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 committed suicide in the Spring of 1444. He had fought a failed campaign in France and was about to be charged with treason. It is thought that he took his own life rather than be executed.
In the middle ages 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.
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
The same year, Margaret Beaufort aged 12 years, married Edmund Tudor and became Countess of Richmond. Most marriages with young people 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
Margaret knew that she could not live as a single widowed mother and sought the protection of her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. Jaspar allowed her to live at Pembroke Castle until her child was born.
After a difficult birth, her son, Henry Tudor, was born on 28th January 1457.
In 1458 Margaret married 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 had fought for Richard Duke of York and then for his son Edward IV.
In 1461 Edward, Duke of York, deposed King Henry VI and took the throne as King 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 was allowed to keep in 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.
In 1471 Margaret’s husband, Henry Stafford 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. Henry Tudor was the next Lancastrian claimant to the throne and there were concerns for his safety. The young Henry Tudor was therefore taken to Brittany by his uncle Jasper Tudor.
Margaret Beaufort remained in England. She knew that if she wanted advancement for her son she had to consider her actions carefully.
Marriage to Thomas Stanley
In 1472 Margaret Beaufort 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.
Stanley was created Earl of Derby in 1485. The title was conferred on him for the support he gave to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
This marriage had been a marriage of convenience and Margaret took a vow of chastity in 1499. Nevertheless, they remained on good terms until Stanley’s death in 1504.
In April 1483 King Edward IV died unexpectedly. His 12 year old son, Edward, became King Edward V and his uncle Richard of Gloucester was named as Protector. Richard faced opposition to his role 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 Duke of York, 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. As next in line to the throne, Richard Duke of Gloucester was crowned King Richard III. Initially,
Margaret Beaufort supported Richard becoming 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 two sons of Edward IV who had been placed in the Tower of London, remained in the Tower. They had been seen been seen playing in the gardens and also at the windows of the Tower during the summer of 1483.
In August 1483 they disappeared. Their fate has never been discovered 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 the two princes were murdered.
Chief suspect was Richard III. It was reasoned that while the boys were alive, his place on the throne could be challenged.
However, Margaret Beaufort 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.
In 1483, Margaret persuaded the nephew of her husband, the Duke of Buckingham, to support the cause of Henry Tudor.
Buckingham duly raised an army in readiness for Henry Tudor’s planned invasion later that year. However, the plan failed because bad weather prevented Henry from sailing across the Channel to join Buckingham. The Duke 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.
Throughout the reign of Richard III, Margaret maintained her close friendship with Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV. Together they worked 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.
In 1485 Henry Tudor was ready to invade. He landed at Milford Haven in Wales and marched inland. Meanwhile, Richard mustered his army 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.
King Richard was killed on the battlefield and Stanley placed Richard’s crown on Henry’s head.
Grandchildren of Margaret Beaufort
True to his word, King Henry VII married Elizabeth of York. This united the houses of Lancaster and 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 granddaughter, 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.
In her later years Margaret Beaufort 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 Beaufort 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.
First published 2017; updated and re-published Dec 07 2021 @ 4:28 pm – Updated –
Harvard Reference for this page:
Heather Y Wheeler. (2017 – 2021). Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond 1443 – 1509 Available: https://www.tudornation.com/margaret-beaufort-countess-of-richmond-1443-1509 Last accessed [date]