Tuesday, 19 October 2010

October 18th, 1541: Death of Margaret Tudor, Queen Mother of Scotland

Claire Ridgway over at The Anne Boleyn Files marks the anniversary of the death of Henry VIII's eldest sister, Margaret Tudor, Queen Mother of Scotland. The widow of the late King James IV, who had predeceased her by twenty-eight years, it was through their granddaughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, that James and Margaret have become the ancestors of every monarch to sit on the British throne since 1603.

The second child and eldest daughter of King Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York, Margaret was born at the Palace of Westminster in London during the final weekend of November 1489 and christened in honour of her paternal grandmother, the Countess of Derby. At the age of thirteen, she was placed into an arranged marriage with James IV, the thirty year-old King of Scots. Although she lacked the beauty of either her mother or her younger sister, the Queen of France, Margaret was still considered attractive and vivacious. As later events would show, she certainly had a taste for chosing her own mates - apparently something of a family trait in Henry VII's children.

The marriage between the Scottish king and the English princess lasted for ten years, in which time Margaret was pregnant six times - although thanks to 16th-century infant mortality, only one of those children, the future King James V, survived into adulthood.

Years later, Margaret was to be the only one of Henry VIII's surviving family to publicly approve of her brother's separation from Katherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. Margaret and her new sister-in-law even exchanged apparently chatty letters and gifts with one another and Margaret showed where her sympathies lay by swiftly removing her daughter (also named Margaret) from the company of her cousin, Princess Mary, and placing her into the household of the new Queen Anne. Relations between Margaret and her former sister-in-law, Katherine, had not always been warm, which perhaps explains Margaret's enthusiasm for the Boleyn marriage. Margaret had been left a pregnant widow when her husband, James, invaded England in 1513 and was defeated and killed by the English armies at the Battle of Flodden. Exultant at the victory, Queen Katherine had wanted to send the entirety of the dead King's body as a present to her husband, King Henry, who was then off fighting a rather pointless war in France; it was only when the Earl of Surrey begged the Queen to consider how such a gesture would be viewed by the rest of Christendom that Queen Katherine relented and instead dispatched King James's blood-stained coat. Neither was a proper Christian burial was not arranged for the dead King of Scots, in contravention of the proper etiquette of medieval chivalry; some said his body was buried at Sheen Abbey, others at Hume Castle. A rather more lurid (and probably ridiculous) story is that Queen Katherine had him posthumously decapitated and the head buried at the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel in Wood Street, London. Whatever happened - and it's possible that after stripping him on the Queen's orders, the English soldiers had simply hurled him into a communal grave - the exact whereabouts of Margaret's first husband are still a mystery.

Alone and friendless, forced to grapple with the thankless task of being Regent since her son James V was only a toddler when he came to the throne, Margaret - whose affection for Scotland can probably generously be described as "lukewarm" - soon fell in love and married for a second time to a Scottish lord. His name was Lord Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus, and by him Margaret produced another child - a daughter, Margaret, who would make her career at the court of her English uncle, as has already been discussed. Like her mother, younger Margaret also seemed determined to chose her own men, rather than have other people chose them for her. And, like so many of the Tudors, she seemed to find members of the Howard clan absolutely irresistible. She was to earn her fearsome uncle's wrath after being romantically involved with Anne Boleyn's uncle, Lord Howard, and later with Catherine Howard's brother, Charles.

In any case, regardless of their daughter's romantic shennanigans, the marriage between Margaret Tudor and Archibald Douglas was apparently not an altogether happy one and in 1527, Margaret secured a divorce from him, on the flimmiest of theological grounds - something which, quite ironically, earned her a strict lecture from her brother in London. (Secretly, however, it's my hunch that the ease with which Margaret secured a divorce from the Vatican on the most tenuous and, indeed patently false, grounds, led Henry to believe that acquiring his divorce from Katherine of Aragon would be equally easy. He failed to realise that it wasn't theology that was at play here, but politics. Katherine mattered; Archibald didn't.) Not long after ridding herself of the irksome Archibald, Margaret married her lover, Lord Methven, to whom she was still married at the time of her death in 1541.

As Claire records, death came for the former Queen at her husband's castle in Perthshire, in the form of a massive stroke. She was fifty-two years old at the time and her body was conducted to the nearby Carthusian Abbey of Saint John, where it was buried with due ceremony.

She was survived by her son, King James V, and her daughter, Margaret, the future Countess of Lennox, whose affair with Charles Howard Margaret had been (perhaps hypocritically) infuriated to discover, via an angry letter from King Henry, shortly before her death. Younger Margaret was lucky, however; a more serious punishment was spared her when Queen Catherine's own adultery diverted the English King's attention from his niece's altogether more trivial romantic misdemeanour.

Margaret Tudor was the penultimate of the children of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York to die - her younger brother, King Henry VIII, outlived her by just over five years.

For Claire's full account of Margaret's political significance, read here.


  1. Even though Margaret may have supported her brother, he purposely diverted the succession from her heirs to their sister Mary's--and Mary had NOT agreed with their brother's matrimonial arrangements. Thus the Grey sisters were in Henry's line of succession and not James V and Mary, his daughter. That's partially because Henry did not want a foreign monarch to reign in England!

  2. Absolutely, Stephanie. Although some have suggested that it may have had as much to do with the fact that he preferred Mary personally and obviously had loved her second husband, Charles Brandon, very much and he would rather have seen their heirs on the throne than Margaret's. Equally, others have suggested that after Margaret the younger's dalliances with Thomas and Charles Howard, Henry was loathe to place the Crown on her head. I'm inclined to agree with you though and say that irrespective of Margaret's past loyalty to the Tudor family's party line and Mary's feud with Anne Boleyn, what counted in the end had nothing to do with Margaret or Mary's past performance or personalities and everything to do with the fact that Margaret's immediate heirs were Scottish and Mary's were English. Had Mary produced children with her first husband, Louis XII, I imagine Henry would have preferred to see the Crown placed in the Stewart line, rather than the Valois - but, who knows? It's equally possible that after the humiliation of the war with Scotland in 1542 and Mary Stewart's impending betrothal to the French Dauphin, Henry was doubly reluctant to place the Crown within easy reach of the House of Stewart.


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