“The Queen Mother”
It has almost become a set formula that if a young, talented child should enter the world of a professional sport, such as tennis, they must have an ambitious mother. All mothers want the best for their children, but one mother in
English history was willing to risk her very life to gain the position she felt her son deserved.
Margaret Beaufort came from the family that sprang from the third marriage of John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III. By the time John married Catherine Swynford in 1396 they had already produced several children. Although they were later legitimised, they never quite lived down that taint. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of the liaison and, although she had royal blood in her veins, she was a very minor twig on the tree. Her father, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, had died in 1444, soon after her birth. Having become a ward of the court, Margaret was married off to Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, the much-favoured half-brother of King Henry VI (Edmund and Henry shared their mother, Catherine de Valois, Princess of France). She was 12 and he, a young man of 25. It was not anticipated that the marriage would be consummated for several years but Margaret and Edmund had other ideas! Margaret became pregnant in the spring of 1456. Then tragedy struck. Edmund died on 1 November. Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, Edmund’s younger brother, took Margaret into his care and installed her in his castle at Pembroke. The child was born on 28 January 1457, on Welsh soil, and named after his royal Uncle Henry VI. The birth was difficult due to the mother’s extreme youth and small stature. Thus Margaret, Countess of Richmond, found herself a mother and widow at the age of 14 years.
At this time the Tudor brothers seemed to be on good terms with Richard, Duke of York, the leader of the opposition party against the court faction led by the Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Indeed, Edmund had been in Wales on the orders of York at the time of his death. Nevertheless there was little doubt where Tudor loyalties lay; their first allegiance was to Henry VI, their half-brother, and the House of Lancaster. Jasper took immediate steps to protect and secure the future of his young sister-in-law and her infant son. In March 1457 he and Margaret visited the Duke of Buckingham at Greenfield, near Newport, and a marriage was arranged between Margaret and the Duke’s second son, Henry Stafford.
Meanwhile the rivalry between the Duke of York and the court party had broken into all out civil war, with Jasper one of the main commanders on the Lancastrian side. It was no longer a matter of gaining control of the King but more a case of replacing him. In 1460 York was killed in a skirmish at Wakefield so the Yorkist mantel fell to his eldest son, Edward, Earl of Marche. This most charming of soldiers secured the support of London, who hailed him King, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Lancastrian army at Towton on 29 March 1461.
Jasper lost his estates and went on the run. The new King placed the control of south Wales in the hands of William Herbert of Raglan. When Herbert took possession of Pembroke Castle he found the four-year-old Henry, Earl of Richmond inside. The wardship of the boy was granted to Herbert and Henry was brought up as part of the large Herbert family. Although technically a prisoner, Henry was treated with all kindness and educated academically and in the use of arms. The boy forged friendships in these years which he was to later reward when he came to power.
But what of Margaret? She found herself separated from her son. Her marriage to Henry Stafford seems to have been happy though no children came of the union. Margaret and Stafford first lived at Bourne in Lincolnshire and then at Woking in Surrey. Geography and political restriction prevented her from frequent contact with Henry. She was allowed to communicate with him throughout the 1460’s and succeeded in visiting him on one occasion.
Towards the end of the 1460’s cracks started to appear in the relationship between King Edward and the mighty Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, his most powerful lord. Warwick struck a deal with the exiled Queen, Margaret of Anjou, and changed sides. He raised an army and defeated a force of Welshmen under Lord Herbert at Edgecote in July 1469. In the aftermath of the battle Herbert was executed along with his brother Richard. After his success Warwick sailed for France and a meeting with Queen Margaret and Jasper Tudor. Louis XI, King of France, brokered an agreement that saw Warwick’s daughter, Anne, betrothed to Edward, Prince of Wales, and forces raised to restore Henry VI who, at the time, was a prisoner in the Tower of London. The Lancastrian army landed in Devon and Edward IV, caught unprepared, was forced to flee to Holland on 2 October 1470. Warwick entered London, released King Henry from prison, and re-established the House of Lancaster. Jasper was reunited with his nephew at Hereford and brought the boy to London. Here Henry joined his mother and her husband, Henry Stafford. At the end of October Margaret Beaufort and her son left London for the Beaufort manor of Woking where they stayed for over a week. From there Henry Tudor, Margaret and her husband travelled to Maidenhead and Henley-on-Thames where Henry parted from his mother to join his Uncle Jasper on 12 November. Henry was now 13 years old and this was probably the last time Margaret saw her son until after his victory at Bosworth Field in 1485.
Edward IV returned to England on 12 March 1471. Landing in Yorkshire, he marched south on London, gathering forces on route. He met an army under Warwick at Barnet, just north of London, on 14 April. The Lancastrians were defeated, Richard Neville, the great Earl of Warwick, “the Kingmaker,” was killed and King Henry VI recaptured. Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, landed from France at Weymouth on the same day as Warwick’s defeat. The news of the defeat was a devastating blow but the determined Queen raised forces in the West Country and marched north towards Wales, presumably to link up with the army of Jasper Tudor. King Edward caught up with her at Tewkesbury on 4 May. Her forces were utterly crushed, her son killed and she, herself, taken prisoner. This defeat spelt the end of the old Lancastrian cause. King Henry was returned to the Tower of London where he died the same year – almost certainly murdered. Jasper and young Henry were once again on the run. Henry had become the only close relative of the dead King and, therefore, the Lancastrian claim to the throne fell to him.
