Monday, 20 August 2012

Margaret Douglas and her Howard men

Margaret Douglas 1515-1578

Margaret Douglas was the only child of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland's second marriage to Archibald Douglas. As well as her half-brother James V being the king of Scotland, she also had close ties to the English crown, the current king Henry VIII was her uncle. Margaret was born in Northumberland in England, and went to live with her godfather Cardinal Wolsey when she was fourteen. In 1530 Margaret went to live with her cousin Princess Mary, and the two began a lifelong friendship. After King Henry married Anne Boleyn, Margaret was appointed as one of her ladies-in-waiting in 1533. It was during this time that Margaret became well acquainted with the Howard family, including Thomas Howard.

Lord Thomas Howard (1511-1537) was the youngest son of the Duke of Norfolk and uncle to Anne Boleyn, who had arrived at court in 1533 along with the influx of Howard relations reveling in the success of having one of their relatives become queen. During 1535 Margaret and Thomas had met, fallen in love and become secretly engaged. Their affair had been conducted with the help of Thomas' sister Mary Howard, and the queen Anne Boleyn. In April 1536 the couple secretly married per verba de presenti with only two witnesses; Lady Williams and a Howard servant named Hastings. This marriage was kept secret until July of that year when King Henry was made aware of it.

As soon as King Henry heard about the secret marriage, he reacted badly to it; the pair were arrested on June 8th although there were no laws as of yet which declared it illegal to marry without the kings consent, this was about to change as it was this scandal for which Henry created such a law. On July 9th interrogations of the Boleyn household, with whom Thomas had familial connections, were made to ascertain their involvement in the scandal - the Boleyn fortunes had drastically changed by this time as Anne Boleyn had been executed in May and Jane Seymour was now queen. On July 18th a Bill of Attainder against Thomas Howard was passed, and Henry was free to keep the pair prisoners in the Tower for as long as he pleased. Henry appeared to have softened towards his niece, helped along with letters from Margaret's mother, his sister, and Margaret was moved from the Tower in November to Syon House.

The timing of Margaret and Thomas' romance could not have been worse; Margaret was already holding a high position in the English line of succession and was therefore a useful tool to Henry in terms of possible marriage politics. However in 1536 between the death of Anne Boleyn and subsequent bastardisation of the Princess Elizabeth, and the birth of Prince Edward in 1537, Margaret was the legal heir to the throne of England if Henry died, due to the fact that all of Henry's children - Mary, Elizabeth and Henry FitzRoy - were illegitimate by law and her own brother James V could not succeed as he was ineligible due to already being monarch of a country. The heiress presumptive to the English throne was at the center of a marriage scandal with a courtier.

On the 31st October 1537 Thomas Howard died in the Tower. In the winter of 1537, Henry pardoned Margaret with the order that she dismiss two servants of her former lover from her household, however she grieved her husbands loss terribly. The king then passed a second succession law which stated that it was treason against the crown to marry a member of the royal family without the kings explicit permission. 
By 1539 Margaret and her uncle the king were once again reconciled as she was asked to be one of the royal party who met Anne of Cleves, Henry's new bride, upon her arrival in England.

In 1540 Margaret Douglas once again fell for a Howard man, this time it was Sir Charles Howard, who was a brother of the new queen Katherine Howard and also the nephew of her previous lover and husband  Thomas. Again, a plan of a secret marriage was devised with the help of the queen, Charles' sister Katherine, however in autumn of 1541 word of the plan reached the king. When the affair was discovered, Margaret was yet again imprisoned at Syon House until November 1541 when she was moved to a residence of the Duke of Norfolk. Charles Howard was banished from court and later fled the country to Holland and then France, where in Calais he died in 1542.

This affair, although it was considered scandal at the time, there was less of a backlash from the king when it was discovered due to the change in the political atmosphere from the previous incident in that the succession was now secure, and the less serious nature of the relationship - an affair not a secret marriage. Henry forgave his niece for her indiscretion and she was a witness at his final marriage to Katheryn Parr in 1543 and would become one of her chief ladies; Margaret and Katheryn had been acquainted with each other for many years since they both came to court in the 1520's.

