Thursday, 14 August 2014

Margaret Tudor: the Forgotten Tudor?

Above: Margaret Tudor, queen of Scotland.

Henry VIII tends to outshine all of his siblings, for obvious reasons. Even so, most people, thanks to The Tudors' brazen portrayal, have some knowledge of his younger, impetuous sister Mary Tudor, who married first the king of France and later her brother's best friend, Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. Henry's elder brother Arthur Tudor, heir to the throne until his death at fifteen, is generally known for being the first husband of Henry's first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Controversy raged as to whether Arthur and Katherine had consummated their marriage. 

But few are generally aware of Henry's elder sister, Margaret Tudor, who, like her younger sister Mary, was a queen. Margaret's life, in fact, was every bit as tumultuous and volatile as that of her younger brother. Her marriages and politics significantly shaped the future of both Scotland and of England. She was the grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots and the great-grandmother of James VI of Scotland and I of England. Her actions, in fact, played some part in the later union with England which was to result in the Act of Union in 1707. It might then be asked, how is it that Margaret remains so obscure a figure?

Above: Margaret's parents, Henry VII (left) and Elizabeth of York (right).

Margaret Tudor was the second child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, who had married in 1486. She was born on 28 November 1489 at Westminster Palace in London. Although her father surely hoped for a second son, royal daughters were extremely useful because, through their marriages to foreign powers, they allied their countries with powerful states in prestigious unions. She spent her early years at her father's favourite place, Sheen, near the Thames (the palace was later renamed Richmond Palace), until a fire caused the royal nursery to be moved to Eltham. Margaret at an early age learned to play the lute, clavichord and to dance, traditional skills associated with feminine royalty. She also studied Latin and French, and pursued archery. It is likely that Queen Elizabeth ensured that her daughter also learned the traditional female skills of embroidery, sewing, and housewifery. 

Henry was determined to bolster the prestige of the Tudor crown, particularly because pretenders continued to threaten its security. The Yorkist threat remained, meaning that the Tudor dynasty remained fragile. At the same time, England sought to achieve harmony with its northern neighbour, for the two had customarily experienced hostile and suspicious relations with one another. In view of these factors, it is unsurprising that the Tudor king arranged for his eldest daughter Margaret to marry James IV, King of Scots, a man sixteen years her senior. On 24 January 1502, the marriage treaty between England and Scotland was concluded. Henry promised a £10,000 dowry for his daughter's hand, while the Scottish king swore his bride would receive £1000 Scots per annum alongside lands and castles affording a further income of £6000 each year.

Above: James IV of Scotland, first husband of Margaret Tudor.

In February 1503, the royal family was plunged into tragedy with the death of the queen and Margaret's mother, Elizabeth of York, at the Tower of London aged thirty-seven. How Margaret felt is unknown, but at just thirteen years of age, it is reasonable to believe it impacted severely upon her. Nonetheless, preparations for her journey to Scotland continued, and on 8 July she commenced her journey north, her retinue led by the Earl of Surrey. The formal marriage service took place in Holyroodhouse on 8 August 1503. As historians have conjectured, Margaret may have found it discomfiting that her husband had seven bastard children, housed in her own dower castle of Stirling, and continued to visit his mistress Janet Kennedy. 

Margaret's most important role as queen was to produce a male heir to safeguard the dynasty, and she duly did so in 1507, but the prince, named James for his father, died at Stirling in February 1508. A daughter born in July of that year died the same day. Like her sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon, Margaret experienced some tragedies in childbirth, but she was later to produce a healthy son. On 11 April 1512, aged twenty-two, Margaret gave birth to James, who later became James V, on his father's death at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. 

Margaret was, according to her husband's will, to serve as regent, provided that she did not remarry. Four nobles headed a council to assist her in governing the realm. On 6 August 1514, less than a year after her first husband's death, Margaret remarried. Her husband was Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus, the greatest Scottish magnate. Because of this decision, Margaret renounced her position as regent of the realm. Margaret's decision was perhaps regarded as impetuous and foolish, but she perhaps sought a measure of security and stability, being as she was a young widow with an infant son, alone in a foreign realm. 

Above: Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor.

The council subsequently invited John Stewart, cousin to the late king, to become regent. Margaret was distrusted, for her husband was extremely unpopular with the other magnates, and because she was rumoured to favour England over her adopted realm. Margaret deeply distrusted and resent Stewart, duke of Albany, and encouraged her brother, Henry of England, to restore her authority by force. On 30 September 1515, desperate and disillusioned, the former queen fled to England, in a move that strikingly foreshadowed that of her granddaughter Mary Stuart some fifty years later. Both queens sought refuge and assistance in England. 

