Black" branch were Earls of Douglas, the younger, "Red" branch were Earls of Angus, based in Tantallon Castle. By the 1480s the Earls of Angus were the leading noblemen in southern Scotland. The 5th Earl had been prominent in the overthrow of James III, against whom he rebelled on more than one occasion in alliance with James III’s brother Albany, and with Edward IV of England.  After James IV’s accession he had remained loyal but had advised James against giving Surrey the battle at Flodden and retired from the field, saying his sons could take care of the family honour. They did, to the extent of the death of two of them. 

Margaret's match horrified the nobles and the Scots Parliament.  It was inconceivable to the sixteenth century mind that a woman could act independently of her husband.  For her nobles, it was a truth universally acknowledged that she would be led by Angus, to the detriment of all of the rest of them, and they seized on the clause in the will of King James, stating that remarriage would render his widow ineligible to act as Governor. 

Margaret, however, was determined to hold on to her position and from this time forward, Scotland was again plunged into feuding. Despite having lost her husband to her brother’s army, Margaret had all of the Englishwoman’s fear of France and all of the dynastic eagerness to ensure that her own son should come safely into his kingdom. 

She turned to Henry to protect her and her sons.  In particular, she wanted him to either send an army to protect her and young James, or at the very least, prevent the dispatch of Albany from France.  In the aftermath of Flodden, it is hardly surprising that such a course of action led many of the Scots lords to distrust her.  Henry declined to send the army, but tried to persuade Margaret and Angus to take themselves and her sons to England, no doubt with a view to instituting a Regency Council composed of English sympathisers, and the young king as, effectively, hostage for their good behaviour.