Margaret Douglas: Forbidden Love

Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, dowager queen of Scotland and Archibald Douglas, had been appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. It is while serving Anne that she met Lord Thomas Howard. He was the younger son of Anne Boleyn’s great-uncle, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Near the end of 1535, Margaret and Thomas had fallen in love and became secretly engaged.

Forbidden Love

It was in July, after the downfall of Anne Boleyn, that Henry VIII learned of the couple’s engagement — He was enraged by the news. The King had recently declared his Elizabeth a bastard, while his other daughter, Mary had already been named one. This left Margaret Douglas, next to Henry Fitzroy in the line of succession. Her unauthorized engagement to Lord Howard did not fit into Henry’s politics.

Both Margaret Douglas and Lord Howard were imprisoned in the Tower of London for their offenses.

On 18 July 1536, Parliament, by an Act of Attainder, condemned Thomas to death for attempting to ‘interrupt ympedyte and lett the seid Succession of the Crowne’. The Act also forbade the marriage of any member of the King’s family without his permission. Thomas was spared execution, but remained in the Tower even after Margaret broke off their relationship.

While in the Tower, Margaret Douglas fell ill — her mother, Margaret Tudor, dowager queen of Scotland, wrote her brother King Henry to request she be sent back to Scotland and never return to England.

(c) The Queen's College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The Queen’s College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Concerned Mother

Margaret Tudor, dowager queen of Scotland to Henry VIII:

Dearest brother,

In our most hearty manner we recommend us unto your grace. Please you understand we are informed lately that our daughter Margaret Douglas should, by your grace’s advice, promise to marry Thomas Howard, and that your grace is displeased that she should promise or desire such thing; and that your grace is resolved to punish my daughter and your near cousin to extreme rigour, which we no way can believe, considering she is our natural daughter, your niece, and sister natural unto the king our dearest son, your nephew; who will not believe that you will do such extremity upon your own, ours, and his, being so tender to us all three as our natural daughter is. Dearest brother, we beseech your grace, of sisterly kindness and natural love we bear, and that you owe to us your only sister, to have compassion and pity of us your sister and of our natural daughter and sister to the king our only natural son and your dearest nephew; and to grant our said daughter Margaret your grace’s pardon, grace, and favour, and remit of such as your grace has put to her charge. And, if it please your grace, to be content she come in Scotland, so that in time coming she shall never come in your grace’s presence. And this, dearest brother, we, in our most hearty, affectionate, tender manner, most specially and most humbly beseech your grace to do, as we doubt not your wisdom will think to your honour, since this our request is dear and tender to us, the gentlewoman’s natural mother, and we your natural sister, that makes this piteous and most humble request. Farther, please your grace, this bearer will inform. And the Eternal God conserve your grace, as we would be ourself.

Written of Perth, this 12th day of August (1536), by your grace’s most loving sister,

Margaret R.

The King allowed Margaret Douglas to be moved from the Tower of London to Syon Abbey, she was supervised there by Abbess Agnes Jordan.

Funerary Brass of Dame Agnes Jordan
Funerary Brass of Dame Agnes Jordan

Repentant Margaret

While she was kept at Syon Abbey, Margaret Douglas received a letter from Cromwell after it had been said she had too large a train of servants and had too many visitors. Here is her reply to Cromwell’s accusations:

My lord,

What cause have I to give you thanks, and how much bound am I unto you, that by your means hath gotten me, as I trust, the king’s grace’s favour again! and, besides that, that it pleaseth you to write and to give me knowledge wherein I might have his grace’s displeasure, against which I pray our Lord sooner to send me death than that; and I assure you, my lord, I will never do that thing willingly that should offend his grace. And, my lord, whereas it is informed you that I do charge the house with a greater number than is convenient, I assure you I have but two more than I had in the court, which, indeed, were my lord Thomas’ servants; and the cause that I took them for was, for the poverty that I saw them in, and for no cause else. But seeing, my lord, that it is your pleasure that I shall keep none that did belong unto my lord Thomas, I will put them from me. And I beseech you not to think that any fancy doth remain in me touching him; but that all my study and care is how to please the king’s grace, and to continue in his favour. And, my lord, where it is your pleasure that I shall keep but a few here with me, I trust you will think that I can have no fewer than I have, for I have but a gentleman and a grooms that keeps my apparel, and another that keeps my chamber, and a chaplain that was with me always in the court. Now, my lord, I beseech you that I may know your pleasure, if you would that I should keep any fewer howbeit, my lord, my servants have put the house to small charge, for they have nothing but the reversion of my board, nor I do call for nothing but that that is given me; howbeit, I am very well intreated. And, my lord, as for resort (company), I promise you I have none except it be gentlewomen that comes to see me, nor never had since I came hither; for if any resort of men had come, it should neither have become me to have seen them, nor yet to have kept them company, being a maid as I am. Now, my lord, I beseech you to be so good as to get my poor servants their wages; and thus I pray our Lord to preserve you, both soul and body.

