Bootham Postern, Exhibition Square, York YO1 7EW
Plaque designed by Walter Brierley
This Gateway was broken through the Abbey Wall July 1503 in honour of the Princess Margaret daughter of Henry VII, who was the guest of the Lord Abbot of St Mary’s for two days on her journey to the North as the Bride of James IV of Scotland.
Margaret Tudor (1489-1541)
Margaret was the second child and first daughter of Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York. She was born on 29 November 1489 at Westminster Palace and baptised the following day, St Andrew’s Day – appropriate for one destined to become Queen of Scotland – at Westminster Abbey by the Bishop of Ely. For a time, Margaret was the sole occupant of the Westminster nursery, as her older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, was provided with his own palace at Farnham in Surrey. Following an outbreak of measles, however, the court was forced to relocate to Greenwich and Margaret’s nursery moved to Sheen Palace – later called Richmond Palace – beside the River Thames, a favourite residence of her father. The king and queen were to have eight children in total, but only three would survive into adulthood.
Occupants of the royal nursery
In June 1491, Margaret was joined at Sheen by her brother Henry, a second son for Henry VII. In celebration, the king built a splendid nursery for Margaret and Henry at Eltham Palace. They were joined there briefly by another little princess, Elizabeth, born in July 1492, but, always sickly, she died two years later. Princess Mary arrived at the royal nursery in March 1496. Considered to be the most beautiful woman in Europe by some, she was later to become, for a short while, Queen of France, marrying Louis XII, 30 years her senior, in 1514.
Everyone adored the young prince Henry, created Duke of York in 1494. Margaret both loved and was irritated by him in equal measure. He completely dominated the nursery and was no doubt developing the personality he showed in later life as King Henry VIII. He absorbed all the knowledge his tutors spread before him, but Margaret was less studious, learning to play the lute and clavichord and becoming a skilled archer. In April 1502, Arthur, the heir to the throne, died; Henry was now first in succession. Less than a year later, Queen Elizabeth died giving birth to a daughter who only lived a few days. When Margaret was sent away to marry, Mary and Henry were the sole surviving royal children left at court and they formed a very close bond.
Union with Scotland
In a diplomatic move to tease the Scots away from their friendship with France, Henry VIII tried to arrange a marriage between Margaret and the Scottish king, James IV, who was 16 years her senior. Negotiations began as early as 1495, when she was only six, but stalled when James gave refuge to Perkin Warbeck. This pretender had declared that he was Duke of York, the younger of the two sons of Edward IV who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, and staked a claim to the English throne.
The Scottish king was not comfortable, in any case, with the idea of marrying Margaret; she was far too young and it would be years before she could produce any heirs. A papal dispensation was also needed, as the two were distant cousins. However, by 1501, Scottish negotiators were pressing ahead with plans for the union and a marriage treaty was concluded in January 1502. A proxy marriage took place on 25 January 1503, with the Earl of Boswell representing James IV of Scotland, at a ceremony in the chapel of Richmond Palace in Surrey. Soon after this, on 11 February, Queen Elizabeth died in childbirth. Henry VII was inconsolable but, now officially Queen of Scotland, Margaret had to prepare for her journey north. In May 1503, James IV confirmed her possession of lands and houses in Scotland including Methven Castle, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle, Linlithgow Palace and Newark Castle in Ettrick Forest.
Royal progress to Scotland
On 8 July 1503, she set off on the journey to Edinburgh which would take more than a month. A huge retinue, led by Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, accompanied her, everyone dressed in great finery. People flocked to view the procession all along the route. They travelled through Grantham, Newark, Tuxford, Doncaster, Pontefract and Tadcaster before being greeted outside York by Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland with 400 of his men. By the time it reached the city, the procession was so large that it could not pass comfortably through Micklegate Bar, the main entrance to the city from the south.
In the 15th century, the only access to the abbey precinct, where Margaret was to stay for two days, was either from the river or through the main entrance on Marygate. A new arched opening had been cut through the abbey wall close to Bootham Bar in 1497 to form a convenient shortcut to and from the abbey grounds. Originally intended for King Henry’s use on a visit to York when he stayed at the Abbot’s Lodging (now called King’s Manor) for ‘his pleasure and passage to the Mynster’, the archway is now known as Queen Margaret’s Arch, in memory of her famous journey north to become Queen of Scotland.
Following the Dissolution, the majority of the abbey buildings were gradually dismantled, though the Abbot’s Lodging survived as the headquarters of the Council of the North. In the 1830s, the north-east corner of the abbey walls was removed to ease traffic congestion and to improve the area. St Leonard’s Place was built in 1834 and Bootham Bar barbican was removed in 1835. All of the buildings between Bootham Bar and Queen Margaret’s Arch were demolished, but the arch itself was saved, largely through the efforts of William Evelyn.
Marriage at Holyrood
On 30 July 1503, the procession reached the border at Berwick-upon-Tweed where, after several days of festivities, 1,000 Scots accompanied their new queen into their country. In preparation for his bride, James had started to build a new palace adjacent to Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh in 1501 and it was here that the formal wedding ceremony took place on 8 August. James was 28, Margaret 13. At the time of her marriage, Margaret may not have been aware that her husband already had seven illegitimate children and was still visiting his mistress, Janet Kennedy. At the beginning of 1507, Margaret, herself, gave birth to a son, James, but he survived little more than a year. A daughter, born on 15 July 1508, died the same day. A second son was born at Linlithgow on 11 April 1512 who now became heir to the throne.