On 7 October, the heavily pregnant queen gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Douglas. The ordeal nearly killed her and left her very weak. When she lay seriously ill at Morpeth, her second son Alexander died in December of that year. On 3 May 1516, Margaret arrived in London and met her brother for the first time in thirteen years, since she had left for Scotland in summer 1503. She remained in England for over a year, separated from her husband, while the Scottish council promised to send the jewels after her and to pay her rents. While she received her jewels, her revenues were not in fact restored, forcing the humiliated queen to seek money from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

In May 1517, Margaret journeyed back to Scotland, having been promised in advance that she would be treated well and would not be arrested, nor would her company be. However, her marriage to Angus was coming under increasing strain. Her husband had taken a mistress while Margaret had resided in England, and he had taken the queen's rents from Methven and Ettrick Forest. When she discovered her husband's affair, Margaret begged Henry to let her return to England. He refused, and urged her to return to her husband. Because of this, coupled with Scottish diplomatic politics in which closer links were sought with France as a means of securing both powers in the case of an English invasion, Margaret had become a marginal figure in Scotland by 1519. 

Above: Margaret's younger brother, Henry VIII, king of England.

Conflicts between Albany and the Scottish nobles persisted, especially due to Albany's detainment in France. In December 1521, Albany returned to Edinburgh and was warmly welcomed by Margaret, who hoped that he would restore her revenues and help her obtain an annulment of her unsuccessful marriage to Angus. Henry VIII became aware of rumours that his sister was Albany's mistress and rebuked her in a letter, causing the indignant Margaret to write an emotional reply to his 'sharp and unkind letter'. Albany banished Angus and his brother George to France, and even gathered an army in September for the purpose of invading England; although the memory of Flodden deterred him from pursuing this course. Eventually, a truce was achieved. 

When Albany left again for France in 1524, Margaret won the support of the Hamiltons, a powerful Scottish noble family, headed by the second earl of Arran. A coup was achieved which brought to an end Albany's regency and on 26 July of that year, invested Margaret's twelve-year old son James with full royal authority. Margaret's government met with hostility and suspicion, however, for it was perceived that the queen lacked good counsel, and the duke of Norfolk wrote to Wolsey of how unpopular Margaret had become, as a result. Margaret continued to urge Albany, who resided abroad, to help her seek a divorce from Angus, who troubled her. She had determined to marry Henry Stewart, her treasurer. The Pope finally annulled the marriage in March 1527, on the grounds of Angus' pre-contract to Lady Jane Stewart. Soon afterwards, the infatuated Margaret married Henry Stewart, and acknowledged him as her husband for the first time about April 1528. Angus retaliated by arresting Stewart and confining him, but James V expelled not just Angus, but his own family, from government. Henry was created Lord Methven and the Douglases were found guilty of treason. Margaret, however, was furious when her brother sheltered Angus in England.

Margaret's relations with her son were complex, especially because of conflict regarding foreign policy. Margaret favoured closer relations with her home country, England, and encouraged her son to marry his cousin, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. James, however, renewed the French alliance. The queen's hopes of an Anglo-Scottish alliance were dashed when her son married Madeleine of Valois in 1537.

James V of Scotland2.jpg
Above: James V of Scotland, son of Margaret Tudor.

Margaret's personal difficulties with her husbands continued, for Lord Methven had taken a mistress by the mid-1530s, causing her to send a stream of letters to Henry VIII and his ministers complaining. He had so wasted her revenues that she was 8000 marks in debt. She sought to divorce him but was unsuccessful, although she did try to escape to Berwick in autumn 1537 before being intercepted. Queen Madeleine had died in July of that year, and her son, who continued to favour an alliance with France, married Marie of Guise, whom Henry VIII had shown some interest in as a prospective bride after the death of his third consort, Jane Seymour. 

Margaret's final years were unsuccessful, lonely and unhappy. On 18 October 1541, aged fifty-one, she died after experiencing a stroke at Methven Castle. Her son did not arrive in time, although his mother had requested his presence at her deathbed. She was buried in St John's Abbey in Perth. 

Richard Glen Eaves writes of Margaret thus:

'It is difficult to gain a clear impression of Queen Margaret, in terms either of her personality or of her impact on events... It seems clear that her years in Scotland were generally unhappy. She was only twenty-three when her first husband was killed, her two subsequent marriages both failed utterly, and she had limited contact with both her son in Scotland and her daughter in England... But in one respect she was undeniably a successful queen, for it was from her first marriage that there sprang the line that eventually united England and Scotland'.


  1. That is interesting. How different everything would have been if James had married Mary Tudor, and they had had children. England and Scotland might have been united much sooner.

  2. “If not for the fact” —seems to be a familiar lament in history. If not for the fact that Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves —who knows, perhaps he should have married Marie de Guise instead. Then the history of England, Scotland and France would have been different. If not for the fact that Margaret had two unhappy marriages —history may have been different had she found someone earlier after her first husbands death to make her happy. But then, she would not have set the precedent of divorce for Henry VIII.

    History is a funny (ironic) thing. If not for the fact that things happened the way they did, things would surely be different.