The Burial of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas
Margaret Douglas

On the 3rd of April 1578, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, was buried at the lady chapel in Westminster Abbey. Despite being referred by her late half-brother, James V of Scotland, as his “natural sister”, she was given the full honors of a Princess.

Margaret was the mother of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots who was suspected of his mother. Margaret initially suspected her as well until she changed her mind, and took her daughter-in-law’s side.

After Mary Stuart became Elizabeth I’s captive, Margaret and her husband, Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox, worked tirelessly to secure their grandson, James VI, King of Scots’ future. After his regent was assassinated, the Earl was sent to rule on his grandson’s behalf but he too was assassinated.

Margaret spent her last seven years securing Protestant noble alliances. Despite being Mary I of England’s best friend and confidant, she always made sure not to be too partisan. When Elizabeth became Queen, some of her close associates blamed Margaret Douglas for Elizabeth’s imprisonment during her half-sister’s reign. There were rumors that Mary wished to do the same thing her half-brother had done by overriding their father’s will, taking Elizabeth out of the line of succession and naming Margaret her heir instead. Whether this is true or not, Mary decided not to repeat Edward VI’s mistake, leaving their father’s will unchanged which enabled a peaceful transition of power -that was much needed in England- for Elizabeth to become Queen.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth’s councilors succeeded in making their mistress paranoid. It didn’t help that Margaret like their Tudor ancestress and her namesake, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, had ambitions of her own. Although Elizabeth I had pushed for a union between Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots, she decided against it, and instead proposed her favorite, Robert Dudley -going so far as to ennoble him and propose to her royal cousin that the three of them live at court.
For obvious reasons, Mary didn’t like this idea, and decided to accept her cousin Margaret and her son’s offer instead. When Elizabeth found out that Henry Stewart and his father were headed off to Scotland, she put his mother under house arrest. The wedding still went ahead but the newlyweds soon realized how mismatched they were. Henry was described as arrogant and uppity, having expected more than the decorative title of King Consort, while Mary’s only interest in him was his bloodline and his availability to provide her with heirs.

After Darnley died and she married Bothwell, her enemies moved against her, forcing her to give up her crown. With Bothwell out of the way and having miscarried twins, she felt hopeless. She wasn’t getting any sympathy after she fled to England, hoping she’d find support from Elizabeth there, from her mother-in-law. After a few years had passed, Margaret’s view of the former Queen of Scots changed. But there was little that Margaret could do for her daughter-in-law. As far as she knew it, the future lay with her grandson. She envisioned that through him, she’d be triumphant. She was right. Before she died, she commissioned the “Lennox jewel” which portrayed her grandson as the King of Scots and the future King of England. That heart shaped shaped locket best describes her as someone “who hopes still constantly with patience shall obtain victory in their claim”. And she did prove to be the most patient in the end.

Donating to the Anglican church and Elizabeth I’s top councilors, as well as endearing herself to her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, Margaret assured that her legacy would remain. On February 1578, she received the Earl on her house. After he left, she fell ill. Knowing it might be the end, she wrote her last testament days later on the twenty sixth still in “perfect mind” and “good health of body”. In it, she asked the body of her son younger son Charles (who had died years before leaving only a daughter, Arbella), be buried with her at Westminster. She died a week and a half later in March 10th, and on April 3, she had a funeral worthy of a Princess.

Margaret Douglas as England’s first Christian Queen Regnant, Mary I, has often been neglected in history. While she doesn’t suffer from the over-deification of Elizabeth or the vilification of Mary I (and in this she is perhaps the most lucky of Tudor women), she’s suffered from neglect. Not to mention in fiction where she’s especially absent. Recently though, she has appeared on Reign season four where she is portrayed as a doting but domineering mother, who is equal in ambition and political aptitude as her royal cousin, Queen Elizabeth. While Reign is one of the least accurate series to date, the way Margaret is portrayed is not completely false.

While she was never a queen nor title holder in her own right, she made history in her own way by ensuring the continuation of her bloodline, and securing her oldest grandchild’s inheritance. She was a woman who knew how to play the dangerous game of politics, and got away with each of her schemes. Following the moral code of the day, she used her position as wife and mother to get ahead, and survive the Tudor court -something that wasn’t easily achieved by anyone, let alone a woman.

lennox_jewell(2)
The Lennox Jewel was commissioned by Margaret Douglas and it depicted her ambitions for her grandson, James VI, to become King of England. He was the fulfillment of her legacy.

Buried with the founders of the Tudor Dynasty, Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York, Margaret Douglas sent a powerful message: That it would be her line which would endure, ruling as Kings and Queens of all the British Isles after Elizabeth was gone.

Some of her contemporaries described her as “a lady of most pious character, invincible spirit, and matchless steadfastness … mighty in virtue … mightier in lineage” and a “progenitor of princes” in her son Darnley and in her grandson, James VI of Scotland and I of England.

