To all my readers in the UK and the British Commonwealth countries: I offer my deepest sadness on the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Throughout my lifetime, she was the only monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and she handled that difficult role with grace, courage, and unimpeachable character. While I am not a family member like you, as a friend, I share in your grief. My prayers are with you and King Charles III as you move through this time of sorrow and transition.
Margaret, Queen of Scots (November 28, 1489 – October 18, 1541) wasn’t Scottish. She was an English princess and a member of the House of Tudor. But, on her father’s side, she was of Welsh ancestry, and the story of her life proves she had the strength and fighting spirit of a Celtic woman.
A Peace Offering
Like most medieval and renaissance princesses, Margaret Tudor, or Meg as she was affectionately known, was treated as a bargaining chip rather than a person. Her father, Henry VII of England, included Meg as part of a peace treaty (Treaty of Perpetual Peace) with Scotland. In accordance with the agreement, Meg, at only thirteen years of age, was given in marriage to King James IV of Scotland. A proxy wedding took place at Richmond Castle in January 1503. Shortly after, before she left for Scotland, tragedy struck. Meg’s mother, Elizabeth of York died in childbirth. The baby, a girl, was stillborn.
Given a brief time to grief, Meg left for Scotland on June 27th, accompanied by her father. After making a couple of stops along the way, Princess Margaret arrived in Scotland and stayed initially at Dalkeith Castle at the invitation of James Douglas, Earl of Morton. King James came for a brief visit with her that evening. She wouldn’t see her again until August 4th after her favorite horse was killed in a stable fire. The King came to console her. On August 8th, 1503, Margaret and James were formally married in person at Holyrood Abbey. During the ceremony, Meg was anointed as the Queen of Scots.
Meg’s marriage to James lasted a little over a decade. During that time, she gave birth to six children, the first in February 1507, when she was seventeen. But only one of the children, a son born in April of 1512, would survive to adulthood. He would later become King James V of Scotland, the father of Mary, Queen of Scots. In a letter to her father early in her marriage, she wrote a letter to her father which indicates she was unhappy and homesick. Whether she ever grew into the marriage and found joy is unclear. But, in September of 1513, the relationship would come to an abrupt end and Meg would be embroiled in a series of battles for the rest of her life.
On April 22, 1509, Meg’s little brother ascended the throne of England. Henry VIII of England was intent on regaining lands in France and began military incursions into the country. France and Scotland had long been allies. James IV decided to side with France against England’s aggression. This resulted in the Battle of Flodden Field. The battle took place on September 9, 1514, and it proved disastrous for Scotland and for Queen Meg.
King James, leading from the front, was killed during the battle. The new king, James V, was an infant. The late King’s will named Margaret, who was pregnant with their final son, Alexander, as regent—as long as she remained a widow. Her regency was met with resistance. She was, after all, only a woman. Worse, she was a foreigner and the sister of the enemy. But Meg fought for her right to rule until her son was old enough. Meeting at Stirling, the Parliament confirmed Queen Margaret as regent.
But, due to politics, her position was not as secure as it seemed. A pro-French faction wanted to replace her with John Stewart, Duke of Albany, James’ closest male relative. Scholars credit Margaret with using considerable political skill to calm and unite political parties as well as make peace with England by July 1514. It would seem she was on her way to becoming a powerful and popular Scottish leader. But then she made a decision that would cost her not only the regency but her son.
The Marriage Mistake
To strengthen her power and standing, Meg aligned herself with the formidable Clan Douglas. If she had simply kept them at her side as allies, all may have been well. But she made a human error. She became infatuated with the 6th Earl of Angus, Archibald Douglas. Then she married him. This angered and threatened other clans and political factions in the Scottish court. It also violated the original condition that to be Regent, she had to be a widow. And that gave her enemies the opening they needed.
The pro-French faction moved quickly to oust her, and within a month, Lord Albany had replaced Margaret as the regent. By September 1514, the Privy Council ruled that her sons be removed from her custody and placed under the regent’s supervision.
Defying their order, Meg took her sons and fled to Stirling Castle. After Albany became the regent, he sent his forces to the castle to gain custody of the boys. Margaret held out as long as she could but finally had to surrender her sons to the duke’s forces. Her brother urged her to take refuge in England. She initially refused, wanting to stay in Scotland to ensure her son ultimately came to the throne. But, finally, pregnant with Archibald Douglas’ child and fearing for her life as well as that of her new child, she secretly left Scotland with her husband for England.
To England and Back
Margaret took refuge in northern England. There, she gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Douglas. Margaret would grow up to become the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the grandmother of James VI, through whom the thrones of Scotland and England would be united. After the death of Elizabeth I of England, James Stuart, already James VI of Scotland, would become James I of England and begin the Stuart dynasty.
But Margaret Tudor didn’t know that. Her life still wasn’t a settled or happy one. Following the birth of her daughter, she became ill and nearly died. As she regained her health, Archibald Douglas left his wife in England while he returned to Scotland. Worried that he would be charged with treason and his lands would be taken away, Douglas decided to make amends with Albany. This hurt and infuriated Meg, who felt betrayed. Then she received news that her youngest son, Alexander, had died.
At her brother’s invitation, she moved down to London and was given accommodations by Cardinal Wolsey. During the next year, Henry VIII, Wolsey, and possibly Douglas, worked to reconcile the situation with Scotland.
Meg lived in England for about a year. Finally, a deal was worked out and, in June of 1517, she was granted safe conduct, enabling her to return to Scotland. But, when she did, she found her husband living off her money in one of her houses—with his mistress. Again, Meg was furious and felt betrayed. She went through a period of a few miserable few years during which she was denied the income from her estates by the Scottish government, she was unhappy in her marriage, and she was rarely allowed to see her son, James.
Life improved for Margaret Tudor in 1524 when she managed, with the help of the Earl of Arran, to successfully carry out a coup d’etat. James was now 12 and Parliament declared the regency at an end, which prevented Albany from trying to take control again. It also officially acknowledged Margaret as his chief councilor. She was finally able to guide and influence his rule.
Following the pattern of her life, though, a storm followed this sunny period. Archibald Douglas showed up and took custody of James. This situation lasted until the young king reached his majority at the age of 16. Legally coming into his full powers as king, James removed Archibald from power and the rest of Clan Douglas along with him.
Life Goes On…Until It Doesn’t
According to scholars, Margaret Tudor had a good relationship with her son. However, Margaret often struggled in relationships with other men. Wanting to free herself from Archibald Douglas, she petitioned the Pope for an annulment of the marriage.
Finding the Pope reluctant, she appealed to her brother to get him to advocate for her with Rome. Although Henry VIII would himself later seek an annulment from his then-wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to pursue obtaining a male heir, he was a staunch Catholic, named Defender of the Faith by the Pope, and, for a while, he refused to help his sister get an annulment. He lectured her about the sanctity of marriage and urged her to keep her vows. But Margaret persisted. In 1527, she finally obtained an annulment.
Meg married again the following year, this time to Henry Stuart, whom James made Lord Methven. Stuart, with the agreement of Parliament, declared Archibald Douglas a traitor. Douglas fled to England. This time, he stayed there until after King James V died. But this third marriage wasn’t a satisfying one for Margaret as Stuart, just like Douglas, spent his time going through mistresses and his wife’s money.
On October 18, 1541, Margaret Tudor, aged 51, died of a stroke at Methven Castle, Scotland. She’d led an eventual and tumultuous life, but she did so with the fight and spirit of a true Celtic woman. And she left her mark on Scotland in her descendants Mary, later Queen of Scots, and James Stuart, later king of both Scotland and England.
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Slan go foil!