Margaret Tudor (1489–1541)

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Margaret Tudor (1489–1541)

Queen of Scotland who, while living in constant fear for her life and the lives of her children, strived within the complicated diplomatic and power struggles of Renaissance Europe to keep peace between Scotland and England and her son's throne secure . Born on November 28, 29, or 30, 1489, at the Palace of Westminster, England; died of "palsy" (probably a stroke) at Methven Castle, Perthshire, Scotland, on October 18, 1541; buried in the Carthusian Abbey of St. John, Perth, Scotland; eldest daughter of Henry VII, king of England (r. 1485–1509) and Elizabeth of York (1465–1503); sister of Henry VIII, king of England (r. 1509–1547) and Mary Tudor (1496–1533); grandmother of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542–1587); great-grandmother of James VI, king of Scotland (r. 1567–1625), who was king of England as James I (r. 1603–1625); married James IV (1473–1513), king of Scotland (r. 1488–1513), by proxy at Richmond Castle, Surrey, England, on January 25, 1502, and in person at Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 8, 1503; married Archibald Douglas, 6th earl of Angus, on August 6, 1514, at Kinnoul Church near Perth (divorced 1525); married Henry Stewart, 1st Lord Methven, on March 3, 1528; children (first marriage) six, of whom only two, James V (1512–1542), king of Scotland (r. 1513–1542) and Alexander (1514–1515), duke of Ross, lived for more than one year; (second marriage) Margaret Douglas (1515–1578), afterwards countess of Lennox.

Crowned queen of Scotland (August 8, 1503); on James IV's death on Flodden Field (1513), became regent of Scotland and guardian of the baby James V; after a secret marriage to earl of Angus, was forced (1515) to give up both the regency and the young king to John Stewart, duke of Albany (1515); escaped to England and gave birth to her daughter at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland (1515); held with little respect by either side, used and betrayed as it suited their best interests, she nevertheless continued to fight to keep her son's throne secure, changing sides as seemed expedient; after lengthy, frustrating negotiations, divorced Angus (August 1525) and married Henry Stewart and with him became James V's chief adviser; tried unsuccessfully to divorce Henry Stewart; became alienated from her son as he sank into a depression following the deaths of his sons and heirs; interceded with Henry VIII for her daughter, Margaret Douglas (1536), after her ill-advised marriage with Lord Thomas Howard; died alone and unmourned at age 52; had the unique distinction of being a double great-grandmother to the first ruler of a united England and Scotland, since her granddaughter Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, married Lord Darnley, son of Lady Lennox (neé Margaret Douglas); Mary Stuart and Lord Darnley's son was James VI of Scotland and I of England.

Margaret Tudor was a disagreeable woman, a forceful personality, a Tudor without the charm and beauty of her sister, Mary Tudor (1496–1533), ex-queen of France, or the wisdom and shrewdness of her niece, Elizabeth I . She had been the child-wife of a superstitious monarch who modeled himself on the medieval rulers and kept the offspring of his earlier sexual relationships at court. She suffered great pain and discomfort during her numerous pregnancies and experienced the death in infancy of all but two of her children. The death of James IV on Flodden Field turned her into an embittered woman whose only aim was to secure the future of her son as James V of Scotland. Her decision to marry a Douglas and thereby forfeit the regency and guardianship of the baby king and deepen the gulf between the pro-French and pro-English factions at court, can be seen as ignorant, impetuous or simply the result of a fatal attraction. The marriage was certainly unfortunate and ill-considered and did neither herself nor her husband any good and resulted in separation from her dearly loved sons and a constant threat to her life and that of her son. Her attempts to extricate herself by divorce received no support from her brother, Henry VIII, who traded on her loyalty to England and himself, using her without mercy as a spy and just as callously betraying her when it suited his purposes. Her marriage to Henry Stewart was as impetuous as her second and bought her only more unhappiness. As life threw one disaster after another at her, she continued to struggle on beyond exhaustion, never admitting defeat or despair, seeking refuge in indifference. This indifference caused unsympathetic outsiders to see her as capricious, hysterical, selfish, and temperamental. She was labeled an evil woman, her loyalty to Scotland always in doubt. It is indeed remarkable that she retained her sanity. But she was popular with the people, had great determination and courage, and was, above all, a survivor.

