So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot

by Morgan Ring


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Niece to Henry VIII, heir to the throne, courtier at risk of being killed, spy-mistress, and ambitious political player, Lady Margaret Douglas is a vital new character in the Tudor story.

Amidst the Christmas revels of 1530, a fifteen-year-old girl arrived at the court of King Henry VIII. Half-English, half-Scottish, she was his niece, the Lady Margaret Douglas. For the next fifty years, Margaret held a unique and precarious position at the courts of Henry and his children. As the Protestant Reformations unfolded across the British Isles and the Tudor monarchs struggled to produce heirs, she had ambitions of her own. She wanted to see her family ruling a united, Catholic Britain. Through a Machiavellian combination of daring, spying, and luck, Margaret made her son into a suitor to her niece Mary, Queen of Scots. Together, they had a powerful claim to the English throne—so powerful that Queen Elizabeth I feared they would overthrow her and restore both England and Scotland to the Catholic faith. The marriage cost Margaret her position, her freedom, and her beloved son's life.

From the glittering Tudor court to the Tower of London, Lady Margaret Douglas weathered triumphs and tragedies in an era of tremendous change. Yet she never lost hope that she would see her family rule throughout the British Isles, which eventually happened when King James (I of England, VI of Scotland) united the crowns in 1603. Drawing on previously unexamined archival sources, So High a Blood presents a fascinating and dramatic portrait of this forgotten Tudor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632866059
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 04/25/2017
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Morgan Ring was born and raised in Toronto. She moved to England in 2008 to read history at Cambridge where she won a Senior Scholarship and holds the Gonville studentship at Gonville and Caius College. So High a Blood is her first book. She lives and teaches in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Read an Excerpt

So High A Blood

The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor That Time Forgot

By Morgan Ring

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Copyright © 2017 Morgan Ring
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63286-605-9


'O Come Ye in Peace Here, or Come Ye in War?'

With the dead still unburied and the wounded scarcely borne away from the field at Bosworth, Henry Tudor gave thanks to God for his triumph over Richard III. The last king of the House of York had reigned for just two years after seizing the crown from his young nephew, Edward V. Richard had died with his sword in his hand, struck down as the men around him had tried to fl ee. Now, the victorious soldiers cheered: Thomas Stanley took up the slain king's crown and set it on Henry's head.

That day at Bosworth in late August 1485 marked the violent end to a tumultuous seventy years. In the aftermath of Henry V's victory at Agincourt in 1415, it appeared that the House of Lancaster would rule a lasting cross- Channel empire as undisputed monarchs of both England and France. But that imperial vision faded during the reign of the great king's heir, the devout, sickly Henry VI. England surrendered all its French territories save Calais – perhaps for ever. The Lancastrians lost their crown to their Yorkist rivals, who were soon mired in usurpation, murder and rebellion. By 1485, a generation of English and Welsh people had lived and died without knowing a stable monarchy.

By strict dynastic reckoning, the crown did not belong to Henry Tudor. His father Edmund Tudor, first Earl of Richmond, had had no claim to it. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was a great- great- granddaughter of Edward III, but her grandfather John Beaufort had been born a bastard. It had taken a papal bull and an act of parliament to legitimise him, and even then he was barred from the royal succession. 2 But although there were others with stronger rights – and Henry Tudor would always face pretenders to his throne – he had obvious advantages: allies; an army; and, it seemed that day at Bosworth, the blessing of God.

With an eye for the practical as well as the symbolic, twenty-seven-year-old Henry asserted his rule. He held his coronation in October 1485, becoming Henry VII, anointed King of England and Lord of Ireland, crowned with the same regalia and by the same rites as any of his predecessors. 3 As he had sworn to do should he ever become king, he married Elizabeth of York, sister of the dead child- king Edward V, and gave his new dynasty a new emblem: the Tudor rose, uniting his Lancastrian red to Elizabeth's Yorkist white. Nine months later, they had an heir and called him Arthur. England's first printer, William Caxton, had just published a translation of Sir Thomas Malory's medieval epic Le Morte d'Arthur, and Henry and Elizabeth gave their son the name of the mythical king whose dominion had extended throughout Britain: 'He shall be long king of all England,' predicted Merlin the magician, 'and have under his obeisance Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.'

