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.

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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 Funeral of Queen Mary I -‘She was a King’s daughter, sister, wife and a King also’

Mary I Tudor funeral

On the 14th of December 1558, nearly a month after she had passed away, Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France was buried on Westminster Abbey. The Queen died on the 17th of November at St James Palace. Her body was laid to rest there in her Privy Chamber under the cloth of state before it was moved to Westminster. The procession began on December 10th. Acting as chief mourner was her beloved cousin Margaret Douglas the Countess of Lennox.

Displaying the banners of the English royal arms, the Queen’s coffin was laid to rest on the Chapel Royal for three days before its final journey to Westminster. With the Countess were the Queen’s household servants dressed in black, the heralds and the gentlemen mourners who walked under the banners of the white greyhound and falcon and of the royal arms.

On the 13th, the procession resumed, men and women walked towards the Abbey, once more dressed in black. The five heralds meanwhile bore the royal coat of arms, the royal helmet, the royal shield, the royal sword and the coat of armor. The queen’s coffin was a draped in purple velvet, with a lifelike effigy depicting the Queen crowned, holding the scepter and orb.

“At each corner of the funeral chariot a herald on horseback bore a banner of the four English royal saints. After the chariot followed the chief mourner, Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox, and Mary’s ladies in waiting all in black robes, attending her in death as they had in life.” (Whitelock)

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The procession halted at the great door of the Abbey where it was met by four Bishops and an Abbot who censed the coffin and the effigy before it was taken inside. The queen’s coffin lay there overnight with over a hundred gentlemen and her guard who kept building.

The next morning, a funeral Mass was held and here is where Elizabeth showed everyone who was boss, and that despite showing respect to her sister’s memory, she was still going to include a mention of herself, even if others didn’t consider it relevant.

After all, the yet-to-be crowned, Queen Elizabeth intended her sister to have a funeral worthy of her status and lineage. No expense was spared. The Marques of Winchester was put in charge of funeral arrangements. But changes had to be made. The Bishop of Winchester, John White, was in charge of preaching the funeral sermon. He had prepared a beautiful homage for England’s first Queen titled ‘The Epitaph upon the death of our late virtuous Quene Marie deceased’. Although it was a badly written poem, it extolled the queen’s reign. This isn’t what got Elizabeth to make him change the poem however. It was the fact that there was no mention of her at all:

“How many noble men restored
and other states also
Well showed her princely liberal heart
which gave both friend and foe.
As princely was her birth, so princely was her life:
Constant, courtise, modest and mild;
a chaste and chosen wife.
Oh mirror of all womanhood!
Oh Queen of virtues pure!
Oh Constant Marie! Filled with grace,
No age can thee obscure.”

So he was forced to add the following:

“Marie now dead, Elizabeth lives,
our just and lawful Queen
In whom her sister’s virtues rare,
abundantly are seen.
Obey our Queen as we are bound,
pray God her to preserve
And send her grace life long and fruit,
and subjects truth to serve.”

White delivered the sermon saying very little about Mary’s religious policies which for better or for worse have come to define her reign.

Mary I coronation

“She was a King’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was a King’s wife. She was a Queen, and by the same title a King also … What she suffered in each of these degrees and since she came to the crown I will not chronicle; only this I say, howsoever it pleased God to will her patience to be exercised in the world, she had in all estates the fear of God in her heart … she had the love, commendation and admiration of all the world. In this church she married herself to the realm, and in token of faith and fidelity, did put a ring with a diamond on her finger, which I understand she never took off after, during her life … she was never unmindful or uncareful of her promise to the realm. She used singular mercy towards offenders. She used much pity and compassion towards the poor and oppressed. She used clemency amongst her nobles … She restored more noble houses decayed than ever did prince of this realm, or I did pray God ever shall have the like occasion to do hereafter … I verily believe, the poorest creature in all this city feared not God more than she did.”

The last sentence was based on two verses of Ecclesiastes which said the following: “I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive … for a living dog is better than a dead lion”. This and wishing Elizabeth “a prosperous reign” while adding “if it be God’s will” landed him once more into trouble. It was a veiled reference to Elizabeth, alluding to his point of view that Mary had been a great queen and her death left a hole in many Catholic’s hearts, while Bess was not. He was placed under house arrest the next day “for such offenses as he committed in his sermon at the funeral of the late queen”.

As when the heralds had cried when they entered the Abbey to hear the mass, “the Queen is dead! Long Live the Queen!”

Elizabeth and Mary

Before Mary’s death, several courtiers had moved to Elizabeth’s house, courting the new Queen. Now that the last reminder of Mary’s reign was finally laid to rest, the Virgin Queen’s could begin.