Margaret Tudor was born in November 1489, the second child and eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York . She was the first princess in the new royal house of Tudor. Her father, the victor of Bosworth Field, had married Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, in 1486, uniting the houses of Lancaster and York and putting an end to the Wars of the Roses. Margaret was thus born at a time when England was confidently looking outward towards the Continent and seeking to take a leading role in European politics. Her education reflected the new ideas and optimism of an English court where learning and the arts were highly valued.

Margaret's early years were spent at the Palace of Shene, Richmond, Surrey. Her governess was Lady Guildford , who was herself under the guidance of Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509), Margaret's paternal grandmother, for whom she was named. From her birth, all instructions for her day-to-day care, her servants, clothes and studies were by order of Margaret Beaufort. This formidable woman was famous for her learning and scholarship and would have ensured that Margaret enjoyed the same educational benefits as her brothers, ensuring that she was perhaps better educated than most princesses of her day. She had the advantage of sharing her brothers' tutors who were well-versed in the new thinking. Erasmus, the greatest of all humanists, was reported to have visited the royal schoolroom in the company of Sir Thomas More when Margaret was aged about ten years. But by all accounts Margaret failed to make the most of these opportunities and has the reputation of having been an indifferent student. She learned to read and to write, though by her own admission, the latter was with "an evil hand." Her spelling, as with most of her contemporaries, was erratic. It is presumed that she learned French which would have been essential at the Scottish court with its traditional connections with the court of France. Like all Tudors, Margaret was very fond of music and enjoyed playing the lute and clavichord and dancing, at which she excelled. In short, she was given an education designed to equip her for her expected adult role.

At the same time, however, she grew up believing that the Tudors were superior beings who could do no wrong. Such an attitude served her ill when she became queen of Scotland and gave the Scots cause to doubt her loyalty to them. Her indulgent father spoiled her, and she developed a passion for clothes that never left her. She was very acquisitive, keeping more richly embroidered gowns than she could reasonably expect to wear simply for the pleasure of looking at them. She could always be appeased by such a gift.

Negotiations for her marriage began when she was about six years old. Her father favored an alliance with Scotland that would allow him to play a greater role in Europe, knowing that the northern border between England and Scotland was secure. The matter became more urgent in 1496 when James IV entertained Perkin Warbeck, imposter and pretender to the English throne, at his court and gave him a Scottish noblewoman, Lady Catherine Gordon , as a bride. Henry VII reacted quickly to this new threat to English security by sending Richard Fox, bishop of Durham, to Scotland with instructions to suggest a marriage alliance between Margaret and James IV. The proposal was received favorably. Margaret was, until her brothers married, the third in line to the throne. The prospect of Margaret's husband taking over England, however, did not appeal to the English. Henry VII swept their objections aside, declaring that in such an event Scotland would be absorbed by the more dominant England, in much the same way as Normandy had been drawn into England in the 12th century.

Papal dispensation for the marriage, which was necessary because Margaret and James had a common great-great-grandfather, was received in July 1500. The marriage settlement was agreed only after Henry had ensured that his daughter's future would be secure. She would receive dower lands sufficient to give her an income of £2,000 a year, and she would have plenty of servants, including at least 24 who were English. The signing of the treaty and the proxy marriage, with Patrick, earl of Bothwell, standing for James IV, took place at Richmond Palace on January 25, 1502.

