Margaret, Queen of Scots

Margaret was the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Born at Westminster in 1489, she was another brick in the wall that Henry was building against a slide back into civil war. The more children the king and queen had, the more alliances could be built, and the easier it would be to maintain the Tudor hold on power.

The new princess was born at Westminster, and christened the following day, her grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, standing as godmother.

A relatively untroubled childhood followed – dangerous moments occurred when the royal family was obliged to seek refuge in the Tower at the time of the Cornish Rebellion in 1497, and later that year when the palace at Sheen caught fire whilst they were in residence, but generally life was smooth.

Margaret’s parents were fond of their children, despite the fact that they were not involved in day-to-day physical care. There are numerous entries in the account books for clothes and musical instruments for Margaret and her siblings, all of whom were keen musicians.

In the late 1490s, in an attempt to neutralise the threat of invasion from Scotland in support of various pretenders to the throne, principally Perkin Warbeck, but later the de la Poles, Henry agreed a Treaty of Perpetual Peace with James IV. Under its terms, Margaret was to marry the Scottish king as soon as she was physically mature after her twelfth birthday (twelve being the minimum permitted age for marriage).

In January 1502, the pair were married by proxy at Richmond, but it was to be another eighteen months before Margaret, who had by now lost her mother and elder brother, set out for Scotland. She arrived in August 1503, and was married and crowned at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh on 8th August.

For the next ten years, Margaret enjoyed life as the wife of a popular and successful king. James, some sixteen years older than his wife, was not a faithful husband, but he was a kind and considerate one, and treated his wife with all the respect due to her station. Over the period 1506 – 1512, Margaret had at least four pregnancies but only one child survived, a boy, also named James.

In 1509, Margaret’s father, Henry VII, died to be succeeded by her brother, now Henry VIII. The new King of England was eager to prove his military mettle on the European stage, and before long entered into an alliance with the Pope, the King of Aragon (his father-in-law) and others in the League of Cambrai, which was dedicated to reducing French influence in Italy. France called on its old ally, Scotland, for support. Margaret’s husband was in a cleft stick – the French King, Louis XII was pressing him to invade England if Henry invaded France, whilst Henry was pressing him to remain at home.

After months during which James tried, futilely, to broker a peace, Henry set sail with his army for France and James, also aggravated by the withholding of a legacy owed to Margaret, decided on invasion of England. Some chroniclers report that Margaret pleaded with him to desist, even going so far as to pay a fortune-teller to put the superstitious King off, but to no avail. James crossed the border, and after an initially successful campaign, was killed at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September 1513, one of the bloodiest battles ever fought between the two countries.

Not only James, but many of his senior nobles were killed, and Margaret found herself at the age of twenty-three, widowed, pregnant, and responsible for the safety and welfare of her young son, now King James V.

James IV had left instructions that in the event of his death, Margaret was to act as guardian and Tutrix (protector) of his son. Despite the fact that the army which had killed their King had been that of her brother, the Scots nobles, and the Estates accepted Margaret’s role. She arranged for the swift coronation of James, and might well have been a successful Regent as Mary of Guelders had been, to James III.

Unfortunately, Margaret’s pregnancy and childbirth in April 1514 were not easy, and she found it hard to regain control of events, especially as English raids in the border were continuing. The Scots nobles had already requested that the next heir to the crown, the Duke of Albany, who had spent all his life in France, should come home to at least lead the country militarily. Margaret strongly objected, as did Henry VIII, and initially, the French agreed to retain the Duke in France.

In August 1514, Margaret remarried, choosing for her second husband a young nobleman, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. Angus was head of one of the most powerful families in southern Scotland, but his marriage to Margaret caused a furore, and, as James’ instructions had been that she should remain Tutrix only whilst unmarried, they swiftly acted to bring Albany to Scotland as Regent.

In 1515, Albany arrived, and Margaret was forced to surrender not just her position, but also to hand over her children. It was only thirty years since her uncles, the ‘Princes in the Tower’ had disappeared after being handed over to a Protector, and Margaret seems genuinely to have feared for the safety of James and his younger brother, Alexander.

Albany himself does not seem ever to have any intention of usurping the throne, and treated Margaret with great personal respect. However, Henry and his lieutenants in the borders were continually dripping poison in her ears, and by the late summer of 1515, she became determined to escape from Scotland. She and Angus fled across the border to the waiting arms of Lord Dacre, English Warden of the Marches.

In October, she gave birth to a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, an ordeal that again confined her to bed for several months. Eventually, she was sufficiently recovered to visit her brother’s court in London. Throughout her convalescence, Albany had been attempting a reconciliation, and, either in agreement with Margaret, or, more probably, independently, Angus agreed to return to Scotland, whilst Margaret travelled south.

Margaret spent just over a year at the English court, but Henry’s long term goal was for his sister to establish herself as Regent in Scotland, effectively as his mouth-piece, so, when Albany seemed eager to return to France to visit his family, arrangements were made for Margaret to return. It was agreed that she would have her full dower rights (long-winded financial arguments had damaged her relations with the Scottish council) and see as much of James as she wished – Alexander having died in her absence.

