Margaret Beaufort – The King’s Mother

Margaret Beaufort – The King’s Mother

By Judith Arnopp

Before I began to research for The Beaufort Chronicles I hadn’t really thought very deeply about Margaret Beaufort. In almost every novel and drama I’ve seen she appears as a negative figure, a driven woman, irrational and single-minded, and even in non-fiction studies of the Wars of the Roses, she is one dimensional. It wasn’t until I began to delve deeper and to view the events from her perspective that a new, very human figure began to emerge.

I have always been fascinated by perspective, intrigued by the way a story can change just by switching the narrator. It is not until I examined the Wars of the Roses from Margaret’s point of view that I was able to gain a wider understanding. Margaret Beaufort’s story reveals a lifetime of challenges. Her childhood marriage to Edmund Tudor and the birth of Henry occurred before her fourteenth year yet she was not beaten by it. It is surprising that a woman of such strength and intelligence has not been more celebrated so in this trilogy I walk in Margaret’s shoes and allow her to give her own (fictional) account.

Authors have not been kind to Margaret Beaufort. She was not an attractive woman, but she was pious, and she was resilient. It is not easy to turn a strong, plain woman into a romantic heroine and so, in fiction at least, she has become a harridan, a half-mad zealot. Feminists today celebrate the few medieval women who stepped from beneath the thumb of masculine authority but Margaret is seldom found among them. I have not made a saint of Margaret but neither is she demonised, she is human, flawed and tested, time and time again.

Due to their illegitimate roots, the Beaufort family was barred from succession but that did not prevent them from becoming one of the most powerful families in England. From the day of her birth Margaret was a key figure in the story of what we now refer to as the wars of the roses.

In the first year of her life Margaret’s father, out of favour with the king after a failed campaign in France, took his own life and Margaret was placed in the protection of the Duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole. When she was six-years-old she was married to the Duke’s son, John, a boy of seven.

Shortly afterwards the Duke himself fell into trouble and was killed trying to flee the country. Margaret and John’s marriage was quickly dissolved. As the country deteriorated into civil war the king’s brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, were given the wardship of Margaret. At the age of twelve she became the wife of Edmund, the Earl of Richmond. She followed him to Wales where Edmund battled on the king’s behalf against Gruffydd ap Nicolas. They made their home at Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace which Edmund used as a base for his military operations. For Margaret, fresh from the nursery at her mother’s home at Bletsoe, it must have been an alien environment.

Edmund fell into dispute with the Yorkist, William Herbert, who imprisoned him at Carmarthen where Edmund died, either of wounds, or plague, or a combination of both. He left the twelve-year-old Margaret unprotected, and six months pregnant with his child.

Margaret turned in her vulnerability to her brother-in-law, Jasper, who provided her with refuge at Pembroke castle. It was in his cold, lofty fortress that Margaret gave birth to her only child, a son, whom she named Henry after her cousin the king.

Within weeks of his birth Margaret had taken her life into her own hands and arranged, with Jasper’s assistance, to marry Henry Stafford, a younger son of the Duke of Buckingham. Her son remained in the care of Jasper but, when Edward IV won the throne, he was placed in the hands of William Herbert to be raised at Raglan Castle in Wales.

How Margaret must have felt at handing her beloved son into the custody of the man responsible for her husband’s death can only be surmised. Henry maintained his title of Richmond but his lands and properties went to the new king’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence. As soon as she was able, Margaret began to campaign for the return of Henry’s birth right. Henry Tudor was well treated by the Herberts, and given a place almost as a family member, forming a life-long friendship with Herbert’s son. Whatever her feelings may have been, Margaret maintained good relations with Herbert and his wife, wrote to her son often and she and Stafford visited on several occasions.

After the battle of Edgecot Moor in 1469 Herbert was taken prisoner by the rebel turncoat Warwick and executed. Jasper took back control of his nephew until the Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury when he and the boy took flight to France, ending up in Brittany. The desperation of their departure left no time for farewell, and Margaret was not to see her beloved son for fourteen years.

Margaret’s union with Henry Stafford seems to have been happy. Stafford, seeing no hope of a Lancastrian return to power, sought peace with Edward IV, winning positions at court. But peace was short-lived and war broke out again.  Henry Stafford was wounded at Barnet in 1471, fighting for York. He died shortly afterwards, never recovering from his injuries. Margaret, determined to direct her own path, made another strategic match and before the year of mourning was up, married Thomas Stanley in 1472.

Stanley was a prominent member of Edward IV’s court who offered her the status she craved. She seems to have remained loyal to King Edward but, on the accession of Richard III in 1483, she began to plot against him. There is no evidence she was involved in the disappearance of the princes in the tower but she was behind a series of rebellions.

After the failed attempt led by the Duke of Buckingham, despite Margaret’s clear involvement, Richard was merciful and placed her under house arrest in the custody of her husband – where she continued to conspire against the king. Her machinations eventually paid off and with her aid Henry and Jasper raised an army in France and landed at Milford Haven in 1485.

The Battle at Bosworth marks the beginning of the end of the Wars of the Roses and, like it or not, on that day Margaret achieved her life’s ambition. Not only did she finally see the ultimate victory go to Lancaster but she witnessed her only son, Henry Tudor, crowned King of England.

During his reign, Henry Tudor was guided by Margaret, who never for one moment faltered in her support for him. Having achieved the highest goal possible, Margaret and Henry may have expected to enjoy a little peace, a rosy future in which to rebuild the war-torn country but the pedestal upon which they placed themselves was slick with treachery.

Throughout her son’s reign Margaret had the running of the court, the ear of the king and in her dotage, during the king’s illness and after his death before Henry VIII reached his maturity, she stepped in as regent. Margaret Beaufort was a woman to be reckoned with, a wise politician, and a formidable opponent: a woman of diminutive stature but with the heart of a lion; a self-reliant, determined woman whose piety, even in the devout days of medieval England, was significant.

Most historic female achievers are saluted today. We see them as early feminists, pioneers for modern women to emulate, but Margaret is seldom celebrated. During her days of triumph she was a hallowed figure (she made sure of that) but now her achievement has become tainted with ignominy. I can only think it is her lack of romance, her lack of feminine loveliness, her lack of sexiness, yet to me, Margaret is awesome!

The Beaufort Chronicles trace Margaret Beaufort’s journey and growth from political child bride to the most powerful person (not just woman) in England.

The Beaufort Chronicles traces Margaret’s life from her childhood in The Beaufort Bride, through her troubled years as a young woman in The Beaufort Woman to her triumph in maturity as The King’s Mother.

Judith’s books are set in the Tudor and medieval period. All books are available on kindle, in paperback and SOON on audio, read by the very talented Tessa Petersen.

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www.juditharnopp.com

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Comments

  1. Reymie Lum says:

    Margaret Beaufort is rather a negative figure but when you read her childhood her ambitions are understood

  2. Amazing story. For a time period steeped in male power the War of the Roses was dominated by powerful woman.

  3. Wow.. what a life she had.. thank you for shining some light on this woman. I’d love to read about her.

  4. Trudi Porter says:

    Great book

  5. Liz Hornsby says:

    Margaret Beaufort must be the original ‘pushy mum’! Brilliant, if scary woman.

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