Half-Tudor: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

A possible portrait of Margaret (Image: the Douglas archives)

We’re a bit overdue for some Tudor history, I think. Today marks the anniversary of the death of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox in 1578 at the ripe old age of 62. For those that know their Tudors well, Margaret is likely well-known, but for those that don’t, or perhaps have focused in on more key figures like Henry VIII’s wives or children, Margaret’s story may be more unfamiliar. It’s an interesting one, though, and just as dramatic, if not more so, than those of her more famous aunts and cousins.


Margaret was born in 1515 to Margaret Tudor, Dowager Queen of Scotland and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. Her mother was the eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England and his wife, Elizabeth of York, making Henry VIII her uncle. Queen Margaret left England for Scotland in the summer of 1503 to marry King James IV of Scotland, a union that would last roughly 10 years until James was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. He left behind a son, James, and another, born posthumously, who was christened Alexander and died as an infant.

The younger James lived and he was crowned King James V on September 21, 1513 at the age of 17 months. Queen Margaret, his mother, was named his regent, but her situation was tricky. Not only was she a woman, but she was also the sister of the English king against whom the Battle of Flodden had been fought. Indeed, there is a fun little anecdote that upon learning that James IV had been killed, Queen Katherine of Aragon requested that his severed head be sent to her husband, Henry VIII, who was fighting in France at the time. She had to be talked down on the grounds that such a gory move wasn’t really the “done” thing in England, and so she sent James’s blood-stained doublet instead.

Queen Margaret (Image: Daniel Mytens)


Needless to say the event hadn’t left the Scottish with warm feelings towards the English and the Queen, aged about 24 at the time, was regarded suspiciously. Considering the factors working against her, including a movement to replace her with a male relative, John Stewart, Duke of Albany, who favored a French alliance, the King’s mother did relatively well. She calmed the political parties, made peace with England and France, and kept her infant son secure on his throne.

She did, however, begin to align herself more and more closely with the Douglas family, who had held political power in Scotland for centuries. She even went so far as to secretly marry one of its members, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Likely attraction, if not love, played a significant role in the union, for it was politically dangerous and infuriated the Scottish nobles, a fact which the Queen would have well-known.

Within weeks of her new marriage, Margaret was forced to give up the regency and within a month there were threats to remove her sons (Prince Alexander still being alive at this point) from her custody. In response, she barricaded herself with her children in Stirling Castle and it wasn’t until after months of back and forth that she finally released them to Albany, the new regent. At this point the Queen was pregnant  and she finally decided to take advantage of her brother’s hospitality by fleeing across the border back into England.

It was there, on October 8, 1515, that the Queen gave birth to her daughter, christened Margaret, at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland. However, for any joy the birth gave her parents, it also spelled out the end of their marriage. Angus returned to Scotland and made peace with Albany, which the Queen found weak and akin to desertion. Angus has been criticized harshly in subsequent centuries, accusing him of leaving his wife a sitting duck, but the reality was a bit more complicated. Angus’s fortune and political future resided in Scotland – his only ability to provide for his family or potentially hold any power and influence on behalf of his stepson depended on him, for the time being, making peace with Albany. And Albany, it should be noted, did not present himself in these years as a threat to Margaret or the young king.

Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus (Image: The Royal Collection)

In 1516, terms were reached that allowed the Queen and her daughter to enter Scotland, however upon rejoining her husband’s household she discovered he had been living with Lady Jane Stewart, a woman to whom he had once been betrothed and is believed to have loved. As early as October 1518 the Queen wrote to Henry VIII, saying:

“I am sore troubled with my Lord of Angus since my last coming into Scotland, and every day more and more, so that we have not been together this half year… I am so minded that, an I may by law of God and to my honour, to part with him, for I wit well he loves me not, as he shows me daily.”

“To part with him” is ironic language with hindsight given that Henry VIII would become famous for his divorce and break from Rome, but in 1518 he was still a fervent Catholic and, to outside eyes, happily married to Katherine of Aragon. Only a year before he had been named Defender of the Faith by the Pope and though he would claim a bastard son the following year, he was still a long ways away from the drama that would surround his love affair with Anne Boleyn.

