Happy Birthday to Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots

Margaret Tudor was born on 28 November 1489, the oldest surviving daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, and she was destined from birth for a dynastic marriage. When she was 13 years old she married King James IV of Scotland on 25 January 1503 by proxy, and was sent north to live as the Queen of Scots.


The marriage between King James and his new bride was a relatively felicitous one, and he had the normative courtesy to wait until she was in her mid-teens to consummate he union. Their first child, James, Duke of Rothesay, was born on 21 February 1507 to the rejoicing of the kingdom. Alas, like so many children in this era, the little boy was doomed to die shortly after his first birthday.

Margaret would have six children with King James; five before the king was killed by the English at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513 and a final child born after the king’s death. Of those six, just one son would survive infancy. This son was only 17 months old when he was crowned King James V on 21 September 1513. His mother was named regent, but it wasn’t long before the dowager queen faced opposition in Scotland.

Margaret_Tudor_praying in coronation robes

The Scots nobles wanted a man to rule until the tiny king was grown, while Margaret wanted to continue to be the one in charge of her son’s best interests. Her rival, John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany, was next in line to the throne after James V and his still living youngest brother, Alexander Stewart, Duke of Ross. What would happen to her sons if Stewart was given charge of them? Would it be the same fate as the Princes in the Tower?

In her quest for allies, Margaret turned to the House of Douglas. She made the terrible error of falling in love with Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, a charmer with the soul of a snake. The dowager queen secretly wed the handsome earl on 6 August 1514, which was a colossally stupid move since this violated the terms of her regency in King James IV’s will. When the marriage was discovered, she was forced to accept Albany as King James V’s new regent. Worse, the Privy Council decided she had also given up her rights as a mother by remarrying, and demanded she surrender custody of her sons to Albany.  Margaret immediately took her boys and fled to Stirling Castle, where she held out for a year before political pressure and the risk that her son would lose his crown forced her to give the boys over to Albany.

Margaret_Tudor_surrendering her sons to Albany

Margaret, with her new husband whispering poison in her ear, feared for her life. What if the Privy Council and Albany needed the challenge to Albany’s regency more permanently removed? She decided to take up her brother, King Henry VIII, on his offer of safe refuge in England. She wasn’t dumb enough to trust her brother with custody of King James V, but she was pregnant again and trusted Henry to keep her and the new baby safe. After all, the child she carried would have no connection to the throne of Scotland. Margaret was subsequently smuggled into England, where she was taken in by Lord Dacre, the Warden of the Marches, and and given succor at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland.

It was in Harbottle Castle that Margaret learned that her youngest son, Alexander, had died. It is also where she gave birth on 8 October 1515 to her only daughter to survive infancy, Margaret Douglas, the future Countess of Lennox

Although Margaret’s great-grandson would one day rule two kingdoms, but by the start of 1516 she had a newborn and was rapidly becoming disenchanted with her husband, “who, with an eye on his own welfare, returned to Scotland to make peace with the Regent” and refused to go further into England with his wife, “which much made Margaret to muse.” Although remaining in Scotland was politically wise, Margaret had risked everything to marry Angus and she wasn’t best pleased by his desertion.

Without her husband but with her infant daughter in tow, Margaret headed south to her brother’s court greeted warmly by Henry VIII and lodged in Scotland Yard, the traditional London residence of Scottish monarchs. Margaret would return to Scotland in 1517, “after a treaty of reconciliation had been worked out by Albany, Henry and Cardinal Wolsey [but] … access to her son was strictly limited.” She was also reunited with her husband, who she was vexed to discover “had been living with Lady Jane Stewart, a former lover … [and] had been living on his wife’s money.” She and Angus would never fully reconcile, and their marriage was devolve “into a murderous farce” a few years later.

Margaret was already seeking to divorce Angus in 1524 when she brought King James to Edinburgh and had Parliament award the 12 year old king his full powers in August. The king, however, would still need lots of help governing and therefore Parliament “formally recognised Margaret as the chief councillor to the King” in November. She was de facto regent once more.

Her divorce from Angus was not yet complete, so the earl rode to Edinburgh to claim his share of her son’s power. When he approached the city with armed retainers, Margaret “ordered cannons to be fired on him from both the Castle and Holyrood House.” She was just as happy to be widowed as divorced at this point. Angus was scared off, but he was still politically powerful enough that Margaret was eventually coerced by her allies into giving him a spot on the council of regency in February 1525. This was a huge mistake, because Angus then grabbed young James and ruled on his behalf for more than three years, leaving the king with a lasting hatred for his stepfather.


There wasn’t much Margaret could do once Angus had James as his prisoner except try to get her divorce to go through Rome as fast as possible. Finally, in March of 1527 Pope Clement VII granted her an annulment from Angus. Freed from her hated spouse, she turned right around and married Henry Stewart, another user who would wind up making her miserable.

James V broke free of his former stepfather in June 1528, and Margaret’s star was once more on the ascendant. The king created Stewart Lord Methven “for the great love he bore to his dearest mother” and made his mother and new stepfather important advisors at court. Margaret worked tirelessly for peace between Scotland and England, and in 1536 she was finally able to talk her son into agreeing to meet with Henry VIII at the Scots boarder. However, 1536 would turn out to be a traumatic year for Henry VIII – what with his concussion in January and murdering Anne Boleyn in May – and James wasn’t really interested in breaking bread with the man who ruled England when his father had been killed, so the meeting never came about.

Margaret had by now discovered that her husband, Lord Methven, was a complete asshat who cheated on her with anything in a skirt and spent her money like water. She once more wanted a divorce, but she was stymied by her son, either because he valued Methven as a political ally or because Methven bribed him. It is also possible that James was just dealing with too much heartbreak of his own to abide his mother’s second divorce; Queen Madeleine of Valois, whom he had ardently loved, died in June of 1537 just a few months after reaching Scotland.

Methven eventually figured out which side of the bread his butter was on, and wooed his wife in an attempt to reconcile. By the time Margaret’s new daughter-in-law, Queen Marie de Guise, arrived in the summer of 1538 Methven and Margaret had patched up their marriage. 

Margaret and Marie of Guise would become good friends and allies. In spite of Henry VIII’s break from Rome, his sister remained firmly Catholic and in complete sympathy with new queen’s adherence to the old ways. However, Margaret wouldn’t get to enjoy her cordial relationship with her son’s wife for long. The dowager queen died at Methven Castle after a sudden illness on 18 October 1541.

Seemingly healthy just a few days before her death, Margaret had not made a will. When it became clear the end was near, she told her attendants that she wanted her belongings to go to her daughter, Margaret Douglas. Sadly, King James took all of his mother’s worldly goods for his own use, leaving his half-sister with nothing. He then arranged for his mother to be buried quietly at Perth. Her tomb was destroyed in the Reformation just a few years later.


Margaret would have a much more impressive legacy with her decendants. Her daughter, Countess of Lennox, would give Margaret a grandson, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who would marry his cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, Margaret’s granddaughter via her son King James V.

Queen Mary_Stuart and James_Darnley

In turn, they would produce a son, King James VI and I of Scotland and England, who would inherit the crown from Henry VIII’s last living child, Queen Elizabeth I, thus making Margaret Tudor the direct ancestress of all subsequent monarchs of Great Britain.

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