Book Review: Margaret Tudor – The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister

Jane Seymour (2)

Margaret Tudor was an English Princess and daughter of the first Tudor monarch, King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; Margaret was the sister of King Henry VIII and married King James IV of Scotland – did I mention she was also mother of King James V?

I was approached by Pens & Sword History to write a review on the book?Margaret Tudor: The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister?by author and historian Melanie Clegg, and happily accepted the opportunity to learn more about one of the Tudor siblings. I tend to focus on the life of her brother and so I found this as a great opportunity to learn more about this magnificent woman.

Excerpt from

When the thirteen year old Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York, married King James IV of Scotland in a magnificent proxy ceremony held at Richmond Palace in January 1503, no one could have guessed that this pretty, redheaded princess would go on to have a marital career as dramatic and chequered as that of her younger brother Henry VIII.

Left widowed at the age of just twenty three after her husband was killed by her brother?s army at the battle of Flodden, Margaret was made Regent for her young son and was temporarily the most powerful woman in Scotland – until she fell in love with the wrong man, lost everything and was forced to flee the country. In a life that foreshadowed that of her tragic, fascinating granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots, Margaret hurtled from one disaster to the next and ended her life abandoned by virtually everyone: a victim both of her own poor life choices and of the simmering hostility between her son, James V and her brother, Henry VIII.

My Review:

Margaret Tudor, if she had been born male, would have been no different from any other King of England, and if she lived in the modern world may have been a force to be reckoned with. When I read books about royal women who are ruled by men it leaves me frustrated. Frustrated for them, that is. In this book I put myself in Margaret’s shoes and felt the frustration when her conniving husbands stole her money (which, by the way they could because men ruled women) and left her nearly penniless. It was in those moments that you see a Margaret Tudor who was very much like her brother Henry. She was also fiercely protective of her children.

Margaret was not afraid to ask her brother Henry VIII for help when she needed it. It appears that she took her role in Scotland very seriously and wished to keep relations between the two countries stable. Unfortunately for Margaret, both her brother and first husband, King James IV of Scotland were men who did not back down from a fight.

Because of this book I now look at James IV much differently than I used to, and this has piqued my interested to learn more about him. He appears to have been good to his queen consort even though he had mistresses and many illegitimate children. Something Margaret, like her grandmother Elizabeth Woodville, learned to live with because she was treated so well.

When James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden the Regent in England (Katherine of Aragon) contemplated sending the dead king’s body to her husband while he was fighting in France, but instead only sent his blood-stained surcoat. I was very interested in how the author described how Henry VIII would have reacted had she sent the body…but I do not want to ruin the story for you.

This story is a quick and entertaining read and is well-written and researched. At moments I nearly forgot I was reading non-fiction because Clegg did such an amazing job putting together all the pieces and painting a picture of Margaret’s life in detail.

What did I take from this book??Margaret had the Tudor fiery temper and stubbornness. She also ruled with the heart, something her granddaughter (Mary, Queen of Scots) would be claimed of as well.

If you love to learn about the Tudor dynasty I highly recommend buying this book. This book will be released in the US on January 4th.

Amazon – US (discounted pre-order price available now!)

Amazon – UK

Mary Howard’s Notebook of Poetry

I’ve never discussed this topic with you but have been wanting to write and article about it for the longest time.

Started as a blank notebook by Mary Howard, the Devonshire Manuscript is an anthology of courtly love poems made by members of Henry VIII’s court and Anne Boleyn’s inner circle.

Mary Fitzroy’s close companions Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Tudor and niece of Henry VIII, and Mary Shelton, another cousin of Anne Boleyn, were actively involved in the manuscript’s making. Male courtiers, including Lord Thomas Howard and Henry Howard, Earl of SurreyHowar, contributed to it too.

This volume has been described as ‘the richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and of the literary activities of 16th-century women’. It also provides a unique insight into the precarious position of Renaissance women in, or close to, power.

The Devonshire Manuscript
Click Image to See Book pages

FLODDEN: A Tale of Two Queens (Guest Post)

Guest article by Leanda de Lisle

The battle of Flodden, which took place in Northumberland over five hundred years ago, is not only a story of fighting men. It is also a tale of two Queens. Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, who lost her husband in the battle on 9 September 1513 and Katherine of Aragon, Queen, Captain General of the English army that killed him.  It is a story of a devastating defeat, but also of ultimate triumph.

For Margaret Tudor it began in August 1513, when she bid her husband James IV of Scots, farewell at Linlithgow palace, West Lothian. Legend has it that she begged her husband not to leave her, and was angry that he intended to make war on her brother, Henry VIII.  In reality, her chief concern was for her husband’s life. Born an English princess, she was, as she often asserted, ‘a Scotswoman now’.

The relationship between the royal brothers in law had broken down after Henry VIII had claimed he was the rightful overlord of Scotland. A furious King James was determined to punish him, and when Henry had led his army into France in June 1513, looking for glory in a continental war, James had decided to plan his own invasion – of England.  Having parted from Margaret Tudor, James crossed the border into Northumberland on 24 August at the head of the greatest army ever gathered in Scotland.

Fortress after fortress fell to the Scottish king. But Henry VIII was certain his wife, Katherine of Aragon, would be a match for James. She was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile, who had thrown the Moors out of Spain. He had made her Captain General of his armies in England his absence, and Katherine, busy organizing artillery and gunners, wrote to re-assure him that she was ready for a fight and, ‘My heart is very good to it’.

Not that Katherine underestimated James. The French had trained large numbers of his men in the use of the Swiss pike: fearsome weapons, eighteen to twenty-two feet long, that could stop a cavalry charge in its tracks. When her battlefield commander, the Earl of Surrey, reached James’s army at Flodden, Katherine was already preparing a defensive line further south, in case Surrey lost to the Scottish king.

The battle of Flodden began after days of appalling weather, with the Scots pikemen advancing down Branxton hill. The wind and rain battered them and the soft ground broke up their formation, but they remained in good order, walking in eerie silence. The English described them as ‘Germanic’.

At Linlithgow palace Margaret Tudor could only await news from the battlefield. A room in the northwest Tower, with sweeping views across open countryside, is that, at which, in romantic tradition, Margaret scanned the horizon for the expected messengers.  Rumours of many dead reached Edinburgh on 10 September and it was not long before Margaret learned the full, and terrible, story.

The English had counter attacked the pikemen on foot, using the bill, a simple hook on the end of a pole. This allowed them to strike the Scots at close quarters. But, one Englishman complained, the Scots were ‘such large and strong men, they would not fall when four or five bills struck them’.  A desperate struggle had been fought ‘with great slaughter, sweating and travail’ on both sides before the battle had ended in defeat for the Scots. Ten thousand of them lay slain: ‘The prime o’ our land.. cauld in the clay..’ is how they are remembered in the pipers lament ‘The Flowers of the Forest’,  played today at the funerals of fallen servicemen.

The dead included earls, lords and even bishops. But the most significant was Margaret’s husband. His body had fallen near the royal Scottish banner of the red lion rampant. King James’s left hand was almost severed, his throat gashed, and an arrow was shot through his lower jaw. The English commander, Surrey, was rewarded for the English victory over James with the restoration of the family title, Duke of Norfolk and chose a new augmentation to his heraldic arms. Still used by the family, it recalls the spectacle of James’s corpse: a red lion rampant, with an arrow though its head.

That night the English soldiers, who had lost 4000 of their countrymen, toasted their victory with Scottish beer – which they commented was surprisingly good. Katherine of Aragon, meanwhile, wrote to her sister in law to assure her, ‘The Queen of England for the love she bears the Queen of Scots would gladly send a servant to comfort her’ in her grief.  But to Henry, Katherine expressed a rather different emotion – pride that she had helped to kill a king.

Katherine had wanted to send James’s head to France, ‘but’ she complained, ‘our Englishmen’s hearts would not suffer it’. Instead she sent Henry the chequered surcoat taken from James’s body, which she suggested he use as his banner. Looking at it, ‘rent and torn with blood’ Henry said James had, ‘paid a heavier penalty for his perfidy than we would have wished’. And years later, when Henry planned to divorce Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn, he still recalled with trepidation her ability to ‘carry on a war’ as ‘fiercely as her mother had done in Spain’.

James’s body was brought to London from Flodden and paraded through the streets slung over a horse.  Katherine received it at the Carthusian Monastery at Sheen, and later, at Henry’s request, the Pope gave permission for it to be buried at St Paul’s. But, for whatever reason, Henry never buried James, and in the reign of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, the body was still at Sheen, where it was found cast, ‘ into an old waste room, amongst old timber, stone, lead, and other rubble’.

Later some Elizabethan workmen cut off James’s head ‘for their foolish pleasure’. It still had his red beard when a Londoner rescued it, keeping it in his house, saying it smelled nice. Eventually he had it buried at St Michael’s Church, Wood Street, in the City of London. The Church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 and today a pub marks the burial spot of the last king to die in battle on British soil.

Margaret Tudor’s life after her husband’s death was not to be an easy one. Under the terms of James’s will his ‘most dearest spouse’, became regent of Scotland for their infant son, making her the first Tudor woman to rule a kingdom. But it was a position from which she was soon ousted. The Scots never really forgave her for being English born. It was through Margaret, however, that the Scottish crown would eventually triumph over that of England, for in dynastic matters having children was still more important than winning battles.

It was Margaret, and not Katherine of Aragon, whose heirs would carry forward the royal bloodlines of England, as well as Scotland. In 1603, on the death of Elizabeth I, Margaret’s great-grandson united the crowns of England and Scotland as James VI & I. The ghosts of the Flodden were laid to rest at last, with peace between the once warring kingdoms, a victory for all.

About the Author:

I was born in Westminster, London and read History at Somerville College, Oxford University, before taking up national newspaper and magazine columns, and later publishing best selling Tudor and Stuart history.

After Elizabeth: The Death of Elizabeth & the Coming of King James, was runner up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. My next book, the New York Time best selling biography, The Sisters Who Would be Queen; The tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey, provided the non-fiction basis for Phillippa Gregory’s 2017 novel The Last Tudor, and was described by Professor John Guy as ‘gripping’ and ‘an unrivalled account’.

Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603), was a Sunday Times top ten best-seller and reader reviews average over four stars on both Amazon and Goodreads. My latest book, White King, is a biography of Charles I and his loss of three kingdoms. Based on my new manuscript discoveries, with many never before seen royal letters, it describes the descent of his kingdoms into failed states, and the true role of his remarkable and maligned queen.

I regularly write and speak on matters historical for TV, radio, and a number of publications including the Times, the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, the Daily Express, BBC History magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator.

I have a free podcast on itunes and soundcloud called 10 Minute Tudors, and a website

Books by the Author:

Introducing My Tudors Dynasty Podcast Page

Hello! As you may or may not know already, I have started a separate site where I will be posting podcasts for your listening pleasure. I shared my first one the Tudors Dynasty Facebook page (and Twitterpage) for free and I’m very excited about all the positive feedback I’ve received thus far. I’m already working on my second podcast. 🙂

To make sure you do not miss out on future podcasts,articles, polls and more items that are different than what you see here- please check out my #Patreon page at: if each of you signed up at the $1 per month level (can cancel anytime) you would be allowing me to spend A LOT more time researching and providing you with more Tudor stories. This is what the page looks like, all you have to do is click on “Become a patron” and then choose the level you’d like to be at – each level unlocks more prizes for you each month!


Here is the first podcast that is available for free to everyone – all future podcasts will require only $1 per month membership.

Thank you so much for all the support you’ve given me over the past couple years. I’ve been working hard to learn more every day so I can provide you with facts and stories that you may not have heard before. This growth project will only continue to bring you more!


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 metLord 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 bySylvia Barbara Soberton
Wikipedia – Margaret Douglas
Wikipedia – Syon Abbey

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Mother Guildford: Joan Vaux

It’s not very often that we take a look behind the scenes to the people who cared for the beloved children of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. I stumbled across Joan Vaux while looking through old translated letters, however, she was mis-labeled as Jane, Lady Guildford – or “Mother Guildford.” In the explanation of this letter it discusses her dismissal from the service of Mary, the French queen, by her husband Louis XII. This, of course, is referring to Mary Tudor – favorite sister of Henry VIII.

With this information I decided to look into ladies-in-waiting to the French queen. This is when I discovered a Joan (not Jane) who had many years earlier been named the Lady Governess to the royal children, Princess Margaret and Princess Mary starting in 1499. Since she was so young Princess Mary became very close to her Governess and relied upon her greatly.

