Margaret the Uniter

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the joining of two countries. As Princess Margaret Tudor marries King James IV, England and Scotland are united and shall remain so forevermore.


Well, no. That certainly was the idea behind Margaret’s marriage to James, which took place on August 8, 1503, the day after she arrived in Edinburgh, but as we all know, the friendship didn’t last. In fact, the treaty started to fall apart soon after the death of Margaret’s father, Henry VII, in 1509. The new king, Margaret’s brother, Henry VIII, was young and brash where his father had been cautious and diplomatic. Before long, he was headed for a war with France, Scotland’s old ally. So, James invaded England in 1513 to honor his commitment to the Auld Alliance with France. He wound up getting himself killed at the Battle of Flodden, leaving yet another underage Stuart king: one-year-old James V (the kings of Scotland had a disturbing habit of dying young and leaving incredibly young heirs to rule).

Margaret, who understandably opposed the war, was named regent for as long as she remained a widow. Naturally, her appointment wasn’t met with cheers across the board, since she was a) English, and b) a woman. A pro-French party quickly formed within the nobility, angling to replace her with the Duke of Albany, James V’s closest male relative (who was also third in line to the throne—no conflict of interest there!) Albany had also been born and raised in France and was a big fan of the Auld Alliance.

Proving that having breasts doesn’t mean you can’t be a good leader, Margaret steered her way through the political quagmire and, somehow, managed to reconcile the opposing parties within Scotland, remain friends with France, and make peace with England. Which pretty much made her a better politician than any of the dukes and kings she was dealing with, who were more interested in battlefield glory than doing what might be best for their countries.

Unfortunately, Margaret made the same mistake her granddaughter, Mary, Queen of Scots would make: she fell in love with and married a worthless idiot. In her case, it was Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus, whose own uncle called him a “young, witless fool.” She secretly married him on August 6, 1514, less than a year after her husband’s death. When word got out, it alienated the other noble houses and strengthened the pro-French faction at court. The marriage also meant she was no longer permitted to act as regent; before the month was out she had to hand over the reins to the Duke of Albany. The Privy Council also attempted to remove her sons from her protection, but she wouldn’t hear of it and took the young princes to Stirling Castle.

Albany finally got around to arriving in the country he was supposed to be ruling in May 1515, and he immediately set about getting custody of James and his younger brother Alexander. Margaret was forced to surrender and hand the boys over in August. Her brother kept urging her to flee to England with the boys, but she refused, afraid that such a move might deprive James of his crown. She, however, did head south to England herself, and there she gave birth to Lady Margaret Douglas, the future mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Mary of Scotland’s crappy spouse. Clearly dumbassary ran in the family.

After a year in England (during which she stopped for a while in London to hang out with Henry), Margaret headed back to Scotland, following a treaty of reconciliation that was worked out by Albany, Henry, and Henry’s right-hand man, Cardinal Wolsey. Although Margaret was restored to her son, she was not able to reconcile with her husband, who had abandoned her to go join Albany’s side. He’d also spent the past year living with another woman, on his wife’s dime. Margaret started to consider divorce, even as she herself started to draw closer to Albany, who was once again in France, renewing the Auld Alliance. Albany, reluctant to abandon the pleasures of France for the wind, rain, and oatcake-based diet of Scotland, suggested she resume the regency.

Albany finally returned to Scotland in 1521, and the enthusiasm with which he was received by Margaret raised several eyebrows throughout the court. Margaret’s husband was sent into exile, and Albany lent his assistance in helping Margaret obtain a divorce, which she finally did in 1527. By that time, she’d executed a successful coup d’état while Albany was away in France, bringing her 12-year-old son to Edinburgh, where the Parliament obligingly declared the regency over. Although young James officially had his full kingly powers, he’d still very much be controlled by his mother, who was named his chief councilor.

Her divorce finalized, Margaret married her third husband, Henry Stewart, in March 1528. Just a few months later, James began to rule more strongly on his own, though his mother and new stepfather were his leading advisors. Margaret used her position to try and bring Scotland and England closer together—it’s even said she favored a marriage between her son and niece, Princess Mary, although that obviously came to nothing. The continued resistance she met on that front—even from her own son—and her new husband’s constant cheating led her to declare in the 1530’s that she was “weary of Scotland.” Things improved a bit when Marie de Guise, James’s French bride, arrived in Scotland in 1538. The two ladies hit it off, and Marie made sure her mother-in-law was regularly welcomed at court.

Margaret died after suffering a stroke on October 18, 1541. Despite her wish that her personal effects be given to her daughter, Margaret, James took them all himself. Although England and Scotland continued to squabble for more than a half century more, when Elizabeth I died, the throne went to James VI, Margaret’s great-grandson, whose claim was all down to her. So, in a sense, she really did bring England and Scotland together after all.

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