Margaret Beaufort and her husband made their peace with the Yorkists and deserted the cause of Lancaster. Margaret was playing a very long game.
With Henry and Jasper in exile on the continent, Edward made every effort to gain control of his young rival. Francis II, Duke of Brittany, had given the Tudors sanctuary but after several years of diplomatic pressure, Edward managed to persuade the Duke to release them in to the custody of English envoys. The handover was due to take place in November 1476 but Henry feigned an illness and delayed the transfer. After objections from Lancastrian sympathisers at his own court, Francis changed his mind and Henry was spared.
Through all these years Margaret Beaufort was working behind the scenes on her son’s behalf. Her second husband, Henry Stafford had died and she married Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, probably in 1473. She even managed to gain Edward’s acknowledgement that Henry could inherit part of her estate on her death. By the early 1480’s Margaret had negotiated an agreement with Edward that if Henry returned to England he would be restored to his lands and titles and receive the hand of one of Edward’s daughters in marriage (probably Elizabeth). Edward wanted his return so that he could keep the young man under his control; Margaret saw her son as the power behind the throne and the standard bearer of the House of Lancaster.
On 9 April 1483 Edward IV suddenly died and all plans were placed on hold. The crisis of a twelve-year-old King, Edward V, brought about a coup d’etat by the boy’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The family of Edward IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, lost all influence in the affairs of state when Richard seized power and they began to drift across the Channel to Brittany to join Henry. Richard, like his brother, tried to persuade the Duke of Brittany to release Henry and Jasper into his custody. At first Margaret was in favour of this action but as the situation in England began to deteriorate and it became obvious that the opposition to Richard regarded Henry as a figurehead, his return would endanger his life.
Richard’s ruthless policies brought about serious splits in the ranks of the Yorkists, notably with Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. A conspiracy began to be formed between Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort. Margaret used her servant, Reginald Bray, as a go-between with Buckingham and his principle agent, John Morton, Bishop of Ely. Late in 1483 rumours were in circulation that the two sons of Edward IV, lodged in the Tower of London, were dead. This proved to be an enormous asset to the plot for it brought on board the support of the dowager-queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Queen Elizabeth had claimed sanctuary in Westminster Abbey when Richard had seized the throne and Margaret communicated with her through Lewis Caerleon, her Welsh physician. An agreement was made between the two women that Henry would marry the Queen’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth. The implications were clear. Margaret was no longer seeking the restoration of her son’s English estates – from now on she was aiming at the crown.
Margaret now widened the plot to bring in former servants of King Edward and she chose Christopher Urswick, a priest recommended by Caerleon, to keep Henry Tudor informed of the situation. Meanwhile, the Duke of Buckingham was ploughing his own furrow. Margaret heard from Reginald Bray that Buckingham was about to move against King Richard, so she delayed sending Urswick to Brittany. Instead she sent Hugh Conway – a Welshman, former servant to Edward IV and now an adherent to her husband, Lord Stanley – to Brittany with a large sum of money she had raised by loan from the City of London. She urged Henry and Jasper to come as soon as possible and land in Wales. Buckingham also wrote to Henry in September 1483 explaining his connection with the Beaufort-Woodville plot and encouraging the Tudors to join his own rising which was planned for 18 October. The Duke gathered his forces at Brecon but he had exaggerated his support. Buckingham’s tenants were reluctant to rise against a Yorkist king. His advance was delayed by the destruction of the bridges over the River Severn and his support began to drift away. He and Morton went in to hiding in preparation for sailing to Brittany but he was betrayed to the sheriff of Shropshire and handed over to Richard’s agents. The whole thing had been a fiasco and the Duke soon lost his head on the block. Margaret would have to wait a little longer.
In Brittany Henry’s band of followers grew. Elizabeth Woodville’s three brothers, Lionel, Edward and Richard, together with one of her sons by her first marriage, Dorset, were all there. Servants and retainers of the late King Edward also beat a path to the side of Henry Tudor. Meanwhile King Richard entered into new negotiations with Francis II of Brittany in an effort to get his hands on Henry. Francis, weak from illness, held talks between his treasurer, Pierre Landais, and William Catesby, Richard’s close counsellor in September 1484. Richard even contacted Maximilian, Duke of Austria, whose wife was Mary, daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, requesting him to bring pressure on Francis. Fortunately Bishop John Morton, who was in Flanders, gained news of the move from his agents in London. He sent the faithful Urswick to Henry at Vannes warning him of the danger and advising him to flee to France. With the bird flown the talks collapsed though Francis continued to support the needs of the other exiles.