By her that has her trust in you,

Margaret Douglas

Portrait thought to be Margaret Douglas; c. 1546

She was eventually released from imprisonment on 29 October 1537 — two days later, the man she had loved died.

Margaret Douglas went on to live a full life — she was the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. That’s another story, for another day.


The Forgotten Tudor Women by Sylvia Barbara Soberton
Wikipedia – Margaret Douglas
Wikipedia – Syon Abbey

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Book Review: The Forgotten Tudor Women


Jane Seymour (3)While searching for books to add to my Christmas list I came across The Forgotten Tudor Women by Silvia Barbara Soberton. The book intrigued me because it was about three women in Tudor history that we often don’t hear enough about – Margaret Douglas, Mary Howard and Mary Shelton.

As you probably already know I recently wrote an article about Mary Howard and really enjoyed learning more about her during my research. All I had known prior to researching her was that she was married to Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy – that’s it.

When I opened the first present from my husband on Christmas Eve I saw that it was the book I had requested, The Forgotten Tudor Women – to my surprise it was fairly thin book and when I opened it I was a little discouraged to find that it was double-spaced. It felt very primary school (like the Judy Blume books) from the get go, but I pushed forward and started reading it nonetheless because I have an insatiable appetite?for knowledge.

I soon got over the double-spacing and enjoyed the writing style of Ms. Soberton. If you’re looking to learn more about what it was like to be a ‘privileged’ woman during the Tudor reign, I’d highly suggest this book. At only 204 pages it is a very quick, and easy read.

In this book we learn more about Margaret Douglas, who (to me) seems to have a life that parallels her niece?Mary, Queen of Scots when it comes to following her heart and the tragedies that follow. While reading this book I truly felt grief for Margaret and how many times her heart was broken. She was the daughter of Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret Tudor, who became Queen of Scots herself when she married James IV. Margaret Douglas was royalty and should have been treated as such, but as we know from the history of the Tudors, having royal blood is sometimes a curse instead of a blessing.

Mary Howard is a seldom heard about figure in Tudor history and that’s an unfortunate thing. She is a fascinating woman and there needs to be a movie made about her life. She was daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, sister to the Earl of Surrey, cousin to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard – and not to forget, daughter-in-law to King Henry VIII himself. We follow her story through the death of her husband Henry Fitzroy and the struggles she had as an intelligent woman in a society that frowned upon women having knowledge…or opinions. She fought for everything that she wanted in her life and we learn about all the struggles she faced after Fitzroy’s death. ?Mary Howard was a fighter and this book made me like her even more than I had before reading it.

On the other hand I was a little disappointed by the story that was told about Mary Shelton. Mary Shelton was a mistress of Henry VIII and cousin to Anne Boleyn. I was hoping to learn more about her like I had with Margaret Douglas and Mary Howard. The feeling I got was that there weren’t any interesting stories to be told about Mary Shelton. Her life wasn’t as scandalous and it left me wanting more. With that being said, the one piece of evidence about her life that I wasn’t familiar with was the fact that Henry VIII had considered her for a fourth wife before he was betrothed to Anne of Cleves. In a nutshell, I probably couldn’t tell you much about Mary Shelton after reading this book – that’s not to say there wasn’t anything written about her, but that I remembered a lot more about Margaret Douglas and Mary Howard after putting the book down.

Overall it was a good book, and was interesting to see how the three ladies lives intertwined and how they lived during a period in history where being an intelligent woman and having your own ideas was frowned upon by their male counterparts.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.


Mary, Queen of Scots (Guest Article)

Mary, Queen of Scots  
by Susan Abernethy
The Freelance History Writer

Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. While telling the story of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland I was struck by the similarities between her and her granddaughter, Mary. They both had three husbands and had a child named James who became King of Scotland when they were just babies. Both women allowed their private lives to influence their public life contributing to a loss of political credibility. It’s time to revisit all the incredible and memorable adventures of Mary, Queen of Scots.

