Margaret Tudor (28 November 1489 – 18 October 1541) was Queen of Scots from 1503 until 1513 as the wife of James IV and then regent for their son James V.
She was born at Westminster Palace as the elder surviving daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.
As queen dowager, she married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Through her first and second marriages, respectively, Margaret was the grandmother of both Mary, Queen of Scots, and Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley.
Margaret’s marriage to James IV foreshadowed the Union of the Crowns – their great-grandson, King James VI of Scotland, the child of Mary and Darnley, also became the king of England and Ireland on the death of Margaret’s fraternal niece, Elizabeth I of England in 1603.
Margaret was baptised in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. She was named after Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, her paternal grandmother.
Daughters were important political assets in a world where diplomacy and marriage were closely linked. Even before Margaret’s sixth birthday, Henry VII thought about a marriage between Margaret and James IV as a way of ending the Scottish king’s support for Perkin Warbeck, pretender to the throne of England.
It is also highly likely that Henry may have believed that such a marriage alliance would be a step towards uniting the English and Scottish thrones, something that his son, the future Henry VIII would also attempt during his reign.
On 30 September 1497, James IV’s commissioner, the Spaniard Pedro de Ayala concluded a lengthy truce with England, and now the marriage was again a serious possibility. James was in his late twenties and still unmarried.
The Italian historian Polydore Vergil said that some of the English royal council objected to the match, saying that it would bring the Stewarts directly into the line of English succession, to which the wily and astute Henry replied:
What then? Should anything of the kind happen (and God avert the omen), I foresee that our realm would suffer no harm, since England would not be absorbed by Scotland, but rather Scotland by England, being the noblest head of the entire island, since there is always less glory and honour in being joined to that which is far the greater, just as Normandy once came under the rule and power of our ancestors the English.
On 24 January 1502, Scotland and England concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, the first peace agreement between the two realms in over 170 years. The marriage treaty was concluded the same day and was viewed as a guarantee of the new peace.
The popular TV show ‘The Tudors’ doesn’t represent the real Margaret Tudors actions, do not use the show as a true representation.
Margaret was well received by Henry and, to confirm her status, was lodged in Scotland Yard, the ancient London residence of the Scottish kings. In 1517, having spent a year in England, she returned north, after a treaty of reconciliation had been worked out by Albany, Henry and Cardinal Wolsey.
Albany was temporarily absent in France — where he renewed the Auld Alliance once more and arranged for the future marriage of James V — but the Queen-Dowager was received at the border by Sieur de la Bastie, his deputy, as well as by her husband. Peace may have broken out but it was perfectly clear that Margaret was still not fully trusted, and access to her son was strictly limited.
Although Margaret and Angus were temporarily reconciled, it was not long before their relationship entered a phase of terminal decline. She discovered that while in England her husband had been living with Lady Jane Stewart, a former lover. This was bad enough; what was worse, he had been living on his wife’s money. In October 1518, she wrote to her brother, hinting at divorce:
“I am sore troubled with my Lord of Angus since my last coming into Scotland, and every day more and more, so that we have not been together this half year… I am so minded that, an I may by law of God and to my honour, to part with him, for I wit well he loves me not, as he shows me daily.”
This was a difficult issue for Henry; a man of conservative and orthodox belief, he was opposed to divorce on principle – which was highly ironic, considering his later marital career. Just as important, Angus was a useful ally and an effective counter-weight to Albany and the pro-French faction.
Angered by his attitude, Margaret drew closer to the Albany faction and joined others in calling for his return from France. Albany, seemingly in no hurry to return to the fractious northern kingdom, suggested that she resume the regency herself.
The dispute between husband and wife was set to dominate Scottish politics for the next three years, complicated even more by a bitter feud between Angus and James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran; with bewildering rapidity Margaret sided with one and then the other.
Albany finally arrived back in Scotland in November 1521 and was warmly received by Margaret. It was soon rumoured that their cordial relations embraced more than politics. Angus went into exile while the Regent — with the full co-operation of the Queen-Dowager — set about restoring order to a country riven by three years of intense factional conflict.
