Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox
Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas, sometimes styled “Princess of Scotland”, was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland and her second husband, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. Margaret enjoyed the affection of her uncle King Henry VIII of England and was witness to many events in Tudor history. She also was a pawn of her uncle’s game in the marriage market and did not actually wed until she was in her late twenties. She was a dynamic Tudor personality. More importantly, she was the grandmother of King James VI of Scotland and I of England.

Margaret was born under difficult circumstances. Her mother Queen Margaret was involved in a power struggle for the regency of her young son King James V of Scotland. Things became unbearable and Queen Margaret fled to England seeking refuge and a place to have her child. The birth took place on October 8, 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland.

Margaret and her mother remained in England for a year. Queen Margaret and Angus were reconciled and little Margaret and her mother returned to Scotland where her parent’s marriage rapidly disintegrated. At the age of three, Margaret’s father took possession of her. Angus took good care of her, assigning a governess although she did not receive a strong education. In 1522, Angus traveled to France and may have taken Margaret with him. Margaret did not see her mother from 1521 to 1524 and was highly influenced by her father, becoming very much a Douglas. Her parents were finally divorced in 1527. From 1525 to1528, Angus was in complete control of the Scottish regency. This was a time of great luxury for Margaret. As half-sister of King James V, she was treated as a princess. She may have become conceited during this time.

In May of 1528, King James V began to assert himself and overthrew his stepfather. Angus fought to keep his position until March of 1529. During this time Margaret traveled with her father, sometimes seeking refuge at Norham Castle. Angus finally fled to England taking the 13 year old Margaret with him. She was left with Sir Thomas Stangeways at Berwick until that summer. She and her ladies were prisoners but treated well. Margaret’s mother made an attempt at this time to get her back but was unsuccessful. Henry worried Margaret would turn out like her mother because he disapproved of his sister’s behavior. Sir Thomas wrote to Cardinal Wolsey that he was keeping a strict eye on Margaret, fearing she might be stolen into Scotland. Margaret was now legally the ward of King Henry who along with Wolsey, arranged for her to be brought south to live with her aunt Mary Tudor.

Sometime in 1530, Margaret went to be lady-in-waiting to King Henry’s daughter Princess Mary at Beaulieu which lasted for three years. They shared an education and were to remain friends until Mary’s death. Anne Boleyn also took an interest in Margaret during this time. In 1533, Henry married Anne Boleyn and she was crowned Queen. Margaret may have participated in Anne’s coronation and when Princess Elizabeth was born to Anne in 1533, Margaret was first lady of honor in Elizabeth’s household. During this time Margaret contributed some of her poems to a book in the Boleyn circle called the “Devonshire Manuscript”. Margaret was in high favor and would come into contact with the powerful Howard family, relatives of Anne Boleyn. In 1535, with the encouragement of Queen Anne, Margaret began a romance with Thomas Howard, half-brother of the Duke of Norfolk. She fell in love and gave him a miniature of herself and he gave her a ring.

By 1536, Anne Boleyn had fallen out of favor and was executed. Within ten days, Henry had married Jane Seymour and Margaret was to be a part of Jane’s household. It was about this time, Henry found out about Margaret’s romance. Henry decided this was an attempt by the Howard’s to marry into the royal family and eventually take the throne. Howard was attainted for treason and he and Margaret were thrown into the Tower. The “Act of Succession” was changed to state that it was a capital offense to “espouse, marry or deflower being unmarried” any of the King’s female relations.

Both Margaret and Howard fell ill while in the Tower. Margaret was released into the care of the Abbess of Syon and recovered there to return to court, un-deflowered. Howard was to die of his illness in the Tower two days after her release. It is more than likely she had to disavow Thomas as a condition of her return to court. It took Margaret a long time to recover from Thomas’ death.

In October of 1537, after giving birth to Henry’s only son Edward, Jane Seymour died. Margaret was an attendant at the funeral. In January of 1540, Margaret was assigned as a lady-in-waiting to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Anne of Cleves marriage was annulled in May of 1540. By July, Henry had married Catherine Howard and Margaret was named lady-in-waiting to her. During this time, possibly with the encouragement of the Queen, Margaret began a romance with the Queen’s brother Charles Howard, the nephew of her first lover Thomas Howard. Someone informed the King and Margaret was arrested and again lodged at Syon. Charles escaped to Flanders to avoid arrest. Margaret was only at Syon a short time before Henry released her to go to Kenninghall when Catherine Howard fell from grace. Margaret’s mother died on October 18, 1541. She willed all her little remaining property to Margaret, but King James V took it.

In July of 1543, Henry married Katherine Parr. Margaret was chief bridesmaid and carried Katherine Parr’s train. She served in the Queen’s household and was on intimate terms with her. Also in July, Margaret learned the 29 year old Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox was interested in marrying her. Lennox was a Scottish nobleman who had made his way to France in 1532 and stayed there for ten years, becoming a French citizen. At one time there had been talk that Lennox would marry Mary of Guise, Queen Dowager of Scotland and regent for her young daughter Mary Queen of Scots but this never materialized. Lennox was one of the few remaining Scottish nobles with Anglophile sympathies. He looked to England to make an impressive match and King Henry eventually agreed to let him marry his now 28 year old niece.

Margaret fell in love with Lennox and felt lucky to have a handsome, politically ambitious husband. She devoted herself to his causes. He had his own following of men and his knowledge of French politics and military affairs would help King Henry. The King and Queen were present at Margaret’s marriage on July 6, 1544 at St. James Palace in London.

