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.

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James VI of Scotland becomes I of England

James VI of Scotland and I of England and his wife, Anne of Denmark.
James VI of Scotland and I of England and his wife, Anne of Denmark.

On Monday July 25th 1603 James VI of Scotland became the I of England after he and his beautiful Anna of Denmark were crowned King and Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. James arrived to London on May of that year, his wife was not with him at the time because she was heavily pregnant but she arrived in time for their coronation. There had not been another joint coronation in almost a century. The last being the one with his predecessor’s father with his first spouse, Katherine of Aragon in 1509. He was also the first Scottish King to see the stone of Scone again. (The stone had been taken by the English under Edward I and placed in the coronation chair.) As usual, the archbishop of Canterbury (John Whitgift) was in charge of the ceremony, anointing the couple with the holy oils before placing the crowns of the St Edward and St Edith on their heads.

James VI

James VI had a terrible childhood, much like his forebears, including his great-grandfather. He had been used and abused by his tutors who were just looking to someone to manipulate and to mold into their little puppet. He was then told that his mother was the most horrible person in the world to the point that he did not know what the truth was anymore. When he was a teenager he became very independent and learned to hide his feelings very well but he also started working for his mother’s release.
Who knows what really went through his mind. Did he really care about her? Or was he was just looking to release her because he was worried that her execution and her bad reputation would also affect him and his chances to get the throne? There is some reason to believe this last one because Fontenay, the French Ambassador, noted that whenever James talked about his mother, he never “inquired anything of the queen or of her health, or her treatment, her servants, her living, and eating, her recreation, or anything similar.”
And how could he when he never knew her and the people who raised him kept telling him ugly stuff about her?

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

Whichever was, Elizabeth I was never going to release MQS anytime soon and she must have made this very clear because the following year in 1585, when James was 19, he agreed with her decision to keep his mother in prison and even called Elizabeth “Madame Mother”. This made MQS go ballistic because this was her only son, the only hope she had to get free, calling her jailer ‘mother’. It was at this point that she started looking for other means to be released.

NPG 1766,Mary, Queen of Scots,by Unknown artist

“In all Christendom I shall find enough heirs with talons strong enough to grasp what I may put in their hand.”

Something we know ended in failure and with her eventual execution. But that July was her son’s day. In an ironic twist, Henry VII and his mother’s prayers of seeing his descendants on the throne of England for centuries did come true but not through his male heir and his descendants, but through his eldest daughter Margaret Tudor’s brood.

“When he [James VI] entered London for the first time on that spring morning in 1603” Linda Porter writes, “he was fulfilling the hopes of the marriage of James IV to Margaret Tudor a century before that the two crowns might, one day, be united.” And she is right. Henry VII did a lot to ensure peace between both kingdoms and agreed to prosecute border criminals in courts of law that would include Scottish and English jurors (to avoid bias). He also worked with Scottish noblemen to ensure that there would be less raids on England’s Northern borders and Scotland’s Southern border. It is hard to say though, that Henry VII would have ever envisioned this future for his country. Maybe Porter is right and he did. His ancestor Edward I certainly tried this when he negotiated a marriage between the maid of Norway (who died before she could be crowned Queen of Scots) and his heir, Edward of Caernarfon (future Edward II). Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, almost succeeded but Mary of Guise was a lot smarter than he thought, and she sent her daughter away to France to marry the Dauphin, instead of his heir.

Henry VII, first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty and his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor.
Henry VII, first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty and his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor.

James VI was twice descended from Henry VII through both his parents. Mary, Queen of Scots as you all know, descended from Margaret Tudor’s first marriage to King James IV of Scotland, while Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley descended from her second to the Earl of Angus.

Although Elizabeth never named an heir, James became the most obvious choice and her councilors started having secret correspondence with him since 1601. After Bess’ death in 24 March 1603, parliament declared in favor of James and Robert Cecil sent a messenger to Scotland less than a month later to tell the King of Scotland of the recent events. James immediately set out for England. On the day of his coronation, he and Anne were gorgeously dressed, and even though there was an outbreak of plague, “the streets seemed paved with men and women” wrote one observer, that were eager to see their new king and queen.
This was after all, the end of an era -the Tudor era- and the start of a new one.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway by Claire Ridgway