At the French court Louis XI had died on 30 August 1483, to be succeeded by his thirteen year old son Charles VIII. The real power behind the throne was the boy king’s eldest sister, Anne of Beaujeu. She governed France during the minority of her brother and Henry quickly gained her support.
Charles VIII, under the influence of his sister, secured financial backing for Henry’s bid for the English crown. Margaret Beaufort was in charge of co-ordinating the English end of the operation. June saw Henry assembling a fleet in the Seine estuary. He had with him 400 English exiles plus about 2000 French troops. Charles supplied 40,000 livres to help pay for the expedition. In addition Henry had raised further loans plus the considerable sum sent by his mother.
Henry and Jasper landed at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, on 7 August 1485. The die was caste. The small contingent moved north along Cardigan Bay to Aberystwyth were they met the powerful Welsh magnate, Ryhs ap Thomas who brought substantial reinforcements. By the time they reached Newport they were joined by Sir Gilbert Talbot with a further 500 men. This brought Henry’s army to approximately 4,000. Richard III had moved his base of operations to Nottingham in expectation of the Tudor invasion. News was received on 15 August of Henry’s landing and his progress to Shrewsbury. Richard was having trouble gathering his army; a large number of gentry were prepared to wait and see before committing themselves.
Margaret’s husband, Lord Stanley, had a difficult decision to make. He attempted to extricate himself from supporting Richard but the King took Lord Stanley’s son, George, as a hostage for his good behaviour. On 20 August Henry met the Stanleys (both Lord Stanley, his stepfather, and his step-uncle, Sir William) to encourage their faction to join him. They stated that they could not openly support him but would do so when the opportunity arose.
Meanwhile Richard had moved his forces to Leicester. He left there on 21st and marched southwest to Stapleton and Ambion Hill, just off the road to Market Bosworth. On the 22nd the armies met. Lord Stanley had failed to join his King and Richard was prepared to execute George, but was persuaded to wait till after the battle. The thought of defeat had not entered the King’s head. The vanguard of the King’s army, under the command of the Duke of Norfolk, was soon in action against the rebel vanguard under the Earl of Oxford. Within half an hour Norfolk had been killed and Richard was forced to move his own division up in support. Henry marched his contingent in to the battle on Oxford’s left, joining up with the forces of William Stanley, who now entered the conflict on Henry’s side. Lord Stanley, with his 3,000 strong division, did nothing in response to Richard’s command to join the battle. After two hours of heavy fighting Richard III was surrounded and killed. Legend has it that it was Reginald Bray who picked the crown out of a thorn bush and handed it to Henry.
Henry was generous to his supporters. Rhys ap Thomas was knighted on the field of battle, Jasper Tudor was created Duke of Bedford and later married the widow of the Duke of Buckingham. Richard Bray was knighted and received the manor of Shere in Surrey as a reward for his services. Many of his descendants can be found buried in the church.
But what of Margaret, his mother? She was treated with exceptional honour. Not only did she become one of his principle advisors but also he gave her the privilege of signing her name “Margaret R”. Her birthday, on 31 May, was celebrated at Westminster during her lifetime and she was addressed at court as the “Full noble Princess Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Mother of our sovereign lord, the King.” King Richard had confiscated all her lands and granted them to her husband. Henry restored them and granted her care of the young sons of the late Duke of Buckingham together with an income of £1,000 a year (about £200,000 in today’s value). One of the manors returned to her was that of Woking. It was here that she lived out much of the remainder of her life. She was frequently visited by her son and, after her death, the manor was used as a summer lodge by her grandson, Henry VIII.
In her later years Margaret was a patron of the Arts, supporting Bernard Andre, the blind poet laureate, and William Caxton. She founded two colleges (Christ’s and St. John’s) at Cambridge University and helped found two more (Jesus and Queen’s). Never a woman to take a passive role, she had a suite of rooms above the Master’s Lodge at Christ’s College, Cambridge, to personally supervise the work.
In a letter sent to her son in 1501 she wrote, ”My dearest, and only desired joy in this world. With my most hearty loving blessings and humble commendation.” She concluded, “At Calais town, this day of St Agnes’s that I did bring into this world my good and gracious Prince, King and beloved son”.
Her affection was more than returned. Henry wrote to his mother in July 1503, “I shall be as glad to please you as your heart can desire it, and I know well that I am as much bounden so to do as any creature living, for the great and singular motherly love and affection that it hath pleased you at all times to bear towards me. Wherefore, my own most loving mother, in my most hearty manner I thank you, beseeching you of your good continuance in the same…”
Margaret died in 1509, two months after her beloved son. In death, as in life, she was laid close to Henry in the New Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Pietro Torrigano, the same Italian craftsman who had worked on the tomb of her son, created her black marble tomb. The great Dutch humanist and theologian, Erasmus, composed her epitaph and John Fisher, formerly her chaplain, now a bishop, said in his eulogy at her funeral, “All England for her death had cause of weeping.”
Polydore Vergil described Margaret as, “a most worthy woman whom no one can extoll too much or too often for her sound sense and holiness of life.”
RETURN TO HOME PAGE