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The Life of Margaret Beaufort, Mother of the Tudors
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In 1485, Henry VII became the first Tudor king of England. His victory owed much to his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Over decades and across countries, Margaret had schemed to install her son on the throne and end the War of the Roses. Margaret’s extraordinarily close relationship with Henry, coupled with her role in political and ceremonial affairs, ensured that she was treated — and behaved — as a queen in all but name. Against a lavish backdrop of pageantry and ambition, court intrigue and war, historian Nicola Tallis illuminates how a dynamic, brilliant woman orchestrated the rise of the Tudors.
UNCROWNED QUEEN FEATURES A GREAT number of personalities, all of whom had varying impacts on Margaret Beaufort’s life. To help familiarize the reader, I include below a brief biographical sketch of some of the main characters in Margaret’s story.
Beauchamp, Margaret, Duchess of Somerset (c. 1420–1482)
Margaret’s mother was the daughter of Sir John Beauchamp and Edith Stourton. She was married first to Sir Oliver St John, by whom she had seven children. Following her brief marriage to John Beaufort, which produced a single daughter, Margaret, she remarried in 1447. Her third husband was Lionel, or Leo, Lord Welles, by whom she had a son. Margaret Beauchamp died prior to 3 June 1482.
Beaufort, Edmund, Second Duke of Somerset (c. 1406/7–1455)
The younger brother of Margaret’s father, Edmund was granted the dukedom of Somerset in 1448. A favourite of both Henry VI and his queen, Edmund was unpopular with many of his fellow nobles—most significantly the Duke of York, who tried to have him imprisoned on several occasions. Edmund participated in the first battle of the Wars of the Roses at St Albans in 1455, where he was killed.
Beaufort, John, First Duke of Somerset (1404–1444)
Margaret’s father was the grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Somerset spent much of his youth imprisoned in France as a result of his capture at the Battle of Baugé. He was ransomed in 1438, and in 1442 he married Margaret Beauchamp. In July 1443 he led a military campaign to France, but it ended in disaster. He returned six months later, in January 1444, and was met with disgrace. In May—just days before his infant daughter’s first birthday—Somerset died, possibly by his own hand.
Bray, Sir Reginald (c. 1440–1503)
Margaret met the man who would become one of her most trusted servants and lifelong friends following her marriage to Henry Stafford. Bray acted as receiver general to the couple and managed Margaret’s estates for around two decades. He served Margaret loyally and conspired on her son’s behalf in the Buckingham Rebellion of 1483. Following Henry VII’s accession in 1485, Bray was handsomely rewarded and became one of the king’s most influential advisors. He died childless on 5 August 1503.
Cecily of York (1469–1507)
Margaret was extremely fond of the third of Edward IV’s daughters, who she is likely to have come to know well during her time at the court of the Yorkist king. It was probably under Margaret’s auspices that Cecily was married to John Welles, Margaret’s half-brother, in 1487. Following Welles’s death, Cecily wed Thomas Kyme without seeking Henry VII’s consent. The king was outraged, but Margaret did her best to protect the former Yorkist princess, interceding on her behalf. Cecily lived out the remainder of her days quietly.
Edward IV (1442–1483)
The son and heir of Richard, Duke of York, following a victory at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in February 1461, in March Edward declared himself king. His victory was consolidated after the bloody Battle of Towton on 29 March. Edward secretly married Elizabeth Wydeville in 1464, and together the couple would produce ten children—eight of whom survived infancy. In 1470 Edward was briefly deposed and fled abroad, but he returned the following year to fight for his throne. After two successful victories at Barnet and Tewkesbury, he regained his crown. Edward died unexpectedly in 1483, the results of which led Margaret Beaufort to spy an opportunity for her son.
Elizabeth of York (1466–1503)
The eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville, Elizabeth was betrothed to the French dauphin in 1475 as part of her father’s peace negotiations. The betrothal was broken off in 1482, and the following year Margaret plotted to marry Elizabeth to her son, Henry. Their marriage finally took place in January 1486, and in September Elizabeth gave birth to the first Tudor heir, Arthur. Together she and Henry sired seven children, four of whom survived infancy. Elizabeth died nine days after the birth of her final child, Katherine.
