Margaret Douglas: Life Story

Chapter 9 : Queen's Lady

In October 1538, Margaret was again mentioned as a possible spouse for a foreign prince. Henry suggested that, if the Emperor Charles accepted Mary for his protégé, the Infante of Portugal who was Charles’ nominee for the Duchy of Milan, Henry would allow Charles to choose suitable Italian princes for Margaret, the Lady Elizabeth, and the widowed Duchess of Richmond – a case of buy one get three free! Again, the negotiations went nowhere.

Henry began to look for a new wife for himself and, his choice falling on Anne of Cleves, a new household was formed for her. Margaret was to be the chief of the ‘Great Ladies’, and she was also to be part of the welcoming committee for the new Queen at Blackheath in late 1539. In recognition of her status, she was given one of the best apartments at Hampton Court.

Another of the ladies in the new Queen’s service was Mistress Katheryn Howard, who was the half-niece of Margaret’s former lover. She was probably about five years younger than Margaret, and far below her in rank, so it must have come of something as a shock to Margaret when Katheryn replaced Anne of Cleves as Queen in August 1540. Whatever her thoughts, Margaret kept them to herself, retaining a position in the Royal Household, and being given a gift of ‘beads’ (a rosary) by the new Queen.

Just as Queen Katheryn’s cousin, Anne Boleyn, had surrounded herself with cheerful young cousins and friends, so did Katheryn. Among her household were her various siblings, including Charles Howard, with whom Margaret struck up a flirtation. It was now three years since Thomas Howard’s death, and probably four since she had actually seen him. Aged 25, it was more than time for Margaret to marry, but no plans were forthcoming.

In October of 1541, Margaret’s mother, Queen Margaret, died. She requested that her goods be given to Margaret, since she had never previously given her anything, but James V kept them for himself. It was some fifteen years since Margaret had last seen her mother, and there is no record of correspondence between them, but that does not, of course, mean that she did not grieve. But a more immediate worry was soon upon Margaret – the King had been informed that his pretty young wife was not chaste and immediate enquiries began.

Katheryn Howard was arrested and sent first to Syon, then to the Tower, on charges of adultery. Margaret would have been questioned with the rest of her ladies, but was not implicated in the Queen’s bad behaviour. Queen Katheryn’s household was broken up on 11th November 1541, with an instruction that Margaret was to go to Kenninghall, in Norfolk, the property of the Duke of Norfolk. She was to go with her friend Mary, Duchess of Richmond, Norfolk’s daughter and widow of Henry’s late illegitimate son.

The Privy Council note says that she is to be sent there if ‘my lord her father and she are content.’ This requirement has generally been read to refer to Norfolk and Mary because Margaret was in disgrace, but could be read to mean Angus and Margaret - suggesting that Margaret had some choice in the matter. This view may be supported by the fact that Norfolk was one of the signatories. He must have known whether he was ‘content’ or not. It also seems unlikely that Mary Richmond would have been asked for her opinion.

It is only the following day, after further examinations of the Queen had taken place, that Cranmer is told to take a stern message to Lady Margaret, rebuking her for acting indiscreetly, first with Lord Thomas, and now with Charles Howard. Cranmer was to tell her to ‘beware the third time.’

Margaret appears to have stayed with the Howards at Kenninghall for some time, writing to her father from there in October 1542. She may have visited Lady Mary at Christmas 1542, when she gave the Princess a carnation velvet gown for New Year, although in Lady Mary’s accounts there is a tip for Margaret’s servant for delivering it.

Margaret herself would have been in mourning that Christmas – her half-brother, King James V of Scotland, died in early December 1542, after a defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss. There is no reason to suppose that Margaret was personally grieved by James’ death. He was the cause of her original exile to England and his personal hatred for her father, Angus, had never wavered, but, of course, we do not know the state of her emotions. Angus had fought for the English at the Scots victory at Haddon Rig, immediately before Solway Moss, but the Anglo-Scots landscape now changed dramatically with James’ death.

The new Scots Regent, the Earl of Arran, although head of the Hamiltons, who were enemies of the Douglas clan, was pro-English, and in favour of a policy of Church reform. He made overtures towards England, and Henry, seeing the possibility of English domination of Scotland through the marriage of his son, Edward, to the baby Queen of Scots, encouraged Angus to return to Scotland to further the match. This seemed a good plan to Henry, who let Angus travel north. Angus was restored to his lands, sworn to Arran’s Privy Council, and married to Margaret Maxwell, all within a few months.

On 12th July, 1543, Lady Margaret was one of the witnesses of Henry VIII’s sixth marriage, to Katherine Parr, the widowed Lady Latimer. The new Queen was a good friend of the Lady Mary, and was soon surrounded by many faces familiar to Margaret – Mary of Richmond; Anne Stanhope, Countess of Hertford; Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. All four of these women, and the Queen herself, were evangelists in religion, unlike Margaret or Lady Mary, but that does not seem to have caused problems.

Having been bridesmaid to at least two of Henry’s queens, it was now Margaret’s turn to be married at last.

Lady Margaret Douglas

Lady Margaret Douglas

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