Sources:

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The Birth of Henry Stewart: King, Duke & Baron

Henry Stewart Lord Darnley
Henry and his younger brother, Charles

On the 7th of December 1545, Henry Stewart, Baron of Darnley was born at Temple Newsam in Yorkshire. Lord Darnley was the eldest surviving son of Margaret Douglas, the only daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland from her second husband, the Earl of Angus, and Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox. Ambitious like his mother, he knew his value and what their union could mean, so his parents risked everything for the young couple to marry. Not only were the two related, descending from Henry VII via his eldest daughter Margaret, but they also had Stewart royal blood flowing through their veins. Mary was the Queen of Scots while Henry descended from James II via his father.

margaret-douglas-countess-2

Elizabeth suggested a union with her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, but after so many promises and no straight answers regarding Mary’s possible place in the line of succession, the Queen of Scots got tired of waiting and rolled the dice. Not only that, but Elizabeth wasn’t serious about her proposal. On March of that year Leicester wrote that his mistress was not going to make Mary her heir until she married or notified “her determination never to marry.” Aka no answer for now.

“The countess was more than willing to take on her first cousin, Queen Elizabeth, and to undermine her with the help of European Catholic allies if she could.” (Porter)

From her home at Settrington in Yorkshire, Porter adds that she fostered links with Catholic allies in Spain and France. Scotland had a long history with the latter thanks to the Auld Alliance and Mary’s first marriage. However, the Countess of Lennox was also a practical woman and if she wanted her son to succeed in his enterprise, he had to win the Queen over.

Darnley did win her over. He was young, good looking and had a strong lineage. The couple married on the 25th of July. Three days before he was created Duke of Albany to give him nobler status and thus more qualified to marry the Queen of Scots. Four days after their union, he was proclaimed King. But despite Mary’s first impression of him, their marriage turned out to be a disaster. At the time of their meeting, the Scottish Ambassador later recalled that he had felt that Darnley was too young and too unprepared for the road ahead. He was right. Proud and stubborn, he wanted to be Mary’s co-ruler, something she wasn’t going to give because she wanted to make it clear that she –and she alone- was Queen.

Mary Queen of Scots in black gown

Gender roles were very important during this era. Wives were subservient to husbands and as his wife, Darnley must’ve felt like Mary owed him something more than the title of King Consort. Mary however, was a Queen Regnant and Queens Regnant were usually seen as the exception to this rule. And I say usually because they often had to use religious language to get their message across. (Elizabeth for example used religious imagery during her coronation in January of 1559, and was compared to the biblical prophetess and warrior Deborah, telling the English people that as her biblical counterpart she would defend her people and be a warrior for the Anglican Church. Nearly a century earlier, Isabella I of Castile had done the same thing. She employed the image of the Virgin Mary and other religious figures in paintings of her family as a means to justify her actions, and a quick reminder that she was a defender of the church.)

Darnley’s mother was also angry and wrote to her daughter-in-law at which Mary was “greatly offended”. Taking advantage of the couple’s animosity for each other, the Protestant faction of which her half-brother the Earl of Moray belonged, began to involve Darnley in their plans. When Mary heard of her husband and his newfound allies trying to provide him with shelter but Darnley and his men still found their way in. Mary was held at gunpoint by her husband as his men took Riccio away. The poor man was stabbed 55 times. Darnley’s dagger was found next to his body. Whether it was Darnley who did the deed or someone else who put his dagger next to the body so he would be blamed is irrelevant. Darnley likely knew what awaited his wife’s secretary and played right into the Protestant faction’s game.

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

Elizabeth I however was not amused. She reportedly said to the Spanish Ambassador Silva: “Do you think the Queen of Scotland has been well treated to have armed men entering her chamber, as if it were that of a public woman, for the purpose of killing a man without reason?”
She wasn’t the only one who expressed fury at Darnley’s actions. His parents did as well. Margaret couldn’t believe what her son had done and hoped that Mary would forgive him. Lennox on the other hand was at a loss of words. Luckily for them, Margaret got her wish. Mary reconciled herself with their son, forestalling Moray’s coup. But things soon went south again.
That same year the couple welcomed their first and only son who was named Charles James, after his godfather Charles IX of France and his grandfather James V of Scots. The birth of their son did nothing to mitigate the couple’s resentment for each other. The following year in 1567 Darnley was murdered.

Mary’s consort had been staying at the Old Provost Lodging in Edinburgh. The people nearby were shaken by the violent explosion and found nothing but rubble where the old building had once stood. Darnley’s body was found nearby.

In the beginning Margaret accused her daughter-in-law, but following her capitulation and the coronation of her son, the Countess found herself questioning the evidence against her. Although she never got closure, Margaret’s ambitions to see her line come on top became true. Her grandson not only became King of Scotland, but was also crowned King of England after her cousin Elizabeth died in 1603.

In popular fiction Darnley is depicted as a proud and ineffective politician, who got what was coming to him because his deep involvement in Moray’s and other courtiers’ plot against his wife. He is also depicted as a bisexual –something from which there is no proof. Taking into account how bisexuals are negatively portrayed in our media, it should come as no surprise how one dimensional his character is in one historical fiction.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway