Saturday, June 13, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

Since last weekend I was still totally wiped out by the NY trip, I dropped the ball on Heroine of the Weekend! Sorry about that. We'll continue exploring the fascinating Tudor women this week with Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland.

Margaret, the elder of the 2 surviving daughters of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, was born November 28, 1489 and baptised two days later in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. Even before her 6th birthday, her father started negotiating a marriage between her and King James of Scotland (he hoped to head off Scottish support of Perkin Warbeck, the latest Yorkist pretender to the English throne). In January 1502 England and Scotland concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace along with a marriage contract, which was then completed with a proxy wedding. (It's been said her younger brother Prince Henry, Duke of York, then pitched a fit because his queenly sister now outranked him at Court!) In 1503, she made her way in a grand procession northward, where she was married again on August 8 at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. The marriage was said to be harmonious enough, and they had 6 children, though only one, the future James V, lived beyond infancy.

But the 1502 treaty was hardly "perpetual" (they never were), and as soon as Henry VII died in 1509 his succesosor, Henry VIII, had no time for his father's cautious diplomacy and penny-pinching ways. He was soon headed towards war with Scotland's ally France. In 1513, King James fought for France, honoring that Auld Alliance, and died at the Battle of Flodden. Margaret, who had opposed the war, was named Regent for her infant son the new king. A woman was never much welcome in positions of power, and Margaret was the sister of the enemy in addition. A pro-French party soon formed among the discontented nobility, saying she should be replaced by John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany, 3rd in line to the throne behind Margaret's two sons (and born and raised in France). But by July 1514 Margaret had managed to pacify the battling parties, and Scotland (and France) concluded peace with England. But then she took a fatal step.

In seeking allies, she had turned to the House of Douglas, and found herself especially drawn to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, whom even his uncle called "a young witless fool." The two were secretly married at the church of Kinnoull, near Perth, on August 6. This alienated the other noble houses, and strengthened the pro-French faction. By September, the Privy Council ruled she had forfeited her right to the supervision of her sons, and she ran off with her children to Stirling Castle. This didn't stop her enemies, though; in May 1515 Albany arrived from France to take over custody of the children as Regent. Margaret, initially defiant, finally surrendered at Stirling in August, and, expecting another baby, retired to Edinburgh. Eventually she escaped to the English border, and went to Harbottle Castle to give birth to a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas (who became Countess of Lennox and mother of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, cousin and husband to Mary Queen of Scots). She also finally started to get the measure of Angus, who had returned to Scotland to look after his own interests and make peace with Albany.

Margaret was well-received by her brother, and installed at Scotland Yard, the ancient palace of the Scottish kings. But in 1517, after having spent only a year in England, she returned north after a treaty of reconciliation negotiated between Albany, Henry, and Cardinal Wolsey. She was temporarily reconciled with her husband as well, but that was not for long. She discovered that while she was gone Angus was shacked up with his old lover Lady Jane Stewart, and living on Margaret's money while he was doing it. She wrote to her brother, hinting at divorce plans: "I am so minded that, an I may by law of God and to my honor, to part with him, for I wit well he loves me not, as he shows me daily."

Henry, then a staunch Catholic, was opposed to divorce (ha!!!). Also he found Angus a useful ally against Albany and the pro-French faction. Angered by his unsupportive attitude, Margaret drew closer to the Albany faction, calling for his return from France. (Albany, wisely not wanting to get into the middle of this mess, suggested she become Regent again herself). Albany finally came back to Scotland in November 1521, and soon rumors were flying he and Margaret were more than political allies. Angus went in exile as the Regent and Queen Dowager set about restoring order to a country torn by 3 years of bitter factional fighting. Albany was also useful to Margaret in other ways, as he used his influence in Rome to facilitate her divorce.

But their alliance was short-lived. In 1524, Margaret staged a coup removing the Regent (who was once again in France, lucky man) and bringing her son James to Edinburgh to be declared fully King in his own right (but he was only 12, and very much under his mother's influence). In November Margaret was formally recognized as chief counselor to the King. Having more time on her hands, she now formed a new attachment to Henry Stewart, younger brother of Lord Avondale. Henry was promoted to high office, angering powerful nobles who promptly joined forces with her estranged husband. Angus arrived in Edinburgh with a large force of armed men, claiming his right to attend Parliament, and Margaret ordered cannons fired on him from both the Castle and Holyrood House. When 2 English ambassadors suggested that maybe she shouldn't fire on her lawful husband, she told them to "go home and not meddle with Scottish matters." But under pressure, she finally admitted him to the council of regency in February 1525. He took custody of James, refusing to give him up, and exercised power on his behalf for 3 years (which left young James with an abiding hatred of both the Douglases and the English).

By this time Margaret was obsessed with getting her divorce, and in March 1527 the Pope finally granted her petition. She quickly married Henry Stewart, ignorning her brother's hypocritical warnings that marriage was "divinely ordained." In June 1528 her son broke away from Angus and began truly ruling in his own right. Margaret benefited from this change greatly, she and her husband becoming two of his most trusted advisors. James created Stewart Lord Methven "for the great love he bore to my dearest mother." Margaret's main political goal now was to ensure understanding between England and Scotland, but by 1536 she confessed "I am weary of Scotland."

Weary of her husband, too, who was even worse than Angus in his desire for other women and his wife's money. Their only child had died in infancy, and she was thwarted in her quest for another divorce. Eventually husband and wife reconciled, and in June 1538 she welcomed her son's new wife Marie of Guise from France, and the two strong women proved fast friends. An ambassador reported to King Henry, "the young queen was all papist, and the old queen not much less."

After this tumultuous life, Margaret died of a stroke at Methven Castle on October 18, 1541 and was buried at the Carthusian Priory of St. John in Perth (which was destroyd in 1559). Her son died in 1542, leaving the newborn Mary as his successor.

A few good sources on Margaret's life are:
Alison Plowden's Tudor Women
Hester W. Chapman's The Thistle and the Rose: The Sisters of Henry VIII
Maria Perry's The Sisters of Henry VIII
Sharon L. Jansen's The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe

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