Over the ten years that followed, Henry and Elizabeth had three more children who lived to adulthood: Margaret, Henry and Mary. For the king, these young princes and princesses meant that his family's dynasty would survive him and that he could make marriage alliances with European powers, vital considerations for a new royal house trying to signal its permanence and prestige.

Henry's first move was to shore up England's friendship with Spain, enormously wealthy and newly centralised under the rule of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. In the spring of 1488, England and Spain commissioned envoys to arrange a match between Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, youngest daughter of the Catholic monarchs. 5 They agreed that the children would marry once they came of age, but were nearly confounded by the challenge of agreeing the bride's marriage portion. At one point the exasperated Spanish ambassadors revealed how little faith they had that this new dynasty would survive any longer than the last, and told their English counterparts 'bearing in mind what happens every day to the Kings of England, it is surprising that Ferdinand and Isabella should dare to give their daughter at all'!

While the diplomats wrangled, Henry's queen, Elizabeth, gave birth to a daughter at nine o'clock in the evening of 28 November 1489. Two days later, the royal family and aristocracy gathered to see the girl brought to the porch of St Margaret's church, next to Westminster Abbey. The Bishop of Ely baptised her with chrism, salt and Holy Water. Then, four knights held a canopy above her as she was carried through the candle-lit church to the high altar, where the Archbishop of York confirmed her. Her newly made godparents gave her gifts: gilt flagons, a jewel-encrusted vessel containing Holy Water, a silver chest filled with gold. In honour of her grandmother Margaret Beaufort, who also served as godmother, she was named Margaret Tudor.

In the religion of late medieval England, there was a saint for every place, profession and occasion, a patron who could intercede with God on behalf of mortal Christians. The christening connected the newborn princess with two particular saints among this vast communion. It took place on the morning of the feast of St Andrew, the fisherman- turned- apostle who had been martyred on a saltire and adopted as the patron of Scotland, and the child was given a name that she shared with the eleventh-century Scottish queen who had become one of that country's most beloved saints. This proved a lucky pair of coincidences, for in 1496, Henry began to pursue a marriage for his young daughter with James IV, King of Scots.

It was an idea with possibilities. If the scheme worked, it would secure England's northern border and draw Scotland into the Anglo- Spanish alliance. But it was also a touch farfetched. Scotland and France had an 'Auld Alliance', and English kings lived with the fear of French invasion through Scotland. England, for its part, was the only country in a position to invade Scotland, and its kings traditionally upheld a spurious claim to be the feudal lords to Scotland's monarchs. The border region was notoriously unstable, and although there had been long stretches of entente – Henry himself had received Scottish support for his claim to the throne – the two countries were 'ancient enemies'.

Scotland faced its own political trials. The Stewart dynasty had held power for more than a century, but its kings had tended to accede young and die young. Throughout the fifteenth century every single Stewart ruler had come to the throne as a child. In these circumstances, Scotland's nobles usually became responsible for governing the country, with the late king's widow keeping custody of their child- king son, and either the next- in- line or specially appointed senior nobles acting as Regents. 10 This string of minorities, added to the fact that the crown lacked the money to enforce its will without the support of the nobility, meant Scottish aristocrats were powerful figures.

Scottish kings, however, were just as eager as their fellow European rulers to expand their own political power. It was the time of Renaissance monarchy, when kings not only cultivated new artists and writers but tried to make themselves masters over their clergy, nobility and ordinary subjects – in short, to be emperors in their own kingdom. 11 James IV, according to the Spanish ambassador Don Pedro d'Ayala, had all the makings of such a king. He was courageous, pious, loved by his subjects. It helped that he was a good- looking, virile man, bearded and physically strong. Hunting was among his chief pleasures. D'Ayala was impressed by James's talent for languages and his abstemiousness in eating and drinking – 'such a thing seems to be superhuman in these countries'. Although young, the king was a wise man who both heard counsel diligently and knew his own mind. James also had his imperfections: in d'Ayala's estimation, he was a rash commander, brave but with a tendency to leap into battle himself before he had made his orders clear. Moreover, he had a tremendous ego, 'as much as though he were lord of the world' – and he wanted to make a major international alliance through his marriage.

