On the 8th October 1515, Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, was born. She was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the King’s sister, and so was Henry VIII’s niece. She was born at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland, as her mother went into labour after she fled Scotland. Her father was Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and he was suffering difficulties in Scotland. Margaret and her mother stayed in England until June 1517, when Henry sent them both back.
Margaret’s parents’ marriage was not a happy one. When Margaret Tudor arrived back in Scotland, she discovered that her husband had been living with Lady Jane Stewart, a former lover. He had also been living on his wife’s money. In October 1518, she wrote to Henry VIII, hinting at divorce:
“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 mind 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.”
Archibald took custody of Margaret for many years, but in 1530 she joined the household of Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary. They became and remained lifelong friends.
When Anne Boleyn’s court was established, Margaret was appointed as a lady-in-waiting. Around then she is said to have fell in love with Lord Thomas Howard, son of Anne Boleyn’s uncle and so her cousin. By the end of 1535, Thomas and Margaret had become secretly betrothed. However, Henry learnt of Margaret’s engagement to Thomas and split the couple up. This was bad timing as, earlier in 1536, Anne Boleyn had fell out of favour and had been executed. Both of Henry’s children had been declared bastards, leaving Margaret next in the line of succession. What she had done was politically outrageous, especially as Thomas had been connected to Anne Boleyn. Both were thrown in the tower. Margaret was released when she became ill, but was sent to Syon Abbey and kept under house arrest. She was released on 29th October 1537, but Thomas died in the Tower on 31st. He had, however, only just escaped execution.
Margaret ended up serving both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, but was sent away again when she fell in love with Catherine’s brother. She was back in favour in 1543 when she acted as a bridesmaid at the wedding of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr. In 1544 she married Matthew Stewart, a descendant of James I of Scotland. Their first child, Henry, died in infancy in 1545, but his brother, who was born a week after his death, survived. He was also called Henry and is known for his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots and his murder in 1567. Margaret and Matthew ended up having eight children.
Margaret was cut out of Henry VIII’s will after an argument, but was treated well later on during Mary I’s reign. She attended Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain as Mary’s chief lady. She was also the chief mourner at her funeral. She therefore did not support Elizabeth when she came to the throne and instead supported Mary, Queen of Scots. It was good news for her when her son became betrothed to Mary, two different claims to the throne uniting. Elizabeth however retaliated and sent her to the Tower in 1566.
On 19th February 1567, she was told that her husband and son had been killed. It was not correct. Her son had been killed, but her husband was still alive. Eventually, she was released. For a brief time she denounced her daughter-in-law but ended up reconciling with her.
Her husband was killed on 4th September 1571 and in 1574 Margaret was allowed to visit Scotland accompanied by her only living child, Charles. Charles met and fell in love with Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of Lady Shrewsbury. The couple married but once again displeased Elizabeth I. Elizabeth Cavendish’s mother, Bess of Hardwick, and Margaret were thrown into the Tower, but Margaret was released. She went to live with her son and his new wife in Stepney.
Charles died of tuberculosis in 1576, leaving his mother, wife and daughter. Margaret helped care for his daughter, Lady Arbella, but she did not outlive her son by very long. A few days before her death, she dined with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and this led to rumours of her being poisoned. However, there is no evidence for this. Margaret was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Henry VII Chapel.
On This Day in Tudor History, Claire Ridgway
Portrait of Lady Margaret Douglas