Margaret Tudor: Gateway to the United Kingdom, Part III: A Rose with Thorns

Aug28,2015 #Margaret Tudor
James I (James VI) as a boy, attributed to Rowland Lockey, after Arnold Bronckorst.
James I (James VI) as a boy, attributed to Rowland Lockey, after Arnold Bronckorst.

Today we have the third part of Heather R. Darsie’s series on Margaret Tudor. A big thank you to Heather for writing these. You can catch up with Parts I and II at:

Tragedy struck Queen Margaret when her loving husband died on 9 September 1513 at the Battle of Flodden, leaving their 17-month-old son as king. Although she may not have known at the time, Margaret was also two months pregnant. Now queen dowager, Margaret had to act quickly to protect not only herself and family, but also the entire realm of Scotland. Scotland was a recently unified country, with the last independent isles of Scotland having submitted to James IV in 1493. Also, there was the current war going on between England, where Margaret’s younger brother was king, and France. The death of Margaret’s husband potentially exposed Scotland to civil war on two fronts: first, bitter in-fighting between the Scottish lords over territory and dominance, and second, who would hold the regency for the toddler-king James V and be the de facto ruler of Scotland?

Margaret’s only surviving child was crowned king on 21 September 1513 in the chapel at Stirling Castle, where she and her toddler son were staying while Margaret’s husband went to fight the English. Parliament met at Stirling Castle shortly after James IV’s death and did confirm Margaret as regent for James V. This made Margaret the most powerful person, man or woman, in Scotland. Margaret was also sister to the aggressive English king. As a result, the Scottish nobility possessed an innate distrust of Margaret.

Plans were being formed to replace Margaret as regent with John Stewart, Duke of Albany. John Stewart was a descendant of James II of Scotland; John’s father, a product of James II’s second marriage, had fled Scotland for France. John grew up in France with his French mother, where he was also recognized as Count of Auvergne and Lauraguais. Throughout his life, John was either the heir presumptive or second in line to the Scottish throne. His return to Scotland in spring 1514 at the invitation of parliament almost started a civil war, with Scotland being divided between pro-French and pro-English factions. With the ascension of James V, John was now second in line to throne after Alexander Stewart, Duke of Ross. was born to Margaret on 30 April 1514.

Margaret showed political acumen during her time as regent, assisting in effecting peace between the Auld Alliance and England in 1514. By summer 1514, it was apparent that Margaret, Queen Dowager and Regent of Scotland, was drawing rather close to the Douglas family. In particular, Margaret seemed fond of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Archibald had recently inherited his title, as he lost his father at the battle of Flodden. Perhaps Margaret and Archibald were able to bond over their mutual grief from the Battle of Flodden. On 6 August 1514, Archibald and Margaret were married in secret. A wildly unpopular move, John Stewart blockaded Margaret at Stirling Castle, resulting in Margaret ultimately relenting to John, who became regent and gained custody over James V and the infant Alexander in early 1515. Margaret then fled to London by obtaining permission to travel to Linlithgow Palace. Safely in London by October 1515, Margaret gave birth to the future Countess of Lennox and daughter of Archibald, the Lady Margaret Douglas.

Henry VIII gave Margaret a warm welcome, lodging her in Scotland Yard, the historic home of Scottish kings. After a stay of roughly two years, Margaret returned to her adoptive country of Scotland in 1517. Upon arriving, she had learned that Archibald was living off her money and keeping the company of another woman. Margaret did attempt to reconcile with Archibald, but to no avail. She wrote to her brother, “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.”

Margaret would not secure her divorce from Archibald until 1527, and not without some help from John Stewart.
The regency of James V ended in August 1524, after a bold political move by Margaret. James V’s regency ended only by Margaret organizing a force to end the regency. John Stewart had recently gone back to France and Margaret organized with other Scottish lords to deliver James V from Stirling Castle to the capital of Edinburgh. However, Archibald, now estranged from Margaret, seized custody of James V in July 1525. James was held as Archibald’s prisoner for three years. With the assistance of Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Margaret’s brother Henry VIII, James V was finally able to escape the clutches of his stepfather Archibald in 1528, after Margaret had divorced Archibald.

Almost immediately after divorcing Archibald, Margaret entered into what was to be another unhappy marriage with Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. Margaret was to have no children by Henry Stewart. Margaret and Henry Stewart did hold influence over James V until approximately 1534, when a meeting Margaret had arranged between her son and brother was frustrated by members of James V’s council, which ultimately led to James V losing trust in his mother. Margaret attempted to divorce Henry Stewart in 1537, only to be reconciled to him in approximately 1539.