What made the issue further delicate for both Henry and the Scottish was that Margaret had to be properly managed. As James V’s mother and Henry VIII’s sister, she had to be respected, but there was a limit to what either side could do to influence or force her one way or the other unless each was prepared for a diplomatic snafu.

This became a particular issue when, in 1524, the Queen effectively staged a coup, ousted Albany, with whom she had spent the last several years demonstrating friendship, and brought James V to Edinburgh to rule in his own name. James was 12 at the time and the idea of him governing directly a mockery – he was led by others, particularly his mother.

By this point the Queen and Angus were completely estranged and the Queen had become attached to a young man named Henry Stewart. However her favoritism of Stewart offended many of the Scottish lords, who aligned with her husband against her. When Angus descended on Parliament, demanding to be let in, the Queen initially ordered cannons to be fired on him, but was eventually forced to give way. He responded by taking custody of his stepson and holding him hostage – a situation that not only led the young king to harbor and deep and abiding hatred for the entire Douglas family, but also solidified the Queen’s desire for a divorce.

In December 1527 her wish would finally be granted by Rome and on March 3, 1528 she married Stewart, outraging Henry VIII. By this point Henry had indeed fallen in love with Anne Boleyn and was pursuing his own avenues out of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, but the relative ease with which his sister was granted a formal divorce only embittered him.

At Henry VIII’s Court

In June 1528 James V finally wrested free of Angus and the Earl, fearing for his daughter, sent her out of the country for her safety. Lady Margaret Douglas arrived in England that October, age 13. Initially she joined the household her uncle’s leading councilor, Cardinal Wolsey, however when he was brought down during the divorce debacle Margaret instead joined the household of her cousin, Princess Mary Tudor (the future Mary I). Margaret and Mary, only a few months apart in age, would remain lifelong friends.

Anne Boleyn

The rise of Anne Boleyn was significant for Margaret. When Anne became queen in 1533, the 18-year-old Margaret joined her household as a lady-in-waiting, and it was during this time that she met Lord Thomas Howard, a younger son of the powerful Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (uncle by blood to Queen Anne and by marriage to Henry VIII). The relationship between Margaret and Howard was likely encourage by Anne, who had similarly helped promote a match between Henry’s bastard son, Henry Ritzroy, and her niece, Mary Howard. A match between one of her kinsmen and a Tudor only further solidified her family’s standing.

The relationship between Margaret and Thomas is believed to have been a genuine love match and by the end of 1535 the two were secretly betrothed. Tragically, what could have been a suitable match was wholly upturned by Anne’s downfall the following year, for when Henry VIII divorced and beheaded his second wife in May 1536, the Howards became political pariahs.

At this point, too, it’s worth understanding Margaret’s significance in the midst of Henry’s marital woes, for “Princess” Mary Tudor had been disinherited through her parents’ divorce and her refusal to acknowledge the validity of her father’s marriage to Anne. When Henry divorced again, Elizabeth Tudor was similarly disinherited and thus, as of the latter half of 1536, which is when Henry discovered his niece’s romance, Margaret was third in line to the throne after her mother and brother.

Henry VIII (Image: Hans Holbein the Younger)

To bring home his point, and perhaps his complete lack of patience for disobedience in the post-Boleyn years, Margaret and Thomas were held in the Tower. In July, Parliament condemned them to death, but no move was made to execute them. Instead he let the couple languish and both grew ill; Margaret was transferred to Syon Abbey in November 1537, however Thomas died in the Tower on October 31st.

But what saved Margaret? After all, Henry had just had his own wife executed; it stood to reason he wouldn’t blanche at executing his niece. Likely what saved her is exactly what saved Princess Mary – blood lines. Obviously Mary was Henry’s daughter so it’s even more difficult to fathom him killing her, even in the height of his tyranny, but similarly, Margaret was a princess of the blood. Her status as her mother’s daughter and her brother’s sister likely helped preserve her, despite Henry’s fury at having been deceived.

