Margaret Masterton (fl 1570-1625)

Margaret Masterton (fl 1570-1625)

Nurse to Prince Henry Frederick of Scotland

Margaret Masterton was nurse to Prince Henry, eldest son of King James VI of Scotland. The grateful thanks of the King is recorded in the form of a discharge of the bands (guarantees) given by her husband James Primrose, and Sir Robert Bruce of Clackmannan and Sir Alexander Bruce of Airth.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales (19 February 1593/4 6 November 1612) was the eldest son of King James VI and Anne of Denmark. His name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Frederick II of Denmark. Prince Henry was widely seen as a bright and promising heir to his father's throne. However, at the age of 18, he predeceased his father when he died of typhoid fever. Subsequently, the heirship to the English and Scottish thrones passed to his younger brother Charles. Charles would later become King Charles I of Great Britain, and was beheaded at the conclusion of the Civil War.

[Note that before 1600, the official year began on 25th March each year, so dates between 1 January and 25 March need care. Henry was born on 15 February 1594 by the modern calendar. The letter below, although dated January 1594, would be 28 January 1595 by the modern calendar.]

Margaret therefore cared for Henry for the first year of his life. She was probably his wet nurse.

During this time she would have attended the ceremonial baptism of Prince Henry Frederick, which was a lavish affair. An account of the baptism was published in 1603, and makes reference to the "Mistresse Nurse", almost certainly Margaret Masterton.

In later life, she, along with all recipients of royal pensions granted by his father, was asked by Charles I to explain and justify the circumstances of the original award, apparently as part of the 17th century equivalent of a comprehensive spending review of the Royal Household Accounts. This must have been stressful, and her explanation of her circumstances as a widow shows how families would soon become vulnerable without security of either income or patrimony.


Margaret Masterton was a daughter of Alexander Masterton of Bad and Janet Couston, one of the oldest documented Masterton lines, and the family that first acquired the lands of Parkmill. She was married to James Primrose. Fuller details of her extended family can be found at this link.

A True Accompt of the Baptism of Henry Frederick on 30 August 1594
London 1603

About the pale were the ambassadors of Denmark, Magdelburgh, Brunswick, and the Estates. There followed the old Countesse of Mar, Mistris Bowes, diverse ladies of honour, with the Mistresse Nurse.
Then the trumpets sounding melodiously before the prince and his conuoy, went forward: Lyon king of armes, and the heraulds his brethren with their coat-armours, in goodly order following.
Next followed the princes honors, borne by these noble men: the Lord Sempill carrying a lauar of water; the Lord Seton a fair basen: the Lorde Leuingston a towel, and the Lord Home a low crowne competent for a duke, richly set with diamonds, saphires, rubies, and emeraulds: who approaching neare the pulpit, where these honors were receiued from them, by the maister of the ceremonies, and by him placed on the table before the pulpit: the noblemen retyring backe to their appointed places.
Lastly, the pale was carried in before the pulpit, where the ambassador of England rendered the prince to the Duke of Lennox, who immediately deliuered him to the old Countesse of Mar, and she consequently to the Mistresse Nurse. And all the ambassadors were then set, in such order of places, as the demonstration of their armories, gave notice.

A True Accompt of the Most Triumphant, and Royal Accomplishment
of the Baptism of the Most Excellent, Right High, and Mighty Prince,
Henry Frederick, by the Grace of God Prince of Scotland,
and now Prince of Wales.
As it was solemnized the 30: Day of August 1594.
Exactly Reprinted, Conform to the Old Copy,
Printed in London, in the Year 1603.
Edinburgh, 1687

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland

Vol V, First Series. 1592-99.

