Margaret Tudor was the eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. She was the elder sister of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. Her marriage to the King of Scotland was to have repercussions for Scottish history down to this day.
Margaret was born November 28, 1489 and was named after her grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother. She grew up with her siblings at Eltham Palace under the guidance of their mother. She was educated by tutors and schoolmasters and excelled at music, an interest she shared with her mother. Talk of marriage to the King of Scotland began when she was six years old.
After numerous skirmishes with Scotland over the years, Henry VII negotiated a peace treaty with King James IV of Scotland in early 1502 and marriage with Margaret was the ultimate objective of the treaty. There was a marriage by proxy performed on January 25, 1503 at Richmond Palace followed by jousting and celebrations. From this point on Margaret was recognized as the rightful Queen of Scotland. In May, James gave her the castles of Methven, Sterling, Doune, Linlithgow and Newark along with all revenues from designated earldoms and lordships.
Margaret was not quite thirteen years old and James was thirty. After the proxy ceremony, on June 27th, Margaret began a state progress north, accompanied by her father part of the way. She crossed the border at Berwick-upon-Tweed on August 1 and spent her first night in Scotland. The official wedding rite was performed on August 8, 1503 at Holyrood Palace. A short coronation ceremony followed.
Historians have said the marriage of Margaret and James was one of strong affection. James was attentive and generous. The first three years of the marriage were pleasant and full of social engagements. Margaret then had her first child at age sixteen. The couple was to have six children of which only one survived infancy; James, born on April 10, 1512. Margaret was to become deathly ill after each pregnancy but her constitution was strong and she would survive the illnesses each time.
In 1513, Margaret’s brother Henry VIII decided he wanted to restore England’s right to the Angevin (Anjou) lands in France and went off to war. Margaret’s husband had peace treaties with England and with France so when Henry decided to invade; James was forced to choose which treaty to honor. Henry tried to extract a promise from James that he wouldn’t invade England while he was gone. James refused and backed the French. Plans were made to invade England. Margaret was torn between her brother and her husband. She had prophetic dreams and asked James not to go to war. James met the English at Flodden Field on September 9, 1513 where he lost his life along with the flower of the Scottish nobility.
Margaret and James’ seventeen month old son was crowned King James V on September 21, 1513. James IV had named Margaret as regent for the boy in his will as long as she remained a widow. In the beginning of her regency she acted with caution and political skill and managed to negotiate peace with her brother. But she soon made a fatal mistake.
Upon the death of his grandfather in March of 1514, Archibald Douglas became the Earl of Angus and joined the King’s Council. Margaret fell passionately in love with Angus. There was obviously a strong physical attraction between the two. Since her regency depended on her remaining a widow, her marriage gave the council a reason to depose her. Most of the council was against a woman ruler in Scotland anyway so this gave them a convenient excuse. They recalled John, Duke of Albany from France in May of 1515 to take over and on August 6th the council extracted the keys to Stirling Castle and took Margaret’s children.
Margaret was eight months pregnant by Angus and told the council she would retire to Linlithgow Palace for her confinement. While there she managed to escape across the border into England. In October she gave birth to a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas. Her husband Angus would lose all his property and income if he left Scotland so he returned to make peace with Albany and the council to the consternation of Margaret.
Margaret went to London where Henry lodged her in Scotland Yard for a year. Henry and Wolsey brokered reconciliation with Albany and the council and Margaret returned to Scotland and her husband. Albany was in France and allowed Margaret to resume the regency. For the next three years, the tensions between Margaret and her husband and Angus’ feud with the Earl of Arran dominated politics. Albany returned in November 1521 and Angus went into exile while Margaret and Albany restored order in the kingdom. In 1524, Margaret managed to remove Albany from the regency and established herself as head of the government. She brought the twelve year old James to Edinburgh and Parliament declared the regency over, naming Margaret at the King’s chief councilor.
Angus returned to Scotland. Margaret was becoming obsessed with divorcing him. She wrote letters to her brother, complaining of his shabby treatment of her and how he was spending all her money. She was seeking permission from the Pope for divorce. At the same time, she had fallen in love with Henry Stewart, younger brother of Lord Avondale. She had alienated many members of the nobility and then she allowed Angus back on the council in February of 1525. It was all he needed to take custody of James and rule the government for three years. Margaret worked diligently to extricate herself from her marriage to Angus, even going so far as to trying to escape to England. Angus had her caught and brought back. Finally in December 1527, she received word the Pope had granted her a divorce. In March of 1528, she married Stewart.
In June of 1528, James freed himself of Angus and began to rule for himself. His mother and her new husband were invited to be his chief councilors. Margaret wanted to arrange a meeting between her son and her brother but it never happened. She worked for most of her life to improve relations between Scotland and England. In June of 1538, she welcomed Mary of Guise to court as the bride of her son James. The new Queen and her mother-in-law appeared to have a good relationship. The daughter of James V and Mary of Guise was Mary Queen of Scots.
Margaret was to die of a stroke on October 18, 1541 at Methven Castle. Her lasting legacy was that her daughter Lady Margaret Douglas married Matthew Stuart, fourth Earl of Lennox and had a son Henry, Lord Darnley. Darnley was to marry Margaret’s granddaughter, Mary Queen of Scots. Their son became James VI of Scotland and James I of England when Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. Henry VIII named the heirs of his sister Mary in his will after his own children, rather than Margaret’s heirs. But Margaret’s great-grandchild ended up on the throne. Scotland and England were joined together into Great Britain.
Postscript: Lady Margaret Douglas was to have an affair with Sir Charles Howard, brother of Henry VIII’s fifth Queen, Catherine Howard before her marriage to Lennox.
Resources: “The Sisters of Henry VIII” by Maria Perry, “Henry VIII: The King and His Court” by Alison Weir