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December 12th 1497

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Margaret Drummond - wife of James 4th?

In the chancel of Dunblane Cathedral are three dark blue tombstones. On the middle stone there is a brass plaque with the inscription “To the glory of God, in memory of Margaret, eldest daughter of John, 1st Lord Drummond, by tradition privately married to King James 4th and poisoned at Drummond Castle by some of the nobles who desired the King’s marriage with Princess Margaret of England. The three sisters were buried underneath these slabs in the choir of the Cathedral of which their uncle Walter Drummond was Dean AD 1501.” 

It was in 1496 that Margaret Drummond, by King James’ invitation, moved into Stirling Castle, one of the royal residences. It was around this time that the Spanish Ambassador, Don Pedro de Ayala, writing to Spain says “When I arrived he (King James) was keeping a lady with great state in a castle. He visited her from time to time. Afterwards he sent her to the house of her father, who is a knight, and married her.” 

In spite of this letter, there is no proof that a marriage ceremony ever took place. Lord Strathallan, in his History of the House of Drummond compiled in 1681, says merely that the King made “an engagement of marriage”  to her. Drummond of Hawthornden makes a somewhat similar statement that Margaret “had been contracted to the King.” 

There are records of Margaret’s costs at Stirling Castle from June 9th 1496 until the end of October of that year when she went to Linlithgow under the care of Sir David Kinghorn. Her expenses continued to be paid by the King such as for “Item given for clothes to Margaret Drummond, by the King’s command £91 13s.” 

Sometime during the next year Margaret gave birth to a daughter. After her mother’s death she was brought to Stirling and cared for by the King. June 18th 1503, “Item to the nurse that brocht the King’s dochter from Drummyne to Stirling £3 10s.”  Margaret Drummond died sometime between November 1502 and February 1503. February 10th 1503, “Item, to the priests that sing in Dunblane for Margaret Drummond, their quarter’s fee, £5.”  These payments continued as long as the King lived.

These are all facts, but the cause of Margaret’s death and the reasons for it are more difficult to fathom. Sir Robert Douglas writing somewhat later states “She was greatly beloved by James 4th , who was contracted to her and would have married her, had not his councillors and the great men of the state interposed and taken her away to make room for a daughter of England.” 

Perhaps this is true but James 4th was a man who made up his own mind and was not ruled by his nobles. In any case all the evidence is that Margaret was still alive when on January 25th 1502 a proxy wedding took place between the King and Margaret Tudor.

As to the death itself, this took place at Drummond Castle where Margaret was having breakfast with her two sisters Euphemia and Sybilla. All three were taken ill and died later that day. They could have been poisoned but were living at the family home and it would seem unlikely that poison would have been administered by one of their own servants. Food poisoning takes place even today; it is not unreasonable to believe that perhaps it also took place unwittingly at Drummond Castle.

There is an interesting postscript from Queen Margaret Tudor. Writing to Lord Surrey, she claimed that Lord Fleming “for evil will that he had to his own wife, Euphemia Drummond, caused poison three sisters and one was his wife; and this is known as truth in all Scotland.”  If indeed it was known in all Scotland only Margaret Tudor saw fit to mention it in writing.

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