The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life Of Lady Margaret Douglas
It is easy enough to understand how it was that the life of Lady Margaret Douglas was forgotten, relatively speaking. It is true that she was related to a great many kinds of England and Scotland through marriage. Her mother was a sister of King Henry VIII (making her the granddaughter of King Henry VII as well as the great-grandaughter of King Edward IV), her son married disastrously with Mary, Queen of Scots, and she was a grandmother to James I/VI. Yet for all of her connections, she seemed not to be in the forefront of events, although her matchmaking skills were practically occult in unifying England and Scotland through a tangle of marriage alliances in which she was a part. The fact that she managed to avoid being put to death for treason despite her political wheeling and dealing was also notable, but her obscurity is not entirely surprising. Few people write biographies of Mary of Burgundy or Juana the Mad or other figures like that whose main claim to fame is bringing territories and dynastic claims from one generation to another and helping to unify realms together. That’s not saying that her life story is uninteresting, just that it is unsurprising that it took until the contemporary era for her life to be considered worth reading by audiences interesting in early modern political history.
This book is a biography of an obscure woman, and yet because that obscure woman was deeply embedded in the royal families of England and Scotland there is thankfully a lot of documentary information about her, which definitely improves this work of more than 400 pages that is divided into 22 chapters. So it that after the introductory maps, genealogical tables, illustrations, introduction, and prologue, we see the youth of Lady Douglas as a beautiful young lady (1) whose parents’ marriage fell apart disastrously (2), and who was taken in by her uncle as a princess (3) and who managed to get secretly engaged to someone who for his troubles died of sickness in the Tower (4), leaving her to mourn (5) and manage to flirt with her dead fiance’s uncle (6) before finding marriage with Earl Lennox (7) and find her match viewed as as happy one in both England and Scotland (8). After that the author discusses her husband’s political ambitions (9), as well as occasional success (10) and her own English political savvy (11) and her efforts at making her son into a king (12). Her efforts and her husband’s ended up getting them occasionally punished (13) and in disgrace (14) and even imprisoned (15) and in great trouble (16), but her suffering was increased by the murder of her son (17) as well as the controversy caused her her daughter-in-law’s rapid marriage to Bothwell (18) and the threat of treason that killed her husband (19). The book then ends with a look at her other son’s hasty marriage as he was dying of tuburculosis (20), and her own death (21) as well as her role as a progenitor of princes (22), before the book ends with appendices about her portrait (i) and various poems that she copied into the Devonshire manuscript (ii) as well as the chief dramatis personae of her life, a bibliography, notes and references, and an index.
What lessons can we take from the life of Margaret Douglas? There are at least a few larger lessons that readers can take. One of them is the way that women can shape the history of nations through who they marry, and manage to survive through their ability to form ties with others. There is also the lesson that with the informal power that comes from tangling with royalty and having royal blood comes a high degree of vulnerability. Margaret Douglas’ Tudor blood made her a target for adventurers looking to get close to the throne and her efforts at weaving the Tudor and Stewart/Stuart bloodlines together made her an occasional threat to the well-being of both Scotland and England, even as she succeeded against all odds in bringing those two crowns together in the shape of her grandson. But it was a near-run thing. Margaret only had two children survive long enough to marry and have children, and both of her sons only ended up having one child apiece, but it was enough, just barely, for dynastic purposes. Whether or not that is a good thing is left for the reader to judge.