The Thistle and the Rose - the Life of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland

The producers of The Tudors have stated that they combined Princess Margaret and Princess Mary into one composite character called Princess Margaret because they were worried that viewers would get confused between Henry's sister and Henry's daughter. Which is Hollywood speak, for "we're too lazy to actually try and make a distinction in the script." Let's remember for a moment, that the future Mary I wasn't even born yet when the events concerning Mary Tudor's marriage to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk took place. That's how the writer's could have made the distinction!

What of Henry's elder sister, Princess Margaret? What was she doing while events were unfolding in England that changed forever the history of the church in England, as well as the monarchy? Well, Mary was in Scotland, a widow after the death of her husband, James III, and about to be divorced from her second husband, Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus.

But let's backtrack a moment. How did Princess Margaret go from being the pampered eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England to Queen of Scotland? A life of that was as contrary and tempestuous as that of her granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots? Both women married handsome younger Earls with more beauty than sense, who had powerful fathers that got them mixed up with the notoriously fractious Scottish nobility and the English monarchy. Both women married their second husbands for love, and both later regretted their impulsive decisions.

Margaret was the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. She was born on November 28, 1489 in the Palace of Westminster, a year and a half before her more famous brother Henry VIII. Because she was the first Tudor princess, Margaret was a valuable prize on the European marriage market and her father Henry VII was anxious to make a grand match to shore up his own shaky claim to the English throne. Despite the Tudor descent from John of Gaunt (Edward III's son, the Duke of Lancaster and father of Henry IV) and also from Princess Katherine of Valois, there was still the view in Europe and even in the kingdom that the Tudors were nothing but upstarts who had usurped the throne from the rightful King. Not even Henry's marriage to Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth had silence the dissenters.

Margaret however had no such qualms. She reveled in being a Tudor princess, and had no doubt that they were meant to rule England. And not just England but Scotland as welll. From an early age, Margaret had a love of pageantry and pomp, something that she shared with her younger brother Henry, and what she missed when she came to the Scottish court. Her education, such as it was, was guided by her formidable grandmother Margaret Beaufort. Like most royal parents, Henry VII was a distant but loving father. During the early years of Margaret's life, he was too busy trying to put down rebellions to spend too much time with her and her brothers. Her mother, in the meantime, was busy either giving birth or pregnant, each pregnancy taking more and more out of her.

As the eldest princess, Margaret loved court life, wearing beautiful clothes, being admired, as well as dancing, music and playing cards. Like most royals, she had no other responsibilities other than being decorative. Like her brother, she also developed a stubborn personality, she was impatient and hated it when she didn't get her way. She was also English through and through, which would cause her problems later in Scotland, when she had a tendencey to put English interests ahead of everything else.

When she was seven years old, she was betrothed to James IV of Scotland in 1496. Her father sought the alliance for two reasons, James had been supporting Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the English throne, and an alliance with Scotland would secure her brother Arthur's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Spain was refusing to allow Catherine to be sent to England unless Henry's throne was secure. At the time, Spain was the only European country that recognized Henry's reign. Also, an alliance with Scotland would break the alliance with France, a long standing alliance that had been a thorne in many an English King's side. France had long been the enemy of England dating back to Edward III's claims to the French throne. By this time, the only part of France that remained in English hands was Calais.

James IV was amenable to the match. Although he was 16 years older than Princess Margaret, such an age difference was nothing new in royal matches, and it was certainly a darn sight better than the 34 years that later separated her sister Mary and Louis XII. Even Catherine of Aragon was several years older than Henry VIII who she later married after the death of Prince Arthur. A true Renaissance prince, James IV could speak many languages, he shored up the Royal Navy in Scotland, and was a patron of the arts. When he discovered that his part in the rebellion against his father James III had caused his death, he wore a metal belt around his waist in penance. He was charismatic as well as melancholy. A true romantic, he had been in and out of love, and had several mistresses, who bore him a number of illegitimate children.

One of his mistresses, Lady Margaret Drummond, he loved so much that he had thoughts of marrying her, which sent his privy countil into a tizzy. Marrying any member of the Scottish nobility would raise that family to the highest in the land, which couldn't be allowed to happen (see Mary Queen of Scots and the uproar that went up in Scotland when she married her first cousin Henry, Lord Darnley). Like most Kings of Scotland, when he wasn't fighting the English, James was having to keep trouble from brewing between the Scottish nobility, who seemed to spend more time fighting with each and with the King, than they did anything else. The idea of marrying Margaret Drummond came to an end, when she was poisoned along with her two sisters in 1502. James was distraught, but he quickly moved on taking a new mistress, Lady Janet Kennedy. Still Margaret Drummond is considered to be the love of his life.