On her return to Scotland, she discovered, if she had not previously known, that Angus was living with another woman, and, despite agreements to the contrary, was collecting her rents for his own use.

The period from Margaret’s return to Scotland in June 1517 until 1521 was confused and dangerous. Albany had left a deputy, who was killed, and skirmishes broke out between rival factions for control, particularly between Angus and James Hamilton, Earl of Arran. In the Battle of Cleanse the Causeway, in which Angus was victorious, Arran’s brother was killed, leading to increased feuding between the various factions.

Margaret refused to live with Angus again, and, although the Council paid lip-service to her demands for her dower rights to be fulfilled, took no action against Angus. Henry, pleased with Angus’ general pro-English stance tended to support him against Margaret. She began to think of how she might obtain a legal separation or annulment, but her brother was scandalised, and pressure was put on her to be reconciled to her husband.

With so much turmoil and her own rights overlooked, Margaret began to hope for the return of Albany and added her pleas to those of the Council for the Governor to take up his place again. He returned in 1521, and he and Margaret developed such a good working relationship that it was rumoured that they were having an affair. A pro-French Margaret was the last thing that Henry VIII wanted, so his agents were instructed to cause as much dissension between Margaret and Albany as possible.

With Albany back in charge, Angus was now at risk of charges of treason, and perhaps death. Margaret, although she would not live with her husband again, apparently persuaded Albany to be merciful. Angus was sent under duress to France, although in due course he was given a diplomatic role there.

In 1523, Angus left France by stealth, and arrived at the court of his brother-in-law, Henry VIII. He was very well received, and from then until Henry’s death in 1547, Angus acted largely in the interests of England.

Those opposed to Albany’s regency pushed for James to be pronounced of age when he reached the age of twelve, two years earlier than was the norm for Scottish kings, so, in 1524, the Estates announced that the King would now rule for himself, guided by his mother, and that he would be supervised by a rotating quartet of lords, including Angus.

Albany breathed a sigh of relief (he had previously said that he would have preferred to have all his arms and legs broken, rather than be Governor of Scotland) and returned to France. Margaret, who had hoped to influence her son, was out-manoeuvred by Angus, who, when it was his turn to pass the supervision of the King to the next lord, simply refused to do so, and kept James more-or less-captive for three years.

During this period, Margaret again requested an annulment of her marriage, on the rather curious grounds that, when she had contracted it, James IV had still been alive, not killed at Flodden at all. Her plea was granted (thanks in no small part to Albany who put forward her case in Rome) although the grounds given were that Angus had already been pre-contracted to Lady Janet Stewart of Traquair, with whom he had been living high on the hog on Margaret’s money.

An annulment was very necessary, as Margaret was now living with another man – Henry Stewart, another distant cousin of her son. They married when the annulment was announced, although James disapproved of him.

Shortly after Margaret’s remarriage, James, now sixteen, escaped Angus’ clutches and raced to Stirling, where Margaret was living. From that time on, he ruled in his own name, although he was influenced by his mother to a degree. Angus was banished, together with his and Margaret’s daughter, Margaret Douglas, although James had excepted his half-sister from the general ban on the Douglas clan. They went to England, and Margaret never saw her daughter again.

Margaret’s main ambition was to improve relations with England again. In particular, she hoped that as James was the nearest male heir to the English throne, she could build a good relationship between Henry and James, and perhaps have him named either as heir in his own right, or as the husband of Henry’s daughter, Mary.

James was unenthusiastic, especially when Mary was declared illegitimate. All his life, James favoured the traditional French alliance, particularly after Henry broke with Rome and tried to encourage James to do the same. James, whether from conviction, or to oppose his uncle, remained a most faithful follower of the old religion, and bolstered his finances and prestige by marrying the daughter of the King of France, and then, after her tragic early death, another French noblewoman.

Margaret’s influence waned, and her third marriage proved no happier than her second, as Methven also sported with other women and wasted her money. She attempted to have that marriage annulled, too, but James absolutely forbade it.

Marie of Guise, Margaret’s second daughter-in-law, was kind and attentive, and in the late 1530s, Margaret spent more time with her son and his queen. It was to Margaret that they turned for comfort when their two sons died within a few hours of each other in April 1541.

1541 was largely taken up with trying to organise a meeting between James and Henry, but it was not to be. James would not trust himself south of the border, especially now he had no legitimate children.

On 18th October 1541, Margaret died, probably of a stroke. James was too late to see her alive, and he ignored her deathbed request to give her personal effects to her daughter in England. She was buried in the Charterhouse at Perth, near James I and his queen, Joan Beaufort. Her tomb was desecrated in 1559, during the war of the Lords of the Congregation.

In the long run, Margaret triumphed over her brother, Henry, as, in 1603, her great-grandson, James VI of Scotland, inherited the English throne from Henry’s daughter.

HM Queen Elizabeth II is the 13x great-granddaughter of Margaret and James IV, and also of Margaret and Angus.

Margaret, Queen of Scots

Margaret, Queen of Scots

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