28 January 1594/95, Edinburgh

Registration by Mr William Harte of Levielandis, King's advocate, of the following royal letter:-
"REX: We, be the tenour heirof, grantis and confessis that Margaret Maistertoun, maistres nureis to the Prince, our darrest sone, hes faithfullie and carefullie dischargeit hirselff of that service and charge concredited unto hir, and thairin hes satisfeit the haill pointis, heidis and directionis enjoynit to hir, and particularlie specifeit in ane band gevin in be hir, with Master James Prymrois, hir spous, and Sir Robert Bruce of Clakmannane, knicht, and Sir Alexander Bruce of Airth, knicht, hir cautionaris, and that sho hes failyeit in na point of the said band, nor yit of hir dewitie in the said service; and theirfoir exoneris hir of hir said dewtie in the behalf, and dischargeis hir, hir spous and cautionaris, of the same band and all that may follow thairupon for evir; declairing the same to be fullie satisfeit and fulfillit in all pointis, conforme to the tenour thairof."

Mr David McGill of Cranstounriddell is conjoined with the said advocate for registering the letter, which is subscribed by the King at Haliruidhous, 25th January 1594/95.

The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland
edited and abridged by David Masson, LLD
Vol V (1592-1599), p. 200
HM General Register House
Edinburgh, 1882

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland

Vol I, Second Series. 1625-27.

29 November 1625, Edinburgh

Margaret Maisterton producit a gift of ane yeirlie pensioun of sevintene hundreth merkis Scottis, whilk she declairit "was grantit to hir by the late King in rememberance and satisfactioun of ane yeirlie pension of ane hundreth pundis stirling grantit to her by umquhile Prince Henrie of worthie memorie, by and attour the sowme of threttie pundis stirling whiche she had out of his privie purse, for the duetifull, goode and thankfull service done by hir in nursing of the said umquhile Prince Henrie": and sicklike producit a patent of eight hundreth pundis Scottis grantit unto hir by the Kingis Majestie in considderatioun and for the caussis above writtin. She is now a poore desolate widdow, haveing the charge of a numerous familie and the burdene of a grite debt, and is reducit to that pinch of extremitie that without the continuance of his Majesties bountie and favour sho is nather able to mantine hir childrene nor gif contentment to hir creditouris.

The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland
edited and abridged by David Masson, LLD
Second Series, Vol I (1625-27)
HM General Register House
Edinburgh, 1899

The Scottish People 1490-1625

Maureen M Meikle


Unlike midwives, who worked independently, nurses were seen as servants, though they were not hired on an annual basis and would rarely have stayed in one household for long. They would have moved from house to house in search of work and stayed as long as they were required. This would often be up to the time of death of a sick householder, but they might also travel around with an elite patient as he or she visited their various houses. A record of 1566 reveals that Mr John Colquhoun trusted his nurse Bessy Bryden enough to let her pay his bills. Like midwives, nurses would have relied upon their good reputation to gain more work in their community. Clients were not always satisfied, though, especially in the case of wetnurses who were often described in unflattering terms by Lowland Scots. For example, James Melville recalled that 'I haid an evill-inclyned woman to my nuris'. Perhaps Melvilles's widowed father, like many others in need of a wetnurse, had little choice in who he could get. The task of a wetnurse was to breastfeed the baby in her care for as long as a year. Sometimes wetnurses lived with the family, but they also cared for milk children in their own homes. For this they would have been paid relatively good wages in coin and in kind, but it was temporary employment. The wetnurses who fed royal babies could expect more than just a salary, sometimes being granted annuities. In 1503 Katherine Fyne was awarded an annuity of ten shillings a year for her 'nursing, fostering and keeping' of Alexander Stewart, son of James IV and his mistress Marion Boyd, whilst the three women 'rockers' received £3 as a one-off payment. In 1595 'Margaret Maistertoun maistres nureis to the Prince' was discharged after Prince Henry, son of James VI and Queen Anna, had been weaned. Of course, if a child died in the care of a wetnurse their milk could be blamed and they might have had to fight for payments due to them. By contrast, in the Gàidhealtachd women were praised for the goodness of their milk in producing fine healthy children and adults. Wetnurses should not, however, be confused with dry nurses, who would have been more like a nanny to young children.

The Scottish People 1490-1625
Maureen M Meikle, 2013
Chapter 2, "Women and the Family". v. Women and work. pp 101-102