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Margaret Stuart (Lady Margaret Douglas), Countess of Lennox

Margaret Stuart (Lady Margaret Douglas), Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas was born on the 8th of October, 1515.

Margaret Douglas, who subsequently became Margaret Stuart, the Countess of Lennox, lived in interesting times to say the least. They were also dangerous times, spanning the English reigns of Henry VIII, his son, Edward VI, and his daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, and James V, Mary I, Queen of Scots, and James VI in Scotland. Things wouldn’t have been so interesting for Margaret if she hadn’t been related to most all of the above in one way or another. And she wasn’t some distant relation or natural daughter of minor royalty, either; she had a decent pedigree as those things go and, at one time, she was in line to succeed to the throne of England. Not bad for a lassie born to Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus, albeit she was born in England, a niece of Henry VIII and a cousin to Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Margaret’s father, the Earl of Angus was once described by his own uncle, Gavin Douglas, as
a “young, witless fool.” Perhaps not so foolish in intent, Angus married as his second wife, none other than Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England, elder sister of Henry VIII, and Queen Dowager and Regent of Scotland. Maggie Tudor was the widow of Scotland’s James IV, he who had been slain at the Battle of Branxton Edge in 1513. With the Douglas-Tudor marriage on the 6th of August, 1514, Margaret Tudor had to give up the regency as a condition of the late King’s will, and that ushered in yet more political strife in Scotland. Was it ever any different?

So when John Stewart, the 2nd Duke of Albany, became Regent in 1515, Margaret Tudor was forced to surrender her two sons, the infant King James V and his wee brother Alexander, to him. By then, she had become pregnant with Angus’ child and fearing for her safety, she fled to England and pitched up at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland, where her daughter was born on the 8th of October, 1515. Two years later, in 1517, Margaret Tudor returned to Scotland with her daughter. Margaret Douglas then lived in Scotland until 1529, under custody of her father. Margaret’s parents were divorced in 1528 and in the year following, the Douglases were proscribed by James V. Margaret’s father then sent her to Norham Castle in England, to the household of her godfather, Cardinal Wolsey.

After Wolsey died, in 1530, and because of her nearness to the English crown, Lady Margaret Douglas went to live at Beaulieu, the household of her first cousin, Princess Mary. It’s interesting to note that the future Queen Mary, who became known as ‘Bloody Mary’, remained a lifelong friend of Margaret Douglas, a not insignificant Roman Catholic. Mary I restored Roman Catholicism after the short-lived reign of her Protestant half-brother, Edward VI, and in her own five-year stint, had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. They called them the ‘Marian Persecutions’.

After Henry VIII had divested himself of Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, by annulment of the marriage, he took up with Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I. When Anne’s court was established, Lady Margaret Douglas was appointed her Lady-in- Waiting. Then, in 1536, when Anne was charged with adultery and treason, Anne’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth and her half-sister, Princess Mary, were declared illegitimate, by the Second Succession Act. At that point, Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, had yet to be born, so that left Margaret Douglas in the line of succession to the English throne as a non-illegitimate heir. Margaret found herself heir presumptive to the throne, which placed her in an awkward situation.

Maybe she didn’t realise just how awkward as she allowed herself to fall in love with Lord Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle. In July, 1536, when Henry VIII found out about their 1535 marriage agreement, the King, still without a male heir, threw a wobbler. Henry had the pair arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Lord Thomas was condemned without trial on the 18th of July. The act of attainder alleged that Howard was “…ledde and seduced by the Devyll …yt is vehemently suspected and presumed malicyously and trayterously myndyng and imagynyng to putt dyvisyon in this Realme. And to interrupt ympedyte and lett the seid Succession of the Crowne… .”

Margaret’s affair with Howard is immortalized in verses by his nephew, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey. Henry and his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, were the founders of English Renaissance poetry and primarily responsible for the introduction of the Sonnet, long before Shakespeare. Lord Howard died in the Tower, perhaps of a broken heart at hearing that Margaret had renounced her love for him. Mary was released from her imprisonment two days before Howard’s death, his demise occurring on the 31st of October, 1537. With the birth of Prince Edward having taken place on the 12th of October, no doubt Henry felt that Margaret was no longer a “valuable and dangerous pawn in the succession.”

Nevertheless, three years later, in 1540, Margaret was back in the Tower, not having learnt her lesson. On that second occasion, it was merely because the increasingly paranoid Henry VIII didn’t like the idea of her affair with another Howard nephew, Sir Charles, the brother of the Queen consort, Catherine Howard, his fifth wife. However, she was released after a while and became First Lady Of Honour to Anne of Cleves and later, to Catherine Howard. Incidentally, Howard the poet also succumbed to the paranoia of Henry VIII, when the King had him beheaded on the 19th of January, 1547.

Margaret Douglas was also a poet, as is evidenced by the Devonshire Manuscript, where many of the words she wrote to her lover are preserved, as are Howard’s poems to her. The poems were probably composed during their mutual, but separate, imprisonment in the Tower. The manuscript also shows signs that Margaret was a primary editor and two other poems attributed are also included, listed as “the sueden chance ded mak me mves” and “now that ye be assemblled heer.”

Margaret eventually married Matthew Stuart, the 4th Earl of Lennox, on the 6th of July, 1544. Their son Henry, Lord Darnley, later wed Mary I, Queen of Scots and when Margaret’s grandson, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England, the fears of Henry VIII were ultimately realised, long after he’d gone. Margaret Stuart, Countess of Lennox, died on the 7th of March, 1578.

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