Lady Margaret was born at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland County, England on 8 October 1515. Her mother, the Dowager Queen of Scotland, Margaret Tudor, had been forced to flee Scotland as her life was in danger. Margaret was received at Harbottle by Lord Dacre. Not one Scot was allowed to enter the fortress and for forty-eight hours Margaret was in agony. When she finally gave birth; it was a girl. According to Agnes Strickland, Margaret was not allowed a female attendance and was alone with her baby. Queen Margaret was ill for many days after giving birth. She was so ill that letters from her brother, Henry, and his queen, Katherine, were not read for days. At the time of Margaret’s birth, there was strife between England and Scotland. Harbottle was not a safe place for both her mother and herself. To make matters worse, there was barely anything for the baby or the mother. There was no doctor, wet-nurse, clothing, cradle, etc. Margaret was born into a dire situation in which she and her mother were basically left for life and death.
A christening was allowed to take place, but not to the extent that the baby was due. Christenings at this time were seen as significant due to the mortality rate of babies. People believed that if a baby were to die before being christened they would not go to heaven. It was extremely important that a baby be christened as soon as possible. But like other “royal” babies, Margaret was not completely alone in her understated christening. Plenty of other royal babies had, had rushed and informal christenings. During this time period, a lot of women were moved around quite frequently or had to give birth under dire circumstances. One example includes that of Margaret Douglas’s great-grandfather, Edward of York (later Edward IV), who was christened quickly without pomp and circumstance after his mother gave birth.
Margaret’s early life was somewhat turbulent. Her father was facing difficulties in Scotland. Therefore, her mother and father sought refuge in England. It was Sir Thomas Parr [father of Queen Katherine Parr] who, among others, was entrusted in bringing Queen Margaret south in the April of 1516. King Henry sent all kinds of goods to his sister to ease her travel. Why he didn’t send anything earlier is questionable unless there are records to prove that he did. Even Katherine of Aragon sent gifts. Katherine sent her favorite white palfrey [horse] and softest pillion [saddle] under the charge of her chamberlain, Thomas Parr. As the Queen rode through the countryside, Sir Thomas Parr rode before her, taking charge of the procession. But how different was this ride for the Dowager Queen this time around? She was used to being celebrated with pomp and circumstance. Instead, in these counties that she traveled through, she was under careful watch by the noblemen and sheriffs. It was not a pleasant trip for mother and baby.
At York, Sir Thomas Parr presented the Queen to the mayor of the city who knelt and humbly welcomed the Queen to his city. The Queen and her child advanced to the quarters that had been drawn up for her at St. Mary’s Abbey. The next day, the Queen rode behind Sir Thomas Parr, and all the lords, knights, esquires, and gentry while her ladies rode behind her. Again, Parr presented the Queen to the Lord Mayor who spoke of blessings towards her and safekeeping in her journey onward. The Queen thanked him. They road on to other cities where she was greeted until they reached the home of the favored courtier, Sir William Compton. It was there that Queen Margaret met up with her brother, King Henry. The two had not seen each other in thirteen years. The King escorted his sister and the revenue to London. In London, dressed in royal attire, the Queen passed in procession along Cheapside, preceded by Parr and the lords and ladies. She made her way to Baynard’s Castle where she would have had many memories.
Not much is known of Margaret Douglas’s childhood. She was most likely brought up like a Princess. She probably learned the finer things in life. What we do know about her childhood is that is was riddled with her parents failing marriage. The Dowager Queen Margaret tried for a divorce but to no avail. The two were at constant war with each other it would seem.
Eventually, Lady Margaret ended up at the court of her uncle, King Henry VIII. An enormous amount of clothing was ordered for the Lady Margaret as befitting of her status as the 3rd in line to the throne. Margaret was situated in the household of King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, Princess Mary. Margaret would have grown close to her cousin and the two shared the same religion together: Catholicism. While Margaret was in the household of Princess Mary, she would have met another relation and another Princess of royal blood: Lady Margaret of Clarence (Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury). Lady Margaret was the niece of King Edward IV and Richard III. She had been a cousin to Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII.
When the divorce came for King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Lady Margaret suddenly found herself above the status of their child and one time heiress, now Lady Mary Tudor. In 1534, she was supposedly made to wait upon the new Queen, Anne Boleyn. The troubles it must have caused Margaret inside were not evident. In Tudor society, it was a constant struggle just to survive. A woman’s survival was that much more of a struggle as women did not have much say in their own lives. For Margaret, she must have just done what she thought was her duty and served the new Queen without question. Margaret’s position was above most women as a royal heiress to the crown, so this made her chief lady at court under Anne Boleyn. She would stay at this high status serving Henry’s successive queens.
