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.

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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