Although both Henry and James stood to gain from the match, the Anglo- Scottish marriage talks dragged on for five years, brought to frequent halts by outbreaks of war. Finally, however, Henry secured the marriages he wanted for his eldest children. Prince Arthur married Katherine of Aragon in November 1501. Two months later, England and Scotland concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace at Richmond Palace. Margaret Tudor would move to Scotland the following year, taking a dowry of 30,000 gold English nobles. In return, she would have lands worth £2,000 annually, with a further allowance of 500 marks per year.

On 25 January 1502, Princess Margaret heard High Mass in the chapel of Richmond. It had been completed just the year before and it glittered. The choir was decked in cloth of gold, the altars were set with jewels and contained relics of the saints, the walls were hung with arrases and images of the English kings. There in the Queen's Great Chamber, before her parents, her younger brother and sister, the lords spiritual and temporal of England and diplomats from across Europe, Margaret listened to the Earl of Bothwell pledge the faith of the absent Scottish king. Then, twelve years of age and therefore considered old enough to marry, she swore to have 'the said James king of Scotland unto and for my husband and spouse, and all other for him forsake, during his and mine lives natural. And thereto I plight and give to him ... my faith and troth'. As she finished her vows, trumpeters and minstrels began to play, filling the room with 'the best and joyfullest' music.

Margaret had been brought up for this moment, but she was young and overwhelmed. Her father left the room, taking the Scottish representatives with him. Amidst the clamour of the musicians and the courtiers, her mother took Margaret's hand. Queen Elizabeth led her young daughter away to dinner, and sat beside her throughout the meal. Jousts and banquets went on for another day of celebrations, and Henry, showing a liberality at odds with his later reputation, gave lavish gifts to the Scots, from golden cups to velvet gowns. Margaret, Princess of England, was now known as Margaret, Queen of Scots.

But Henry's double diplomatic triumph depended on the lives of Arthur and Margaret, and in early modern families of all degrees and conditions, parents often outlived their children. Fifteen- year- old Arthur suddenly died on 2 April 1502. Arthur and Katherine had been living at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh marches, and it took two days for news to reach the court at Greenwich. Early on the morning of the third day, the king's confessor woke Henry, turning to the Book of Job as he struggled to put the horrifying message into words: 'Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?' Elizabeth tried to comfort the king, urging him to give thought to his own health and the well- being of his kingdom, before she broke down herself. Henry had already resolved 'that he and his Queen would take the painful sorrows together', and now repeated 'her own wise counsel' to her: that they had three surviving children and were still young enough to have more. 16 But the second tragedy came soon afterwards. The thirty- six- year- old Elizabeth did become pregnant again that year, only to die in childbirth in February 1503.

Grief- stricken, Henry now confronted the full implications of his diplomacy. He still had a son and heir, the young Henry, Duke of York, who was soon engaged to the widowed Katherine of Aragon. But the duke was still a boy, and it was clearer than ever that no child was guaranteed to survive to adulthood. Margaret's marriage assumed new importance and new danger. Matching his eldest daughter with the King of Scots might someday mean that the rulers of Scotland would have a claim to the English throne. Henry's shrewd gambit now threatened graver ends: if Margaret's surviving brother died and she inherited the crown, her husband could become King of England.

Even so, Margaret set out for Scotland four months after her mother's death. Her month- long procession began on 27 June 1503, when she left Richmond in the company of her father. He went with her as far as his mother's palace of Collyweston in Northamptonshire. As a parting gift, he gave her a Book of Hours with Flemish illuminations. He left a note asking her to remember him in her prayers, inscribing it on the feast of George, England's patron saint. 18 From Collyweston she travelled north, at some times riding on a palfrey and at others carried in a litter supported by two strong horses. The Earl and Countess of Surrey headed her retinue, which also included peers, clergy, ladies, gentlemen, musicians and minstrels. At every town along her route, there were celebrations. Local dignitaries lavished money on elaborate feasts and displays – the Lord Abbot of St Mary's, York, hosted the retinue for a mere two days and knocked down part of the abbey wall to build a new gateway for the occasion. Churches brought out their most cherished relics and filled the streets with the sounds of chanted anthems and ringing bells. On 1 August she crossed into Scotland. Two days later, at Dalkeith Castle on the River Esk, Margaret at last met James.

