Margaret Tudor was born on 28 November 1489 as the daughter of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in Westminster Palace. Her christening took place in St Margaret’s Church, and she was brought up in the royal nursery at Richmond Palace with her elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales and her younger brother Henry. Her wet-nurse was Alice Davy, who cared for her until she was two. She was taught to read and write, and she could dance and play the lute. Otherwise, she received very little education. Shortly before her fifth birthday, she was present at the celebrations for her brother Henry’s ennoblement as Duke of York. In her father’s opinion, Margaret was “so delicate and female (weak) that she must be married much later than other young ladies.”
Margaret was still only a child when she was offered in marriage to the 25-year-old King James IV of Scotland. Both her mother Elizabeth and her grandmother Margaret Beaufort were worried about the age difference. Her father did not want the wedding to take place right away, and it wasn’t until 1500 that the necessary papal dispensation was obtained, because they were related. The marriage treaty was finally signed on 24 January 1502 and the proxy wedding took place the following day at Richmond Palace. The 12-year-old Margaret was now Queen of Scots, and afterwards, she dined with her mother and ate from the same plate – signifying that they were now of equal rank. She was supposed to leave for Scotland before 1 September 1503, and Margaret suffered the loss of two family members before she left. Her brother Arthur died on 2 April 1502 and her mother died following childbirth in February 1503.
She finally left for Scotland in June and she received a book from her father in which he had written, “Remember your kind and loving father in your good prayers.” On 3 August, she met her husband for the first time. Her maids asked her afterwards what she thought of him, and she replied that she thought his beard was too long. He apparently heard this and immediately had his beard trimmed.
A second marriage ceremony was performed at Holyrood Abbey on 8 August 1503, and she was immediately crowned Queen of Scots. Despite the age difference, they were quite suited. It is quite possible that James decided not to immediately consummate their marriage and their first child was not born until 1507, and still, Margaret almost died in childbirth. It had not been an easy labour and Margaret had begun to suffer from a fever. It took several weeks for her to recover. They would have four more children together, but only one child, the future King James V, would survive to adulthood.
Margaret was widowed in 1513 when King James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden fighting the English. Margaret had begged James not to go, having just found out that she was pregnant again. Margaret was left a pregnant widow. She knew what she had to do now. Her son, now King James V, had to be crowned and so he was, at the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle. Margaret intended to rule as regent for her son, who was not even two years old. However, the Scottish nobles did now want an English woman ruling over the country. Instead, they invited John, Duke of Albany, who also happened to be next in line for the throne, to become regent. Margaret believed that she would be best off if she married again and when she met Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, she believed she had found the right man. On 8 April 1514, she gave birth to a posthumous son named Alexander, who would also die in childhood.
Despite still being in mourning for her husband, Margaret married Archibald in secret on 14 August 1514. If anything, the Scottish nobles were furious. They believed she had forfeited her position by remarrying and deposed her as regent. The Duke of Albany initially had no wish to come to Scotland as he was living lavishly in France but was convinced to go. He sailed to Scotland in May 1515, and although Margaret liked him at first, she refused to hand over her sons. She fled to Stirling Castle with her sons but after being besieged there, she finally yielded.
By now, she was also pregnant with Archibald’s child and she announced on 1 September 1515 that she wished to go to Linlithgow Palace for her confinement. Once there, she feigned illness and she and her husband fled the castle with the Duke of Albany in pursuit. They desperately rode for the border but she could not cross into England without a safe passage from her brother. She was hurried to Harbottle Castle where she went into a labour that lasted 48 hours. On 8 October, she gave birth to a daughter named Margaret. She was very ill for days afterwards and screamed whenever she had to sit up. It was another three weeks before she could travel. She wrote to the Duke of Albany, “Cousin, I heartily commend me unto you, and where I have been enforced for fear and danger of my life to depart forth of the realm of Scotland, so it is that, by the grace of Almighty God, I am now delivered and have a Christian soul, being a young lady.” She also requested that she be returned to her regency. Of course, her request was denied. Around the end of the year, she was informed that her youngest son Alexander had died. Her husband eventually refused to accompany to England, so she and her daughter set off alone.
Margaret had not seen her brother for 13 years and she lived at the English court for at least a year. However, her brother was soon reminding her that she must go back to Scotland. On 18 May 1517, Margaret left England. She had trouble accessing her son, as the nobles were afraid that she might take him back to England. She also wanted to separate from Archibald and return to England. Her brother would not hear of it. She and her husband were supposed to be ruling Scotland. During a violent quarrel, Archibald had snatched her daughter from her, and little Margaret eventually grew up in English and Margaret never saw her again. This only made Margaret want to divorce him even more. Her brother, still happily married to Catherine of Aragon, refused to accept it. Margaret unhappily wrote, “I had no help of his Grace my brother, nor no love of my lord of Angus and he to take my living at his pleasure and despoil.”
The Duke of Albany left Scotland for good in 1524 and Margaret once again returned to her position as regent. Margaret had begun an affair with Henry Stewart and when she heard her husband was on his way back to Scotland, she was not amused. She fired cannons upon him when he arrived, killing four innocent bystanders. They were eventually forced to reconcile, though she continued her affair with Henry. By 1526, Margaret’s regency had collapsed but the following year, she was at last granted her divorce. She immediately married Henry Stewart in secret.
When her son was 16 years old, he took matters into his own hands. His former stepfather was banned from returned to court and was eventually given the death sentence. Archibald fled to England while the King’s new stepfather was created Lord Methven. Margaret was once again the first lady of the land, but James soon tired of Margaret reporting his every move to his uncle in England and refused to give up his alliance with France. In 1533, Margaret wrote to her brother shortly after the death of their sister Mary, “Your Grace is our only brother, and we your only sister and since so is, let no divorce or contrary have place, nor no report of ill-advised persons alter our conceits, both brotherly and sisterly love ever to endure, to the pleasure of God and weal of us both; and trust no less in me than in yourself.” When her son went to France to meet his bride, Margaret was left as regent for Scotland for several months. She barely got to know her son’s bride Madeleine as the fragile French Princess died after just six months of marriage. Her replacement was Mary of Guise, the widowed Duchess of Longueville. They got along well, and Margaret wrote, “I have been much in her company, and she bears herself very honourably to me, with very good entertaining.”
The births of two legitimate grandsons delighted Margaret, but both boys died in early 1541. Margaret spent hours with the grieving parents. Margaret left the court in October and retired to Methven Castle. She suffered a stroke shortly after arriving there, and she did not consider it serious enough to inform her son. When he finally was informed, he immediately set out but arrived too late. Margaret passed away on 18 October 1541 – she was 52 years old. 1