Chapter 6 : Flodden and Its Aftermath
Margaret was powerless to keep the peace between the kings. Henry’s campaign in France was proving successful, so, partly following French pressure, but also following a traditional mediaeval vision of kingship, James decided to invade England. Whilst the army was gathering, king and queen were at Linlithgow. Later chroniclers claim that Margaret, who was pregnant, although she might not have known at that point, pleaded with him not to fight. She was said to have had terrible dreams, in which she had seen him fall from a great precipice and had lost one of her eyes.
James dismissed her fears, telling her they were but the result of ‘the cares and worries of the day.’ She then responded that what was definitely not a dream, was the fact that they only had one son, and he was not strong. He was planning to fight ‘a mighty people, now turned insolent by their riches at home and power abroad.’ She then went on to say that his nobles were poor and might well have been bribed to act against him. She decried the blandishments of France, and added that if James were determined on advancing, she should go with him. She had heard that her sister-in-law, Katharine of Aragon, was travelling with the army and thought that if the two met, they might be able to find a solution.
Whether or not the details of the story are factual, it is not hard to imagine that Margaret was terrified at the thought of her husband marching into battle against her brother’s army. As well as the dangers involved, the whole premise of her marriage was that the countries should live at peace.
Margaret was doomed to disappointment. On 9th September, King James and a huge proportion of his nobles were slain at the Battle of Flodden. The news was brought to her at Linlithgow, the fairy-tale palace James had beautified for her.
Before he had left, James had written a will in which he named Margaret as Governor and Tutrix to their son, the eighteen-month old prince, now King James V. The word tutrix does not mean tutor in the modern sense, it has more of the meaning of protector. She was to retain the office so long as she remained unmarried. The Scottish nobles who remained were torn between following James IV’s instructions and appointing a different Governor. Although Scottish Queens had had a reasonable amount of political power, the usual practice was to appoint the heir to the throne as Governor. In this case, the heir was John Stewart, Duke of Albany, James IV’s cousin.
Albany had spent all his life in France and was highly thought of at the French court. He was married to a French countess, and had presumably intended to spend his life in France. Following the disaster of Flodden, Margaret’s nationality was against her, and there was a faction, led by Beaton, the Archbishop of Glasgow, to appoint Albany. James’ will, however, prevailed and Margaret’s position was upheld by the Scots Parliament at Stirling.
On 21st September 1513, James was crowned as King of Scots. Perhaps in consideration of his sister, or possibly for lack of immediate resources, Henry’s army did not press home its advantage by a direct attack on Scotland.
In October, Louis XII of France sent his condolences, by way of a gentleman named Sir Antony d’Arcie, whom Margaret had met on previous occasions. Louis told Margaret that he would neither make peace with Henry, nor permit Albany to travel to Scotland without knowing her wishes. In November, the full Scots Council, whilst accepting that Margaret was the legitimate regent, asked King Louis to send Albany to them for the defence of the realm. Henry warned Margaret that she should try to prevent Albany returning, and encouraged her in her fears that the Council aimed to take the Regency from her. He also wrote to Louis (a cease-fire being in place between England and Scotland) requesting him to retain the Duke.
The following April, Margaret bore another son, Alexander, Duke of Ross.
Peace was finally concluded between England, Scotland and France in June 1514. Unsurprisingly, Scotland drew the short straw. Despite Louis’ fine words, France barely even paid lip service to Scotland's rights or the huge sacrifice made at Flodden, a loss of a King and a generation of leaders that fatally weakened Scotland's ability to resist its menacing neighbour.
A key element of the peace treaty was the agreement that Queen Margaret's younger sister, Mary, would, despite having been betrothed to Charles of Castile since 1507, marry the elderly Louis XII of France. Originally Margaret herself had been put forward as the candidate, especially as she had already borne sons, but Louis wanted the younger, apparently better looking, sister.