First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Alison Weir, and Ballantine Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.
In a style that she has made popular, Weir chooses a lesser known member of the the English monarchy (more times than not, a Tudor, as is the case again here) and gives a thorough account that leaves amateur enthusiasts astounded and begging for more. Answering that key question, ‘Who was Margaret Douglas?’, Weir offers the reader an explosive look into her life, filled with an assortment of dramatic and politically monumental events. Born to a Scottish earl and Margaret Tudor (sister to the famed Henry VIII) in England, Douglas spent much of her early years in Scotland, living under the reign of her half-brother, James V. Weir depicts a somewhat rebellious Douglas, who became a thorn in her father’s side as she sided with the English in the ongoing skirmishes with Scotland, which was further exacerbated when she entered into an unauthorised engagement to Thomas Howard which saw her uncle, Henry VIII, send her to the Tower of London. Douglas was able to return to her uncle’s favour in her young adult life and served within the court to some of her step-aunts, though left for Scotland later in her adult life to make roots of her own. Marrying the 4th Earl of Lennox, she secured a place in the Scottish aristocracy, while remaining on the cusp of being in line for the English throne. It was while Elizabeth I ruled England that Weir presents a new round of trouble for Lady Lennox, whose son was set to marry the famous Mary, Queen of Scots. With Elizabeth I ill-prepared to stomach deception, even by her cousin, Lady Lennox was forced before a tribunal to face charges related to this potential union. When Mary gives birth to a son, the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England, the key player in Weir’s story secures her place in English history, as both a mother and grandmother to an English monarch. As Weir paints an interesting portrait of Lady Lennox’s waning years, the reader can bask in the depths to which this lesser known Tudor truly reached in her life and the number of key players in history who owe some success to her influence. Weir’s recent effort is to be lauded by amateur historians and Tudor fanatics alike, as she brings to life a seemingly obscure character and solidifies the extreme importance of a previously unknown Margaret Douglas.
Weir’s ability to tell such an intricate story should be applauded on numerous levels. First and foremost, the intricate detail found within the pages of this biography comes from painstaking research and obscure document retrieval. As the scores of footnotes exemplify, Weir relies on first-hand accounts and not solely previous published works to give depth to her book. Secondly, that this is a biography can be lost on the reader at times, as the prose is less a dry presentation of facts, but a well-plotted story, whose narrative flows as seamlessly as a piece of fiction. This could be why Weir is so accomplished at turning some of her non-fiction pieces into works of fiction as well. Her voice flows through the text and the story comers to life, almost allowing the reader to illustrate the goings-on in their mind as they read. Finally, she not only highlights key events in English (and European) history, but places her seemingly lesser-known key figure into the mix and shows how they shaped history and proved to be highly important in the larger narrative. Events well known to the reader are fleshed out and the influences are better understood when told through this narrative.
Weir has been a formidable figure in English history, specifically during the reign of the Tudors. For many years I have found myself flocking back to her tomes to learn more about the family, the dynasty, and the legacy that this one family left the English people. That Weir is able to complete thorough and captivating biographical pieces of these figures never ceases to astound me. I will gladly recommend this and all her other pieces of fiction and non-fiction alike to any reader who seeks to better understand the Tudors and those within their tangled family tree who influenced change during their time on the English throne.
Kudos, Madam Weir for this fascinating biography. The forgotten and lost princess is surely a wonderful title, though Margaret Douglas is soon seen to be a powerful force in the Tudor court.