On the death of her oldest brother, Arthur, in 1502, Margaret had inherited a fortune. This was now in the guardianship of Henry VIII who had succeeded to the English throne on the death of their father in 1509. She had also inherited plate and jewels from her paternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. Through the English ambassador, Margaret requested that her inheritance be sent to her in Scotland. However, Henry VIII, who was always short of funds, promised that she would receive everything only if Scotland remained at peace with England. Sadly, this was not to be. James IV invaded northern England and was killed at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513 together with some 10,000 Scots. His baby son, little more than a year old, succeeded him as James V.
Her husband’s will made it clear that Margaret should act as regent to the infant king provided she did not remarry. A council of four nobles was established to assist her with government but, less than a year after her husband’s death, Margaret married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, probably the most powerful of the Scottish nobles, and so forfeited her position as regent. Many patriotic Scots mistrusted both Margaret, the sister of their enemy Henry VIII, and Angus, whom they considered too powerful, so the council invited John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany, nephew of James IV, to become regent to the young king. Albany, who had been born and brought up in France, had a high reputation as a soldier. He landed at Dumbarton in May 1515 with eight supply ships and a troop of French soldiers.
Margaret bitterly resented Albany’s intrusion and begged her brother to restore her authority over her son by using force if necessary, but Henry was reluctant to intervene. She fled to Stirling Castle with her two sons, James V and Alexander (born in 1514). Albany besieged Stirling and Margaret was forced to give up her children. Having now lost the regency, her income and control of her sons, Margaret escaped to England in 1516, on the way giving birth to a daughter, Margaret Douglas, in Northumberland. The birth and long journey left her extremely ill and she was not told of the death of her second son, Alexander, until she had recovered her strength. She finally arrived in London in May for her first meeting with Henry VIII in 13 years and remained in England for a year.
After meeting Margaret at Morpeth on her journey south, in a blatant act of self-interest, Angus had returned to Scotland to make peace with Albany. In 1517, Henry persuaded Margaret also to return, having gained a promise from Albany that all would be well ‘should she do nothing prejudicial to the king [her son] or the realm’. Margaret, always conscious of her status as a queen, requested jewels and finery from her brother to emphasise her position in Scotland, indicating that her appearance, rather than her ability to govern or to give leadership, was more important to her. Her return also coincided with the departure of Albany for France where he stayed until 1521, exercising his regency from the Continent.
Margaret’s remaining years in Scotland were not happy ones. On her return to Scotland she found Angus living with his mistress, Lady Janet Stewart of Traquair, and their illegitimate daughter. What seemed to concern her most was that, in her absence, they had occupied one of the dowager queen’s properties, Newark Castle, and had been living off income from her estate. During Albany’s time in France, Margaret was unable to regain the regency as her brother, Henry, had hoped. Angus strengthened his position in Edinburgh, resisting Margaret’s requests for a divorce.
When Albany returned to Scotland in 1521, Margaret secured his help in dislodging Angus and, in December, her husband was charged with high treason and deported to France in March 1522. Albany’s regency continued until 1524, when James’s minority was declared to be at an end and the king was able to rule in his own right. However, Angus left France for London in 1524, forming an alliance with Henry VIII. With Henry’s support, he returned to Scotland, rallying the anti-French nobles to his cause. Having initially advanced on Edinburgh and been fired upon by his own wife, forcing him to retreat, he succeeded, in February 1525, in being appointed to the Council of Regency by the country’s new parliament. In July 1526, he was granted the sole guardianship of James V until 1 November but, refusing to relinquish this role at the appointed time, he advanced on Linlithgow Palace to quell Margaret and her followers. Although his power was constantly challenged, Angus controlled James, and the government of Scotland, for a further two years
In 1527, Margaret finally obtained her divorce from Angus but, in March 1528, she was once again besieged at Stirling Castle where she was staying with her new partner, Henry Stewart. Henry was captured and, briefly, imprisoned. James V was virtually a prisoner and there were several unsuccessful rescue attempts. However, in April 1528, he managed to escape and sought refuge in Stirling Castle with his mother. James now took his revenge on Angus who fled to London. The Douglas estates in Scotland were forfeited and Henry Stewart was created Lord Methven.
Margaret’s third marriage was to prove equally unhappy and she was continually short of money. Henry VIII became less tolerant and her allegiances wavered, siding first with England and then with the Scots in the Auld Alliance with France. Although she would have dearly loved it, she never saw peace made between her brother and her son. Margaret died on 18 October 1541, aged 52. James arranged a grand funeral for her at St John’s, the Carthusian Abbey in Perth, the burial place of Scottish kings. In the Scottish Protestant [Presbyterian] Revolution of 1559, her tomb was destroyed, her body burned and her ashes scattered around the grounds. Margaret had asked that her jewels be given to Margaret Douglas, the daughter whom she had left behind on her return to Scotland and who was being raised in Henry VIII’s court. James V refused this request and his mother’s valuables reverted to the Scottish crown.
Margaret’s fame has been eclipsed in current memory by her famous younger brother, Henry VIII, but her descendants became increasingly prominent in later years. Her son, James V of Scotland, was the father of Mary, Queen of Scots and, by her second marriage, Margaret was also the grandmother of Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley. It was their son, acceding to the thrones of both England and Scotland as James I and VI, who would eventually unite the two kingdoms.
Gordon Donaldson, Scottish Church History (Edinburgh, 1985)
Richard Glen Eaves, ‘Margaret [Margaret Tudor] (1489-1541), Queen of Scots, Consort of James IV’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography vol. XXXVI (Oxford, 1893), www.oxforddnb.com
Marie W. Stuart, The Scot who was a Frenchman, Being the Life of John Stewart, Duke of Albany, in Scotland, France and Italy, (Edinburgh, 1940)
Sarah-Beth Watkins, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, The Life of Henry VIII’s Sister (Alresford, Hants 2017)
© Dinah Tyszka