Monday, December 10, 2018

The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII's Niece


Rating: 1 Star

If you are well-versed in Tudor history, you know who Margaret Douglas is - the niece of Henry VIII, first cousin to Mary and Elizabeth, mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots. Her life was not as easy as one might expect for a member of the royal family, but when we remember this is the Tudors we are dealing with, it all starts to make sense.

Margaret had quite an extraordinary life with many highs and lows. It is fair to say that she had more than her fair share of lows. But to be fair, she might not have lost her first son, Lord Darnley (Mary, Queen of Scots second husband), had he not been a spoiled, pampered, layabout. No one asks to be strangled while they're half naked in the courtyard, fleeing an explosion in the basement, but if Henry had not been such an easily manipulated follower his end might not have been so soon (or so undignified).

However, I could barely be bothered to give this book more than one star because of how inaccurate the information is, and how poorly edited/written it is. One needs only look at the synopsis on Goodreads to find an error and I should have paid more attention. It says, " is the arrangement of the marriage of Margaret's son, Lord Darnley, to his cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, that unites their claims to the throne and angers her uncle King Henry yet again."

Except...think about that for a moment. Henry was angry at Margaret because her son married the Scottish queen? Quite the tricky feat, considering the fact that Mary and Darnley wed in 1565. Henry died 18 years earlier, in 1547. Elizabeth was piiiiiiissed, to be sure. But her father certainly wasn't, on account of being dead and all.

I wanted this to be a great book. I think Margaret is a highly interesting study of life just close enough to the throne to be in trouble for pretty much doing anything without permission from the king or queen, all while knowing despite that proximity, you will probably never get the crown. But there are just too many flaws to ignore. There, is, an, excessive, use, of, commas, that, drove, me, crazy. Some events were not explained thoroughly so as to give a fuller picture. Inaccuracies, like the one above, are not forgivable - especially for a subject where this information is readily available.

Margaret's death is somewhat mysterious, though there is no evidence of foul play. She was living pretty much in poverty after her sons and husband died, and caring for her granddaughter Arbella Stuart. Elizabeth I's most fave favorite, Robert Dudley, visited Margaret for dinner and within a few days, she died. To some this looks highly suspicious and I am not inclined to disagree, but the truth is that there is no historical evidence that Dudley poisoned her. Yet the author states about Dudley on page 208, "Certainly he was known to have disposed of others, including his wife." While it is also true that Robert Dudley's first wife died when her neck was broken, just how it was broken is still hotly debated to this day and the conclusion was that she had fallen down the stairs, where she was found at the bottom. This seems rather salacious, as no other explanation is given. Just as we have no hard evidence he killed his wife, the same holds true for Margaret. Now, I would not be at all surprised if Elizabeth DID order it, because I am inclined to always think the worst of her, but again, no evidence. Definitely some reckless handling of material in this case.

I also took issue with the author's handling of Mary, Queen of Scots trial for her involvement in the murder of Margaret's son, Darnley. This whole episode is rather complex and deserves more attention than what is given, with the statements made. On page 177 the author states, "Their veracity has long been doubted, but if the 'Long Glasgow Letter', supposedly written by Mary to Bothwell just before she took Darnley from his father's care back to Edinburgh, is genuine, it does prove her complicity in planning his death." Again, we have no way to prove or disprove that Mary wrote the letter. Generally it is believed that some of the so-called 'Casket Letters' are genuine letters Mary sent, but that many were doctored to provide evidence against Mary. This casket was claimed to belong to Bothwell, and magically found inside was evidence needed to tie Mary to Darnley's death. The originals are long gone and all we have to look on now are copies made; this makes it quite difficult to tell if they are forgeries or not, letters piece-mealed together from other writing Mary did at the time. It also needs pointing out that these letters and the supposed marriage contracts in the casket are literally the only evidence against Mary. And while we are on the subject of the Earl of Bothwell, the author describes Mary's marriage to him as them 'eloping'. This is also something that has been tirelessly debated for centuries. Some believe Mary was guilty of plotting Darnley's murder in order to marry Bothwell. Some think Bothwell and his men carried it out without Mary's knowledge. Events are not clear after that. Some say Mary willingly went with Bothwell and married him. Others say he ambushed her party and kidnapped her, then raped her, and forced her to marry him. She may or may not have miscarried twins at one point after the 'marriage'. But to call it an elopement also paints a very different picture of Mary than does anything else above and I think further explanation of all of this was necessary.

On page 72 the inaccuracies continue. The author states, "But Henry, remorseless as he had been to Lady Salisbury and to Catherine's aunt and predecessor, Anne Boleyn, ordered that she would be imprisoned at Sion from whence his niece and daughter had to be removed." Anne Boleyn was most certainly NOT Catherine Howard's aunt. For that to be true, Catherine would have had to be the child of Anne's brother George or her sister Mary. Catherine was in fact the daughter of Edmund Howard, who was Elizabeth Howard's brother. Elizabeth Howard was Anne Boleyn's mother. Anne and Catherine were first cousins. One might ask what this has to do with Margaret at all - she was at Sion at the time and had to be moved in order for Catherine Howard to be imprisoned there prior to her execution.