Margaret slipped quietly away from life at Metheven Castle on 18 October 1541. During her lifetime, Margaret had been not only a queen consort, but also the de facto ruler of Scotland. Margaret was an expert at intrigue and certainly had no fear of standing up against men for what Margaret believed was best for her children and Scotland. Margaret’s son, James V, became the father of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary, Queen of Scots, married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the son of Margaret’s daughter Lady Douglas through Margaret’s second marriage. The only issue of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Lord Darnley was Margaret Tudor’s great-grandson through both the maternal and paternal lines, James VI. Upon the death of Elizabeth I of England on 24 March 1603, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Thus, Margaret’s legacy and initial purpose to attain lasting peace between Scotland and England, through her great-grandson was finally achieved.

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13 thoughts on “Margaret Tudor: Gateway to the United Kingdom, Part III: A Rose with Thorns”
  1. Find it tragic that James was just a baby when he lost his father fighting the English, and became King, then history repeated itself when he also died fighting the English and left a baby girl as Queen.

    1. James V has lost the battle against the English, but he did not die in the battlefield like his father, but later of sickness.

      The death itself was not tragic but rather that Scotland was a country where power was struggled with violence.

      When Gustav II Adolf of Sweden was killed in Lützen in 1632, his heir was a little girl, but his chancellor Axel von Oxenstrierna was capable to govern for her. The chief point was that the government was no longer dependent on the person of the monarch.

  2. Fascinating! I know Henry didn’t want Margaret’s children as heir to the English throne…but he was long gone by the time it happened. Why do you think he felt this way? Great article! Thanks!

    1. I think it was just a natural enmity towards the Scots which Henry had, as most English people did Anne, the Scots felt the same way about us, The Auld enemy.

      1. The enmity was created by Edward I who claimed to be the overlord of Scotland and tried to conquer the Scotland. Naturally the Scots resisted this and after many years of fighting England had to give in.

        Henry VII who had lived many years in France had no prejudices against the Scots and understood how important the good relationships with the only country with common border were. However, Henry VIII had an old-fashioned foreign policy, fighting France which was hopeless, and insulting James IV by calling himself Scotland’s overlord.

      2. Henry VIII did have a far less sophisticated attitude to foreign affairs than his father Henry VII, and I’m sure he did share the then fairly standard English prejudices against the French, Scots and Irish. This probably was one factor in his vehement opposition to the Stewart succession to the crown of England.

        It is quite possible, however, that there were also more pragmatic considerations. The rule of the Stewart dynasty in Scotland had been notably troubled, plagued by recurrent political upheavals and periodic bouts of baronial rebellion against Scottish governments, sometimes successful rebellions. For the Tudors, this would have brought back very bad memories of England’s own past bout of turmoil in the Wars of the Roses. It seems quite likely that (whether fairly or otherwise) Henry VIII would have taken this as a commentary on the political competence of the Stewart dynasty itself, and hence worried about the consequences of their succession in England. Some (although not all) historians might argue that the subsequent history of the 17th century bore out the validity of such concerns.

        At any rate, whether fair or not, Henry’s doubts that the Stewarts could be trusted with his father’s legacy of restoring peace and stability to England can be seen as the principle driving force behind the saga of the Six Wives and all that followed from it, causing Henry VIII to reject what would otherwise have been the obvious solution to his lack of a male heir – the marriage of Princess Mary to her first cousin James V of Scotland, and naming them joint heirs to the English crown.

        In short, I suspect that Henry VIII’s motives were at least a little more complex than mere prejudice alone.

  3. Wonderful series of articles! They really illustrate how challenging Margaret’s whole life was, from when she was first shipped off to marry James IV, to the ongoing feud between her brother and Scotland, to all of her tough marriages… But through it all, she showed remarkable strength and always put her children first–she definitely should be regarded as a true role model for her time.

  4. Margaret Tudor really did go through the mill. What a tragic thing to lose first her husband and then the infant son that she carried shortly afterwards. He did not live for very long. James would go on also to be another Renaissance King, again forced into a battle he was goaded into by Henry, and died a week later, leaving a six year old Mary Queen of Scots at the mercy of a male dominated council who had to protect her from danger. Thankfully he had married Marie de Guise who looked out for her daughter’s interests, getting her safely to France. Margaret must have had to be strong to stand up to any would be regents; her son was all to her. Her latter married life was to be something of a traumatic experience, but again she was strong and seems to have found a way to tough it out; regardless of the fact that she had to leave her daughter Margaret in England. She was the best of the three Tudor siblings, I believe; she had a tragic life, but somehow she came through it all and stayed true to her own life and mind.

    1. It is too far-reaching to call all misfortunes in life tragic but simply sad.

      Margaret did not lose her husband and her baby because she made an error of judgment (unlike f.x. Oedipus) but they died of natural causes. Nor had she choose between two equally strong but ethically opposite forces in the outer world or within herself.

  5. Margaret Tudor was my 15x great-grandmother, so this article is fascinating! Thank you for all the work you do on this site.

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