Fisher, John, Bishop of Rochester (c. 1469–1535)
The son of a Yorkshire merchant, Fisher first met Margaret in 1494 when he was senior proctor at Cambridge. The two struck up an immediate friendship, and before long Fisher had assumed the role of Margaret’s chaplain and confessor. In 1504 Fisher was created Bishop of Rochester and remained a close friend of Margaret’s for the rest of her life. So much so that he was one of the executors of her will, and it is from him that much of the information about her life stems—largely related by Margaret herself.
George, Duke of Clarence (1449–1478)
A younger brother of Edward IV, it was to Clarence that Henry Tudor’s title of Richmond was given in 1462. Clarence was treacherous and rebelled with the Earl of Warwick against his brother in 1469. He was later reconciled with Edward IV and became a recipient of the king’s favour. He was married to Isabel Neville, and the couple had two surviving children: Margaret, later married to Sir Richard Pole, and Edward, Earl of Warwick, executed in 1499. Following the death of his wife in 1476—probably as a result of childbirth—Clarence’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. He was arrested and tried on charges of treason, of which he was found guilty. He was executed on 18 February 1478, reportedly by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.
Henry VI (1421–1471)
Margaret’s kinsman was the only child of Henry V and Katherine of Valois. Gentle and pious by nature, Henry was completely unsuited to the task of ruling a country. Under his rule, the Wars of the Roses broke out in 1455. Henry was deposed in 1461 and spent the next nine years either in hiding or imprisoned. Though he was briefly reinstated in 1470, the following year he was deposed once more and murdered in the Tower of London on 21 May 1471.
Henry VII (1457–1509)
Margaret’s only son was born at Pembroke Castle two months after the death of her husband, Edmund Tudor. His birth was traumatic, but in spite of this Henry grew to be a healthy boy. Much of his early life was spent under the protection of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, but in 1462 Henry became the ward of William Herbert. He was treated kindly, and kept in contact with his mother, though he seems to have seen her but rarely. In 1471, at Margaret’s urging, Henry fled abroad with Jasper Tudor, spending fourteen years in exile in Brittany and France. He returned at the head of an army in August 1485 and successfully defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. In January 1486, Henry married Elizabeth of York, thereby uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York. The couple had four children who survived infancy, chiefly his successor, Henry VIII. Henry died at Richmond Palace on 21 April 1509.
Henry VIII (1491–1547)
Henry was the second of Margaret’s grandsons and was raised with his sisters, primarily at Eltham Palace. As with all of her grandchildren, Margaret was fond of Henry, and her accounts show that she sometimes bought gifts for him. Following the death of his elder brother Arthur in 1502, Henry became Henry VII’s sole surviving male heir. He succeeded his father as Henry VIII in April 1509 and married Katherine of Aragon soon after. At the time of his death in 1547, he had married six times and produced three legitimate children.
Herbert, William, Earl of Pembroke (c. 1423–1469)
In 1462 William Herbert, a loyal supporter of Edward IV, became the guardian of Margaret’s son, Henry Tudor. The boy was brought to live with Herbert and his family at Raglan Castle and was treated kindly by his guardian and his wife, Anne Devereux. Herbert eventually hoped to arrange for Henry’s marriage to his daughter, Maud. In July 1469, Herbert partook in the Battle of Edgecote, taking young Henry with him. He was captured and executed the day after the battle.