One more minor issue was the author's references to Mary of Lorraine. Nearly everyone else calls her Mary of Guise, she was Mary, Queen of Scots mother. It took me a few seconds to figure out who she was talking about when she repeatedly stated Mary of Lorraine. This is not necessarily an error, but is just less common.

In the same section when the author is describing events related to Catherine Howard (Henry's 5th wife) that impacted Margaret's life, she states on page 72, "It soon leaked out that Catherine's accomplice in her assignations was a foolish woman called Lady Rochester, whose husband, Anne Boleyn's brother, had been executed for supposed incest with his sister, an accusation never proven." So much wrong here, so so much. First of all, her name was Lady Rochford, not Rochester. Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) was George Boleyn's widow, that is about all that is accurate. I even take issue with her description of Jane as a 'foolish woman'. Jane made plenty of mistakes and paid for those mistakes with her life. But to simply dismiss her as foolish is not entirely accurate, as one has to consider the fact that the queen was asking Jane to cover for her, while Catherine carried on her affairs. It is not as though Jane could tell her no. I don't know that I believe Jane was a willing accomplice, and you will find plenty of historians and history lovers who feel the same way. Then there is the charge leveled at George and Anne. Even I, someone who so thoroughly dislikes Anne Boleyn that I can't stand her at all, can say without a doubt, Anne and George were certainly not guilty of incest. Anyone who knows a thing about Henry and Anne, know that the accusations against her were false - proven time and again by the fact that her itinerary places her at different locations than when her alleged affairs took place. Everyone knows that Henry just wanted an excuse to get rid of her, and Cromwell made sure to make some up. So to present this charge of incest as something that was 'never proven' is quite ridiculous. O

The final example I will share involving inaccurate information lies very early on in the book. On page 17 the author states, "It was reconstructed as a royal palace by Henry and Margaret's grandfather, Henry VII, and had been given to Catherine of Aragon." At first you might think, sure that is right, Henry VII was Margaret Douglas' grandfather. This is true. However, the above quote was referencing her mother, also called Margaret. Margaret and Henry were children of Henry VII, so their father, not their grandfather, reconstructed the palace. These mistakes are not acceptable, they simply can not happen.

In addition to those factual errors, I found the comma use seriously OUT. OF. CONTROL. There are many, many to choose from, but I have chosen just a few to illustrate why God invented the semi-colon and the hyphen:

Page 43 "Much to the sorrow of both Princess Mary and Margaret Douglas, his goddaughter, both grateful for his kindness, Cardinal Wolsey, castigated for his failure to gain the king's ambition, had been dismissed as chancellor in 1529." Not only is it an incredibly long and convoluted sentence, the author stated on other occasions that Wolsey was Margaret's godfather.

Page 56: "Known to have been a friend and great admirer of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, himself a poet of some fame, he may have had some access, again by surreptitious means, to Surrey's younger half-brother, Thomas, who now, in his bouts of fever, was scarcely able to write."

There were so many more to choose from, but I feel these best represented the insane comma use. This review would never end, otherwise.

As you might guess, I must say that I can not recommend this book. Margaret Douglas deserves a good biography. This isn't it.


  1. Oh dear this is bad stuff! As soon as I read that bit of blurb you highlighted I was like 'but Henry has been dead for years! It was Elizabeth!' so I agree with you that it's not exactly a great start for the book! Amy Dudley's death was suspicious but never proven as you say, and I agree that Elizabeth was capable of killing Margaret but author just can't pass off rumour as fact like that! The Catherine Howard bit is beyond nonsense isn't it! I'm no Tudor expert but these are basic facts that the author is screwing up! And that comma thing is really annoying!!!

    1. THANK YOU! I was really hoping someone who doesn't typically read tons of books on the Tudors would comment, and confirm that fact that a lot of this stuff really is common knowledge if you know even just a bit about them. The Anne/Catherine thing was probably the biggest offense to me because there is no possible way for the relationship to have been aunt/niece. I reread some of the passages at least a dozen times to make sure I was reading and understanding correctly. Then I asked a fellow Tudorphile if I was crazy and reading it wrong, haha. She confirmed I was in fact, reading correctly, and she was also baffled.

  2. Thank you for saving me from reading this book. I do enjoy a good biography, but I get so frustrated with these types of mistakes - where are the editors? I am looking for a good biography on Margaret Douglas; what I have seen so far isn't promising. Hopefully I'll find something....

    1. Agreed, I was so hoping this would be it. Had I bothered to read the blurb on Goodreads, I would have been deterred right away, with that mistake about Henry being angry. If you ever find a good one, let me know!


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