Margaret and Archibald Douglas

The whole adventure at Wark had been a costly and demoralising affair. The collapse of the Scottish French army after Wark was the last straw for Albany. He once again made his way to France on the promise of returning in the spring with new resources. But this time he never returned. Albany had suffered from the after effects of Flodden. The Scots, drained of confidence, sceptical of the Auld Alliance and plagued by in-fighting had consistently failed to back him. Despite this he had kept a free Scotland for his King and never once had he prejudiced his loyalty.

With Albany gone for good, Henry thought he would have all his own way in Scotland. He was sadly mistaken as Margaret took full advantage of her proximity to the King and called upon Arran as her ally. Arran, still smarting after Cleanse the Causeway and now supported in some part by English bribes was happy to help especially as the Duchess of Albany had just died leaving no surviving children.  He felt that this was the only way he would have a say in the naming of the future king. Their plan was simple. James now twelve years old, was to be taken to Edinburgh and adorned with the symbols of sovereignty. On the 26th July 1524 James escaped from his French captors at Stirling and rode for the capital. By the end of the same day his minority was declared over. Of course the real decision makers were to be Margaret and Arran. On the 1st August the King called the first Privy Council meeting in which all the officers were asked to refute their oaths to Albany or face dismissal; the majority complied without question.  It was a simple card to play but no less effective for it. A few supporters of Albany, objected to the move, most notably Archbishop Beaton. Margaret and Arran moved fast to imprison him. The rest of the opposition including Lennox, Moray and Argyll held their tongues in face of this aggressive reprisal.

Margaret however again alienated the Lords just as she had laid the foundations of her power. Harry Stewart, a captain of her guard and eight years her junior and son of the Lord of Avondale was seen around court much more, offering advice and support.  He replaced the trusted Patrick Sinclair as messenger and took up residence in Holyrood with the Queen. It was all too much for many of the lords and there was still the matter of her second husband. Angus was back in England and, with the blessing of Henry, was heading north to claim his matrimonial rights and seek reconciliation.

Margaret in the meanwhile sued for a divorce on the grounds that James IV was actually still alive after Flodden and had gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She had cleverly tapped into the common disbelief that such a popular King could not actualy have been slain. Many thought James to be a guardian of Scotland destined to return from Jerusalem, if not from the dead, in time of dire need. She left the details of the divorce to Albany, who willingly took up her cause in the hope it would undermine Henry’s influence in Scottish affairs. Not only did he secure the divorce from the Pope, but he did so at great personal cost to himself. However it was finalised too late for Margaret.

But Angus was back with a vengeance. After being held up at the border by Dacre he moved swiftly to Edinburgh. He raised 400 men including those under Lennox and Scott of Buccleuch and smuggled them into the city. He then marched to St Giles and declared himself before the council demanding his rights as a husband. Margaret, awoken from her sleep, ordered the guns at the castle to fire on St Giles and set about raising her guard at Holyrood. As the two sides faced each other, the boom of cannon echoed down the mainstreet, and shot crashed into the houses around the cathedral. None of Angus’s forces were hit but it was noted that two merchants, two priests and a woman were killed. Margaret fearing perhaps another 'Cleanse the Causeway' bloodbath, lost her nerve, and ordered the guns to stop firing. An uneasy stand off followed but after four days Angus, having faced down the opposition, retired to Tantallon. But now he had the initiative and, calling upon his supporters to boycott the next Parliament called in Stirling, he asked to be returned to his place on the council. Margaret realised he had called her bluff and despite James wanting to march on Edinburgh wearing his father’s sword and her nobles asking for him to lead the army against the Douglases, she seceded to Angus’s demands to sit on the parliament.

In February 1525 Angus rode into Edinburgh with Lennox at his side along with a force of over 2000 men to take up his seat. This time his men were billeted well out of range of the castle’s guns. On the 23rd he processed beside Arran and behind his wife and stepson as they opened parliament. Angus was back in power and about to play his trump card.

Angus’ final bid for power took the form of a bloodless coup. He persuaded parliament to agree the setting up of a council of noblemen to look after the King for four months at a time. He would naturally head the first group with Earl Of Morton, James Douglas and Gavin Dunbar, the Archbishop of Glasgow. Angus would then hand over to the second group headed by Arran and Hugh Montgomery, 1st Earl of Eglington. Cardinal Beaton and Argyll headed up the third and the final group consisted of Lennox, Montrose, Maxwell and Glencairn. Angus duly assumed the powers invested in him by the parliament but when it came to handing over the responsibility, he refused to do so. It was a master stroke of political gamesmanship which left a bitter taste in many of those deprived of their turn.

Arran in particular retired to Linlithgow to contemplate his next move and it was whilst at the palace that Margaret contacted him. She had moved north, away from her estranged husband’s power base and had built up a friendship with Earl Of Moray. In January 1526 the Queen and Moray had accused Angus of treason and ‘invassaling his prince to his attendance’. Now they were preparing to act on their accusations. Angus called upon his brother George to ‘persuade’ the King to write a letter stating that he was a willing guest of the Douglases. The King sent the letter but also smuggled out other correspondence refuting all that he had written and calling upon his mother to come and save him by force of arms if necessary. By the middle of the month the Queen and Moray were prepared to march south with some 600 followers in an attempt to wrest the King from the Douglases and requested Arran to side with them. They planned to join forces on the Linlithgow Peel before marching on to Edinburgh on the 10th January.