This was the country that Margaret was marrying into. To restore Scottish pride and to please his new bride, James spent an exhorbitant amount of money on presents for Margaret as well as a grand trousseau for himself. He spent so much money that he had to fudge a bit when Henry VII inquired as to how much would be paid to Margaret's ladies-in-waiting who would accompany her to Scotland.

Margaret was married to James by proxy in 1502 when she was thirteen years old. Her brother Henry was incensed when he realized that his sister, held higher precedence at court than he did, throwing a magnificent tantrum, the first of many that he would throw through out his life when he didn't like something. Soon after tragedy struck when both her brother Arthur died suddenly after taking ill, and then her mother died after giving birth in rapid succession to two stillborn sons. She died in early 1503, at the age of 37, having given birth 9 times, with only 3 surviving children, Margaret, Henry and Mary to show for her short life.

After her marriage, Margaret spent a year in England getting ready for her move to Scotland. It had been advised by the Pope that she wait a year before consummating her marriage so that she would be more fit for childbearing. Her feelings on the death of her brother and mother are not known. The journey north to Scotland was a grand progression, today there is still a plaque in York commerating the exact spot that Margaret entered the gates of the city. On August 8, 1503, she and James were officially married at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. The Scottish poet William Dunbar wrote a poem called The Thistle and the Rose to commerorate the marriage:

Sweet lusty lovesome lady clear
Most might Kinges daughter dear,
born of a Princess most serene
Welcome to Scotland to be Queen

Margaret and James had six children of whom only the future James V lived to maturity. Although it was a political marriage, Margaret and James seemed to get only well, although his many mistresses seemd to cause her distress. 6 years later, Henry VII was dead and the new King Henry, hothead that he was, had no use for diplomacy. Relations between Scotland and England deteriorated. When war broke out between England and France as a result of the Italian Wars (which are too complicated to go into here, suffice it to say it had something to do with a dispute over the Duchy of Milan and Naples which eventually ended up involving most of Europe at that time. Wikipedia does a better job than I could do.) , James found himself in a difficult position as his obligations under the Auld Alliance with France conflicted with the treaty made he had made with England in 1502 which led to his marriage to Margaret.

Henry attempted to invade France in 1513, so James turned around and by declared war on England. Hoping to take advantage of Henry's absence, he led an invading army southward, only to be killed, with many of his nobles and common soldiers, at Flodden Field on September 9. A body was recovered from the battlefield and taken to London for burial. Because he was excommunicated, the embalmed body lay unburied for many years in the monastery of Sheen in Surrey and was lost during the Reforamtion. James' bloodstained coat was sent to Henry by his queen.

A rumour persisted that James had survived and had gone into exile, but there is no evidence to support it. Margaret was left a widow at a relatively young age with a young son who barely more than a year old, was now King of Scotland, and she was pregnant with her last child who was born in April of 1514. James IV's will had left Margaret in charge as Regent until James V reached his majority, as long as she remained a widow, which didn't sit well with the Scottish nobility. However, Parliament met at Stirling and confirmed Margaret as Regent.

Still, Margaret was the sister of Scotland's long time enemy, and she was a woman. A pro-French faction at court, headed by the Duke of Albany, started to take shape. Albany, had been born and raised in France, and was third in line to the throne. At first Margaret proved herself to be a capable Regent, she managed to reconcile all the disagreeing parties, and Scotland made peace with England in July of 1514. But Margaret's fatal mistake was to ally herself with the house of Douglad, in particular Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus who she fell in love with, a man his own uncle described as a "young, witless fool."

Without thinking about the consequences (sound familiar?), Margaret and Archie were married secretly on August 6th, 1514. When it became public, it not only alienated the nobility, but also strengthened the pro-French faction at court. According to her husband's will, she had also forfeited her place as Regent. The Privy Council also decided that she had forfeited her right to her son, James V, in retaliation she took him and her younger son Alexander to Stirling Castle. The Duke of Albany was now regent of Scotland, and his first step was to take custody of the two princes. Margaret finally surrendered custody. She was pregnant by Douglas, and she retired to Edinburgh Castle to await the birth. Her brother Henry had urged her to flee with the princes to England, but she refused. In October, she gave birth to Lady Margaret Douglas, the future mother of Henry, Lord Darnley, consort to his cousin Mary, Queen of Scots.

While recovering from the birth of her daughter, she learned of the death of her youngest son. There were rumors that Albany had murdered the prince but Margaret refused to believe it, since it would have made more sense for him to have murdered James instead. While Margaret was in the north of England, her husband the Earl of Angus, returned to Scotland to make peace with the regent, also known as taking care of his own hide.

Margaret took her daughter and went to London to visit with Henry. It was the first time she had set foot on English soil in 12 years. She spent the year in England, finally returning to Scotland in 1517, after a treaty had been concluded between Albany and Henry brokered by Wolsey. Albany was in France, arranging for the betrothal of the young King to a French princess. Although she was graciously received back in Scotland, she was still not trusted, and her access to James was limited.