Margaret's elder brother and heir to the English throne, Arthur, died in April 1502, moving her a step nearer the throne. The Scots, not unnaturally, pressed for her early departure for Scotland. Thus, in June 1503, at the age of 13 years, she left for Edinburgh where she would be married in person to James, a man twice her age. The splendor and pageantry of this journey has been described in great detail by John Young, Somerset herald, who was among the courtiers who accompanied the princess. Henry VII spared no expense in equipping his daughter for the trip and accompanied her as far as his mother's home in Northampton. For the remainder of the journey, she was in the care of Thomas Howard (d.1524) and Agnes Tylney , the earl and countess of Surrey. From the herald's account, it is clear that Margaret acquitted herself well not only during the rituals and formalities of her progress but also through the rigors and deprivations she must have experienced on such a trip.

Thirty-four days after they had left London, Margaret and her party crossed the border into Scotland. The new queen had her first sight of her bridegroom at the castle of the earl of Morton in Dalkeith. James IV (1473–1513), then 30 years old, had led the uprising against his father James III, who died in battle against his son's army. James IV had succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1488 at the age of 15 years. He aspired to the ideals of a medieval monarchy with its courtly graces, chivalrous behavior, and love of music, art and poetry; he had an intelligent and inquiring mind; but he was also vain, melancholic, superstitious, and pious to an extreme. The latter characteristics arose from the personal guilt he felt over the manner of his father's death. Since that day, he had worn an iron belt around his waist, which he never removed, adding a new link each year, as a self-imposed penance. He went on pilgrimages, visiting shrines in Scotland, and each year disappeared into retreat during Lent. His greatest unfulfilled ambition was to go on crusade. He had had several sexual relationships and provided for his illegitimate children, keeping them with him whenever possible. A popular and able king, noted for his kindness and the care and interest he took in his people, he was known to have traveled in disguise in order to discover for himself the needs of the poor and unfortunate.

A portrait of Margaret Tudor painted at this time shows her somberly posed against a conventional background, a plump white-skinned girl with red-gold hair tucked into a jewelled French hood; she has a round face, bovine eyes and a subdued almost sullen expression, which belies her wilful nature. A letter written to her father after her arrival in Scotland expresses her overwhelming unhappiness and homesickness. Although considerate and generous, James was twice her age, the Scottish dialect would have confused her, and Scotland did not appear at first sight to offer the same comforts as England. James lavished gifts on her and provided entertainments to amuse her. At her request, his children were removed from court, but she was too young and spoiled to fully appreciate his efforts to please her.

The marriage was apparently popular and applauded at court. William Dunbar (c. 1460–c.1520), chief poet at the court of King James IV and Queen Margaret, wrote a poem to celebrate the occasion entitled The Thistle and the Rose, which he dedicated to the bride. (This is the earliest record of the use of the thistle as the national emblem of Scotland.) In the poem, he describes the young queen thus:

Nor hold no other flower in such dainty,
As the fresh Rose of colour red and white
For if thou dost, hurt is thine honesty
Considering that no flower is so perfite,
So full of virtue, pleasance and delight,
So full of blissful angelic beauty,
Imperial birth, honour, and dignity.

During the ten years of their marriage, Margaret and James had six children. All except one died before their second birthday, and after each birth Margaret was so ill that her life was despaired of. The one survivor was James, duke of Rothesay, born at Linlithgow Palace, Fife, in April 1512. He was their fourth child and would succeed to the throne as James V. Margaret's sixth child, Alexander, duke of Ross (1514–1515), was born after James IV's death at Flodden Field. Too many pregnancies, following in too quick a succession, together with the cold, draughty, unsanitary conditions prevailing in 16th-century Scottish castles were probably responsible for the high infant mortality. This does, however, provide further evidence of Margaret's stamina and will to survive. Time and again she followed James on pilgrimage to the more remote holy shrines in Scotland in their quest for a living, healthy child.

She managed to endure hardship and disaster, sustained by the fierce Tudor spirit that refused to admit defeat.