Katherine of Aragon (1485–1536)
The Spanish bride of Margaret’s eldest grandson, Arthur, arrived in England in October 1501. The following month, Katherine and Arthur were married in a lavish ceremony in St Paul’s Cathedral, but the marriage was cut short when Arthur died in April 1502. Katherine was then betrothed to Margaret’s younger grandson, Henry, but he repudiated this in 1505. She nevertheless remained in England, despite being poorly treated by Henry VII and forced to endure a great deal of financial hardship. Shortly after his father’s death, Henry VIII resolved to marry Katherine, and the couple were quietly married on 11 June 1509. In spite of numerous pregnancies, Katherine produced just one surviving child, a daughter named Mary. By 1526 her marriage to Henry had begun to fall apart, and she was later forced to endure a very public and painful separation from him. In 1533 Katherine and Henry’s marriage was declared invalid, and three years later she died a lonely death at Kimbolton Castle.
Margaret of Anjou (1430–1482)
Henry VI’s French-born queen was the daughter of René of Anjou and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine. Married to Henry VI in 1445, she rather than her husband came to be a dominant force in the Wars of the Roses. Following the Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury in 1471 that saw the death of Margaret’s only child, Prince Edward, Margaret became Edward IV’s prisoner. In 1475 she returned to France, having been ransomed to Louis XI, and died there in poverty on 25 August 1482.
Morton, John (c. 1420–1500)
Hailing from Dorset, Morton rose steadily to prominence under Henry VI and was appointed chancellor to his heir, Prince Edward, on 26 September 1456. Following the Lancastrian defeat at Towton, Morton was captured while attempting to flee to Scotland and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Incredibly, he managed to escape and hurried to join Margaret of Anjou in France. He remained there until Henry VI’s readeption, but after his master’s murder he reconciled with Edward IV and was pardoned in July 1471. He became one of Edward’s most trusted advisors but was later imprisoned by Richard III. Morton supported Henry Tudor’s claim and was a key conspirator in the Buckingham Rebellion. Following Henry VII’s accession, Morton was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and Lord Chancellor the following year.
Neville, Richard, Earl of Warwick (1428–1471)
The man who became known as the Kingmaker supported Edward IV during the first years of his reign. He became the most powerful noble in the realm but was incensed when he discovered that Edward had married Elizabeth Wydeville in 1464. Five years later, he rebelled against Edward and succeeded in capturing him, but an attempt to rule in Edward’s name failed. Though he and Edward were reconciled, it was short-lived, and in 1470 Warwick supported the readeption of Henry VI. When Edward IV returned to claim his throne the following year, his army met with that of Warwick at Barnet on 14 April. During the course of the battle, Warwick was killed.
Richard III (1452–1485)
The younger brother of Edward IV, Richard—following the king’s unexpected death in April 1483—moved quickly to take control of his nephew, Edward V, and eventually, the realm. He was proclaimed King of England on 26 June and crowned alongside his wife, Anne Neville, on 6 July, with Margaret in attendance. Three months later, Richard was forced to deal with the Buckingham Rebellion, of which Margaret was one of the leading conspirators. The rebellion was a failure, and Richard confiscated all of Margaret’s goods. The remainder of his reign was plagued by unrest, and in the summer of 1485 Richard prepared to face Henry Tudor on the battlefield. He was killed in the battle, and his naked body slung over the back of a horse—several humiliation wounds were inflicted after his death. Richard’s remains were discovered in 2012 and identified the following year. He was interred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015.
Stafford, Henry (c. 1425–1471)
Margaret’s third husband was the second son of Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. He and Margaret were married in January 1458, and they seem to have enjoyed a genuinely happy marriage. The couple spent a great deal of time together, but after thirteen years of marriage Stafford died in October 1471 as a result of injuries inflicted at the Battle of Barnet.
Stafford, Henry, Second Duke of Buckingham (1455–1483)
As the grandson of Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, Henry was Margaret’s nephew by marriage and also her cousin through his mother. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, Buckingham became the chief ally of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and fully supported his usurpation of the throne in June. Before long, though, Buckingham began plotting with Margaret for Richard’s overthrow, and he planned a rebellion. When this failed, Buckingham was captured and executed on Richard III’s orders on 2 November 1483.
