Margaret Tudor was the daughter of Princess Margaret Tudor and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus; born on 7th October 1515, she was the niece of King Henry VIII and third in the line of English succession. Given her important status at the Tudor Court, it is surprising that her story has been passed over for so many years in favour of her cousins. Margaret Tudor’s story is filled with just as much love, lust, treachery, scheming and sadness as that of any of the other, more famous Tudors. Indeed, these were the ingredients of the events that led to her imprisonment in the Tower of London three times.
Margaret grew up in the heart of the English court. She was one of Lady Mary’s ladies’ before serving in each of her uncle’s wives’ circles. It was whilst serving Anne Boleyn that she was first imprisoned in July 1536, after King Henry found out about her secret engagement to Thomas Howard, a relation of the Boleyn’s, which jeopardised his ability to use her status in the line of succession as a marriage-bargaining tool to another, more prosperous, suitor. Although Henry did eventually feel sympathetic towards Margaret and she secured her release from the Tower, her beau was not so lucky.
Love and family were very important to Margaret. On 29th June 1544, she was married to Matthew Stuart, the Fourth Earl of Lennox, at the request of King Henry. It was fortunate for her that although she found herself in an arranged marriage, it was a very loving one. She had eight children, four girls and four boys, but only two of her boys, Henry and Charles, survived into adulthood. These two boys were to be her downfall, because her wish for them to prosper in the royal courts of both Scotland and England led to her other two imprisonments.
For instance, in June 1565 she was arrested and imprisoned because her first son, Lord Darnley, had gone to Scotland against the wishes of Queen Elizabeth in order to secure Mary Queen of Scots’ hand in marriage. The wedding did indeed take place on 29th July 1565 with Lennox present. Weir says that Margaret and Lennox believed the Darnley marriage to be his ‘finest achievement’ but that ‘ultimately it was an achievement only in terms of its dynastic impact’, for Darnley was King James’ VI and I’s father, which unfortunately, neither of the couple lived to see.
Margaret’s third and final imprisonment was also caused by her reckless desire to secure a marriage for her son. In 1574-5, Margaret schemed to marry off Charles Stuart to Elizabeth Cavendish. Although this was actually not a prosperous marriage but rather one of convenience, it still angered Queen Elizabeth because of the position Charles had in the line of succession. Weir supposes that Margaret never did learn her lesson in early life that her position in the royal household did not allow her to tamper with the royal prerogative of arranging a political bond of marriage.
On 10th March 1578, Margaret Tudor died, childless – Darnley was murdered in 1567 and Charles died in 1576 – and penniless. Throughout her life, her reckless impulse to secure an important dynastic role for her children had caused her to lose all of her assets. Weir details her many letters to Queen Elizabeth asking for her estates and titles to be returned to her after her imprisonment in 1565, for them to be done so shortly before her dalliances in 1574 that caused her to lose them again. Weir also argues that ‘love had been the great blessing and the great curse of Margaret’s life, for she had truly suffered for it’; indeed, it is clear that throughout her life her heart did rule her head.
Margaret Tudor’s story is just as scandalous as those of her more well-known cousins and it is simply astonishing that it is only in 2015 that the volume of sources written by her has been made full use of, and a complete history of her life has finally been written. Weir is an accomplished historian but her writing is not overly complicated, which means that this book can be read by anyone interested in garnering a rounded history of the Tudor family.