Lady Margaret’s continued to be treated well under her uncle at court and had her own retinue. Her station in life was secure despite her own cousin’s fate which was that of an illegitimate daughter. The Act of Succession of 1534 saw Margaret as third in line to the throne behind her own mother.
By 1535, a romance had developed between Lord Thomas Howard and Lady Margaret. Lord Thomas was a younger son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk and his second wife, Agnes Tilney. The two became secretly engaged. In 1536, the King learned of the engagement after he had remarried to Jane Seymour. The King was furious. As the King had declared his own daughters illegitimate, Margaret was the highest in line and seen as a hot commodity. The King saw the engagement as a threat and a personal insult to him. He had treated Margaret as the Princess she was. He saw it as if she was now throwing it back in his face by becoming engaged to a lowly man like Lord Howard. Henry, no doubt, wanted to use Margaret to attract some sort of secure match between allies. She was to be cared for, but only as King Henry saw fit. This was common for Kings, but even so for Henry. He would never find respectable husbands for his two daughters.
Lord Howard was thrown into the Tower and eventually so was Margaret. People were dismayed by the sudden disappearance of the Lady Margaret. Chapuys wrote about her disappearance, saying,
“the Princess [sic], however, since the discovery, has entirely disappeared from court, and no one knows whether she is in The Tower, or some other prison.”
And eventually, it would be reported that Margaret was, indeed, in The Tower. This move plunged her into deep despair. Her stay in The Tower wasn’t as uncomfortable as Lord Howard, though. It would seem that Margaret had a more pleasant stay and was afforded lodgings that befitted a highly born woman as she. She was either kept in the same place that Anne Boleyn had been held before her execution or she was kept in the Bell Tower where her cousin, Lady Katherine Grey, would later be held. Royalty seemed to get better lodgings, even if they were in prison.
The outcome of the whole situation would not be one that would favor the two as Lord Howard would die while imprisoned. Lady Margaret would never see him again.
After a year at Syon Abbey, Margaret returned to court. Things had rapidly changed. Queen Jane had died shortly after delivering her uncle a son, but Margaret still remained an heiress to the throne. Marriages were discussed once again between nations for Henry and Margaret and her cousins. However, those marriages fell through. Henry was then led to marry a Princess of Cleves, Anne. Margaret, Lady Mary Fitzroy, and Lady Frances Brandon were charged with meeting the new bride to be when she made her voyage to England. Margaret became, again, the First Lady to the new Queen of England.
When Henry left Anne of Cleves for Katherine Howard, Margaret found herself at the top position, again. However, this time, Margaret would be serving a queen who was younger than she. However, this is when we find Margaret getting herself into trouble once again with the Howard family. Margaret met the brother of Queen Katherine, Charles, and yet again flirted with disaster. Margaret was to be warned about her choices and angering the King. Yet again, she had to learn her lesson.
When the King married his final wife, Katherine Parr, Margaret was present at the marriage, which took place at Hampton Court. Parr is known for reconciling the two daughters of the King to him. What is not known, is that Parr also reconciled Margaret to her uncle. The King was angered by Margaret’s impropriety, but something about Parr must have made him see Margaret differently. Parr had a way with words that would help her escape later on and it was probably something she said that made the King reconcile with Margaret the way he did.
Margaret joined her royal cousins and the Queen for Christmas in December of 1543.
On the occasion of the visit of the Duke of Najera on 17 February 1544, the Queen was called to entertain as the King was indisposed. The Queen was sumptuously clothed and adorned by jewels. The Lady Mary was there to entertain as well as Lady Margaret.
And on 6 July 1544, Margaret would finally marry to Matthew Stuart at St. James’s Palace. King Henry attended the wedding with Queen Katherine [Parr].
As soon as the wedding was over, it would seem that Henry made a decision to invade France. And just like that, Matthew was called away to serve the King.
Margaret would stay at court while Queen Katherine was made Regent of the Realm. Margaret is said to have been as tall as the Queen, who was thought to be almost six feet tall. Perhaps it was then that Margaret picked up some traits from the Queen Regent and learned how to negotiate and master situations. We would see these skills used later on in Margaret’s life when her son would marry Mary, Queen of Scots.
Queen Katherine was widowed on 28 January 1547. It would seem that Lady Margaret would stop serving the Queen at this time period as nothing is mentioned about Margaret joining the household at Chelsea or Sudeley Castle.
In June 1548, during the war of the Rough Wooing, Margaret’s father, the Earl of Angus, wrote to her with the news that her half-brother, George Douglas, and others of the family had been captured at Dalkeith Palace. Her father hoped that she and her husband could arrange that they were well treated as prisoners. The Earl of Lennox forwarded the letter to the Duke of Somerset, writing that his father-in-law would have done better to ask others for help. Margaret wrote to her father from Wressle Castle in March 1549, complaining that he had avoided meeting her husband. She asked him to seek an honourable peace through the acknowledgement of her marriage, “what a memorial it should be to you!”
