Lady Margaret Douglas and the Lennox Jewel

Margaret Douglas, The Countess of Lennox
Margaret Douglas
The Countess of Lennox

This article arises from research that I did for my book ‘The Challenge to the Crown’ and its sequel ‘The Survival of the Crown’. Both books discuss the position of Lady Margaret Douglas, later Countess of Lennox in some detail. Her importance should not be underestimated, particularly as ‘Bloody’ Mary I, considered her as heir to the English throne, given that Elizabeth was Protestant and in Catholic eyes illegitimate.

Although opinions vary on the timing, a piece of jewellery was commissioned by the Countess of Lennox. This was in the form of a locket depicting symbols to underline the Lennoxes’ extraordinary dynastic position. An understanding of the jewel adds to our knowledge of Lady Margaret’s key role in arranging the marriage of her son, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Lennox Jewel

‘The Lennox Jewel’ (or ‘Darnley Locket’) is now in the Royal Collection having been acquired by Queen Victoria from the estate of Horace Walpole, who had died in 1797, although its earlier provenance is not known. The Royal Collection has prepared a text describing it, which speculates on its history, but my research has led to a different conclusion:


Matthew Stuart 4th Earl of Lennox
Matthew Stewart
4th Earl of Lennox

On 6 July 1544, Lady Margaret Douglas married Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Douglas at St. James’s Palace. The marriage was attended by her uncle, Henry VIII. Lady Margaret was the daughter of Archibald, 6th Earl of Angus and his wife Princess Margaret Tudor, the widowed Queen of James IV of Scotland and Henry’s elder sister. She was a close friend of her first cousin, Princess Mary Tudor (later Mary I) and together they remained staunchly Catholic after the English Reformation. Dynastically Lady Margaret was next in line to the English throne after both Henry’s children and her niece, Mary Queen of Scots. Henry strongly approved of the marriage, as it linked the two Scottish families leading ‘the English Party’ in Scotland against a Scottish Government with its French and Catholic leanings being led by Mary of Guise, the Queen Dowager (and later Regent). Lennox, who had spent much of his upbringing in France, professed to be Protestant to gain Henry’s blessing for the marriage, and Henry hoped that he would curb the worst excesses of his Catholic niece. By all accounts they made a handsome couple. Lennox was ‘very pleasant in the sight of gentlewomen’ and Lady Margaret was ‘beautiful and highly esteemed’. There is no doubt that their marriage was a love match.

Claimants to the English Crown

Shortly before his death, Henry VIII tried to tinker with the succession to the English Crown. In his will made on his deathbed, he appointed his son, Edward, to succeed him followed by his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. This was controversial as Mary was ardently Catholic and Elizabeth had been deemed illegitimate when Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was annulled by Act of Parliament in 1536, and her status had not been rectified in the meantime. He then promoted the descendants of his Protestant younger sister, Princess Mary, ahead of those of his Catholic elder sister, Princess Margaret. A principal factor in this decision was that he wanted to prevent Mary Queen of Scots, now betrothed to the French Dauphin, from becoming Queen of England, with the risk that England would become subsumed under France. To achieve his objective, he debarred anyone born outside England from the English succession. While this debarred Mary, it did not debar her aunt, Lady Margaret Douglas who had been born in Northern England. Yet, as she remained steadfastly Catholic, Henry had already deemed her illegitimate on the grounds that her parents had not sought his consent for their marriage as required by the Royal Marriage Act of 1536. Quite apart from Henry’s doubtful authority to change the succession, there was a second problem that his will required his signature. By the time it had been finalised, he was too ill to write, and it was completed with a metal stamp inked in by his secretaries. This called its approval into question. If accepted, it promoted Jane Grey, the senior descendant of Princess Mary, should his own children fail to produce heirs.  Following the death of Edward VI in 1553, the Protestant ‘Protectors’ who had governed on the young king’s behalf, made an attempt to place Jane on the English throne ahead of both the Catholic Mary and her Protestant sister, Elizabeth. During Edward’s reign, the two sisters had kept their heads down, but on his death, Mary rose up in arms with Elizabeth at her side to claim her dynastic right. This resulted in Jane’s execution. The dynastic position is clarified on the following family tree of the Tudors:

The English Succession. Click for a larger version.
The English Succession. Click for a larger version.

