26 February 2013

Scandalous Affairs: Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, created her own scandals

We’re all familiar with King Henry VIII and his six wives, but few know that his sister, Margaret, was way ahead of him in the scandalous divorce and remarriage department. 

Queen Margaret, wife of King James IV of Scotland, was Margaret Tudor, one of two sisters of Henry VIII.  Margaret traveled to Scotland when she was only 14 to wed James IV, 30.  Before their marriage, James had seven, or maybe eight, illegitimate children by four different women.  But once they were wed, he and Margaret reportedly had a loving relationship.  During their ten year marriage, she bore him six children.

But when her husband died in a battle (fighting his brother in law Henry’s forces) only one child was living: seventeen month old, James V.  Margaret was named regent in the royal will, for as long as she remained a widow.

It was a singular honor from her husband, for she was not a popular choice.  Not only was she a woman, but she was also the sister of the king who had just killed her husband.  Yet all began well, and for the first year or so, she balanced the competing forces of those who sought an alliance with England and those who wanted Scotland to cleave to the Auld Alliance with France. 

At this point, however, after what had seemed a staid and balanced life, her tale develops striking similarities to that of her brother.  At 25, she apparently developed appetites of her own and her subsequent marriages, alliances, and divorce, changed the course of history and destroyed her position and influence. 

Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus
Less than a year after her husband’s death , she married Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus, suddenly and secretly, without asking so much as a by-your-leave, simultaneously losing the regency, the trust of the French-leaning barons, and possession of her young son.  In addition, the marriage did not sit well with the other Scots barons, who resented her for preferring Angus, a staunch ally of the English king. 

This left an opening for the French faction to resurge and bring the Duke of Albany over from France to serve as regent.

Things went downhill from there.  

Margaret soon learned that her new husband, the Earl of Angus was living openly with a former lover – and using Margaret’s money to do so.  For the next fourteen years, Margaret, and Scotland, went through a dizzying array of shifting alliances.  The regency, along with the possession of the boy king, shifted between Angus and the regent named by the French faction.  Margaret attempted to get along with all of them, but finally, allied with one of Angus’ enemies, she seized physical control of her eight year old son and fired on her husband when he came to take the boy back.
Queen Margaret defies Parliament - painting by John Faed

She was not allowed to keep control, however, and eventually, Margaret went to England for a year, and bore the daughter that Angus had fathered.  Yet she returned to Scotland to do her duty as a queen and a mother. 

An attempt to reconcile with her husband was unsuccessful.  Weary and despairing, she wrote to her brother Henry that she was considering divorce.  Ironically, Henry sent her a pious and crabby note saying that marriage was “divinely ordained.”  (He, of course, changed his mind on that not too many years later.)  In addition, Angus was an ally, who helped to keep Scotland from swinging too far to the French side, so Henry preferred to keep him close.

To no avail.  Margaret petitioned the Pope for a divorce.  Meanwhile, she swung her support more to the French faction, thinking, perhaps, that they could help her persuade the pope to grant the divorce.  Meanwhile, Angus kidnapped the young king, virtually holding him hostage for two years.  Finally, young James V, now 16, escaped and started to rule in his own right. 

By this time, Margaret, still married to Angus, had formed a new romantic alliance, this time with Henry Stewart, whom she married within months after she learned her divorce from Angus was official.  (The grounds upon which the Pope granted her divorce seem flimsy, even for the time.  It was that Angus was pre-contracted to another woman and Margaret was ignorant of it at the time of their marriage.)

Again, her union with Henry Steward was unpopular, but her son, now finally ruling in his own right, seemed fond of the man and gave him the title 1st Lord of Methven.  For a time, he and Margaret were close advisors to James V.

Alas, Methven was no more reliable than Angus and she discovered he was keeping a mistress in one of Margaret’s own castles.  She sought another divorce, but her son would not support it and her last husband outlived her.  Late in life, her daughter in law, King James’ second wife, helped restore Margaret to a level of dignity and respect. 

And by then?  She had expressed a yearning to be reunited with Angus…

A husband, a divorce, another husband, the desire for another divorce…Queen Margaret created scandals that, in their own way, rivaled her brother Henry’s. 

Blythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, she’s written a Harlequin Historical trilogy set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era.  The books are RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012, CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, January 2013, and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL in March 2013.  The Chicago Tribune has called her work "the perfect balance between history and romance."  Visit her at www.blythegifford.com, www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford, www.pinterest.com/BlytheGifford or on Twitter @BlytheGifford.  
Author photo by Jennifer Girard.