—Patricia H. Buchanan

James' marriage to Margaret was part of the "Treaty of Perpetual Peace" signed in 1502 with Henry VII. As long as England and France were at peace, James could reconcile the terms of this treaty with the traditional "auld alliance" between Scotland and France. But when England formally entered the Holy League with Spain and the pope in 1511 against France, James felt obliged to renew the alliance with France, and when England invaded France in 1513, he rallied his country, raised a huge army, and crossed the border into England and to Flodden Field. Margaret's quite desperate efforts to dissuade him were in vain. She appealed to his superstitious nature, by describing her dreams and even orchestrating visions, and to his conscience, by drawing his attention to her pregnancy and the delicate health of their only child. His death on the battlefield left her a bitter and angry woman. She was 24 years old, pregnant, and her 17-month-old son was the new king of Scotland. The golden days of her life were over. For the remainder of it, she was a woman alone fighting to survive.

She continued her regular correspondence with her brother Henry VIII, believing him to have her best interests at heart; he was her only link with happier, more comfortable times. Henry saw in her a useful ally and spy in the Scottish camp and encouraged her to write. Unfortunately, unbeknown to Margaret and sometimes to Henry as well, the letters were frequently intercepted, altered or delayed as best suited the bearers and/or the recipient.

James' will granted her the regency and guardianship of the new king. This unprecedented move, contravening established Scottish custom, upset a court already devastated by the loss of life at Flodden Field. Every noble family in Scotland had lost its head, its heir or both. The remaining younger sons were inexperienced and untried, intent only on revenge and asserting their new authority. It was now that Margaret had need of those very characteristics she lacked. Without the virtues of patience, wisdom, and political awareness, already held in suspicion because of her birth and relationship to the English king, she floundered and lost control. To be fair, it would have needed someone of extraordinary ability to have succeeded in this situation. The court was still divided between those who supported England and those who supported France. Despite Flodden Field, there were still those in the pay of England, just as there were those who received pensions from France. The French supporters demanded that Margaret be replaced as regent by John Stewart, 2nd duke of Albany, who was the king's nearest adult male kinsman and as such had this traditional right.

John Stewart was the son of James III's exiled brother, Alexander Stewart, 1st duke of Albany. At the time of James V's accession, he was 34 years old. John Stewart was to all intents and purposes French, having been brought up there by his French mother Anne de la Tour (d.1512). He was married to a French heiress also named Anne de la Tour (c. 1496–1524) and had risen high in the service of the French crown, holding the post of lord high admiral. Although childless, he was rich and happy and had no desire to leave France and assert his claim to the Scottish crown. The duke of Albany was as much a victim of circumstances as Margaret and was used by both Henry VIII and Francis I, king of France, to satisfy their personal aspirations.

Margaret's hasty, secret marriage to Archibald Douglas, 6th earl of Angus, entered into for whatever reason, not only deepened the gulf between the factions but jeopardized her right to the regency and guardianship of the king. It was only a matter of time before her sons were removed from her, and she was daily proceeding in fear of her life and theirs. More than one historian has intimated that the marriage was made under duress. The secrecy surrounding it and the fact that it was conducted on Douglas land by a kinsman of the Douglases lend weight to their claims.

If she had looked for protection and support from the Douglases, she was disappointed. Angus' behavior throughout their marriage was ambiguous. How much of Margaret's actions were motivated directly or indirectly by him is debatable at this distance. She was continually on the move, never knowing whom she could trust, frequently making, what seem now, rash, impetuous decisions which only served to increase the precariousness of her situation. On his part, the "young witless fool," as his uncle Gavin Douglas described Angus, gradually developed into a cunning and ruthless man, whose actions caused Margaret to fear and distrust him. As she realized that she could, in fact, trust no one, she became, in Hester Chapman 's words, a "predatory, violent and menacing figure."

The duke of Albany's arrival in Scotland in 1515 saw Scottish internal politics enter a new phase. Almost immediately, there was a battle of wills between Margaret and Albany over the custody of the young king. When her sons James and Alexander, the baby duke of Ross, were taken into the custody of Albany, Margaret, heavily pregnant once more, escaped to England. In the relative safety of Harbottle Castle in Northumberland, she gave birth to her daughter, Margaret Douglas . After regaining her health, Margaret Tudor continued on south to her brother Henry VIII's court in London. Angus remained in Scotland, always promising to join her but never doing so. Instead, he helped himself to her rents and revenues and comforted himself with a new mistress. Leading the pro-English faction, he continued to keep the English court informed regarding Scottish affairs. Henry's spymasters knew much more about Angus' movements and whereabouts than Margaret did.