Sadly for Mary it was done at her own expense. Mary’s reign as previously stated has been defined by her religious policies and how these were defined by Protestant chroniclers. Over two hundred ‘heretics’ were burned during Mary I’s reign. Linda Porter makes the case point in her biography on her that some of these were done at a local level for which the queen had no control. Even if this is completely accurate, the fact that it happened can’t be overlooked. But neither can the other atrocities committed during her ancestors and successors’ reigns. The truth is always somewhere in the middle, and the reason why we always idolize history and cling to old phrases such as “the good old days” is because we are scared and tired of the times we live in. And so we are taken over by nostalgia, and live in this make-believe world where despite our knowledge of the period, we tend to believe that amidst all the chaos there were a few who were different. Those who were “ahead of their times”. But nobody was. The past, as an author once wrote, is an alien world and these people lived according to the standards of the time. There were some who were more practical and tolerant than others but they still held some kind of prejudice. Mary was no different and neither was her sister.

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“Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hopes of the resurrection.”

Her wishes to be buried next to her mother, as well as having her mother’s coffin be moved to Westminster, were not respected. After her sister’s death in 1603, James I ordered a great monument for his predecessor. Elizabeth’s coffin was placed on top of Mary’s and only her effigy was visible. Once again, Mary was overshadowed. Perhaps what reads in the plaque gives those who believe some hope, that the two sisters will someday be reunited.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

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.

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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

 

The Queen is delivered of a ‘fair young lady’

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On the 7th of October 1515 Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Countess of Angus ‘was delivered and brought in bed of a fair young lady’ she called Margaret after herself and her grandmother. Lady Margaret Douglas was christened on the following day ‘with such convenient provisions as either could or might be had in this barren and wild country’. This referred to Margaret’s hasty departure, running away from her son’s Regent, the Duke of Albany whom she and her husband were at bad terms. She had left Linlithgow where she was supposed to start confinement for Tantallon Castle which was the Douglas stronghold. She didn’t stay there for long and ended up in England where she gave birth at Harbottle Castle. Lord Dacre gave the news to Henry.

Margaret Douglas would become a vital figure in Tudor politics, from being a best friend to her cousin, Queen Mary I, and being considered at one point her heir, and then conspiring during her second cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to marry her eldest son (Darnley) to their distant cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots; to working arduously to ensure the safety of her grandson James VI of Scotland and future I of England.

The Lennox jewel as it is known shows her dedication to her family, as well as her dynastic ambitions. Out of all the Tudor girls, it was Lady Margaret Douglas, future Countess of Lennox through her marriage to Matthew Stewart, who took the most after her namesake Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort SOT and HVII

Margaret Beaufort tried very hard to ensure her son’s lands and title would be restored, and when that failed and the princes disappeared, she began conspiring to crown her son King. After the battle of Bosworth, she became one of the most powerful women in England and suo juror becoming Countess of Richmond in her own right. She sponsored scholars, founded colleges and after her death, her chaplain (John Fisher) gave a beautiful eulogy where he commended her courage and determination, and also her scholarship.

Similarly, Margaret Douglas, held strong ambitions for her family. She was very learned as many high-born ladies at the time, and she wanted the best for her family, especially her eldest son and jewel, Henry Stewart. While Elizabeth I made no plans to leave an heir, she told Mary’s ambassadors that she would consider her naming her, her heir, if she married someone she would approve. Mary, Queen of Scots waited but eventually she got impatient and took the first offer that came to her. Lord Darnely was a distant cousin, both descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter and he was English and reputedly Protestant, which would endear her to her detractors. Unfortunately for both, the marriage went downhill pretty fast and after his murder (for which Mary always claimed she had no part of), his mother turned against her and focused her attentions on their son, James who became King shortly after his mother was forced to abdicate.

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After his first regent died, Margaret’s husband became his protector and when he was killed, Margaret became depressed but no less determined to ensure his safety. The Lennox Jewel shows her grandson being crowned and blessed by the heavens, much like Margaret Beaufort wanted the Tudor dynasty to be portrayed: as a dynasty blessed by God.

In the end, after she had made her peace with everyone and became convinced that Mary had nothing to do with her son’s murder, she ingratiated herself to Elizabeth’s councilors, primarily Lord Burghley and after falling ill in 1578 after a dinner she had with Robert Dudley, she made her last arrangements for her funeral. Like her namesake, she was buried with full honors, and the funeral was not one of a noble but as a princess and her efforts also paid off when nearly three decades later, after her cousin died, James VI became the I of England.

Sources:

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