The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox by Alison Weir

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The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox by Alison Weir

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A very full life and times of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, one of the more shadowy, lesser known Tudor royal figures. Like so many others who were closely related to King Henry VIII and his children, she led an often quite a precarious life saddened by personal tragedy and marked by suspicion of treasonable activities.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 576 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780099546467

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Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, was one of the more shadowy, lesser known personalities among the Tudor royal family. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII's sister Margaret, by her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, and like so many others who were closely related to King Henry VIII and his children, she led what was at times quite a precarious life in that she was on occasion suspected of treasonable activities, and also experienced no little personal tragedy.

As Alison Weir points out in her introduction, she is a largely forgotten princess whose story repays further investigation and needs to be better known. Born in 1515 and inevitably a prominent figure at her uncle's court, she attracted scandal by falling in love successively with two men who were deemed unsuitable because of their close kinship with the two Queens who ended up on the scaffold. The first was Thomas Howard, uncle of Anne Boleyn, shortly before the latter fell from favour, and the second was his half-nephew Charles Howard, brother of the similarly disgraced Catherine Howard. (She and Thomas were also poets, and the best part of one chapter is given over to the verses they exchanged during or about their captivity in the Tower). It was partly as a result of her unsuitable albeit shortlived attachments that an Act of Parliament was passed to regulate royal marriages. She was almost thirty years old when she married Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox. From the documentary evidence which exists, it was evidently a happy marriage, although most of their children died at birth or in infancy. Two sons lived to adulthood, although she outlived them both.

The younger, Charles, succeeded to his father's earldom, and his daughter, Arbella Stuart, like her grandmother, was sometimes described as 'England's lost Queen'. The elder, Henry, was granted the title Lord Darnley (as was the elder brother he never knew, who lived for less than a year), and became the second, ill-fated husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. For a while he was seen as a future contender for the English crown. The author's retelling of the complex and sometimes stormy relationship between Margaret, her son and her daughter-in-law, and the subsequent difficulties with Queen Elizabeth, provides what for me was the most exciting content of the whole book.

As a lifelong Catholic, it was not surprising that the monarch with whom Margaret got on best was Queen Mary, whose coronation and funeral she attended. With Queen Elizabeth, her future was less assured. After the marriage of Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots she was sent to the Tower of London, but released after his murder. It was a place in which she would find herself confined yet again after the marriage of her younger son, but history repeated itself and she was pardoned after his death, this time from natural causes. Nevertheless the religious divide meant that Queen Elizabeth never ceased to regard her without suspicion. Even so, Margaret's line of descent would prevail when her grandson James, King of Scotland, would unite the English and Scottish crowns early in the next century.

The Countess of Lennox was evidently a woman of character and a true survivor, leading a long though not always happy life, and having the misfortune to outlive so many of her family. Readers have not been short of biographies about the Tudors during the last few years. It therefore comes as a welcome surprise to be presented with a full study of the life of one of the more marginal characters from the era, which makes an invaluable addition to the collection. 400 pages of a scrupulously-researched life and times are accompanied by two excellent sections of plates, mainly in colour, and followed by detailed appendices on her portraiture, the chief dramatis personae, and another selection of poems, while there are six pages of full genealogical tables at the front.

For a first-rate overview of the dynasty, Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle is thoroughly recommended, while Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman makes for a fascinating insight into the Countess's regal cousin.

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