Stanley, Thomas, Earl of Derby (c. 1433–1504)
Margaret married her fourth husband in June 1472, a match made—as with her other marriages—for political advantage rather than personal preference. Stanley was a man of dubious political allegiance, but following Henry VII’s accession he was richly rewarded as the king’s stepfather. Though Margaret was declared femme sole (a sole person) in 1485 and later took a vow of chastity, she and Stanley remained on good terms and continued to work together. Following his death on 29 July 1504, Stanley was laid to rest in Burscough Priory, Lancashire.
Stanley, William (c. 1435–1495)
The younger brother of Margaret’s husband Thomas Stanley, William was instrumental in Henry Tudor’s success at the Battle of Bosworth. He was rewarded for his good service, being appointed Chamberlain of the king’s household and becoming immensely wealthy. At the beginning of 1495, however, Stanley was arrested on suspicion of supporting Perkin Warbeck. He was executed on 16 February.
Tudor, Arthur (1486–1502)
Margaret and her family had high hopes for the firstborn child and heir of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York—Margaret’s grandson. In 1493 Arthur was sent to Ludlow Castle to continue his education and prepare for the task of kingship that awaited him. He rarely came to court, and thus Margaret saw little of her eldest grandson. On 14 November 1501, Arthur married the Spanish princess Katherine of Aragon, and soon afterwards the newlyweds returned to Ludlow. Tragically, before long Arthur fell ill and died on 2 April 1502.
Tudor, Edmund, Earl of Richmond (1428/30–1456)
Through his mother, Katherine of Valois, Edmund was the half-brother of Henry VI. It was thanks to the king that Edmund was granted the earldom of Richmond, and it was under his auspices that Edmund’s marriage to Margaret Beaufort was arranged in 1455. The newlyweds moved to Wales, but their marriage was short-lived; on 1 November 1456 Edmund died of plague at Carmarthen Castle, leaving Margaret pregnant at the age of thirteen.
Tudor, Jasper, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford (c. 1431–1495)
The younger brother of Edmund Tudor, Margaret’s brother-in-law was a devoted and trusted figure in her life. Not only did he support Margaret throughout the trying days that followed Edmund’s death in 1456—including offering her shelter at Pembroke Castle, where she gave birth to her son—he also guarded Henry Tudor and stayed by his side following their foreign exile in 1471. Jasper remained loyal to Henry following his accession to the throne in 1485 and was greatly loved by both his nephew and Margaret. He died childless in December 1495.
Tudor, Margaret (1489–1541)
Margaret always held an especial fondness for her eldest granddaughter and namesake, and showed great concern for her welfare. In 1503 Margaret left England and travelled to Scotland to marry James IV. Her husband was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, leaving Margaret a pregnant widow with a small son—James V. She endured a turbulent marital history, marrying twice more—as a result of her marriage to Archibald Douglas, she had a daughter, also named Margaret. She died at Methven Castle, Perthshire, on 18 October 1541.
Tudor, Mary (1496–1533)
The youngest surviving daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York joined Margaret to entertain Philip of Castile at Croydon in 1506. The following year she was betrothed to his son, Charles, but the negotiations never came to fruition. Instead, in October 1514 Mary married Louis XII of France, but he died after just three months of marriage. Shortly after—probably in February 1515—Mary clandestinely married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Their union produced two surviving daughters, Frances and Eleanor. Frances was the mother of Lady Jane Grey and her two sisters.
Welles, Lionel or Leo (c. 1406–1461)
Margaret’s stepfather married her mother in 1447, having been previously married to Joan Waterton. He was a strong supporter of the House of Lancaster and served as Joint Deputy of Calais in the 1450s. Welles was created a Knight of the Garter in 1457 and fought for Henry VI at the Battle of Towton in 1461. It was there that he was killed, and later that year he was attainted by Parliament. Welles was buried alongside his first wife in St Oswald’s Church, Methley.