There are a few things to keep in mind when recounting the story of Mary. The first is Mary started at a young age to consider herself the Queen of England and even had the symbol of England quartered on her coat of arms. Queen Elizabeth I would never forgive her for this affront. Mary felt Henry VIII had made a mistake in naming the heirs of his sister Mary Tudor ahead of those of her grandmother. Elizabeth I of England didn’t want to name her successor until she was on her deathbed. These things drive the story of these two Queens.

Mary was born at Linlithgow on December 8, 1542, the daughter of King James V of Scotland and Marie of Guise. Her father had been ailing for some time, possibly of a complete physical and mental breakdown and finally died six days after Mary was born. Mary was crowned Queen on September 9, 1543 at Stirling Castle. Mary’s great uncle, King Henry VIII of England made it clear he wanted her to marry his young son Edward and come to England to be brought up. The Scots wouldn’t let her out of the country but did sign the Treaty of Greenwich confirming the marriage.

After Edward became King of England, his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset was his Protector and ran his government. His regime was to harass the Scots unmercifully with the object of capturing the Queen. The government of Scotland decided the young Queen must be spirited out of the country and negotiated a treaty for her to marry the Dauphin of France breaking the Treaty of Greenwich. She left Scotland for France where she grew up with the French royal children in the Catholic Faith. She and the Dauphin Francis were married in April of 1558. Henry II, King of France died from a grisly jousting accident and Francis and Mary became King and Queen of France on July 10, 1559.

Francis suffered acutely from an abscess in his inner ear and he was to die on December 5, 1560. Mary had been Queen of France for less than two years. It was decided her best option was to return to Scotland and take over her government. Before leaving she asked permission from Elizabeth to have safe passage through England if she was blown off course. Elizabeth was to refuse permission. In response, Mary was to say that if Elizabeth would have in her hands to do her will of her and if she was so hard hearted as to desire her end, she might then do her pleasure and make sacrifice of her. “In this matter, God’s will be done”. Little did she know she was predicting her own denouement.

Without going to England, Mary made it to Scotland where she arrived in August of 1561. At first the teenaged Mary made a good impression. She had learned statecraft at the side of her uncles, Henry, Duke of Guise and Charles Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine while in France. She was capable of acting with poise and discretion and could also turn on considerable, almost siren like charm. When needed, she could act bravely in the face of adversity. She needed all this and more to deal with the many factions among the Scottish Lairds. A momentous meeting was being negotiated with Elizabeth in the summer of 1562 but somehow it just never materialized. However, Elizabeth was adamant she was the one to negotiate a new marriage for the Queen of Scots.

Mary had considered marrying a Catholic but there were few choices. She rejected Archduke Charles Hapsburg. Don Carlos, the son of King Phillip of Spain, was misshapen and mentally deranged. Elizabeth put forth as her candidate, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her own dearest, most esteemed beloved. This was an insult to the Scottish Queen. No one really knows why Elizabeth did this but it did serve to make Henry, Lord Darnley more attractive when he showed up on the scene. Darnley was Mary’s cousin, the son of Lady Margaret Douglas, who was the daughter of Margaret Tudor by her second husband, the Earl of Angus. Darnley was tall and lanky and extremely good looking, making a huge impression on Mary right away. It is believed Elizabeth knew he was difficult and a drinker and sent him to Mary, knowing she would fall for him.

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley

Mary and Darnley began spending much time together and she fell in love. They were married in July 1565. Even before the marriage things had turned sour. Darnley was a drunk. He insisted on being King and Mary gave in. Mary made the best of the union in hopes of having a child. The worse Darnley’s behavior, the more Mary came to rely on her secretary, the Italian David Riccio for help in governing and for companionship. There was probably nothing untoward about the relationship but Darnley and other lairds were resentful of Riccio’s influence on Mary.

On March 9, 1566 the Queen who was six months pregnant was with a few friends and Riccio in her cabinet at Holyrood Palace when the King and some lairds burst into the room. They dragged off Riccio and stabbed him to death within earshot of the Queen while, Mary insisted, a gun was held to her belly. Mary’s response was courageous and resolute. She took Darnley aside and convinced him the lairds would come after them as soon as their child was born and a few days later they escaped to Dunbar Castle.

