Margaret Tudor (28 November, 1489 – 18 October 1541) was the elder of the two surviving daughters of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, and the elder sister of Henry VIII. In 1503, she married James IV, King of Scots, thus becoming the mother of James V and grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Most important of all, Margaret's marriage to James led directly to the Union of the Crowns. Fate, it was once argued, had intended Margaret to be Queen of Scots. Born on 29 November, 1489, she was christened on the 30th — St. Andrew's Day — in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, sharing a name with Scotland's only royal saint. In all, Margaret married three times.
Daughters may have been less welcome to kings than sons; they were, nonetheless, important political assets in a world where diplomacy and marriage were often closely linked. Even before her sixth birthday, Henry VII conceived of a marriage between James and Margaret, as a way of heading off the Scottish king's support for Perkin Warbeck, the Yorkist pretender to the throne of England. Though not immediately welcome, the card, once played, was not withdrawn. In September 1497 James concluded a lengthy truce with Henry, and the marriage was once more presented as a serious possibility. It is said that some on the English royal council raised objections to the match, saying that it would bring the Stewarts directly into the line of succession, to which the wily and astute Henry replied that "our realme wald receive na damage thair thorow, for in that caise Ingland wald not accress unto Scotland, bot Scotland wald acress unto Ingland, as to the most noble heid of the hole yle… evin as quhan Normandy came in the power of Inglis men our forberis."
On 24 January, 1502 Scotland and England concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, the first such agreement between the two realms for over one hundred and seventy years. That same day a marriage treaty was also concluded, and was the most visible sign — and guarantee — of the new peace. The marriage was then completed by proxy, so Margaret was now regarded as Queen of Scots; it has been noted by some historians that her brother Henry, who was then a child, second in line to the throne and the Duke of York, threw a tantrum when he realised his sister now held higher precedence in the court than he did.
In 1503, Margaret finally came to Scotland; the progress was a grand journey northward, and to this day there exists in the city of York a plaque commemorating the exact spot where the Queen of Scots entered its gates. Margaret suffered a personal trauma early in her arrival, when a stable fire killed some of her favourite horses, and her bridegroom came to console her. She and James were married on 8 August at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, an occasion celebrated by the poet William Dunbar in The Thistle and the Rose:
Sweet lusty lovesome lady clear
Most mighty Kinges daughter dear,
Born of a Princess most serene,
Welcome to Scotland to be Queen…
Parliament met at Stirling not long after Flodden, and confirmed Margaret in the office of Regent. A woman was rarely welcome in a position of supreme power, and Margaret was the sister of an enemy king, which served to compound her problems. Before long a pro-French party took shape among the nobility, urging that she should be replaced by John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany, the closest male relative to the infant princes, and now third in line to the throne. Albany, who had been born and raised in France, was seen as a living representative of the Auld Alliance, in contrast with the pro-English Margaret. She is considered to have acted calmly and with some degree of political skill. By July 1514, she had managed to reconcile the contending parties, and Scotland — along with France — concluded peace with England that same month. But in her search for political allies amongst the fractious Scottish nobility she took a fatal step, allowing good sense and prudence to be overruled by emotion and magnetism.
In seeking allies Margaret turned more and more to the powerful House of Douglas. She found herself particularly attracted to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, whom even his uncle, the cleric and poet Gavin Douglas, called a "young witless fool." Margaret and Douglas were secretly married in the parish church of Kinnoull, near Perth, on 6 August. Not only did this alienate the other noble houses but it immediately strengthened the pro-French faction on the council, headed by James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow. By the terms of the late king's will she had sacrificed her position; before the month was out she was obliged to consent to the appointment of Albany. In September the Privy Council decided that she had also forfeited her rights to the supervision of her sons, whereupon in defiance she and her allies took the princes to Stirling Castle.
Albany arrived in Scotland in May 1515, and was finally installed as Regent in July. His first task was to get custody of James and Alexander, politically essential for the authority of the regency. Margaret, after some initial defiance, surrendered at Stirling in August. With the princes in the hands of their uncle, the Queen Dowager, now expecting a child by Angus, retired to Edinburgh. For some time her brother had been urging her to flee to England with her sons; but she had steadily refused to do so, fearing such a step might lead to James's loss of the crown.
With no further interest in the matter she obtained permission to go to Linlithgow whence she escaped to the border. She was received by Lord Dacre, Henry's Warden of the Marches, and taken to Harbottle Castle. Here in early October she gave birth to Margaret Douglas, the future countess of Lennox and mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the cousin of, and one day to be the second husband of, Mary, Queen of Scots. While still in the north of England, Queen Margaret learned of the death of her son, Alexander. Dacre hinted that Albany — cast in the role of Richard III — was responsible, though Margaret, even in her vulnerable state, refused to accept this, saying that if he really aimed at the throne for himself the death of James would have suited his purpose better. It was also at this time that she at last began to get the measure of Angus, who, with an eye on his own welfare, returned to Scotland to make peace with the Regent, "which much made Margaret to muse." When Henry learned that Angus would not be accompanying his sister to London he said "Done like a Scot." However, all of Angus's power, wealth and influence was in Scotland; to abandon the country would mean possible forfeiture for treason. In this regard he would have had before him the example of his kinsman James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, who fled to England the previous century, living out his life as a landless mercenary.