In August 1536, just after Margaret’s arrest and condemnation, news of her disgrace reached her mother in Scotland, who frantically wrote to her brother:

“Dearest brother,

We are informed lately that our daughter, Margaret Douglas, should, by your Grace’s advice, promise to marry Lord Thomas Howard, and that your Grace is displeased that she should promise or desire such thing; and that your Grace is resolved to punish my said daughter and your near cousin to extreme rigour, which we can no way believe, considering she is our natural daughter, your niece, and sister unto the King, our dearest son, who will not believe that you will do such extremity upon your own, ours and his, being so tender to us all three as our natural daughter is.”

It was a masterful political letter that offered up both flattery and threat, walking the fine line between subject, peer and older sister.

As for Margaret’s feelings towards Thomas, it’s likely that she genuinely loved him and was devastated by his death. She had promised to give him up in the Tower and sworn in writing to both her uncle and Thomas Cromwell that she had, but likely those were words meant to keep them alive. In the months immediately following her release it appears that she spent some time convalescing at Syon physically and emotionally, and then visiting Princess Mary (restored to her birthright following her concession to her father’s authority) and other female friends from court. During this time she wrote the following verse:

“Lo, in thy haste thou hast begun

To rage and rail and beckon how

And in thy rage forwith to run

Further than reason can allow.

But let them leave that list to bow [in defeat],

Or with thy words may so be won,

For, as for me, I dare avow

To do again as I have done.”

As Margaret’s biographer, Alison Weir, points out, “These were no empty words, in view of what would happen three years hence, when Margaret became entangled with another of the Howards.”

Henry VIII considered a number of different suitors for his unmarried female relations in the following years, for in addition to Margaret there were his two daughters and his widowed daughter-in-law, Mary Howard – all of varying ages, legitimacy and religious beliefs. However, before they were sorted out, Henry arranged his own fourth marriage, allying himself with the Germany duchy of Cleves via the Duke’s sister, Anne.

Margaret was back at court for the events of 1540, which saw Henry’s rejection of Anne and quick divorce and remarriage to his fifth wife, Katherine Howard. The reversal not only stunned Christendom, but put the Howards back on top. Margaret, now 25, was a lady-in-waiting to the new queen, however, the fast and furious rise and fall of Katherine Howard was a distraction from the drama of her own in which Margaret was embroiled.

In October 1541, news reached the royal court that Queen Margaret had died in Perthshire, plunging both her brother and daughter into  mourning. Less than a month later Henry was informed that his wife may have engaged in sexual relationships prior to marriage and he ok’d an investigation into the matter. But while Queen Katherine remained under lock and key, frantically waiting to find out whether or not she was to be divorced, beheaded or both, news came out that a young gentleman named Charles Howard had been banned from the King’s apartments.

He had been, but not for any reasons associated with the adolescent queen. Instead, he had been conducting some sort of romance with Margaret, who apparently had not been put off Howard men by the events of only a few years before. On November 11, 1541 Charles was banished from court and he soon fled for Flanders. It’s just as well, for Henry was soon not in a forgiving mood: The investigation into the Queen led him to believe she had committed adultery and between that and her prior affairs, Katherine was executed in February 1542.

Remarkably, Margaret emerged from the relationship relatively unscathed, likely because the existence of Prince Edward made the succession less dire, and because the affair itself was less serious. She spent the next several months under the protection of the Duke of Norfolk. Likely he had some appreciation for how many of his relatives she was apparently willing to marry.

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James V (Image: Corneille de Lyon)

In December 1542 news came from Scotland that Margaret’s brother, James V, had died in Fife. He had left behind his widow, Marie of Guise, and an infant daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. This would have enormous consequences for Margaret in the future, but in the near-term she was more preoccupied by rejoining Henry’s court upon the occasion of his sixth marriage in July 1543 to Lady Katherine Parr, a woman Margaret would have known since girlhood.