Albany was useful to Margaret: he was known to have influence in Rome, which would help ease her application for a divorce. Angus and his allies spread the rumour that the two were lovers, to such effect that even the sober-headed Lord Dacre wrote to Wolsey, predicting that James would be murdered and Albany would become king and marry Margaret. But the relationship between the two was never more than one of calculated self-interest, as events were soon to prove.
Margaret attempted to resist but was forced to bend to the new political realities. Besides, by this time her desire for a divorce had become obsessive, taking precedence over all other matters. She was prepared to use all arguments, including the widespread myth that James IV had not been killed at Flodden. Despite the coup of 1524 she corresponded warmly with Albany, who continued his efforts on her behalf in Rome.
In March 1527, Pope Clement VII granted her petition. Because of the political situation in Europe at the time it was not until December that she learned of her good fortune.
She married Henry Stewart on 3 March 1528, ignoring the pious warnings of her brother that marriage was ‘divinely ordained’ and his protests against the ‘shameless sentence sent from Rome.’ Not many years later, Henry himself would break with Rome precisely because he could not get the same ‘shameless sentence’.
In June 1528, James V finally freed himself from the tutelage of Angus – who once more fled into exile – and began to rule in his own right. Margaret was an early beneficiary of the royal coup, she and her husband emerging as the leading advisors to the king.
James created Stewart Lord Methven “for the great love he bore to his dearest mother.” It was rumoured – falsely – that the Queen favoured a marriage between her son and her niece Mary, but she was instrumental in bringing about the Anglo-Scottish peace agreement of May 1534.
The central aim of Margaret’s political life – besides assuring her own survival – was to bring about a better understanding between England and Scotland, a position she held to through some difficult times. James was suspicious of Henry, especially because of his continuing support for Angus, a man he loathed with a passion.
Even so, in early 1536 his mother persuaded him to meet with her brother. It was her moment of triumph and she wrote to Henry and Thomas Cromwell, now his chief advisor, saying that it was “by advice of us and no other living person.” She was looking for a grand occasion on the lines of the Field of Cloth of Gold, and spent a huge sum in preparation.
In the end it came to nothing because there were too many voices raised in objection and because James would not be managed by his mother or anyone else. In a private interview with the English ambassador, William Howard, her disappointment was obvious – “I am weary of Scotland”, she confessed.Her weariness even extended to betraying state secrets to Henry.
Weary of Scotland she may have been: she was now even more tired of Lord Methven, who was proving himself to be even worse than Angus in his desire both for other women and for his wife’s money; also, their only child, a daughter (possibly called Dorothea Stewart), died in infancy.
She was once again eager for divorce but proceedings were frustrated by James, who she believed her husband had bribed.
As so often in Margaret’s life, tragedy and unhappiness were closely pursued by intrigue and farce. At one point she ran away toward the border, only to be intercepted and brought back to Edinburgh. Time and again she wrote to Henry with complaints about her poverty and appeals for money and protection – she wished for ease and comfort instead of being obliged “to follow her son about like a poor gentlewoman.”
In June 1538, Margaret welcomed Mary of Guise, James’s new French bride to Scotland. These two women, among the most formidable in Scottish history, established a good understanding. Mary made sure that her mother-in-law, who had now been reconciled with Methven, made regular appearances at court and it was reported to Henry that “the young queen was all papist, and the old queen not much less.”
Margaret died at Methven Castle, in Perthshire on 18 October 1541. Henry Ray, the Berwick Pursuivant, reported that she had a palsy on Friday and died on the following Tuesday. As she thought she would recover she did not trouble to make a will. She sent for King James, who was at Falkland Palace, but he did not come in time.
Near the end she wished that the friars who attended her would seek the reconciliation of the King and the Earl of Angus. She hoped the King would give her possessions to her daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas. James arrived after her death, and he ordered Oliver Sinclair and John Tennent to pack up her belongings for his use. She was buried at the Carthusian Priory of St John in Perth (demolished during the Reformation, 1559).
The Tudor dynasty ended with the childless Elizabeth I, and the line of succession to the English throne was passed through Margaret’s heirs. Her great-grandson, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England, thus uniting the crowns of the two kingdoms and conferring on Margaret something of a posthumous triumph.