Margaret Douglas [Stuart],
countess of Lennox (1515–1578)
Thomas Howard (d. 1537)
Write of Their Love
Varied manuscript communications witnessing to the ill-fated courtship of two young nobles, Margaret Douglas (1515–1578), niece of Henry VIII, and Thomas Howard (d. October 31, 1537), the half-brother of the Duke of Norfolk, have been printed since the sixteenth century. Poems exchanged by the lovers and preserved in the Devonshire Manuscript (BL Additional MS 17492) were written during their imprisonment in separate cells when their secret, politically unsettling engagement became known in May 1536, about a month after Anne Boleyn's execution. Following Howard's death in the Tower, Douglas capitulated to her political superiors.
Embedded in the context of the lovers' imprisonment, these poems also comment on power relations. They have, moreover, a hitherto unnoted significance as currency of Eros, being the earliest known exchange of actual love poems in English between a nobleman and noblewoman. We have used the texts in “Unpublished Poems in the Devonshire Manuscript,” Kenneth Muir, ed. (Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical Society: Literature and History Section 6, 1947). The letter from Douglas to Thomas Cromwell is reproduced by both Henry Ellis and Mary Green from a holograph (Cotton MS. Vespasian, F. XIII. ART. 188, fol. 173); Green speculates that Douglas might have been attempting to win favor for Howard. The plaintive poem, “Now That Ye Be Assembled Here,”