The new Queen’s favor, as well as Henry’s determination to marry Prince Edward to the infant Queen Mary, meant that Margaret was better-positioned. Now 27, her first priority was to secure a husband, which came in the form of Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, a Scottish expat who entered her life as he was also entertaining thoughts of marrying her widowed sister-in-law, the Dowager Queen Marie de Guise. But while the English might have favored an alliance with Scotland, the Scottish were more interested in allying themselves with the French, and marrying their infant queen with France’s dauphin – it was a political and domestic triangle in which Lennox was firmly enmeshed.

In March 1544 Marie de Guise firmly rejected Lennox and by June he and Margaret were married at St. James’s Palace in London. Remarkably, given the political wrangling that had brought it about, it was a happy match and the couple seem to have been devoted to one another, if not in love. Eighteen months after the wedding Margaret gave birth to their first child, a son christened Henry after her uncle.

But the political climate – or, more precisely, religious climate – was about to change. In January 1547 Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, now King Edward VI. His government was led by his maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, while his other uncle, Thomas Seymour, had the audacity to secretly marry the late King’s widow, Katherine Parr. The new government was staunchly Protestant, while Margaret (and Lennox) remained Catholics; Edward was also unmarried, and as such, there was no female component to his court. Margaret faded from prominence and would re-emerge six years later when Edward died and, after a lackluster attempt at a coup from the Grey and Dudley families, the long-suffering Mary Tudor was finally proclaimed Queen Mary I.

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Mary I

Margaret and her husband were given rooms of prominence at the royal court and, by some estimates, were best-suited to succeed the Queen on the throne, superseding Elizabeth Tudor who would almost certainly cut off the ties with Rome that Mary had just re-established after 20 years. Margaret, too, was the mother of a healthy son, and in 1555 she delivered a second, christened Charles. Unfortunately for the Lennoxes, Mary would not be so fortunate; her marriage to King Philip II of Spain was a childless disaster, and when she died in November 1558 the crown passed to Elizabeth.

Mary, Queen of Scots & Lord Darnley

But what could have marked the end of Margaret’s time on the Tudor stage instead brought it infamy. Her niece, Mary, Queen of Scots had been married to the dauphin, eldest son of King Henry II of France as a child. When King Henry died in 1559, the dauphin succeeded him as Francis II and Mary was briefly queen of both Scotland and France before Francis died in 1560. Widowed and with no reason to stay in what had become her adopted country, Mary finally returned home in 1561, age 18.

Mary’s Catholicism was at odds with an increasingly Protestant Scotland. Her return was greeted warily by her nobles, who either disagreed with her on religious grounds, were suspicious of her French leanings or skeptical of her youth and gender. It was imperative that she married, even more so because while her cousin, Elizabeth, remained unmarried and childless on the English throne, Mary was viewed by many as her heir. Catholic sympathizers across the continent, who had much to gain by toppling a Protestant regime, entertained the idea of swapping Elizabeth out for Mary, a possibility of which both queens were very much aware.

Margaret’s sons, Henry and Charles Stuart, in 1563

And here is where Margaret came in, for not only did she have an interest in reinstating a Catholic queen, but she had a son, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, by now an adolescent. Margaret and Lennox had sent their son to France in February 1561, two months after Francis II’s death to send their condolences to their young niece, but it also provided an opportunity for the two cousins to meet. With Mary still deep in mourning, nothing came of the match initially, but it was an introduction that would pay off.

Four years later, on February 17, 1565, Mary and Darnley met again, this time at Wemyss Castle in Scotland and the Queen reportedly fell instantly in love. On many grounds the pairing made sense – they were close in age; they shared a faith and a Scottish heritage. They also shared a grandmother, both descending from Margaret Tudor, but because of that they thus both had a solid claim to the English throne. A union of two Catholics with strong, legitimate Tudor blood (keeping in mind that Elizabeth, having once been declared a bastard by her father when he divorced her mother, was on shakier ground on that front) understandably made the English queen nervous.