Wydeville, Elizabeth (c. 1437–1492)
The first commoner to become Queen of England was married secretly to Edward IV in 1464. Though her union with Edward was successful, Elizabeth and her family managed to alienate many of her husband’s nobles. The result was that, following Edward’s death, the Wydeville family had little support in their attempts to secure power in the name of Elizabeth’s son, Edward V. Elizabeth and her remaining children fled to sanctuary, where she plotted with Margaret to overthrow Richard III. Following Henry VII’s accession and the marriage of her daughter, Elizabeth of York, to the king, Elizabeth reappeared at court. However, in 1487 she removed to Bermondsey Abbey, and it was there that she died in 1492.
|31 August 1422||Accession of Henry VI|
|31 May 1443||Margaret Beaufort is born at Bletsoe Castle|
|27 May 1444||John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, dies in Dorset|
|23 April 1445||Henry VI marries Margaret of Anjou|
|22 May 1455||First Battle of St Albans|
|June–August 1455?||Margaret marries Edmund Tudor|
|1 November 1456||Edmund Tudor dies at Carmarthen Castle|
|28 January 1457||Henry Tudor is born at Pembroke Castle|
|3 January 1458||Margaret marries Henry Stafford|
|10 July 1460||Battle of Northampton|
|2 February 1461||Battle of Mortimer’s Cross|
|3 February 1461||Execution of Owen Tudor at Hereford|
|4 March 1461||Accession of Edward IV|
|29 March 1461||Battle of Towton|
|12 February 1462||Henry Tudor’s wardship granted to William Herbert|
|11 February 1466||Birth of Elizabeth of York|
|26 July 1469||Battle of Edgecote|
|3 October 1470||Readeption of Henry VI|
|11 April 1471||Second reign of Edward IV begins|
|14 April 1471||Battle of Barnet|
|4 May 1471||Battle of Tewkesbury|
|21 May 1471||Henry VI is murdered at the Tower of London|
|2 June 1471||Henry Tudor flees abroad|
|4 October 1471||Henry Stafford dies at Woking|
|June 1472||Margaret marries Sir Thomas Stanley|
|9 April 1483||Edward IV dies at the Palace of Westminster|
|26 June 1483||Accession of Richard III|
|6 July 1483||Coronation of Richard III|
|2 November 1483||Execution of the Duke of Buckingham|
|7 December 1484||Henry Tudor denounced as a rebel|
|22 August 1485||Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth|
|30 October 1485||Coronation of Henry VII|
|18 January 1486||Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York|
|20 September 1486||Prince Arthur born at Winchester|
|16 June 1487||Battle of Stoke|
|25 November 1487||Coronation of Elizabeth of York|
|28 November 1489||Princess Margaret born at the Palace of Westminster|
|28 June 1491||Prince Henry born at Greenwich Palace|
|2 July 1492||Princess Elizabeth born at Sheen Palace|
|16 February 1495||Execution of Sir William Stanley|
|18 March 1496||Princess Mary born at Sheen Palace|
|21 February 1499||Prince Edmund born at Greenwich Palace|
|23 November 1499||Execution of Perkin Warbeck|
|28 November 1499||Execution of the Earl of Warwick|
|14 November 1501||Prince Arthur marries Katherine of Aragon|
|January 1502?||Margaret travels to Calais|
|2 April 1502||Prince Arthur dies at Ludlow|
|2 February 1503||Princess Katherine born at the Tower of London|
|11 February 1503||Elizabeth of York dies at the Tower of London|
|29 July 1504||Thomas Stanley dies|
|1505||Margaret founds Christ’s College, Cambridge|
|21 April 1509||Henry VII dies at Richmond Palace|
|11 June 1509||Henry VIII marries Katherine of Aragon at Greenwich Palace|
|24 June 1509||Coronation of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon|
|29 June 1509||Margaret Beaufort dies at Westminster Abbey|
In the heart of the Bedfordshire village of Bletsoe, amid fragrant gardens, stood a castle surrounded by a moat. A comfortable three-story house with crenellations that were added in the fourteenth century, Bletsoe Castle was more of a fortified manor than a defensive structure. The castle had come into the hands of the Beauchamp family in 1359, and it was there that Margaret Beauchamp, Duchess of Somerset, spent much of her childhood.1 With its warm family associations, it is little wonder that the duchess chose Bletsoe as the setting for the birth of her child in the spring of 1443. When her daughter arrived on 31 May, she chose to name her Margaret, perhaps after herself and in honour of the infant’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Holland. The duchess carefully noted the arrival of baby Margaret—her only child by John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset—in her beautifully decorated Book of Hours, originally commissioned by her father-in-law. In time, her daughter, Lady Margaret Beaufort, would inherit and treasure this book, treating it as a family heirloom and using it to record the momentous events in her own family.2