Although Margaret and Angus were temporarily reconciled it was not long before their relationship entered into a phase of terminal decline. She discovered that while in England her husband had been living with Lady Jane Stewart, a former lover. This was bad enough; what was worse, he had been living on his wife's money. In October 1518, she wrote to her brother, hinting at divorce;
"I am sore troubled with my Lord of Angus since my last coming into Scotland, and every day more and more, so that we have not been together this half year… I am so minded that, an I may by law of God and to my honour, to part with him, for I wit well he loves me not, as he shows me daily."
This was a difficult issue for Henry; a man of conservative and orthodox belief, he was opposed to divorce on principle – highly ironic, considering his later career. Just as important, Angus was a useful ally, an effective counter-weight to Albany and the pro-French faction. Angered by his attitude, Margaret drew closer to the Albany faction and joined with others in calling for his return from France. Albany, seemingly in no hurry to return to the fractious northern kingdom, suggested that she resume the regency herself. The dispute between husband and wife was set to dominate Scottish politics for the next three years, made even more complicated by a bitter feud between Angus and James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran; with bewildering rapidity Margaret sided with one and then the other.
Albany finally arrived back in Scotland in November 1521. Warmly received by Margaret, it was soon rumoured that their cordial relations embraced more than politics. Angus went into exile as the Regent — with the full co-operation of the Queen-Dowager — set about restoring order to a country riven by three years of intense factional conflict. Albany was useful to Margaret: he was known to have influence in Rome, which would help ease her application for a divorce. Angus and his allies spread the rumour that the two were lovers, to such effect that even the sober-headed Lord Dacre wrote to Wolsey, predicting that James would be murdered and Albany would become king and marry Margaret. But the relationship between the two was never more than one of calculated self-interest, as events were soon to prove.
Margaret's alliance with Arran inevitably alienated other noble houses. Her situation was not eased when her brother allowed Angus to return to Scotland. Both of these factors were to some degree beyond her control. The most damaging move of all was not. She formed a new attachment, this time to Henry Stewart, a younger brother of Lord Avondale. Stewart was promoted to senior office, angering the Earl of Lennox, among others, who promptly entered into an alliance with her estranged husband. That same November, when Parliament confirmed Margaret's political office, her war with Angus descended into a murderous farce. When he arrived in Edinburgh with a large group of armed men, claiming his right to attend Parliament, she ordered cannons to be fired on him from both the Castle and Holyrood House. When two English ambassadors present at court objected that she should not attack her lawful husband she responded in anger, telling them to "go home and not meddle with Scottish matters." Angus withdrew for the time being, but under pressure from various sources the Queen finally admitted him to the council of regency in February 1525. It was all the leverage he needed. Taking custody of James he refused to give him up, exercising full power on his behalf for a period of three years. James' experience during this time left him with an abiding hatred of both the house of Douglas and the English connection.
In June 1528, James finally freed himself from the tutelage of Angus – who once more fled into exile – and began to rule in his own right. Margaret was an early beneficiary of the royal coup, she and her husband emerging as the leading advisors to the King. James created Stewart Lord Methven "for the great love he bore to his dearest mother." It was rumoured – falsely – that the Queen favoured a marriage between her son and her niece, Princess Mary, but she was instrumental in bringing about the Anglo-Scottish peace agreement of May 1534.
The central aim of Margaret's political life – besides assuring her own survival – was to bring about a better understanding between England and Scotland, a position she held to through some difficult times. James was suspicious of Henry, especially because of his continuing support for Angus, a man he loathed with a passion. Even so, in early 1536 his mother persuaded him to meet with her brother. It was her moment of triumph and she wrote to Henry and Thomas Cromwell, now his chief advisor, saying that it was "by advice of us and no other living person." She was looking for a grand occasion on the lines of the Field of Cloth of Gold, and spent a huge sum in preparation. In the end it came to nothing because there were too many voices raised in objection and because James would not be managed by his mother or anyone else. In a private interview with the English ambassador, her disappointment was obvious – "I am weary of Scotland", she confessed. Her weariness even extended to betraying state secrets to Henry.
Weary of Scotland she may have been: she was now even more tired of Lord Methven, who was proving himself to be even worse than Angus in his desire both for other women and for his wife's money. Eager for yet another divorce her proceedings were frustrated by James, who she believed had been bribed by her husband. Again, as so often in Margaret's life, tragedy and unhappiness were closely pursued by intrigue and farce. At one point she ran away towards the border, only to be intercepted and brought back to Edinburgh. Time and again she wrote to Henry with complaints about her poverty and appeals for money and protection – she wished for ease and comfort instead of being obliged "to follow her son about like a poor gentlewoman."
In June 1538, Margaret welcomed Mary of Guise, James's new French bride to Scotland. These two women, among the most formidable in Scottish history, established a good understanding, although Margaret now had to submit to the indignity of being referred to as the 'old Queen.' Mary made sure that her mother-in-law, who had now been reconciled with Methven, made regular appearances at court and it was reported to Henry that "the young queen was all papist, and the old queen not much less."
Margaret died of a severe stroke at Methven Castle, in Perthshire on October 18, 1541 and was buried at the Carthusian Priory of St John in Perth (demolished during the Reformation, 1559). Her brother's dynasty ended with the childless Elizabeth I, and the line of succession to the English throne was passed through Margaret's heirs. Her great-grandson, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England, thus uniting the crowns of the two countries and conferring on Margaret something of a posthumous triumph.
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