The king, dressed in crimson velvet trimmed with cloth of gold, was sixteen years older than his bride to be. For several days he played the role of chaste and chivalrous knight, listening to her play the lute, presenting her with gifts of horses, riding out with her to hunt harts. Then it was on to Edinburgh; the capital had prepared a show.

Fountains flowed with wine and church bells 'rang for mirth' at the entrance of the new queen. People filled the streets and leaned out of crowded windows to catch a glimpse of her. On specially constructed scaffolds, actors played out tableaux of Christian and classical scenes: maidens dressed as the four virtues of Justice, Fortitude, Temperance and Prudence trampled tyrants and sinners under their feet; the archangel Gabriel greeted the Virgin Mary; the Virgin married Joseph. More ominously, one scene showed Paris giving the apple of discord to Venus, setting in motion the events that led to the founding of Rome – but only after ten years of war and the ruin of his family's kingdom.

On 8 August 1503, Margaret was led to the abbey church of Holyrood, a Gothic monastery that James had transformed into a palace. Sitting at the base of Arthur's Seat, Holyrood offered Margaret new apartments, extensive gardens and respite from the noise of the city. 20 There, she and James were married and Margaret was crowned. Escorted by English and Scottish noblewomen, dressed in crimson velvet and wearing a collar of pearls, her hair loose, she was anointed and presented with a sceptre by the king himself. Bonfires roared throughout Edinburgh. Margaret, James and their guests feasted on wild boar's head before spending the afternoon dancing and the evening in yet another banquet. 21 The poet William Dunbar saluted her with a rhythmic Scots ballad that celebrated her Tudor blood and hailed her as queen: 'Welcome the rose both red and white/ Welcome the flower of our delight/Our spirit rejoicing from the sunbeam/Welcome of Scotland to be queen!' 22 When the festivities had concluded and the English delegation had returned home, Margaret Tudor was left to fulfil her new role as Queen of Scots and wife of the king.

It was not always an easy marriage. Margaret was thirteen, whereas James was thirty. She was technically old enough to marry, but young brides often did not consummate their marriages until they were sixteen, and James already had mistresses and a nursery full of children by them. In spite of her English retinue, the new queen was lonely, and worse, homesick. Shortly after her arrival, she dictated a letter to her father, her words full of anxiety, inexperience and unguarded emotion. She began with formal commendations, then moved on to her sense that she had been cut out of the political loop: her chamberlain was not part of the daily meetings James had with his counsellors, and she could only pray 'God send me comfort', hoping that she and her household 'that been left herewith' would be well treated. At last, she seized the pen from her secretary and wrote in her own blocky, childish script: 'I would I were with your grace now and many times more.'


Excerpted from So High A Blood by Morgan Ring. Copyright © 2017 Morgan Ring. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Family Trees x

Preface: Locket xv

Part 1 Thy Promise Was To Love Me Best

1 'O Come Ye in Peace Here, or Come Ye in War?' 3

2 Childhood 19

3 The King's Niece 34

4 So High a Blood 49

5 These Worldly Storms 63

6 Lennox 73

7 The Third Time 90

Part 2 This Woman and Her Son

8 Rough Wooing 103

9 Idols and Images 112

10 Best Suited to Succeed 123

11 Countess of Angus 130

12 Spoilt Children of the Devil 139

13 The Bishop and the Hawk 151

14 The Time of Our Trouble 163

15 Secret Charge 177

16 Running at the Ring 188

17 A Son Lost 200

Part 3 What we resolve

18 Memorial 215

19 Constant Hope 227

20 The Lady Regent 237

21 A Lone Woman 249

22 Watches and Dials 260

Epilogue: King Henry's Chapel 272

Notes 277

Bibliography 311

Acknowledgements 324

Index 329

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