‘She came of noble blood lineally descending of King Edward III’.3 This summary by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, of the prestigious origins of the baby born at Bletsoe, to whom he became a close friend in later life, perhaps pinpoints the most significant detail of Margaret’s beginnings. Indeed, to understand Margaret fully and, in particular, how her sense of identity matured and made its mark, it is vital to trace her ancestry back to Edward III—a lineage that is more colourful than Bishop Fisher made out. Edward, who had become king at the age of fourteen, after his father, Edward II, was deposed, ruled England from 1327 until his death in 1377. The fifteenth century would be defined by a bloody conflict between his descendants, who came to form two rival houses stemming from two of Edward’s sons: John of Gaunt, founder of the House of Lancaster, and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, fourth son of Edward III and founder of the House of York.
Margaret, who was one of the most enduring victors of the conflict, belonged to the House of Lancaster. Her royal blood came courtesy of her father, who was the grandson of John of Gaunt (the name being an English take on Ghent, the place of his birth in 1340), himself the third of five surviving sons born to Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.4 Despite being a younger son, Gaunt had once been the most ambitious and powerful nobleman in the realm, renowned for his courage and widely admired for his military prowess. Gaunt made three marriages during his life. The first, a love match to Blanche of Lancaster through which John became the Duke of Lancaster, produced two surviving daughters and a son—a son who would later turn the face of the English monarchy upside down by usurping the throne as Henry IV.5
- "Ms. Tallis has researched Margaret's life assiduously, delving deep into her account books... Henry's position would not be secure for several years, but Margaret's patience had paid off, and Ms. Tallis shows that she exerted considerable influence over the king and court. And, since she must know as much about Margaret as anyone alive, one may accept that Margaret Beaufort had managed her life's voyage with tenacity, and no little skill, to come safe and honored to harbor."—Wall Street Journal
- "Stunning-informed, assured, and compulsively readable. Nicola Tallis gives us not only the story of how the Tudor dynasty began, but a sympathetic and convincing portrait of the flesh-and-blood woman who was its founding mother."—Sarah Gristwood, author of Game of Queens and Blood Sisters
- "Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Nicola Tallis's latest biography is her best yet. She dispels the many myths surrounding Lady Margaret Beaufort and in their place creates an altogether more compelling portrayal of a woman of extraordinary courage, vision and passion. A must read."—Tracy Borman, author of The Private Lives of the Tudors and Elizabeth's Women
"A sensitive, well-rounded and moving portrayal of the woman who founded the Tudor dynasty."
—Michael Jones, author of The King's Mother
- "Tallis is a zealous destroyer of myth... [She] deploys an extraordinary eye for detail in telling this story... Through this superb revisionist biography, Margaret Beaufort emerges as a fascinating and often surprisingly sympathetic matriarch."—The Times of London
- "A fresh biography of the woman who ushered in the Tudor dynasty... For fans of British royal history, Tallis is a reliable guide, and the timeline and dramatis personae are highly useful. A deeply researched work that allows this historic personage to live and breathe."—Kirkus Reviews
- "This clear, straightforward portrayal of Margaret Beaufort's complex world will appeal to fans of the Tudors and English history."—Booklist
- "Margaret never officially held the title of queen. But as Nicola Tallis argues... she fulfilled the role in all but name, orchestrating her family's rise to power and overseeing the machinations of government upon her son's ascension."—Smithsonian
- On Sale
- Jul 28, 2020
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Basic Books