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 Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots in black gown

On the 8th of December 1542, nearly a month after the defeat of the Scottish troops at Solway Moss, Princess Mary Stewart was born on Linlithgow Palace. She was the only surviving child of Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland. Unlike his father who had died in the battlefield, nearly three decades before him, James V died as a result of an illness

“There is no record that James ever saw his daughter, though he might have had time to do so before he was laid low by severe illness.” (Porter)

James V died six days after Mary’s birth, making Mary the first Christ Queen Regnant of the British Isles. She was crowned the following year, being less than a year old. There is a tradition that when James V heard of his daughter’s birth that he said “It came with a lass and it will end with a lass.” But this as Porter points out, given how ill he was, it is highly dubious that he was able to utter such coherent words. But for historical novelists, this makes up for good drama no doubt.

Mary, Queen of Scots as she became known became part of the ‘Rough Wooing’ –this was an aggressive Anglo-Scottish policy that was Henry VIII’s brainchild. He sought to have the Scottish nobles he captured during the battle return to Scotland with the mission to convince the Queen Dowager and the other nobles to his proposal of a betrothal between her and his son (then) Prince Edward.

John Dudley

At one point, when her father’s body wasn’t yet cold, Henry VIII attempted to invade Scotland and there was one man who firmly opposed this and this was none other than John Dudley who’s reputation hasn’t been so good thanks in part to his former allies turning against him when the going got tough following the Jane Grey fiasco and pop culture.

Before Christmas of that year, John Dudley voiced his concerns, saying that “seeing that God hath thus disposed his will of the said King of Scots, I thought it should not be to Your Majesty’s honor, that we your soldiers should make war or invade upon a dead body or upon a widow or upon a young suckling…”

When the King died, a man who continued Henry VIII’s aggressive policy under his royal nephew and new King was Edward Seymour, newly named Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset.

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist.

Somerset had no intention for diplomacy. A hugely divisive figure as his (later) rival, John Dudley, he was willing to be lenient and do everything in his power to work for the common good (although his policies proved ineffective) but when it came to Scotland he was completely hostile. As far as he was concerned, diplomacy was failing. The Scots could understand he meant business by only one way and that was through fire and blood. Pillaging and heavy artillery. Although this did the trick, planting fear into the Scots’ hearts, it also strengthened Mary of Guise and her allies’ resolve. She decided to stall and secretly sent her daughter, her companions, among them the well-known four Maries, her half brother (Moray, who would return shortly after), to France where she would meet her future spouse, the future King of France, Francois.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots during her years of captivity during Elizabeth I’s reign.

Mary, Queen of Scots has a lot of detractors and defenders and seldom any people in between. On the one hand you have this naïve girl who was well-educated, who loved playing sports, and dressed in men’s clothes for that, and was also very beautiful, and had received not a lot of training to be a ruler but more how to be a Queen Consort while she was in France, but on the other hand, you also have a girl who caught on pretty fast and who wanted to reconcile both factions of her country, Protestant and Catholic, and tried her best but failed. And then tried again, using conspiracy to oust her cousin Queen Elizabeth when she didn’t agree to reinstate her. And this last act of hers not only failed but ended with her being sentenced to death. This was extremely painful as her executioner botched it and it took more than one blow to finish the deed.
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Mary was a quick learner, well-learned, fashionable Queen, but at the same time, she was also tired after years of trying and having little to show for it except plotters at every turn who hated her because of her sex and religion and for refusing to give up. When she finally gave up, she tried to rise up but once again she felt defeated and sought her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England for help and as previously stated, when she realized this was a huge mistake, she plotted against her and this ended with terrible results. She was much a victim of circumstance as of her own actions and rearing.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts by Linda Porter
  • Ten Tudor Statesmen by Arthur D. Innes
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Tudors by John Guy
  • Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

Illustrated Kings and Queens of England: A great book to get people started on the history of the English Monarchy

Illustrated_kings_and_queens_of_england
Illustrated Kings and Queens of England by Claire Ridgway, Timothy Ridgway and Verity Ridgway. This an easy, accessible and fantastic read. Very comprehensible and straight to the point. And albeit it is very short, it has all the important details, grounded in fact and well researched that dispel the myths about many of the English Kings since Alfred the Great of Wessex who was the first who proclaimed himself King of the Anglo-Saxons or England.

Everyone who is a teacher or has a daughter, cousin or sibling whom she or he wants to get started on the period, should get them started with this book. You will enjoy it. I devoured it one day. I could not put it down. I don’t know if I am going to go down in to the field of education, but if I continue down the path I am heading, this is the book I will be recommending to my students.

The book starts with a short summary of the first known human settlements on Great Britain then it moves to a quick overview of the Isles occupations by later groups such as the Celts, Romans, Germanic tribes, etc to the point that it starts from Alfred of Wessex. As stated, Alfred “the Great” of the kingdom of Wessex was the first of the Anglo-Saxon kings who is recognized as the King of he English, because he called himself so. From there it moves to all the Kings and Queens to the present Queen Elizabeth II.
Filled with interest tidbits and details, this book doesn’t disappoint.