Letter from Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox to William Cecil, Principal Secretary of Queen Elizabeth I – October 5, 1570

The memorial of Lord Darnley by Livinus de Vogelaare. The son of Margaret Douglas and Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley was the husband of Mary Queen of Scots. His parents, who commissioned this painting after his murder in 1567 are kneeling behind his infant son, the future James VI and I, with their own remaining son Charles. (Image from http://www.douglashistory.co.uk/history/margaretlennox.htm)

In reading Alison Weir’s biography of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, she quotes a letter Margaret wrote to William Cecil, principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. This letter is very intriguing because it recounts a conversation Margaret had with the Queen, presumably in private. Margaret was one of the Queen’s ladies and had direct access to her presence. The letter can be found in the Calendar of State Papers of Scotland and was written from Windsor on October 5, 1570.

Margaret’s husband, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox was in Scotland at the behest of Queen Elizabeth and was acting as regent for Mary Queen of Scots son, James VI, King of Scots. Mary Queen of Scots had been kept in captivity by Queen Elizabeth I since 1567 when she crossed the border from Scotland into England after abdicating her throne to her son. James VI was Mary’s son by her marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Darnley was the son of Margaret Douglas and the Earl of Lennox; therefore, James VI was their grandson.

The Earl was given the task of looking out for England’s interests in Scotland and he didn’t have a lot of support from the nobles there, making his job difficult in the extreme. Lennox had been responsible earlier for the execution of some of the supporters of his rivals, the Hamiltons. Margaret was acting as a liaison between her husband’s government in Scotland and the English government. She had a great deal of anxiety about his position in Scotland. Here is the letter:

“Good Master Secretary,

Being now in court I sought the way how I might visit you with these few lines, not for any fear ye should be won, which, as her Majesty tells me, she did speak to you at your departing, but to let you understand how her Majesty hath had some talks to me touching my lord. She said fault was found for [his] executing those of the Queen of Scots’ part [i.e. the adherents of the Hamiltons], howbeit my lord was holden excused and all laid upon the Earl of Morton. The Bishop of Ross did much commend my lord’s good nature.

Her Majesty said she remembered how I wept and wished my lord at home when she was at Oatlands. I answered that since that time he had a great burden laid upon him, which made me not to do so now. Her Majesty said that, if it were not for the little one [James], she thought he [Lennox] could not like her [likely meaning Margaret herself] being here. Her Majesty says that Queen [Mary] works many worse. [Elizabeth meant that others had suffered worse than Margaret on Mary’s account.]

I ensured [assured] her Majesty [that she] was good lady to her [Mary], and better I thought than any other prince would have been if they were in her cause, for she had stayed publishing abroad her ill use, which was manifestly known. More talks there was, but this was chief.

I long much till your coming home. Much ado I had to get a lodging here, for that I had first was taken from my man.

This I unburden my mind to you as to him whom I trust hath most care of the good estate of the realm and the preservation of the Queen’s Majesty, and a friend to me and mine, which to my power ye shall find, as knoweth God, who send you good return.

From the court at Windsor.

Margaret Lennox”

It almost seems as if you are in the room with the two women and can hear Elizabeth speaking. Margaret and her husband’s marriage had been rare in that they loved each other very much and enjoyed spending time together. She had reason worry about his circumstances. His lack of support turned into open rebellion by some of his enemies. There was a raid on Stirling Castle on September 4, 1571 and Lennox was shot in the stomach. He didn’t die right away but lived a short agonizing while longer before dying in the presence of his grandson the king. James VI would succeed to the throne of England as the first English Stuart king upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. 


Further reading:  “The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox” by Alison Weir, “A Biography of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (1515-1578), Niece of Henry VIII and Mother-in-Law of Mary, Queen of Scots” by Kim Shutte


2 thoughts on “Letter from Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox to William Cecil, Principal Secretary of Queen Elizabeth I – October 5, 1570

  1. The Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox was an important woman in Elizabeth’s reign, even though Elizabeth imprisoned her twice but she let her go which she did not do for Lady Katherine Grey who was only guilty of wedding who she wished to wed, Sir Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford.


  2. Very interesting letter!

    James would name Cape Richmond for the Stewart family and Cape Elizabeth for the Stuart family on Captain John Smith’s first map of New England published in 1624. Both places side-by-side in Maine representing, perhaps in both minds of King James I and Ludovic Stewart, a royal revenge for their kin? Nevertheless, Captain Smith’s New England map shows Queen Elizabeth, King James I and Prince Charles–right before his marriage to Henrietta Maria. Delicious thought to think of New Scotland, New France and New England as an original ‘grand plan’ of James (plus the old alliance of Scotland and France) for the New World, but “Camelot” was erased by Pilgrim’s Regress and the fall of the House of Stuart.


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