‘More feared than beloved’

Gareth Rus­sell on a for­mi­da­ble Tu­dor spy-mistress, the Count­ess of Len­nox

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Books - by Mor­gan Ring

In late 1578, work ended at West­min­ster Abbey on the tomb of Mar­garet, Count­ess of Len­nox. It de­scribed the late count­ess, of­ten known by her maiden name, Mar­garet Dou­glas, as aedita prin­cip­ibus prin­cip­ibusque parens: “de­scended from princes, par­ent to princes”. Mar­garet lived, by virtue of her an­ces­try, in the thick of 16th-cen­tury pol­i­tics: she was Henry VIII’s niece, James V’s half-sis­ter, Car­di­nal Wolsey’s god-daugh­ter, a favourite of Anne Bo­leyn, amanu­en­sis to Thomas Wy­att, cousin and friend of Mary I, cousin and ri­val of El­iz­a­beth I and mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots. The death of her son, Lord Darn­ley, in the Kirk o’ Field ex­plo­sion in Ed­in­burgh in 1567, is one of the great un­solved mur­der mys­ter­ies of Bri­tish his­tory.

Given this gal­axy of con­nec­tions, there is a risk that Mar­garet Dou­glas might, like her grand­mother, El­iz­a­beth of York, seem in­ter­est­ing only by virtue of those who sur­rounded her, the his­tor­i­cal equiv­a­lent of the Lady of Shalott’s mir­ror, an un­likely glass in which shad­ows of more im­por­tant and more in­ter­est­ing events are re­flected. For­tu­nately, Mor­gan Ring’s So High a Blood avoids this trap. This im­pec­ca­bly re­searched por­trait of a trou­bled, fas­ci­nat­ing woman traces the arc of Mar­garet’s jour­ney from the ne­glected child of a down-on-her­luck queen to a grande dame with a net­work of spies and sooth­say­ers, “more feared a great deal than beloved of any that knoweth her”, in the words of the diplo­mat Thomas Ran­dolph.

Mar­garet was the daugh­ter of Henry VIII’s el­dest sis­ter, Mar­garet Tu­dor, Dowa­ger Queen of Scots, by her sec­ond hus­band, Archibald Dou­glas, 6th Earl of An­gus. Their af­fair had cost Mar­garet Tu­dor what lit­tle po­lit­i­cal credit she had in her adopted home­land, but there is, none the less, some­thing rather mag­nif­i­cent about the wid­owed queen’s chutz­pah when she pro­claimed: “I took my lord An­gus against all Scot­land’s will… I took him at my own plea­sure.” The mar­riage was so con­tentious that she had to flee to Eng­land, where she gave birth to her daugh­ter in Oc­to­ber 1515.

When she re­turned to Scot­land, young Mar­garet stayed behind to join the court of her un­cle, King Henry. Ring deals well with the rel­a­tive paucity of sources con­cern­ing her early years, par­tic­u­larly be­fore her for­mal de­but at Christ­mas 1530. After that, she is on firmer ground. Mar­garet es­tab­lished a life­long friend­ship with her Tu­dor cousin and heiress-ap­par­ent to the English throne, Princess Mary, but that did not pre­vent her from en­joy­ing the com­pany of the king’s sec­ond wife, Anne Bo­leyn, who emerges from the pages of So High a Blood as a sa­lon­nière be­fore her time. In Anne’s or­bit, Mar­garet flour­ished, “cel­e­brated for her ex­quis­ite love­li­ness of shape, and el­e­gance of form”, ac­cord­ing to her con­tem­po­rary Ge­orge Buchanan. Ring’s Mar­garet is an in­cor­ri­gi­ble ro­man­tic. Un­der Anne Bo­leyn she wrote love po­etry, some of which sur­vives. But she was also, par­tic­u­larly as she ma­tured, a vi­ciously un­for­giv­ing politi­cian. Given the per­fect storm of ro­man­tic and po­lit­i­cal scan­dals that fol­lowed her, it is odd that she has not fea­tured in any of the drama­ti­sa­tions con­cern­ing the Tu­dor roy­als. There were diplo­matic in­ci­dents, to put it mildly, over her youth­ful ro­mances with mem­bers of the Howard fam­i­lies, first with one

The Len­nox or Darn­ley Jewel was given by Mar­garet to her ill-fated hus­band

368PP, BLOOMS­BURY, £25, EBOOK £11.69

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.