When people think of the Tudors, the first monarch that comes to mind is Henry VIII and then his many wives and children. Even his sister Mary comes to mind more quickly than his older sister Margaret. However, she played an important role in Tudor history.
Margaret was born November 28, 1489 and was the second child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. She was named after her formidable grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. She raised with her royal brothers and sister at the palace of Eltham, and learned skills that would befit her future role as a queen consort. This included learning to play the lute and clavichord and some French and Latin. Margaret was also a talented archer.
Margaret’s value as a pawn in her father’s negotiations with Scotland came to fruition when a treaty was signed in 1502 and sealed with her betrothal to James IV of Scotland. The two were bound in proxy marriage that same year with Patrick Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, standing in for King James. The fact that there was seventeen years difference between the two was unimportant. 1502 was not a good year for the Tudors, however, and Margaret suffered the loss of her older brother Arthur as well as her mother, Elizabeth, before she departed for Scotland in July 1502. Margaret must have been very sorrowful and a bit afraid as she made her way north to her new life. James was thirty and described as dashing, intelligent and interested in everything. Margaret was only thirteen and unflatteringly described as “dumpy and small”. However William Dunbar describes Margaret more kindly in his poem to celebrate her ascension to the Scottish throne, The Thrissil and the Rois:
O precius Margreit, plesand, cleir and quhit,
Mor blith and bricht na is the beriale scheme,
Moir deir na is the diamaunt of delit,
Mor semly na is the sapheir one to seyne,
Mor gudely eik na is the emerant greyne,
Moir riche na is the ruby of renoune,
Fair gem of joy, Margreit, of the I meyne:
Gladethe, thoue queyne of Scottis regioun
A bit of translation: ‘Gladethe’= Rejoice! ‘na’= than; ‘beriale’= beryl; ‘eik’= also; ‘of the I meyne’= thee I mean: I speak of you.
The two were married on August 8, 1503 and Margaret was crowned queen in March 1504. Margaret was homesick writing sad letters to her father saying things like “I would I was with your Grace now and many times more.” Life in Scotland was strange for her and she never quite got used to the freedom of court and the boldness of the women. For example, she was amazed to find at Stirling Castle a nursery full of the king’s bastard children. They were all acknowledged and the king was an affectionate father to them all. That is a hard thing for a young wife to come to grips with. However, she must have gotten past it to do her duty as Margaret bore James six children during their ten year marriage.
The Battle of Flodden ended her husband’s life, and adding insult to injury it was at the hands of her brother, Henry VIII. Henry was away fighting in France, but his army was led by his Queen Katherine of Aragon. She got King James’ bloodstained and torn coat and sent it to Henry as a prize of war. Legend said she had to be persuaded not to send his head. What a nice thing to do to your brother-in-law. Margaret and James’ only surviving child was seventeen months old and crowned James V. James IV will named Margaret as regent for their small son as long as she remained a widow.
The Scottish nobles were not happy about this. Many of them had not liked the alliance with England, and it certainly hadn’t bought them anything as their army and king lay dead on the field at Flodden. They wanted to return to the Auld Alliance with France, which would not happen with an English princess as regent. The stage was set for a showdown.
Sources available on request