They married on July 29, 1565 at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, an event which infuriated Mary’s Protestant lords who had been holding an uneasy peace since Mary’s return. She lost the support of many influential courtiers, temporarily including her illegitimate half-brother, who held significant sway. The subsequent uprising and unrest also spelled out the quick fading of passion between Mary and Darnley, the latter deciding that he wanted the Crown Matrimonial, or to essentially rule Scotland alongside his wife as a co-monarch. Mary refused, likely knowing that in addition to reducing her own authority, it would also further grate on the Scottish nobility.

Mary, Queen of Scots

In response, Darnley allied himself with Protestant lords and had Mary’s Catholic private secretary murdered in front of her during a dinner party. Darnley and Mary would be reconciled in short order, but it was a peace of necessity and not affection. The Queen would, too, be reconciled with her half-brother, who still wildly mistrusted his sister’s English husband. Mary gave birth to a son, Prince James, on June 19, 1566, ensuring the Stuart succession, but doing nothing to promote the health of her marriage.

By November 1566 Mary met with her nobles to discuss what could be done about her increasingly out-of-control husband. Divorce was certainly debated, however given Mary’s religion, the lengthy waiting period and the need to safeguard Prince James’s legitimacy it was a less than ideal option. Later evidence would indicate that an assassination was suggested, and Darnley certainly became afraid for his safety shortly thereafter, retiring to Glasgow. At Mary’s prompting he would return to court in January 1567 where the two visited daily, indicating they were on the mend. On the night of February 9/10, Mary visited Darnley in his rooms and then attended a court wedding. At some point in the early hours of the morning, an explosion was heard and Darnley’s dead body was found in the garden with no signs of apparent violence.

Mary, her half-brother and another powerful lord named James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell,  whom Mary was known to favor, among others, all came under suspicious. Elizabeth went so far as to write in a letter to Mary:

“I should ill fulfill the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not … tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought.”

Darnley’s parents, Margaret and Lennox, were devastated – and furious. Believing Bothwell to be guilty, Lennox demanded that he be tried for murder, however he was acquitted on April 12th due to a lack of evidence. A week later Bothwell made clear his intentions of marrying the widowed queen and Mary was abducted on April 24th. To what extent Mary was a willing participant in this plan is unclear; if she wasn’t, then it’s very likely she was raped, which would have forced her hand into marrying Bothwell. The two were married in a Protestant ceremony (Bothwell being Protestant) on May 15th after having returned to Edinburgh.

Matthew and Margaret

The lack of clarity on Mary’s willingness to promote her new husband, the belief of many Scots that Mary had played a role in Darnley’s murder, her Catholicism and the general scandal that surrounded her court was too much, taken together. On June 15th, Mary was taken into custody by rebellious Scottish lords and imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. While there, about a week later, she miscarried twins and on July 24th, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, who was made King James VI.

Ten months later Mary escaped into England, hoping to rely on the aid of her cousin, but Elizabeth saw nothing to gain from helping reinstate her Catholic rival. Instead Mary was slowly lulled into house arrest, in which she would remain for the next 19 years.

But while all of this was going on, Margaret had been living in England, navigating her family’s ambitions for Darnley with Elizabeth’s fury and suspicion. On June 16, 1565, the year her son had married, Margaret was arrested and held in the Tower of London for the second time in her life. Nor would she be immediately released. Her husband, Lennox, accompanied their son to Scotland to support the marriage and address Protestant concerns, while Elizabeth appeared in no rush to set her cousin at liberty.

Indeed, Margaret remained in the Tower for nearly two years, only being released after Darnley’s murder in February 1567. Darnley and Mary were well-aware of the situation and had repeatedly pressured Elizabeth to to release the Countess, but to no avail. Margaret, herself, wrote to two of Elizabeth’s councilors:

I have earnestly desired the Lieutenant [of the Tower] that I might write to those that first I was committed to in my trouble, who, with much ado and persuasion, hath given me leave. I beseech  you, my Lord Chamberlain, and you, Master Secretary, to be means to the Queen’s Majesty not to continue my heavy lady, having not deserved it: indeed, my greatest imprisonment is her Highness’s displeasure.