A week later, at the head of a small army led by James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, Mary returned to Edinburgh and was back in charge. Mary’s son James was born in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1566. By the fall of 1566, Bothwell had control of the Queen and almost all the lairds were united in their desire to get rid of Darnley. A conspiracy was born. On February 10, 1567, a huge explosion of gunpowder erupted at Kirk o’Field in Edinburgh where Darnley was recovering from an attack of syphilis. His body was discovered in the garden so he didn’t die in the explosion. While we will never know the truth of what happened, the circumstantial evidence is very strong against Mary and Bothwell.

On April 12, Bothwell was acquitted of Darnley’s murder. On April 21, Mary went to Stirling to visit her son and four days later was riding back to Edinburgh when Bothwell and four hundred horsemen “kidnapped” Mary and took her to Dunbar where he supposedly “raped” her. On the 15th of May, at Holyrood, Mary was married to Bothwell, a divorced man, in accordance with the Protestant rite. Mary’s bad judgment was the consternation of all Christendom. There was so much feuding, conflict and tension by now that Mary may have felt the only one who could help her was Bothwell, recently named the Duke of Orkney. The lairds banded together to seek revenge for the King’s murder and to separate Mary from Bothwell.

Mary and Bothwell moved to Borthwick Castle to try to raise an army. They were unable to get much support. After a confrontation with the lairds on June 15 at Carberry Hill, Mary surrendered and Bothwell escaped. Mary was taken back to Edinburgh where the crowd yelled at her “Burn the whore!”, “Kill her!”, “Drown her!”, “She is not worthy to live!”. The next day Mary was taken to prison at Lochleven and forced to abdicate in favor of her son James who was crowned King on July 29th at Stirling. Mary had a miscarriage of twins, supposedly Bothwell’s children. Bothwell escaped to Norway and then Denmark where he lived out the rest of his life, mostly in prison.

On Sunday, May 2, 1567, Mary escaped Lochleven. She raised some supporters but was unsuccessful in making any headway at the Battle of Langside on May 13th and she slipped away and crossed the border into England on May 16th. Historians are not sure why she chose to go to England. The fight was not really over and she could have gone to France where she had many supporters. Once again her bad judgment had overtaken her.

From 1568 to 1587, Mary was to be held prisoner by Elizabeth under the watchful eye of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, moving from castle to castle. Mary insisted on a face to face meeting with Elizabeth for the rest of her life and Elizabeth always refused. Her name was brought up many times by Catholics in England and abroad in plots to bring down Elizabeth, put her on the throne of England and to restore Catholicism. Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsinghamcultivated a network of spies to intercept Mary’s letters and finally caught her plotting to kill Elizabeth. She was put on trial and found guilty on October 25, 1586. After much hand wringing and agonizing deliberation by Elizabeth, she finally signed Mary’s death warrant on February 1, 1587. Elizabeth was having second thoughts. Her privy council met two days later and decided to carry out the warrant without telling the Queen.

On February 8, 1587, Mary was executed at Fotheringay Castle. She was willing to die as a martyr to her Catholic faith. It took three whacks of the axe to sever her head from her neck. The executioner picked up the head and the skull fell to the floor, leaving a wig in his hand. As her executioners were disrobing the corpse, Mary’s Skye terrier was found hidden in the folds of her skirt. Mary was eventually buried at Peterborough Cathedral near Catherine of Aragon’s grave. Shortly before Elizabeth I was to die in 1603, literally on her deathbed, she named Mary’s son James as her successor. James arranged to have his mother re- buried in Westminster Abbey.

Some historians have examined the evidence of Mary’s medical history. She exhibited some of the symptoms of “the Royal disease”, porphyria, which is the same disease that afflicted George III of England. This is a metabolic hormonal disorder that causes many physical as well as mental disturbances and could explain why Mary exhibited colossal misjudgment. Also, in July of 1588, King Phillip II of Spain sent the Spanish Armada to England, in part to avenge the death of the Catholic Queen Mary. The Spanish suffered a spectacular loss.

Further reading: “The True Life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots” by John Guy, “Mary, Queen of Scots” by Lady Antonia Fraser, “Two Queens in One Isle” by Alison Plowden

About the Author:

purple-susan“Susan Abernethy here. It seems I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love history. At the age of fourteen, I watched “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” on TV and was enthralled. Truth seemed much more strange than fiction. I started reading about Henry VIII and then branched out into many types of history. This even led me to study history in college. Even though I never did anything with the history degree, it’s always been a hobby of mine. I started this blog to write about my thoughts on all kinds of history from Ancient times to mid-20th Century.”