Margaret Tudor led a very turbulent life, causing scandal. She married three times, and, like her brother Henry VIII, had trouble obtaining divorces.

Margaret Tudor
Margaret Tudor

She “had the faults of the Tudors without their brains”!

Margaret was born on 28 November 1489—“a sturdy, healthy child”—the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. She was a lively girl who was “said to be her father’s favourite”.

Henry VII arranged a marriage with James IV of Scotland, as part of a peace treaty, when Margaret was only nine years old. It was signed on 24 January 1502.

Marriage preparations were delayed when Margaret’s brother Arthur and her mother Elizabeth passed away.

Marriage to James IV

She married James IV on 8 August 1503, after her arrival in Scotland, amidst pomp and splendour. James spared no expense. Celebrations lasted five days with banquets, pageants, dancing and a three-day jousting tournament.

James IV

James was not handsome, but he had personality. He was intelligent, well-educated and multi-lingual, but he suffered from Depression. The Renaissance flourished during his reign. He supported artists, writers and poets. James established the first printing press in 1507. He built a modern navy to rival England’s and gave Scotland international status.

James showered his bride with gifts and dresses. Margaret, a “glowing, feisty young woman” with golden hair, felt lonely and homesick in a strange cold land. Margaret conveyed her misery in letters to her father.

Her husband’s unfaithfulness caused further unhappiness. He had several mistresses and fathered several illegitimate children.

Margaret bore six children. Only one survived infancy.

Peace with England meant war with France. James IV sided with France against the Holy League (the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and England). The Pope threatened excommunication.

James IV invaded England whilst Henry VIII fought in France. The English defeated and killed James at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Margaret was left a widow, aged twenty-four.

Widowhood and Remarriage

Margaret appointed herself Regent, as her son James V was only eighteen-months-old. She was anxious to secure her son’s future. She was also three months pregnant. Her sixth child, Alexander, Duke of Ross, was born on 30 April 1513.

The Scottish lords opposed Margaret’s appointment. They were further enraged when Margaret secretly married Archibald Douglas, the Sixth Earl of Angus, for love—a politically unwise move. Margaret was declared unfit to rule.

Linlithgow Palace © Carolyn M Cash
Linlithgow Palace © Carolyn M Cash

James IV’s cousin John Stewart, the Duke of Albany, was appointed Regent. He took custody of James V and his brother soon after his arrival in August. The Duke of Ross died in his care in October 1515.

Margaret fled to England where her daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, was born on 7 October 1515, after a prolonged and difficult labour.

Margaret spent a year at her brother’s court. Her husband resumed his relationship with former fiancée, Lady Jane of Traquair during Margaret’s absence.

She faced difficulties obtaining a divorce. Her brother Henry—somewhat hypocritically—reprimanded his sister for leaving her second husband. Pope Clement VII granted Margaret’s divorce in February 1527 and legitimacy to Lady Margaret Douglas.

Margaret married her live-in lover, Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. He was worse than Angus. He stole her rents and proved unfaithful. Margaret applied for another divorce. Her son intervened. Margaret was eventually reconciled with her third husband.

The Scots kept Margaret short of funds. She lived like a pauper so she often asked Henry for money.

Margaret died from a stroke, aged 53, on Tuesday, 18 October 1541. Margaret was laid to rest in the Carthusian Abbey vault at Perth.

Calvinists desecrated Margaret’s tomb twenty years later. They burnt her skeleton and scattered her ashes.


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© 2008 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 17 July 2008.

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