Let the Wolves Devour

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A blog by Stuart McCabe, based on his book, Let the Wolves Devour


Lady Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox (1515–1578), noblewoman, only child legitimate of Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus (c. 1489–1557), and his second wife, Queen Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland. Margaret Tudor was also daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. Lady Margaret Douglas was born on 8 October 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland.

Queen Margaret Tudor’s first husband had been James IV, king of Scots, who died at the Battle of Flodden Field in England, Sept 9th, 1513, waging war on England and Queen Margaret’s brother Henry VIII. James IV left one only two legitimate sons, James V, a mere infant born in 1512, and Alexander who would die in 1515.

Queen Margaret then involved herself with the power struggles that emerged, with various factions seeking to possess the person of James V and rule Scotland. Queen Margaret would gain the regency of Scotland, and then lose it when she married Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. Although this marriage allowed her to gather together a strong coalition of supporters, unfortunately her rivals would invite a Frenchman of Royal Scots descent, John Stuart, third Duke of Albany who would be appointed Regent. With French money In 1515 Albany would buy up a strong body of supporters, and gain possession of James at Stirling. Whilst pregnant Queen Margaret escaped Albany and fled south to the court of her brother, Henry VIII, travelling through hostile border country with small escort, in the depths of winter, and with bands of raiders and outlaws hoping to capture her and claim a bounty from Albany. Margaret was seized with labour pains and forced to seek shelter in the castle of Thomas, second Lord Dacre, at Harbottle. After her daughter Margaret was born on October 8th, 1515, a baptism was held the day after the birth. Queen Margaret ill during the winter, in the spring she took her infant daughter to the English court where she was brought up in the royal nurseries at Greenwich Palace. The earl of Angus did not join his wife and daughter in England, preferring to make his peace with Albany and ensure his lands are not forfeited to the crown. This would cause a growing friction between Margaret and Angus, who would have felt she had been deserted. In June 1517 Henry VIII sent Margaret and daughter back to Scotland.

Whilst Queen Margaret, Angus and their daughter were reunited, when Margaret discovered that Angus had a mistress a furious argument ensued, and Angus took possession of his then three year daughter and took her to Tantallon Castle. He would from them on bring young Margaret up, and use her as a emotional lever against the mother. Queen Margaret was caught between a bitter husband depriving her of her daughter, and the Duke of Albany who possessed her son James V. When the Earl of Angus gained possession of James V, he would practically rule Scotland.

Queen Margaret would eventually win the power struggle against the Earl of Angus, and when James V escaped the custody of Angus he raised an army and pursued him in 1528. Angus and his band would run and ride in the border country, and his daughter who had been brought in the martial skills and the outdoor life would accompany him. Finally they crossed into England and in November 1530 the duchess of Suffolk and dowager queen of France invited her to live in London. Henry VIII then decreed that she should live at Beaulieu, in the household of his daughter Mary. With only four months between them in age, the two girls became lifelong friends, despite the fact that in 1536 Henry removed both his daughters from the succession on the grounds of their alleged illegitimacy, and for a time Lady Margaret Douglas was treated as a heiress presumptive.

Margaret was popular at court, described as 'beautiful and highly esteemed'. She would be appointed lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, she got on surprisingly well with the new queen, and fell in love with Anne's uncle, Thomas Howard. The two became secretly engaged but Henry VIII was furious when Henry found out he was convinced that Howard was aiming to capture the Crown of England through marriage to Lady Margaret. Henry sent both to the Tower until Margaret fell ill with fever. She was transferred to the abbey of Sion, near Isleworth, then eventually freed on 29 October 1537. Thomas Howard would die in the Tower a few days after Margaret was released. With the birth of his son Edward, Henry would reconsider his attitude to Margaret and appeared to treat her as illegitimate. No longer a threat to his crown she was allowed to return to court. However she would fall in love with Charles Howard, brother of Katherine Howard, and Henry once more sent her to the abbey of Sion.

Margaret would be allowed to return to court in 1543, when her father the exiled Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, would involve himself in Scottish politics after the death of James V in late 1542. A struggle would ensue to gain possession of James V's infant daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, fought between James Hamilton, Lord Governor of Scotland who was head of the protestant reformers in Scotland, and Cardinal Beaton and Mary's mother Mary of Guise, representing the catholic factions. James Hamilton was also designated the second person of the realm having a claim after the infant Mary to the crown of Scotland. Scottish prisoners of war in England would be freed and allowed to return to Scotland along with Angus. Joining with the Scottish protestant, this became a strong force.

To counter James Hamilton, Cardinal Beaton lured Matthew Stuart (1516-1571), 4th or 13th Earl of Lennox from France where he had been serving as a military captain. The Lennox-Stuarts were bitter enemies of the Hamiltons, and Matthew also had a claim to the crown of Scotland being a descendent of James I. Lennox would successfully save Mary and her mother from James Hamilton and take them to Stirling and safety. However, he soon realized that he was being used by Cardinal Beaton and Mary of Guise, in order to get the Hamiltons to change sides. In one of the most unusual about-turns in Scottish history, the Protestant reformer James Hamilton made peace with Beaton, he switched from being a protestant reformer and returned to the catholic faith. He was also recognised as second person of the realm and Lord Governor of Scotland. The Earl of Lennox, who was a catholic, changed sides.

It is said that the Earl of Angus convinced Lennox to marry his daughter when they met in Scotland. Whilst there is no record of Lennox having met with Lady Margaret, he was said to have fallen in love. It is possible that Angus had a mini-portrait of his daughter that he showed Lennox.

Henry VIII approved of the marriage. On 6 July 1544, in St James's Palace, London, Lady Margaret married Matthew Stuart. On his wedding day he became a naturalized Englishman, receiving from the king grants of property in London and Yorkshire. Whilst Lennox would lead protestant forces in Scotland, and had lands and estates in protestant England, both Lady Margaret and he would remain Catholics.

Lady Margaret's would give birth to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley on December 7th 1545, a week after the older twin had died. Henry would marry Mary, Queen of Scots and there son James VI of Scotland would in 1603 become James I of England, successfully uniting the two realms.



Sources for this article include:
  • Let the Wolves Devour, by Stuart McCabe

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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024