Meanwhile she had problems in her second marriage. Margaret learned that while she was gone, her husband had been living with his old mistress, Lady Jane Stewart, while living off of her money. Margaret wanted a divorce. When she wrote to her brother hinting at her plans, Henry was not pleased. Douglas was pro-English, a useful ally against the pro-French faction at court. Pissed at her brother's attitude, Margaret went over to Albany's side. While Albany was in France, Margaret resumed the Regency of Scotland, meanwhile her husband feuded with the Earl of Arran. Margaret bounced back and forth between the two men in terms of her support.

Meanwhile upon Albany's return, rumors were spread by her husband, that she and Albany were more than cordial, they were lovers. The truth was, Margaret had finally absorbed just how difficult Scottish politics really were. Albany was useful to her, in terms of access to her son, and his help in obtaining her a divorce. The next several years brought more alliances and broken agreements as Albany was finally removed from power and James accorded his full powers as King at the tender age of 12. Margaret now allied herself with the Earl of Arran and the Hamilton family, and Parliament recognized her as the chief councillor to the young King.

However, Margaret's new alliance with the Hamiltons's didn't please everyone. Her brother made matters worse by allowing her husband to return to Scotland. She fell in love with Henry Stewart, and promoted him to a senior office, pissing off the Earl of Lennox among others. The disgruntled nobles formed an alliance with her estranged husband. When Angus arrived in the capital with a group of armed men, Margaret ordered cannons fired on him from both the castle and Holyrood Palance. Admitted to the countil of Regency in 1525, Angus took custody of James and refused to give him up, exercising power on his behalf for 3 years, leading to Jame's intense hatred of the Douglas clan and the English.

Margaret tried to resist by this time she was obssessed with divorcing Angus. She was prepared to do anything, including claiming that James hadn't died at Flodden. Finally in 1527, Pope Clement VII granted her petition. As soon as she learned the news, she married Henry Stewart. Finally in 1528, her son James managed to get out from under Angus's thumb and ruled in his own right. He created his mother's husband, Lord Methven in honor of "the great love he bore to his dearest mother."

All of Margaret's life in Scotland, she had tried to bring about a better understanding between the country of her birth and her adopted country. She tried to broker a meeting between her brother and her son, envisioning an event along the lines of The Field of Cloth of Gold meeting between Henry and Francois I, but it came to naught. James was too suspicious of Henry. "I am weary of Scotland," she declared, to the point of revealing state secrets to her brother.

She had even more problems with her third marriage. Henry Stewart was proving to be even more of a pain in the ass than Archibald Douglas. Not only did he cheat on her, but he spent her money freely. She wanted another divorce but was thwarted by her son. In June 1538, Margaret welcomed Jame's bride Mary de Guise. To the surprise of many, the two women got on famously. Mary made sure that her mother-in-law made regular appearances at court.

Magaret died of a severe stroke in 1541 and was buried in Perth. How she would have pleased to know that her great-grandson finally ascended the throne of England, uniting the two kingdoms into one. Margaret was a true survivor, however her vanity and capriciousness sometimes got in the way of her common sense. Like her brother Henry VIII and her sister, her personal life often got in the way, and her pursuit of her own interests led her to betray her adopted country, her husband, her brother and her son in turns.

Still Margaret should be admired for the way that she attempted to hold power at a time when women had none. She proved herself to be a skillful politician at times, holding her own against the Scottish nobility, a feat that not even her own granddaughter could accomplish.

Sources: Wikipedia

English A great post on Margaret, particularly her early childhood, although unfinished.

For more information:

Buchanan, Patricia; Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots, 1985.

Perry, Maria; The Sisters of Henry VIII: The Tumultuous Lives of Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France, 1998

Historical fiction:

The Thistle and the Rose - Jean Plaidy (part of her series on the Kings and Queens of England which Crown is republishing in trade paperback. Excellent book)


Unknown said…
It's interesting how invovled women were in ruling Scotland for this period of time. None of them had an easy time of it but Margaret met the challenges much better than Mary Queen of Scotts.
I think that Margaret was in a much better position than Mary, Queen of Scots. If Mary de Guise had lived long enough, and had been able to guide Mary, Queen of Scots, when she arrived back in Scotland after having spent the majority of her years in France, things might have been different. Poor, Mary Queen of Scots had no idea how to deal with the changes that had taken place, particularly with John Knox. The Protestant reformation in England and Scotland sort of passed her by. I hope to post Mary's story eventually.
I just wanted to say that your blog is very accessible and filed with information that I have enjoyed reading here and not elsewhere yet! :) Thank you for starting this blog and for continuing to be a history buff. Awesome blog.

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