With ‘Bloody’ Mary now Queen, Lady Margaret, who had remained at her home at Templenewsam in Yorkshire, returned to Court. With Elizabeth considered illegitimate in Catholic eyes, Lady Margaret was given precedence over her, and Lennox joined the Privy Council.  With Mary Queen of Scots destined to become Queen of France, she remained, in English eyes, inappropriate to be recognised as heir to the English throne, and Lady Margaret had every hope that ‘Bloody’ Mary would nominate either her or her young son, Henry, Lord Darnley to succeed her, if she should die childless. Darnley was doted on by indulgent parents. He was tall, handsome and athletic and was becoming a proficient player of the lute. Lennox had his own dynastic aspirations in Scotland. Although James Hamilton, Earl of Arran was dynastically the heir to the Scottish throne and, for a time, Regent for Mary Queen of Scots, his legitimacy was in doubt. If these doubts were upheld, then Lennox was the rightful heir. He had spent much of his early life in France after his father had been murdered in Scotland in 1526, and had become Captain of the Scottish Guard in Paris making him well respected as a soldier. Lady Margaret was Angus’s only legitimate child. She thus had every expectation of inheriting the ‘Red Douglas’ Earldom of Angus in her own right. With the Douglas clan marshalling a military force to be reckoned with in Scotland, Henry VIII saw the marriage as the means of combining strong Douglas and Lennox Stuart support for the ‘English party’ in Scotland.

Military Incursions into Scotland

At the time of the marriage, Henry was contemplating an ambitious invasion of Continental Europe. With France so closely allied to Scotland, he was determined to prevent a second front opening up at his back door, particularly as Scotland had the support of a significant number of French troops. Immediately before the marriage, Lennox had commanded an English force invading up the west coast to Glasgow. Yet he met stiff resistance from Arran’s regency forces. The Scottish Government promptly attainted his Scottish estates, losing him his Scottish income. In 1545, Henry authorised a second attack up Scotland’s east coast led by the Earl of Hertford. Angus was horrified at the wilful destruction, particularly when Melrose Abbey, the traditional burial place of the Douglases, was desecrated. This caused him to change sides and, from now on, he galvanised Scottish and French forces against the English. He was furious with his new son-in-law, Lennox, for continuing to oppose him. Although Lady Margaret was his only legitimate child, he changed the Angus entail in his will so that it passed to his heirs male, resulting in his nephew, David, becoming the 7th Earl of Angus on his death in 1557. Lady Margaret was incensed at being overlooked, and approached both Mary of Guise and Mary Queen of Scots to seek reinstatement, but to no avail.

When and for Whom was the Jewel made?

It is my contention, that the jewel was a love token made by the Earl and Countess of Lennox, probably during the reign of Mary I (1553-1558). This was the time when they felt most financially secure. Yet it also seems that the jewel was later adapted so that it could be given as a wedding present to Mary Queen of Scots on her marriage to their son, Lord Darnley in 1565. It is known that Lady Margaret sent ‘a valuable jewel’ to her daughter-in-law. There have been other suggestions that it was originally a wedding present given to Lady Margaret by Mary I (then Princess Mary) in 1544, and it is known that she provided a piece of jewellery containing a large sapphire. Yet the use of lowland Scots in the inscriptions makes this unlikely and much of the symbolism, as will be seen, seems to postdate their wedding. Although the Lennox Jewel contains a blue stone, it is a piece of glass not a sapphire. Other suggestions point to it being a gift from Lady Margaret to Lennox at the time that he returned to Scotland in 1565 or perhaps even later when he became Regent of Scotland in 1570. At both these times the couple were extremely impoverished (and in the first period were channelling all their limited resources into support for their son’s suit to marry Mary Queen of Scots), so it is unlikely that they would have indulged themselves with a piece of jewellery. Furthermore the symbolism depicted does not seem to fit with these later dates. Yet it has been pointed out that there were jewellers in Edinburgh capable of undertaking the intricate enamel work and it would explain the use of lowland Scots.

The Lennox Jewel (Front).
The Lennox Jewel (Front)
Click for a larger image.

An Assessment of the Symbolism

The text from the Royal Collection describes the front of the Jewel:

Obverse: figures of Faith, Hope, Victory and Truth surround a winged heart set with a blue glass cabochon [not a sapphire]. Surrounded by a white enamel border with the motto: ‘QVHA. HOPIS. STIL. CONSTANLY. VITH PATIENCE SAL. OBTEAN. VICTORY. IN YAIR. PRETENCE’ (Who hopes still constantly with patience shall obtain victory in their claim).