You both are father: consider then in God’s cause what I suffer, besides as not hearing from my lord my  husband and son there, nor yet from my child [Charles], being in Yorkshire, family nor officers, lacking wherewith to buy my necessaries and pay some part of the great debt that I am in by many occasions this year past, as seldom being suffered to be at home, whereby I spent, and got little. Yet of that I never complained, so lon as I had my prince’s favour, which God inspire her heart I may have again, beseeching you to be petitioners therefore.

Thus I cease to touble you this time, save with my hearty commendations, committing you both to the keeping of Almighty God.

From the Tower, the xxiii July, your friend to her power,

Margaret Lennox and Angus”

Margaret was informed of her son’s murder about 10 days after it occurred, however as of when the news traveled from Edinburgh to London, it appears the initial reports were mistaken and claimed that Lennox had also been killed. Margaret was beside herself to the point that Elizabeth, who had overseen the news being given to her cousin, ordered doctors to the Tower to attend upon her. It wouldn’t be for another 10 days that she could be comforted by the fact her husband was still alive, but even so, both parents were deeply affected.

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A depiction of Matthew, Margaret, Charles and James VI mourning Darnley

From London, Mary’s slowness to put Bothwell on trial or attempt to avenge her husband’s murder looked damning. Both Margaret and Elizabeth publicly expressed their suspicions of Mary’s complicity, while Lennox remained in Scotland to uphold the honor of the family name and force justice. But what none could see, and what Mary’s defenders would argue, is that Mary was likely on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Surrounded by murder, the fear of deposition, so recently having given birth, and possibly the victim of rape, it’s hard to ascertain Mary’s agency in the events of 1566-1567, or to what extent she was on the losing end of bad advice and betrayal.

Lennox returned to England days before Mary and Bothwell’s marriage, a necessity given the latter man’s rise to power and Lennox’s role in trying to have him condemned for murder. By June 1567 the Lennoxes were reunited with Elizabeth and Margaret’s long-term imprisonment was, apparently, put behind them all.

When the Lennoxes learned of Mary’s arrival in England the following year they returned to the English queen and begged her not to help their daughter-in-law regain her throne – indeed, the placement of James on the Scottish throne meant their grandson was king, a reality they could bet would likely help and not hurt them in the future. Elizabeth shied away from declaring one way or the other how she would receive Mary, at which point Margaret and her husband offered up a document known as the “Lennox Narrative,” which accused Mary of tyranny, adultery and depravity.

Elizabeth I

Unfortunately, for all that Elizabeth was unlikely to supply a rival claimant to the throne with military aid while she was within the borders of England, she was equally as unlikely to trust Margaret, who had shown herself willing to defy royal authority on any number of occasions, including secretly supporting her son’s ill-fated marriage. Over the next few years Elizabeth would have Margaret’s activity closely monitored, lest she make peace with Mary.

In 1570, following the assassination of Mary’s half-brother, who had been acting as regent for James VI, Lennox was called upon to replace him. He stood up to serve, but Scotland remained badly fractured and violent, and on September 4, 1571 he was shot following an attack on Stirling Castle, where he resided. It was Elizabeth, who had slowly come around to trusting Margaret in the three years since Mary’s arrival, who broke the news to her. After 26 years of marriage, the Lennoxes had remained devoted to one another and Margaret was devastated, writing, “My anguish was such as to bear was too great, yet to God, by prayer, I still made my way. Thus treason bereft me of my son and mate.”

The Cavendish Match

One would assume that Margaret was done with politicking at this point, having reached her 50s and losing her husband and oldest son. Unfortunately, that would be incorrect. By the 1570s, Elizabeth had been on the English throne for roughly 15 years, had never married and was approaching the end of her child-bearing years. Her successor, barring Mary as a Catholic and deposed monarch, was Margaret’s grandson, King James, who was being raised as a Protestant in Scotland. But given the odds of death for male members of the Tudor and Stuart families, it also meant that Margaret’s younger son, Charles, became of increased importance.

Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

But what the Lennoxes possessed in blood, they lacked in fortune. In 1573 Margaret began conspiring with Elizabeth “Bess” of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, one of the wealthiest women in England and, alongside her husband, Mary’s jailer, to marry Charles to Bess’s daughter, Lady Elizabeth Cavendish. Intriguingly, there is some belief that Mary played a role in helping to bring about the match; known to be close to Elizabeth Cavendish, it’s possible that she also saw the marriage as a way to get back on her mother-in-law’s good side and potentially use her support to gain her liberty. What Margaret saw in Mary’s involvement is less clear, though perhaps she viewed any help as useful.

Extraordinarily, none of the parties roped Queen Elizabeth into these discussions, and while they claimed innocence at having done anything wrong, that’s a bit difficult to fathom, particularly given Margaret’s track record with hiding relationships from her Tudor relations.

In November 1574 Charles and Lady Elizabeth were married – their mothers would later claim that there wasn’t much they could do to have stopped it, the couple having fallen in love and plighted troth of such legal binding that the only honorable thing was to bless the marriage going forward. When Queen Elizabeth found out she was livid, suspecting yet another plot, and cautious about the proximity of Mary. Margaret, Charles and Lady Elizabeth were summoned to court, arriving in mid-December. By December 27, Margaret was once again shown the inside of the Tower.

Arabella Stuart, about a year before Margaret’s death

While Queen Elizabeth remained convinced of her cousin’s guilt, Margaret was released in the spring of 1575 and at liberty in time for the birth of Arabella Stuart to Charles and Lady Elizabeth. Any joy was short-lived, however, and Charles died in April 1576 of tuberculosis at the age of 19. Her own claim to the throne now shored up through the existence of her grandchildren, James and Arabella, Margaret spent the next several months helping her daughter-in-law care for her granddaughter. She died on March 7, 1578 and in a nod to Margaret’s station, Queen Elizabeth paid for a lavish state funeral and had her body interred alongside her younger son in Westminster Abbey.

Her Legacy 

One remarkable fact about Margaret’s last years was the peace that she eventually made with Queen Mary, a reconciliation that had to have been prompted by Margaret’s eventual belief that her daughter-in-law had nothing to do with her son’s murder. They had one more thing in common by the 1570s, too, when Mary was at the center of a plot to marry Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, a great-nephew of the same Lord Thomas Howard Margaret had tried to marry 50 years before. As in Margaret’s case, the episode ended in a Howard’s death and Mary’s potential liberty became even more remote. However, letters that passed between the two women shown a genuine affection in Margaret’s last years, and may have been prompted by Arabella’s birth. When Mary was executed nine years later, tokens of friendship and a miniature of Margaret were found in the Queen’s possessions.

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret would get her wish in that Queen Elizabeth lived out her days childless, and in 1603 the English throne would pass to her grandson, James VI. When he came to England with his own young family, his cousin, Arabella, would still be living there under the protection of her maternal grandmother, Bess of Hardwick. Taking a queue from her forbears, she would enter into her own secret marriage with William Seymour, nephew of Henry VIII’s third wife, Queen Jane, and spend some time in the Tower as a result, ensuring the continuation of that fun little dynamic the Tudors and Stuarts worked out for themselves.

But while there are few boring figures in Tudor history, Margaret’s story stands out for its longevity and its breadth. Not only did she live through all six of her uncle’s wives, but she saw all three reigns of his children, helped to found the subsequent House of Stuart and was deeply enmeshed in Scottish politics, playing a direct role in the sordid and still mysterious marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley. Simply put, there isn’t a notable figure in 16th century British history with whom Margaret wasn’t acquainted. She was at the dead center of all of it for a remarkable 62 years and it is from her that all subsequent kings and queens of Britain are descended.

Margaret’s tomb (Image: Westminster Abbey)

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