Margaret Douglas: Life Story

Chapter 17 : Serious Charges

The government now discovered that the Spanish Ambassador, de Quadra, had been fomenting a plot to put Margaret on the throne in place of Elizabeth, claiming there would be widespread support for her, if King Philip would but send help. There is no evidence that Margaret knew anything about this, but she had been in correspondence with de Quadra. Thomas Bishop, and his colleague, William Forbes, another spy in the Lennox household, now gave statements to the Council, listing a long series of potentially treasonable activities by Margaret, including witchcraft (apparently, the striking of St Paul’s by lightening was her doing!) hearing Mass and conspiring to overthrow the Queen.

Margaret, unaware of these damning charges (whether or not they were true) began to write importunate letters to Cecil, on her husband’s behalf, begging the Queen to either release him from the Tower, or at least give him more liberty within it – it seems Lennox struggled with some sort of sleeping disorder or fear of being left alone that made prison particularly hard for him. No response was made to these pleas.

In late May, the Council came to Sheen to interrogate Margaret. She steadfastly rejected all that Bishop and Forbes had deposed, asking them to be brought to face her, and requesting permission to see Elizabeth. She was particularly hot under the ruff about the accusation that she was illegitimate. Questioning of other Lennox servants only gave the information that the correspondence with the Scottish Queen had been about the restitution of the Lennox estates, not the marriage with Darnley.

Lennox continued to be held in the Tower, and Margaret at Sheen. Elizabeth does not seem to have believed they had any entanglement in de Quadra’s scheme. Lennox, still badgered with questions, eventually pointed out that he had freely come to England to serve Henry VIII, and received his lands as a marriage settlement. If the Queen wanted rid of him, she could take back the lands, and send him on his way. This response lacked charm in the eyes of the Council and Elizabeth.

Over the summer, Margaret continued to protest her innocence, admitting only that Darnley’s tutor had gone to Scotland, without permission, for which she and Lennox apologised, but no relaxation in their imprisonment was forthcoming. Margaret also began to worry about her finances and that the Lennox estates were not being properly managed.

Then, in autumn of 1562, Elizabeth fell ill with small-pox. She still refused to name a successor, but some of her lords supported the claims of Margaret and Darnley and Lord Robert Dudley suggested that Margaret be freed. Elizabeth recovered, and, after a further deluge of letters from Margaret, agreed to Lennox being released to join his wife at Sheen and then at Syon, but still under house arrest.

Eventually, Elizabeth relented – probably to keep the balance between the various possible successors – Margaret, Queen Mary, or Lady Katherine Grey. It was the Queen’s policy to keep them all in suspense. Margaret was required to swear that Darnley would not marry without Elizabeth’s consent.

In due course, Elizabeth agreed to promote Lennox’s claims to his lands again. For some reason, the Lennoxes seem to have been in poor financial straits, although the vast value of their lands makes this difficult to understand.

Lady Margaret Douglas

Lady Margaret Douglas

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