During the reign of Queen Mary I of England, Lady Margaret had rooms in Westminster Palace. In November 1553, the Queen told the ambassador, Simon Renard, that Margaret was best suited to succeed her to the throne. Margaret was the chief mourner at Queen Mary’s funeral in December 1558. On the accession of Queen Elizabeth I of England, Margaret moved to Yorkshire, where her home at Temple Newsam became a centre for Roman Catholic intrigue.
Margaret succeeded in marrying her elder son, Lord Darnley, to his first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, thus uniting their claims to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth I disapproved of this marriage and had Lady Margaret sent to the Tower of London in 1566, but after the murder of Margaret’s son Darnley in 1567, she was released. Margaret denounced her daughter-in-law, but was eventually later reconciled with her. Her husband assumed the government of Scotland as regent, but was assassinated in 1571. In 1574, she again aroused Queen Elizabeth’s anger by marrying her younger son Charles to Elizabeth Cavendish, the stepdaughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. She was again sent to the Tower, unlike the Countess of Shrewsbury, but was pardoned after her son Charles’ death in 1576.
Lady Margaret’s diplomacy largely contributed to the future succession of her grandson, James VI of Scotland, to the English throne.
Tomb of Lady Margaret, Countess of LennoxMargaret was buried in Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. This Chapel includes her grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, as well as her great-grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Margaret’s daughter-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots would later be buried to the east of Margaret. Margaret was buried at the expense of Queen Elizabeth I, in the same grave as her son, Charles, 1st Earl of Lennox. The fine monument and effigy has been said to be erected by her grandson, King James I of England, but the monument was commissioned in 1578 by Margaret’s servant and executor, Thomas Fowler. The effigy is made of alabaster. She wears a French cap and ruff with a fur-lined cloak, over a dress of blue and gold. On top of her French cap rests a gold crown asserting her royal blood. On either side rests weepers of her four sons and four daughters. One of her sons, Lord Darnley, has a crown atop his head to assert his position as King of Scotland as the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The inscription panel reads:
HEER LYETH THE NOBLE LADY MARGARET, COUNTESSE OF LEVENOX, DAUGHTER AND SOLE HEIRE OF ARCHIBALD EARLE OF ANGUISE [Angus], BY MARGARET Q. OF SCOTTES HIS WIFE THAT WAS ELDEST DAUGHTER TO KING HENRY THE 7, WHOE BARE UNTO MATHEW EARLE OF LEVENOX HER HUSBAND 4 SONNES AND 4 DAUGHTERS. THIS LADY HAD TO HER GREAT GRANDFATHER K.EDWARD THE 4, TO HER GRANDFATHER K.HENRY THE 7, TO HER UNCLE K.HENRY THE 8, TO HER COUSIN GERMANE K.EDWARD THE 6, TO HER BROTHER K.JAMES OF SCOTLAND THE V, TO HER SONNE KING HENRY THE FIRST [ie.Lord Darnley], TO HER GRANDCHILD K.JAMES THE 6. HAVINGE TO HER GREATE GRANDMOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER 2 QUEENES BOTH NAMED ELIZABETH, TO HER MOTHER MARGARET Q. OF SCOTTS, TO HER AUNT MARYE THE FRENCHE Q, TO HER COUSYNS GERMANES MARY AND ELIZABETH QUEENES OF ENGLAND, TO HER NEECE AND DAUGHTER IN LAW MARY Q.OF SCOTTS. HENRY SECOND SONNE TO THIS LADY WAS K. OF SCOTTS AND FATHER TO JAMES THE 6 NOW KING. THIS HENRY WAS MURTHERED AT THE AGE OF 21 YEARES. CHARLES HER YOUNGEST SONNE WAS EARLE OF LEVENOX FATHER TO THE LADIE ARBELL. HE DYED AT THE AGE OF 21 YEARES AND IS HERE INTOMBED.
- Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox | Westminster Abbey
- Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox — National Portrait Gallery
- Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (1515-1578) | Art UK
- The Will of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox | History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
- Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox — The Freelance History Writer
- Linda Porter. Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII, Macmillan, 2010.
- Kimberly Schutte. A Biography of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, 1515–1578, Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.
- Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland. Lives of the queens of Scotland and English princesses connected with the regal succession of Great Britain, W. Blackwood and sons, 1850.
- The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Volume 7. The Association, 1882.
- Alison Weir. The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas, Random House Publishing Group, 2016.
- Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox | Westminster Abbey
- Mary McGrigor. Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s Niece, The History Press, 2015.