This makes sense as a symbol for an aspirant for the English throne, who has been at risk of being overlooked because of her Catholicism. Realistically this could apply to both Lady Margaret and Mary Queen of Scots. As Lady Margaret and Lennox were both Scots, it was not unreasonable that they would use lowland Scots inscriptions, which might have obscured the meaning from prying English eyes. Yet the Lennoxes had little hope of ‘victory’ until Mary I became Queen of England. If made for them it would seem more likely that the Jewel was manufactured during Mary’s reign (1553-58), when they would have been sufficiently well off to commission such a piece. The text continues:

Above the heart Victory and Truth hold a crown set with three rubies and a table cut diamond. The crown is surmounted by a fleur-de-lis upon an azure shield. It opens to reveal two hearts pierced by two arrows and the motto in sixteenth century Scots: ‘QUAT WE RESESOLV’ (What we resolve). Below the heart is the monogram MSL (for Matthew and Margaret Stewart Lennox) surmounted by a wreath. The winged heart [surrounding the blue glass cabochon] opens to reveal the device of two clasped hands and a green hunting horn surrounded by the inscription: DEATHE SAL DESSOLVE (Death shall dissolve); below this device is a skull and crossbones.

These two interiors can only apply to the love until ‘death [the scull and crossbones] shall dissolve’ of Lady Margaret and Lennox. Yet the depiction of a crown on the front of the locket, seems a risky motif for Lady Margaret, who has not been recognised as heir to the English throne. Furthermore the fleur-de-lis seems to be a reference to the French Crown. It is reasonable to assume that the lid in the shape of a crown was adapted to make it appropriate as a gift for Mary, while leaving the interior unchanged.

The Lennox Jewel (Interior)
The Lennox Jewel (Interior).
Click for larger image.

The text continues:

The front of the locket opens to reveal further emblems: a stake among flames; a woman seated in a royal chair with the motto: GAR TEL. MY. RELaeS (Cause tell my release) on a scroll above her; a two-faced winged figure of Time with cloven feet holding an hour-glass in its left hand and extending its right hand to a naked female figure in a pool of water, with scrolls bearing mottos: TYM. GARES AL LEIR (Time causes all to learn) above and ZE SEIM. AL MY. PLESVR (You seem all my pleasure) below and the mouth of hell to the right. In the lower section are two further groups: an armed warrior and his fallen foe, who both wear classical armour, the fallen man points to a red shield by his side and a crowned warrior holding a female figure by the hair, his sword drawn as if to slay her.

This symbolism seems entirely appropriate for a couple that had faced imprisonment. The stake among flames seems to represent Lady Margaret having risked everything as a martyr for the Catholic cause, but now seated in triumph on a royal chair, waiting patiently to become the English Queen. The armed warrior can be seen as Lennox vanquishing a fallen foe with a red shield – Angus, the Red Douglas, who has disinherited Lady Margaret. He wears a crown as he holds Mary of Guise by her hair to symbolise his hope of being granted the Scottish Regency. All this fits with the jewel being made during the reign of Mary I, when Lady Margaret hopes to be recognised as the heir of Mary I and Lennox aspires to defeat Angus and become Regent of Scotland.

The Lennox Jewel (Reverse)
The Lennox Jewel (Reverse).
Click for larger image.

While the interior seems to relate to Lady Margaret and Lennox, the reverse of the locket seems to relate to Mary and Darnley. It is probable that the reverse was originally plain but was engraved and enamelled to make it suitable as a gift for Mary. The Text continues:

Reverse: with numerous emblems in baisse-taille enamel: the sun in his glory amid a star-studded azure sky; a crescent moon with a male profile; a crowned salamander among flames; a phoenix among flames; a pelican in her piety; the figure of a man reclining on grass with a large sunflower growing from his loins and a bird on a laurel branch behind him. Surrounded by the motto: MY STAIT TO YIR I MAY COMPAER FOR ZOV QVHA OF BONTES RAIR (My state to these I may compare for you who are of rare goodness).

The crowned salamander is the motif of the French crown and the phoenix can be taken as symbolism for Mary to be reborn after the death of Francis II. She is depicted as a person of rare goodness, living in peace (the bird in the laurel branch) and piety (the pelican). On marriage to Darnley she will create a radiant new dynasty (the sunflower growing from his loins).

Images: Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2014