Margaret Tudor: Life Story

Chapter 5 : The Road to War

In April 1509 Henry VII died and was succeeded by Margaret's younger brother, now Henry VIII. Margaret was now, in theory, heir to the throne of England, but Henry’s swift marriage to Arthur’s widow, Katharine of Aragon, probably meant that no one gave Margaret’s position much thought. 

James sent a polite letter, under the Great Seal of Scotland on 29th June 1509, saying how glad he was that Henry had confirmed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, but almost immediately the relationship between Scotland and England began to break down, partly for political reasons, and partly personal. Already by December, it was being rumoured abroad that the populace had been called up to be ‘in arms’ by 2nd February to fight the Scots, because James had been incited by the French to demand an unspecified castle from Henry. At the same time however, other rumours said that Henry and James had made a league against France.

Europe however, was in a state of almost permanent warfare centred around the desire for control of Italy. In this phase of the war around the period 1510-1514, (the War of the League of Cambrai) the Pope was confronting the King of France. Ferdinand of Aragon, Henry VIII’s father-in-law, was in league with the Pope, as was England. The Scottish, historically allied with France, were in an unenviable position as it became increasingly likely that Scotland would be forced to choose sides.

Margaret, acting in the traditional role of a queen, wrote in March 1512 to Ferdinand of Aragon, assuring him of her husband’s desire for peace. James seems to have made strenuous efforts for peace, repeatedly writing to the Pope to urge a negotiation with France, and refusing French requests to invade England, giving Margaret’s affinity with Henry as a reason. He even offered to treat with France to have Richard de la Pole, the Yorkist claimant, handed over, an offer Henry refused rather haughtily. De la Pole had only been mentioned to James to warn him that the French were harbouring a rebel who posed as great a threat to James, as to Henry, because he threatened Margaret’s rights to succession. On this ground alone, Scotland should have no truck with France.

The personal issues centred on a legacy, about which Margaret wrote in September 1511, requesting it be sent to her. What the actual legacy was is unknown. Margaret referred to it as from her father, but there is no evidence of it in his original will (available at the National Archive, and also transcribed in Testamenta Vestuta). Other books mention that the legacy included Arthur’s personal effects which he had apparently left to her, although we have never seen any contemporary source for this.  A bequest from Lady Margaret Beaufort has also been mentioned.

Shortly after Margaret’s request, Nicholas West, Dean of Windsor was deputed to deliver it, and at the same time to ask James about depredations against English shipping. West had additional authority to negotiate on all matters in regard to the treaty. West did not travel to Scotland at that time, nor was the bequest sent, so in August 1512, Henry’s Warden of the Middle and West Marches, Lord Dacre, wrote that James was ‘much displeased’ about the legacy being withheld, believing it was done to spite him. Dacre recommended that it would be ‘honourable’ to pay it, especially as it was so small.

Despite the Treaty of Perpetual Peace that sought to manage low-level border warfare, through truce days, hostilities continued, and even increased. Although both sides claimed the other failed to observe the rules, the skirmishes were not, in 1512, taken as all-out war between the countries.

On 24th March 1513, Dr West delivered letters from Henry to Margaret at Stirling. She was delighted to receive them, saying that had she still been ill (following the birth of Prince James, she had again been bed-bound) the letters would have been enough to restore her to health.

The next day, West dined with her, and she asked many questions about Henry’s health and well-being. The news that he was planning to make a personal assault on France however, rendered her ‘right heavy.’  She could no doubt see that a conflict between her husband and her brother was increasingly likely.

To queries as to the whereabouts of her legacy, Dr West confirmed he had it but would only give it to her if James agreed to abide by the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, and by implication, not support his French ally. When this was repeated later to James, he became angry, saying that he would give the legacy to Margaret himself, rather than that she should lose out.

West continued to press James as to what action he would take during Henry’s absence in France, but James, angry with Henry over the legacy and his perceived failure to address border issues fairly, as well as bound by the French treaty, refused to commit himself. Margaret assured West that, although Henry had treated her unkindly, she would work for peace.

On 11th April Margaret wrote to Henry. In her years in Scotland, she had obviously developed a knowledge of Scots as her letter is heavily influenced by Scots pronunciation and spelling. In the letter, she thanks him for his good wishes regarding her health, and goes on to say she cannot believe that it was he who wished to withhold her legacy. She was ashamed that her husband had had to make up for this by giving it to her himself. James, she wrote, was kinder to her every day. Nevertheless, she hoped God would have Henry in his keeping. Margaret had not seen Henry since he was twelve years old and it must have been difficult for her to think of him as an adult and a king.