Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond 1443 – 1509

 

Early Years

Young Margaret Beaufort
Young Margaret Beaufort

 

Margaret Beaufort was born on 31st May 1443 at Bletsoe Castle, Bedfordshire. She was the daughter of John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp. Her father had fought a failed campaign in France and was about to be charged with treason. It is thought that Margaret’s father committed suicide in Spring 1444 rather than face a trial and execution. In the fifteenth century suicide was rare and never talked about. Those that did take their own lives took steps to make sure their death did not look like suicide. 

Heiress

Margaret was the sole heir of her father’s estate and consequently a very good marriage prospect. Henry VI made Margaret the ward of his chief adviser, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. When Margaret was six years old William de la Pole drew up a contract of marriage for Margaret to marry his son John de la Pole and a ceremony may have taken place.  King Henry VI was unhappy with Suffolk’s actions and two years later removed Margaret from his guardianship. 

Marriage to Edmund Tudor

Edmund Tudor
Effigy of Edmund Tudor

Margaret was placed in the household of Henry VI’s two half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. The brothers were the sons of Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois (Henry V’s widow).

In 1455 the Wars of the Roses broke out and both Edmund and Jasper fought for Henry VI on the Lancastrian side. The same year, Margaret aged 12 years, married Edmund Tudor and became Countess of Richmond. Most marriages with young parties were not consummated until they were older but Edmund Tudor, aged 24 years was not prepared to wait. When Edmund died in captivity in November 1456 Margaret, aged 13 years, was seven months pregnant.

Marriage to Henry Stafford

Henry STafford
Henry Stafford

Margaret knew that she could not live as a single widowed mother and sought the protection of her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, at Pembroke Castle. Her son, Henry Tudor, was born on 28th January 1457 after a very difficult birth. A year later Margaret married again. Her new husband was her second cousin, Henry Stafford, son of the Duke of Buckingham. After the marriage she was styled Lady Stafford. It is thought that the marriage was reasonably happy despite the fact that Margaret’s new husband was not a Lancastrian and fought for Richard Duke of York and then for his son Edward. 

Henry Tudor

Young Henry Tudor
Young Henry Tudor

In 1461 Edward, Duke of York, deposed King Henry VI and took the throne as Edward IV. He arranged for Margaret’s 5 year old son Henry to become the ward of William Lord Herbert who was loyal to the Yorkist cause. Margaret retained contact with her son through letters and occasional visits. 

In 1470 King Henry VI was restored to the throne. Margaret took Henry Tudor to meet the King. She was now allowed to spend more time with her son. The Wars of the Roses dragged on and in 1471 Margaret’s husband was badly injured fighting in the Battle of Barnet. He died from his injuries six months later leaving Margaret a widow again.

Edward IV regained the throne in 1471 and Henry VI died in captivity soon afterwards.  Margaret’s son, was the next Lancastrian claimant to the throne. The young Henry Tudor was taken to Brittany by his uncle Jasper Tudor. Margaret knew that if she wanted advancement for her son she had to consider her actions carefully. 

Marriage to Thomas Stanley

In 1472 Margaret married Thomas Stanley, Edward IV’s steward. The marriage gave her a position at court where she soon became good friends with Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret spent the next few years nurturing friendships and maintaining her place at court. She also spent time reading and attending church; she was a devout christian.

Richard III

In April 1483 Edward IV died unexpectedly. His 12 year old son, Edward, became King Edward V with his uncle Richard of Gloucester as Protector. Richard was opposed by Edward’s Woodville relatives who also wanted control of the young king. Eventually Richard gained custody of Edward V and placed him in the Tower of London to await his coronation. Elizabeth Woodville had taken her other children into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. She was persuaded to hand her second son, Richard, into Richard of Gloucester’s keeping and he joined his brother in the Tower of London. 

In June 1483, Richard declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville invalid due to a pre-contract on Edward’s part. Richard Duke of Gloucester took the throne as King Richard III. Initially, Margaret supported Richard as King and even carried Anne Neville’s train at her coronation. However, after Richard passed an Act that stripped Margaret of all her possessions she decided to work towards placing her son on the throne. 

Princes in the Tower

The Princes in the Tower by Millais 1878

The two sons of Edward IV remained in the Tower of London and had been seen playing in the gardens and also at the windows of the Tower. However, in August 1483 they disappeared. Their fate has never been proven but it was widely assumed at the time that they had been murdered. The discovery of two skeletons under a staircase many years later offered proof that they were murdered. Chief suspect for the murder was Richard III since while the boys were alive his place on the throne could be challenged. Margaret also had a motive since the death of the boys helped to pave the way for her son to make a challenge for the throne. 

Buckingham’s Rebellion

In 1483, Margaret persuaded the nephew of her husband, the Duke of Buckingham, to support her son. Buckingham duly raised an army in readiness for Henry Tudor’s planned invasion later that year. Unfortunately, bad weather prevented Henry from sailing and Buckingham was defeated by Richard III and executed. For her part in the rebellion, Margaret was placed in the custody of her husband. Fortunately he did not enforce the custody too strictly. The marriage had been a marriage of convenience and Margaret had taken a vow of chastity in 1499, but they remained on good terms until Stanley’s death in 1504.

Elizabeth Woodville

Margaret maintained her close friendship with Elizabeth Woodville and together they strove to place their children on the throne. In December 1483 Henry Tudor publicly swore an oath stating that once he was king he would marry Elizabeth of York and make her Queen of England. 

Tudor Invasion

Henry Tudor
King Henry VII

In 1485 Margaret’s son was ready to invade. He landed at Milford Haven in Wales and headed inland. Meanwhile, Richard mustered his army to gather at Leicester. The two armies met at Bosworth Field. Margaret’s husband Lord Stanley had taken his army to the battlefield but had refused to commit until he saw how the battle would go. He chose to support Margaret’s son and the battle was won. Richard was killed on the battlefield and Stanley placed Richard’s crown on Henry’s head.

Grandchildren

True to his word King Henry VII married Elizabeth of York ending the Wars of the Roses. Margaret’s first grandson, Prince Arthur, was born in September 1486. More grandchildren followed; Princess Margaret in 1489, Prince Henry in 1491, Princess Elizabeth in 1492, Princess Mary in 1496 and Prince Edmund in 1499. Sadly Princess Elizabeth died at the age of 3 years and Edmund died at 1 year old, but the other children thrived. In 1502 the heir to the throne, Prince Arthur, died at Ludlow Castle leaving his young wife, Catherine of Aragon a widow. In 1503 Margaret’s last grandaughter, Princess Katherine was born but she died before she was 10 days old. Margaret’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth of York died from complications with the birth.

Later Years

In her later years Margaret spent more time doing good works. She had appointed John Fisher to be her Chaplain and Confessor in 1494 and he influenced Margaret to do more for the church and education. In 1502 she founded the Lady Margaret’s Professorship of Divinity at Cambridge University and two years later she founded Christ’s College. Cambridge. 

Henry VII died in April 1509 and Margaret took charge of the funeral arrangements and also the arrangements for the coronation of her grandson, Henry VIII. She also took charge of the King’s Council and appointed Thomas Howard, Thomas Ruthall, William Wareham, Henry Marnay and Richard Foxe as members. 

Margaret died at the age of 66 years in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey after eating a quantity of cygnet at Henry VIII’s eighteenth birthday party. She is buried in the Henry VII Chapel and her tomb is covered with a bronze effigy. After her death money from her estate was used to build Wimborne School in Dorset and St John’s College, Cambridge.

Margaret Beaufort Tomb
Margaret Beaufort’s Tomb in Westminster Abbey

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