On 7 October 1515 Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, gave birth to her seventh child, though the first (and as it would turn out only) child by her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. She had previously been married to King James IV of Scotland, but he had died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Of their six children, only one – King James V – would survive to adulthood. Her mother had been briefly regent for the young King, but her subsequent remarriage saw her lose that position and she fled to England where she gave birth to her daughter.
Margaret was christened the day after her birth, probably at the chapel at Harbottle Castle and she was named for her mother. Meanwhile, her mother lay dangerously ill, and it wasn’t until the end of November that she was even well enough to travel back to the court of King Henry VIII, her brother. From the following May, mother and daughter joined the court at Greenwich Palace. Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon had just given birth to the future Queen Mary I in February. The young cousins probably only lived in the same nursery for a little while before Margaret and her mother moved to lodgings appropriately named Scotland for visiting Scottish monarchs. They stayed there for a year while her father refused to join them there.
On 18 May 1517, Margaret and her mother headed home to Scotland where her mother had been reassured of the restoration of her revenues. Upon her return, she found that she still had no say in the government, and she could not obtain payment of her dower revenues. It was a difficult time for mother and daughter. Young Margaret remained in the care of her mother until the age of 10 or so, but we don’t know how much she actually saw of her mother. Margaret learned to speak Scots as her mother tongue, only learning English later in life. On 11 March 1527, the marriage between Margaret’s mother and father was annulled with a special clause declaring Margaret legitimate and the following year, her mother remarried to Henry Stewart, 1st Lord Methven.
Around this time, Margaret was taken from her mother’s care by her father, an event that probably traumatised her. She had spent her entire life with her mother so far. Margaret was taken to Tantallon Castle by her father, and there is no evidence that Margaret ever saw her mother again. In the spring of 1530, Margaret returned to the English court in the midst of King Henry VIII’s Great Matter – his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Margaret initially went to live with her aunt Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk who lived mainly away from court. Margaret had the company of her cousins Frances, Eleanor and Henry. By the end of 1530, Margaret was sent to live with her cousin Princess Mary as the chief lady of her privy chamber and King Henry paid to have her dress according to her status. The two would become close friends.
As Anne Boleyn rose to the role of Queen, Mary was declared a bastard and Margaret moved up in the line of succession. Margaret was initially allowed to stay with Mary until her household was disbanded in December 1533. While Mary was sent off to serve the infant Princess Elizabeth, Margaret was sent to serve in Queen Anne’s household. It must have been a difficult time for Margaret – being so close to Mary and having to serve the woman that caused Mary so much trouble. It shows Mary’s true character that she understood Margaret’s difficulties and did not hold the situation against her. Margaret lived in the splendour of the court, and until now she had behaved herself admirably.
Margaret fell in love with Lord Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle. He was, however, a younger son with no fortune or prospects and certainly not suitable for someone third in the line of succession (behind Princess Elizabeth and her mother). Margaret met with him secretly and gave him a portrait and a diamond, while he gave her a ring. They were engaged around this time, without the consent of the King. These were volatile times, Anne Boleyn had only recently been executed and replaced by Jane Seymour as Queen. While the engagement remained a secret, Margaret went on to serve the new Queen. With Princess Elizabeth now also declared a bastard, Margaret was now second in the line of succession.
Sometime in July, the secret engagement came out, and King Henry was furious. Lord Thomas, as the uncle of the recently executed Queen, was seen as aspiring to the Crown and he was arrested for treason. Margaret too was arrested and taken to the Tower. She was held in some comfort and had privileges, but she was in serious danger and could face death. Her mother wrote King Henry begging for leniency, beseeching him to “have compassion and pity of us and of our natural daughter.” Margaret would be spared death, and by the end of the year, King Henry wrote back to his sister that he would “be good to her.” For now, both she and Thomas remained imprisoned. In October 1537, Queen Jane gave birth to a son – the future King Edward VI and Margaret safely moved a place down in the succession. Tragically, Jane died not much later.
Both Margaret and Thomas fell ill while in the Tower. Thomas died on 31 October 1537 and Margaret took the news “very heavily.” Margaret herself was pardoned around this time and sent to Syon Abbey to rest and recuperate. It took a long time for her to recover as she was still there the following Easter.1