Joan Vaux, Mother Guildford

Lady Guildford
Joan Vaux, Lady Guildford

Joan Vaux was born around 1463 to  Sir William Vaux and Katherine Penyston. Joan’s first station at court was as a lady-in-waiting to Margaret Beaufort after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

In 1489, Joan married Sir Richard Guildford (1455-1506) at the age of 26, which to be honest was rather old for a first marriage; Henry VII and Elizabeth of York were in attendance at their wedding. That same year the couple are reported to have had a son, Sir Henry Guildford.

By 1499, Lady Guildford became Governess to ten-year old Princess Margaret and three-year old Princess Mary Tudor. It’s no surprise that Mary had a close relationship with Joan since she would have had grown up in her care; She was like a second mother.

Upon the arrival of Katherine of Aragon in 1501, Joan was present with Queen Elizabeth. Not long after meeting Arthur, Prince of Wales Katherine and her ladies had danced the pavane:

The pavane’s basic movement, to music in 2/2 or 4/4 time, consisted of forward and backward steps; the dancers rose onto the balls of their feet and swayed from side to side.

Arthur Tudor eventually joined in and Katherine, along with one of her ladies, taught him a dignified Spanish dance after which he danced with Lady Guildford in the English style – “right pleasurably and honourably.”

Unfortunately, in 1506, Joan’s husband Sir Richard Guildford died while on pilgrimage in Jerusalem. Sometime that year she also re-joined the household of Margaret Beaufort until the King’s Mother’s death in 1509, at which time Joan retired from court and moved to a house in Blackfriars, London.

At some point she remarried. The date is unknown. Her second husband was sir Anthony Poyntz, but she retained the name Guildford for the rest of her life. Poyntz was English diplomat and naval commander. He was the son of Sir Robert Poyntz, and Margaret Woodville, who was the illegitimate daughter of Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers. Poyntz died in 1533, leaving Joan as a widow once again.

France 1514

Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Joan remains quiet until 1514, when she is reunited with Princess Mary Tudor upon her forthcoming wedding in France to King Louis XII. Following the wedding, the French king dismissed a majority of Mary’s English attendants, including Joan. Mary was so upset that she wrote a letter to her brother, Henry VIII and Wolsey to voice her displeasure.

Mary, Queen of France to Wolsey: (Letters and Papers: Henry VIII)

Complains of her servants having been discharged the morning after her marriage; among the rest her “mother Guldeford,” whom the King and Wolsey advised her always to consult. No attention was paid to Mary’s urgent request that she should remain. Has many other discomforts besides. Begs Wolsey will find the means to have her sent back. “I had as lief lose the winning I shall have in France as to lose her counsel when I shall lack it; which is not like long to be required, as I am sure the noblemen and gentlemen can show you more than becometh me to write in this matter.” Is dissatisfied with Norfolk

Mary, Queen of France to her brother, Henry VIII: (Mary writes Henry to ask for Joan’s return)

“Begs credence for her, and desires her return.” “I marvel much that my Lord of Norfolk wold at all times so lightly grant everything at their requests here. I am well assured that when ye know the truth of everything, as my mother Guildford can show you, ye wold full little have thought I should have been thus intreated, that would God my Lord of Zorke had come with me in the room of my Lord of Norfolk, for then am I sure I should have been left much more at my heart’s ease than I am now.”

King Louis did not allow Joan to stay in France. He had a strong dislike of her and how she advised his wife. There was nothing anyone could do on Joan’s behalf. Joan was very upset about this and wrote to Henry VIII who in turn paid her a pension for her past loyalties to her grandmother, his parents and his sisters.

After her return to England in 1514, Joan went rather quiet, and we do not hear much from her again until she makes out her will in 1538.

At the commencement of her will, Joan was said to describe herself as of sound mind, but sick in body — she only survived a few more days. She died on Wednesday, 4th of September 1538, between 11 and 12 am., “very weak and repentant.” She was 75 years old. Joan outlived her charge, Mary, by five years.


Weir, Alison; Six Wives of Henry VIII – page 30

‘Henry VIII: October 1514, 1-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1, 1509-1514, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1920), pp. 1401-1417. British History Online [accessed 14 July 2016].

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