Alison Weir takes on the weighty challenge of bringing Lady Margaret Douglas to life – a woman who played a large part behind the scenes during Elizabeth I’s reign but one for whom history is mostly silent. Lady Margaret Douglas was the great-granddaughter of her namesake Lady Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Margaret Tudor, niece to Henry VIII, and cousin to Queens Mary and Elizabeth. Born to the dowager Queen of Scots, Margaret’s half-brother James V occupied the Scottish throne, but Margaret was born in England, providing her with a potentially solid claim to the English throne. Margaret marries fellow Scot Matthew, Earl of Lennox and for the rest of her life, Margaret, unique in her dual heritage, plays a key role in the background of Scottish-English politics. Margaret was headstrong and rash, not unlike her Tudor forbearers. She is imprisoned for treasonous offenses no fewer than three times but never ceases in her plotting for her children and grandchildren. For Margaret, her heart always ruled her head, as Ms. Weir comments. Margaret first sees the inside of the Tower when she defies her uncle Henry VIII and becomes betrothed to a Seymour without the king’s permission. Later, Margaret schemes with her niece Mary, Queen of Scots and other foreign powers to wed her eldest son, Lord Darnley, to Mary, thereby giving him the Scottish throne and possibly rights to the English throne should Elizabeth never have heirs. Late in her life, Margaret plots with Bess of Hardwick to marry her youngest son to Bess’ daughter Elizabeth Cavendish. A reckless but sympathetic character, Margaret never fails to do whatever she must to look after her own. Her skills at collusion are as amazing as they are baffling when you consider the enormous consequences she faced. Luckily for her, Elizabeth can never bring herself to execute her rebellious female cousins (until Mary), although Margaret gives her ample reason to reconsider this stance. Margaret’s life is a sad one, as she outlives all her children, is estranged from her grandchildren, and dies in penury. Yet her workings behind the scenes in the Tudor court are worthy of note, fill many holes in the record that historians have left behind, and ultimately, Margaret does prevail as her grandson, James VI and I, does achieve her dream by uniting the Scottish and English thrones.
Lady Margaret Douglas is a difficult topic for a biography, which is almost certainly why she’s considered “the lost Tudor princess” and why so few have given her much notice before. Despite her intimate involvement in the politics of both England and Scotland, Margaret is forced to sit on the sidelines rather than actively participate in events. So many rightly say that this book is dull and lacking in “action”, but that cannot be considered Ms. Weir’s fault, as she can only report what Margaret said and did and much of the time, Margaret was sitting it out, waiting for news and writing letters. Margaret was a key figure, but one who remained in the shadows, maneuvering out of sight. That being said, this does make for a rather dry read and we are left with many very long excerpts of her letters, which can be challenging to wade through. I have read many of Ms. Weir’s books and have enjoyed them all, but this one was more difficult to read than most. There are many fascinating aspects, however, namely the description of the gorgeous piece of jewelry that adorns the book’s cover, letters attesting to the strong marital bond between Matthew and Margaret, and Margaret’s never ending endeavors to advance the prospects of her husband, her sons, and her grandchildren, which echo those of her namesake Margaret Beaufort. This one is probably best for only die-hard Tudor fans, but it is a remarkable story nonetheless.
Amazon link is here.