Margaret's stay in London was a happy one. For once, she had the luxury of female company whom she could love and trust. She spent many hours with her younger sister, Mary Tudor, and her sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon , but the visit came to an end when the news reached them that Albany had left Scotland for France. Margaret returned to Scotland hoping to regain the regency and possession of her remaining son James. Alexander, duke of Ross, had died in 1515. It was not to be. She was not even allowed to visit James. Angus' behavior was now public knowledge; Margaret ceased to be part of his faction, remaining neutral for a short time, and, in 1519, applied to the pope for a divorce. Her action was immediately condemned by her brother, who had his own reasons for wanting the marriage kept intact.

Albany returned in 1521 and Margaret turned to him for help, finding him an unexpected ally in her desire to divorce Angus. They were seen together so much that rumors of a sexual liaison circulated and were reported to Henry VIII. There is little evidence to substantiate the rumors.

Angus took custody of their daughter Margaret Douglas, who was forced to travel about with him, before eventually finding a home at the English court as companion to Mary (I) , daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Margaret and Angus never lived together again and, even though she was granted her divorce in 1525 by Pope Clement VII, Angus never acknowledged the divorce or recognized her third marriage. He himself did not remarry until after Margaret Tudor's death.

When Albany went back to France in 1524 never, as it turned out, to set foot in Scotland again, Margaret turned to James Hamilton, 1st earl of Arran, the sworn enemy of Angus and the Douglases. With the support of Arran and Henry Stewart, her treasurer and lord chancellor, she finally got possession of her son James, now 13 years old. It was agreed that he should be in the custody of the leading nobles in rotation. But when it was Angus' turn, he refused to release James, and for three years Margaret and her supporters sought to free the young king. This was finally achieved in 1528 and James, now in his 16th year, was deemed of an age to assume the trappings of government. Margaret and Henry Stewart were his chief advisers.

Margaret's infatuation with the young Henry Stewart had already been noted. It had been reported to Cardinal Wolsey, and thence to Henry VIII, that Margaret had "a young man about her who kept all seals and orders everything." Henry Stewart was a likeable young man who was attracted to older women. He was 32 years old; she was 38. He had none of the brashness or open defiance of Angus, and he supported rather than dominated her, but their marriage in 1527 was no happier than her earlier ones. It cost her her political influence, and she soon grew tired of him and began to despise him. Eventually, she sought to divorce him, for he, like Angus, had misappropriated her revenues and taken a mistress.

James V appeared to consent to the marriage. He created Henry Stewart the first lord Methven and bestowed on the couple the lands of Methven in Perthshire. Henry was also made Master of Ordnance. Despite the gradual breakup of the marriage, Stewart retained the favor of the king while Margaret withdrew more and more from the court, spending her time at Methven.

During the last years of her life, her relationship with her son remained good, and she was on equally good terms with her daughters-in-law. In 1536, James V married Madeleine of France , elder daughter of Francis I and Claude de France . Madeleine died of consumption within six months of her arrival in Scotland. His second marriage, in 1538, was to Mary of Guise , widow of the duc de Longueville. When the two infant sons of this marriage died within days of each other, it was to Margaret that the young couple turned for comfort. James' subsequent decline into melancholy following this tragedy alienated him from everyone, including his mother.

In 1536, Margaret Tudor interceded with Henry VIII on behalf of her daughter, Margaret Douglas, after her hasty and ill-judged marriage with Thomas Howard (d. 1536), son of Thomas Howard and his first wife Elizabeth Tylney and uncle to Anne Boleyn . The penalty for marriage without the king's consent, and to a kinsman of the disgraced queen, sent Margaret Douglas and Thomas Howard to the Tower. Margaret Tudor's intervention saved her daughter's life; Thomas Howard was executed. However, Margaret Douglas was still in danger, because she was, after all, a Tudor and could have a claim on the English throne. To safeguard against this, Henry VIII had her declared illegitimate on the grounds that her mother's marriage to Angus had been annulled. Young Margaret Douglas' second marriage in 1544 to Matthew Stewart, earl of Lennox, was more favorably received. It was their son, Henry, Lord Darnley, who would marry Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots , James V's only surviving child.

