Margaret Tudor by Melanie Clegg

Henry VIII’s sister Margaret is one of the lesser known Tudors and doesn’t usually get a lot of attention either in fiction or non-fiction, yet she was important historically as both an English princess and a queen of Scotland. This very enjoyable new biography by Melanie Clegg takes us through the whole of Margaret’s life from her birth in 1489 to her death in 1541, throwing some light on her childhood, her time as queen and her unhappy second and third marriages.

As the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Margaret had the sort of privileged childhood you would expect – perhaps more so than usual because Henry, not yet secure on his recently claimed throne, wanted to do everything he could to increase the rank and status of the new Tudor dynasty. Margaret grew up well aware of her own importance and value to her father in his efforts to arrange marriages for his children and form alliances with other royal families. In 1503, at the age of thirteen, Margaret was married to the thirty-year-old James IV of Scotland and made the long journey north while still in mourning for her mother, who had died earlier that year. It must have been a daunting experience for such a young girl, but James, despite already having several mistresses and illegitimate children, treated her with respect and kindness and helped her to settle into life in her new country.

Margaret was still just in her twenties when James was killed fighting the English at the battle of Flodden in 1513, leaving her to rule as regent for their young son who was crowned James V. She did not remain a widow for long, however, and soon married again, this time to a husband of her own choice, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, a move which angered the rest of the Scottish nobility and resulted in her losing the regency. The remainder of Margaret’s life was marked by political turmoil and personal tragedy – including the death of her younger son, divorce from Angus and an equally unhappy and unsuccessful third marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven.

I thoroughly enjoyed this biography. It is written in a clear and easy to read style and although it may not be academic enough for some readers (sources are just listed at the back of the book, for example, rather than being directly referenced in the text) for the general reader this is a good introduction to Margaret Tudor’s life and to this period of Scottish and English history. Melanie Clegg’s portrayal of Margaret feels quite fair and balanced, so that the reader feels some sympathy for her while also being aware of her flaws. There are parallels with the life of her granddaughter Mary, Queen of Scots (James V’s daughter), who also made some poor decisions when it came to choosing husbands!

Clegg shows how, in Margaret’s first few years in Scotland she has little interest in politics and government, but as time goes by she begins to grow in knowledge and experience. She is often torn between her adopted country and the country of her birth and does everything she can to bring about peace between Scotland and England, not always successfully. It can’t have been easy being the sister of a man like Henry VIII, after all (though maybe slightly preferable to being his wife). She should have been able to rely on him for support, especially after James is killed at Flodden, but instead he tries to make his own plans for Margaret and her children, aimed at uniting the two countries under one crown. Of course, this is what would eventually happen anyway, if not quite in the way Henry had hoped, through the marriage between Margaret’s granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots and grandson, Lord Darnley (son of Margaret’s daughter, Margaret Douglas) which resulted in the birth of the future James VI of Scotland and I of England.

I particularly enjoyed the second half of the book, which deals with the rivalries between the various factions of Scottish noblemen, the conflict between Margaret and the Duke of Albany (the next nearest in line to the throne) and her escape to England. The earlier chapters, although less dramatic, are interesting too and I loved the way James IV was portrayed. Staying in this fascinating period of history, I am looking forward to reading another new non-fiction book I have waiting on my TBR, The Afterlife of King James IV by Keith J Coleman.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

The Forgotten Queen Of all the royal women of the Tudor period, one we tend not to hear much about is Margaret, the elder sister of King Henry VIII and grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. And yet Margaret was not only a princess of England, but she also became a queen at the age of thirteen when she married King James IV of Scotland. In this historical fiction novel aptly titled The Forgotten Queen, D.L. Bogdan tells Margaret Tudor’s story.

James IV is much older than Margaret and given that this was a marriage made for political reasons, she is fortunate that James proves to be a kind and gentle husband – although not a very faithful one. In time Margaret comes to love him and is devastated when he is killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Their young son succeeds to the throne and is crowned James V, but as he is not yet old enough to reign on his own, Scotland is ruled by a series of regents. Margaret marries again, this time to a man of her own choice, but as she learns more about her second husband – Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus – she begins to wonder if she has made a terrible mistake.

With her ties to both England and Scotland, it’s inevitable that eventually Margaret will have to choose between the country of her birth and her adopted country and must decide where her allegiances lie. It’s often unclear to the reader and even to Margaret herself what her true loyalties are, but the one thing that is obvious is that she wants whatever is best for the young James V, who is in a vulnerable position at the mercy of the various advisors, regents and noblemen who surround him. And while she fights to secure her son’s throne, Margaret never forgets her father Henry VII’s dream that through her Scotland and England could one day be united.

I knew absolutely nothing about Margaret Tudor before reading this book so, for me, she really is ‘the forgotten Queen’. It made a nice change to read a book set during the Tudor period that chooses to focus on somebody other than Henry VIII and his six wives and I did learn a lot about Margaret’s life. Unfortunately though, Margaret herself comes across as a very unsympathetic character: immature, selfish and stubborn. She makes some very bad decisions, often failing to take advice from other people, and she expects more from her friends than she is prepared to give in return. However, there were still times when I could feel some compassion for her, as she did seem to have a very difficult and tragic life. Only two of her children survived past infancy – James and her daughter with Angus, Margaret Douglas – and her second and third marriages were both very unhappy (although having said that, I felt that Margaret did nothing to make them any happier).

In addition to learning about Margaret’s life I enjoyed learning more about this period of Scottish history in general, for example the aftermath of Flodden, but I found the author’s attempt at handling Scottish dialect very irritating. To indicate that a character is Scottish she substitutes the words ‘dinna’ and ‘canna’ for don’t and can’t but doesn’t make any real effort to use any other Scottish words. This made the dialogue feel very unconvincing and artificial. Also, as the book covers such a long period of time, it would have been helpful if dates had been provided in the chapter headings or whenever the story jumps forward by a few years. It was hard to tell how much time had passed between one chapter and the next, or sometimes even between one paragraph and the next. Just a small thing but it would have made the story so much easier to follow!

This was a fairly light read, as you can probably tell from the title and cover. I think if I had been looking for a more in-depth book about Margaret Tudor I would have been disappointed, but as an introduction to her story it was enjoyable enough and has left me wanting to know more about this forgotten queen.