Margaret Douglas was married in 1544 to a Scottish exile, Matthew Stewart the Earl of Lennox (1516-1571), their marriage produced two sons; Henry Stuart Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart Earl of Lennox. Her son Henry married Mary, Queen of Scots and their son became James VI King of Scotland, and later King of England upon Elizabeth I's death. Her younger son Charles married Elizabeth Cavendish - due to plotting between their mothers Margaret Douglas and Bess of Hardwick - whose marriage produced Arbella Stuart, yet another of the Tudor bloodline imprisoned for marrying in secret for love.

Thomas Howard's nephew Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was a famed poet, and wrote this as part of his Eache beeste can chuse his feere. These lines alluding to the fate of his uncle Thomas, dying in the Tower for his own love.
 "And, for my vaunte, I dare well say my blood is not untrew;
Ffor you your self dothe know, it is not long agoe,
Sins that, for love, one of the race did end his life in woe
In towre both strong and highe, for his assured truthe." 

Gender and Politics in the Henrician Court: The Douglas-Howard Lyrics in the Devonshire Manuscript (BL Add 17492)
Bradley J. Irish
Renaissance Quarterly , Vol. 64, No. 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 79-114
Article DOI: 10.1086/660369
Article Stable URL:

In Laudem Caroli: Renaissance and Reformation Studies
Charles Garfield Nauert, James V Mehl
Truman State University Press, 1998


  1. Great blog. Margaret is an important figure in my new book Tudor: The Family Story 1437-1603, but you might be interested in checking out the free access to an article I did on Margaret for History Today. I think its available for a few more days at I will then pots it on my website. I enjoyed reading this, thanks

  2. Leanda and Danielle,
    I have been researching Matthew Howard's ancestry. Matthew landed in Virginia in 1637. One scenario for his ancestry is based on a Robert Howard, purportedly the child of Princess Margaret Douglas and Lord Thomas Howard marriage, born January 1537, at Syon without the knowledge of anyone except William (?), an uncle of Thomas and Henry Howard(?) the Earl of Surrey. Can either of you corroborate this? Soon after his birth, Robert was secretly sent, under the cover of night, by boat from Syon to be raised by Thomas and Alice Howard at Brockdish, later Kenninghall co., Norfolk. Margaret and relatives of his father would visit him often.
    When Robert was 18 (?) and his mother Margaret was 40, she revealed to him his true parentage, but told him this must be kept secret until the last of the Tudors where gone because of the dangerous position his parentage created. He kept a detailed document of all the relevant facts shared by his mother when he was 18 — until the death of Queen Elizabeth's when Robert's secret birth no longer had to be kept secret. Robert Howard of Kenninghall married Phillipa Buxton in 1574 and had 13 children at Pelham Manor, Kenninghall. Your insight and help is appreciated! Michele, descendant of Matthew Howard,

    1. I'm a direct descendent of Matthew Howard through his son John. That said, I live five minutes away from Round Bay, MD and the Howard family Cemetary.

  3. Forgot to site my reference: James Moss, Providence: Lost town on the Severn

    1. Thanks, I'm also a descendant of Matthew Howard through son Cornelius.

    2. I descend from Matthew Howard's son Samuel.

  4. Is it not time to have this confirmed through DNA testing?

  5. Yes! A male direct descendant of Matthew Howard needs to take a Y-DNA test. Of course a direct male descendant across the pond also needs to take it for comparison.

  6. No one has paid attention to mention of her affair later with Charles Howard. She again was sent to Syon and then to the home of Duke of Norfolk for an extended time. Her friend, also a Howard, went with her. If Henry wanted her away from the Norfolk men, does this make sense?? I wonder if she bore a child to Thomas AND a child to Charles!

  7. I wish I could forward pictures. Not only does current Duke of Norfk's niece look like me when I was young, I found a photo of my great-aunt Reba Howard that looks eerily like a portrait of Margaret Douglas.

  8. Im researching the Howards' links with Brockdish as part of a history of the village and of my own house which I believe was built in the mid 1500s and was lived in by successive Howards after the Manor was sold off to the Le Grices