In early 1557, Margaret lost the father she had not seen for at least three years. He left Margaret nothing in his will, and the title passed to his nephew David. Margaret, however, maintained that she was her father’s heir and from now on signed her name as “Margaret Lennox and Angus.” Then the following year, Margaret lost her friend and ally Queen Mary I, who died on 17 November 1558. In the end, she had accepted her half-sister Elizabeth as her heir.
Margaret and her husband hurried to the new Queen’s residence to congratulate her. On 13 December, Margaret was the chief mourner at Queen Mary’s funeral. The following month, she took part in the celebrations marking Elizabeth’s state entry into London, and she was present for the coronation. However, she was not offered a place at court and returned home to Yorkshire. Elizabeth strongly distrusted Margaret. From 1558 on, Margaret and her family based themselves at Settrington, close to the coast.
Meanwhile, young Mary, Queen of Scots had married Francis, who would become King Francis II of France in 1559 at the age of 15. The 12-year-old Lord Darnley was sent to France to congratulate the new King and Queen of France, and he was invited to their coronation. There may have been another motive for sending Lord Darnley to France as many were aware that Francis was sickly and likely to die. A union between him and Mary would make him King of Scots and strengthen his claim to the English throne, and perhaps one day, those thrones would be united. On 4 December 1560, Francis indeed died, leaving Mary a widow at the age of 18. When it became clear that she would return to Scotland, Margaret saw her plan slowly unfold.
When Elizabeth found out, Margaret’s husband was arrested and sent to the Tower, and Margaret and her sons were requested to come to London. In March 1562, Margaret was arrested at Settrington. She took her sons, and probably some of her daughters though they are unnamed and unknown, with her. She left her sons at York where they would be safe, and it was from here that Lord Darnley would escape. Margaret and her daughters were confined to apartments in Whitehall Palace. Here she was charged with treason and witchcraft and conveyed – with her daughters – to the former Charterhouse at Sheen where she remained under house arrest. The charges against her were serious, and she was now in mortal danger. She would remain in confinement for many months and eventually her younger son was brought to her.
Her husband was eventually released from the Tower, and they were reunited in November at Sheen. They were not officially both released until February, and Elizabeth wrote to them, “that she had forgiven and forgotten their offence, yet she would not see them.” Margaret was forced to swear an oath that she would not allow her son to marry without the Queen’s consent. Margaret tried to get back into the Queen’s good graces, and she found herself welcomed back to court. However, she had not given up her ambition to marry her son to Mary, Queen of Scots.
It soon became clear that Mary was also seriously interested in Lord Darnley and Elizabeth was perhaps willing to accept it as well. She may have foreseen that allowing the marriage to go ahead would lead to ruin, knowing Lord Darnley to be weak and arrogant. In January 1565, permission was finally granted to Lord Darnley and his father to go to Scotland, but as it became clear that marriage was coming a lot sooner than anticipated, Elizabeth commanded his return. Margaret was once more arrested – having broken her oath. On 16 June 1565, Margaret was taken to the Tower.
On 29 July 1565, Mary and Lord Darnley were married between five and six in the morning and the marriage was consummated that night. He was proclaimed King Henry by heralds the following day, without ratification by Parliament. Margaret had achieved her dream, but she had paid dearly for it. By September, she was still in the Tower and very ill. On 7 October, she turned fifty years old, but it would be a sad birthday. Within a matter of months, the marriage of Mary and Lord Darnley had broken down, but Mary was pregnant. Mary did feel sympathy for her mother-in-law and even wrote to Elizabeth to ask her to move her somewhere else. On 19 June 1566, Mary gave birth to a son – the future James VI and I. The following year, Lord Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’ Field. Margaret was informed of her son’s death on 19 February – and was also erroneously informed of her husband’s death. She was “so grieved that it was necessary for the Queen to send her doctors to her.” Two days later, she moved from the Tower to Sackville Place, and Elizabeth arranged for her son Charles to be brought to her. On 12 June, Margaret was reunited with her husband – who had not been killed alongside his son.
By then Mary had already remarried to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell and the following month, she would be forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son. The next year, Mary fled south to England, expecting Elizabeth to help her regain her Crown. It would lead to years of imprisonment and her eventual execution. Margaret and her husband were eventually allowed back to court. Matthew briefly became regent for his grandson, but he was assassinated on 4 September 1571. Elizabeth broke the news to Margaret herself, and Margaret later wrote, “My anguish was such as to bear was too great, yet to God, by prayer, I still made my way. Thus treason bereft me of my son and mate.”
Margaret would find herself in the Tower once more for arranging the marriage between her surviving son Charles and Elizabeth Cavendish in 1574. Their only child – a daughter, named Arbella Stuart – was born the following year. Margaret was in the Tower for several months, but she was released sometime in 1575. Until early 1576, Margaret lived with her son and his new family at Hackney. More tragedy was to come when Charles died of tuberculosis in April 1576. Margaret had outlived her children and her husband.
She now focussed her energy on her grandson James, writing to him that he was her chief hope for the future. For Arbella, she envisioned the Earldom of Lennox. She never did succeed in reclaiming the Earldom and its revenues along with it. Margaret spent the last years of her life in penury.
On 26 February 1578, Margaret made her will. Her last illness was fast and sudden. On 7 March, she entertained the Earl of Leicester, and when he left, she became seriously ill. On 10 March 1578, she died at the age of 62. Her greatest wish was fulfilled in 1603 when her grandson also became King of England.1