In the early years of their marriage, Margaret was pregnant much of the time and Lennox was in Scotland working for King Henry and fighting. When it was discovered that Lennox was working for the English, he was attainted and exiled to England. Margaret and Lennox lived most of the time at Temple Newsham House near Leeds. Margaret was to have a total of eight children but only two survived. Their eldest son Henry, Lord Darnley was born on December 5, 1545 and was named after the King. Charles was born in 1555 or 1556.

Margaret's son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots
Margaret’s son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots

Henry VIII died in January, 1547. His young son became King Edward VI. Margaret spent most of her time in the North, supervising the education of her sons. When Marie of Guise visited London in November of 1551, Margaret made a rare appearance at court. When Edward died in 1553, it was a dangerous time. One faction wanted Lady Jane Grey to be Queen and another faction supported Princess Mary. Mary fought for the throne and won. Margaret was in high favor during the reign of her old friend. Margaret even took precedence at court ahead of Princess Elizabeth. She treated Princess Elizabeth badly during this time. There were rumors during the time Mary had Elizabeth sent to the Tower that Margaret was urging Mary to execute Elizabeth. Mary died in November 1558 and Elizabeth became the new Queen. Despite the animosity between the two women, Margaret brought her sons to court to greet the new Queen and she participated in Elizabeth’s coronation.

Margaret and her husband, who had lost his property in Scotland, were fighting most of the time they were married to get their property restored. Margaret pinned all her hopes for the future on her two surviving sons Henry and Charles. It was Margaret’s greatest dream to see her son Henry married to the young Mary Queen of Scots after she was widowed in 1560. Henry was well educated, a musician and a poet, fair and tawny haired, handsome and 6’3” tall which was important to the 6’ Mary Queen of Scots.

From 1561 to 1564, Margaret and her husband were under suspicion by the Elizabethan government. Because Margaret was a devoted Catholic, it was believed she was involved in rebellion in the North against the regime. In addition, Margaret’s scheme to marry her son to Mary Queen of Scots was suspicious. Margaret and her husband would spend most of 1562 in prison. Matthew was in the Tower but Margaret was under house arrest at Sheen. Margaret defended herself and her family and eventually Matthew was released from the Tower to join her. By 1563, the entire family was released. Margaret was back at court, tolerated for the time being.

After all Margaret’s intrigues on behalf of her son, Elizabeth finally gave Darnley permission to travel to Scotland in February 1565. By July, Mary and Darnley were married. Even before the marriage, Margaret had been arrested. In June she was in the Tower again. Darnley turned out to be a disaster as a husband and was murdered on Feb 10, 1567. Margaret was heartbroken. She was released from the Tower almost immediately. Elizabeth was sympathetic to Margaret over the death of her son.

Margaret and her family kneeling in front of a memorial to her son, Lord Darnley
Margaret and her family kneeling in front of a memorial to her son, Lord Darnley

Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to a child by Darnley on June 19, 1566 and named James. She was eventually to abdicate the Scottish throne to her son on June 24, 1567. Lennox went to Scotland to act as regent for his grandson. After a troubled regency, Margaret’s husband was murdered on September 4, 1571. Margaret schemed with Bess of Hardwick to marry her son Charles to Bess’s daughter Elizabeth. They married in October 1574. Queen Elizabeth was furious with Margaret and had her imprisoned in the Tower yet again but only for a short time. Charles and his wife were to have a daughter, Arbella Stuart. Arbella was to get into trouble, just as her grandmother did, for making an unsanctioned marriage in 1610 to William Seymour, great grandson of Edward Seymour, brother of Queen Jane Seymour.

After Margaret’s final release from the Tower she spent most of her life at her home in Hackney, finally done with politics. She took great interest in her grandchildren, Arbella and James, becoming a devoted and affectionate grandmother. By 1578, her health was failing. She died in poverty at Hackney on March 10, 1578 (according to the inscription on her tomb). She had witnessed many important events of Tudor and Stuart history. Her grandson James would ascend the throne of England on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

Further reading: “A Biography of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (1515-1578)” by Kimberly Schutte, “The Sisters of Henry VIII” by Maria Perry, “The Lost Tudor Princess:  The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas” by Alison Weir, “Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII” by Linda Porter, “Henry VIII: The King and His Court” by Alison Weir

14 thoughts on “Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

  1. Margaret Douglas, Countess of Douglas was a very,very interesting woman in history and she manged to out wit Elizabeth when she arranged the match between her young son, Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox and the daughter of Bess of Hardwick, although Arbella Stuart had a tragic history. Also it is good that Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox had a happy union with Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox. It is not often that the royals wed for love, although she should have been allowed to wed young Thomas Howard or at the very least Charles Howard, but Henry the Eight probably did not think that Charles Howard was good enough for Margaret Douglas. He appeared to have loved her greatly.


  2. wonderful article about a very important Lady in history. I think Alison Weir is writing a novel about her. I have been hungry to do a little concentrated reading about her, as she was so crucial in Marie’s life. Good luck on your book! I will certainly look forward to reading it
    Marie Queen of Scots

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed it and I am so glad you like Sisters. I have a new book coming out soon: Tudor the Family Story 1437-1603. The first UK hardback copy arrived for me in the post today. I never liked the covers for Sisters, but this one looks pretty good I think! We authors have very little say in such things!


  4. You might be interested in my article about Margaret Douglas in the August 2013 issue if History Today, which is out now and can the article can be seen on line. It explodes a few myths about her. She is a major character in my book Tudor: The Family Story (29 August 2013)


  5. Thanks for another wonderful glimpse of a fascinating time. I have bookmarked this page and will begin reading the previous posts.


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