Margaret Tudor died alone except for her servants at Methven on October 18, 1541. Her sudden illness had not been deemed fatal. A message sent to her son arrived too late for him to attend her. She left all her goods to her daughter, but James ignored her wishes, taking what little there was for himself. He organized an elaborate funeral for his mother who was interred in the Carthusian Abbey of St. John, Perth, where many members of the royal family of Scotland were buried. The tomb was later desecrated by Calvinist soldiers. A slab of blue stone now marks the place where it once was.

Historians have tended to overlook Margaret Tudor, her life overshadowed by the dominance and brilliance of the reign of Henry VIII and played out against the confusion of Scottish internal politics during the minority of James V. But during her lifetime, Margaret Tudor could not easily be disregarded. Because of Henry VIII's inability to produce an heir, she was for a long time in the line of succession to the throne of England. This gave her an importance that no one could ignore. Married as part of a peace treaty, she was penalized for her efforts to keep the peace between England and Scotland. She was a victim of the ambitions of ruthless men. She never succeeded in forming a trusting relationship with them and was constantly betrayed by them. Her rents and revenues were withheld or misappropriated, leaving her almost destitute and dependent on others. She never had full knowledge of the facts or was wise to the full politics of any situation. Frequently, information of great importance was withheld from her with malice and intent. She was also a victim of her own impetuosity and belief that as a Tudor she could do no wrong. But she never lost the common touch and remained popular with the people. It was in her character to fight against misfortune, and she did just that, showing great courage and stamina in the will to survive.

Madeleine of France (1520–1537)

French princess . Name variations: Madeleine Valois; Madeleine de France; Magdelaine de France. Born on August 10, 1520, in St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, France; died at age 17 at Holyrood, Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 7, 1537; interred at Holyrood; elder daughter of Francis I, king of France (r. 1515–1547), and Claude de France (1499–1524); married James V (1512–1542), king of Scots (r. 1513–1542), on January 1, 1537, at Notre Dame, Paris, France.

In 1603, with the accession of her great-grandson, James VI of Scotland, as James I of England, the crowns of England and Scotland were finally united.


Buchanan, Patricia H. Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985.

Chapman, Hester W. The Sisters of Henry VIII. London: Jonathan Cape, 1969.

Mackie, R.L. King James IV of Scotland. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1958.

suggested reading:

Bingham, Caroline. James V, King of Scotland, 1512–1542. London, 1971.

Ellis, H. Original Letters Illustrative of English History, Vol. I. 1824.

Leland, J. de Rebus Britannicus Collectanea. Vols. IV and V. Edited by Thomas Hearne, London, 1774.

P.R.O. Letters and State Papers of Henry VIII. London, H.M.S.O., 1830–52.

Strickland, Agnes. Lives of Queens of Scotland and Princesses of England. Vol. I. 2nd ed. London, 1853.

Wood, Mary A.E. Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain from the beginning of 12th c. to close of reign of Queen Mary. 3 Vols. London, 1846.


Margaret Tudor. Anon. (National Portrait Gallery, London, England).

Margaret Tudor with the Earl of Angus by Anon (private collection of the Marquess of Bute and Rothesay; now in National Scottish Portrait Gallery). The man Angus is pointing to has been identified by some as Albany but is more probably Henry Stewart.

Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots by Daniel Mytens (private collection of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II).

Queen Margaret praying to Saint Margaret from the Book of Hours given to Margaret by her father, Henry VII (private collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England).

Margaret E. Lynch , M.A., Teaching Fellow in the Department of History at Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom, and an independent scholar

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Margaret Tudor (1489–1541)

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