Monday, November 15, 2010
Margaret Beaufort : Mother of the Tudor dynasty - Elizabeth Norton
The Beauforts were loyal to the Lancastrian royal family & were well-established in the nobility by the time of Margaret’s birth in 1443. Her father was the first Duke of Somerset & Margaret was a great heiress. She married four times, the first when she was only six years old. This marriage was dissolved when the young husband, John de la Pole’s, family was disgraced. Margaret was married again at the age of 12 to Edmund Tudor, a half-brother of Henry VI. The Tudors were the children of Catherine de Valois, widow of Henry V & Owen Tudor. Tudor was much lower in rank than the Queen & the marriage was a scandal. Catherine’s son, Henry VI, was fond of his half-siblings, & took them into his household, granting them titles & planning good marriages for them.
Edmund was made Earl of Richmond & Margaret was considered an excellent match for him. An indication of Margaret’s religious nature comes from a story told later by John Fisher, Margaret’s chaplain. She told him that she was inspired by a vision of St Nicholas in a dream to accept Edmund’s suit, although in reality she would have had little choice in the matter. Although it was customary for very young girls to be married, the marriages were not usually consummated until the girl was older, especially as Margaret was considered quite small for her age. Edmund Tudor was anxious for an heir & he did not wait. Margaret almost immediately became pregnant & six months into her pregnancy, her husband died of the plague. At the age of 13, she was a mother & a widow. Her son, Henry, became the focus of her life. Although she married twice more, she had no more children, & it was said at the time that this was due to the physical trauma she suffered giving birth at such a young age. This is a possible portrait of Margaret as a young woman (from flickr.com).
Eventually, after the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 when Henry VI’s only son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was killed, the Lancastrian cause seemed lost. Henry VI had been imprisoned in the Tower of London by the Yorkist King Edward IV & after his son’s death, he was quietly murdered. The only possible candidate left on the Lancastrian side was Margaret Beaufort & her son, Henry Tudor. Although their Beaufort claim was dubious, Henry VI had apparently considered making Edmund Tudor his heir before the birth of his own son & so there was a possibility that Henry Tudor could stake his claim. In the 1470s, this was unlikely. The Yorkists had won decisively & Henry & Jasper Tudor fled into exile in Brittany. Margaret accepted the status quo & she was more concerned with the death of her husband, possibly from wounds he suffered during the Battle of Barnet.
Margaret realised she needed a protector in the volatile political situation & less than a year after Stafford’s death, she married for a fourth time. Her husband was Thomas, Lord Stanley, a man with strong Yorkist connections. He was a bit of a slippery customer though & had managed to avoid actually committing himself in battle to either side throughout the Wars. Margaret & Lord Stanley were accepted, if not trusted, by Edward IV. Everything changed when Edward died suddenly in April 1483. His young son, Edward V was swiftly deposed by his uncle who became Richard III.
Suddenly, the opportunity the Tudors had been waiting for had arrived. Richard’s usurpation had not been a popular move & the rumours that he had murdered his nephews in the Tower led to a rebellion in late 1483 headed by the Duke of Buckingham, a connection by marriage of Margaret. This is when Margaret’s reputation as a political schemer & intriguer stems from. She had been in communication with her son although she hadn’t seen him for over ten years. Although Buckingham’s rebellion failed, Margaret conspired with Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen who had been stripped of her property & titles by Richard III. The two women decided that Henry should marry Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. Although Richard had declared the Woodville marriage illegal which made the children illegitimate, most people still considered the children of Edward IV the rightful heirs. If Henry & Elizabeth married they would unite the claims of York & Lancaster. Margaret was central in the plot that saw Henry invade England in August 1485 & defeat Richard at Bosworth.
talesofcuriosity.com) is of Henry & Elizabeth's gorgeous tomb in Westminster Abbey, sculpted by Pietro Torregiano.
Margaret spent the years of Henry’s reign using her influence to further her pet projects. She was very interested in education & supported two colleges at Cambridge University – Christ’s College, which she founded, & Queen’s College, which had been supported by previous Queens of England. She was encouraged in all this by her chaplain, John Fisher, who later became Bishop of Rochester & was executed by Henry VIII. Fisher seems to have been genuinely fond of Margaret. He certainly admired her for her piety & her support of learning & preached her funeral sermon. Norton quotes extensively from this sermon & it certainly humanises Margaret. Very few of her letters survive &, as with most medieval women, it's difficult to really hear their own voices.
plantagenetdynasty.blogspot.com). Margaret was in her sixties in 1509 when her son, Henry VII, died. She was devastated & survived him by only a few weeks. She lived long enough to see her grandson, Henry VIII, crowned & had some influence in setting up his first Council. Margaret had achieved her greatest ambition.
Elizabeth Norton’s book is well-researched & beautifully produced by Amberley Publishing. Amberley specialise in history & local studies & they publish many books on the Tudors. Elizabeth Norton has written books on four of Henry VIII’s Queens & is currently writing about one of Henry’s mistresses, Bessie Blount. I enjoyed reading about Margaret Beaufort. She was a strong woman who negotiated the political whirlpool of the 15th century with great skill & intelligence. Unusually she realised her ambitions & died peacefully, knowing that she had achieved her goals.