Margaret Beaufort: The Making of the Tudor Dynasty

Mother and Supporter of Henry VII

Margaret Beaufort Arms at St. John's College, Cambridge
Margaret Beaufort Arms at St. John's College, Cambridge. Neil Holmes / Getty Images

Margaret Beaufort Biography:

Also see: basic facts and a timeline about Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort's Childhood

Margaret Beaufort was born in 1443, the same year Henry VI became king of England.  Her father, John Beaufort, was the second son of John Beaufort, the 1st Earl of Somerset, who was the later-legitimized son of John of Gaunt by his mistress, Katherine Swynford. He had been captured and held prisoner by the French for 13 years, and, though made a commander after his release, was not very good at the work.

He married the heiress Margaret Beauchamp in 1439, then from 1440 until 1444 was involved in a series of military failures and blunders in which he was often at odds with the Duke of York. He managed to father his daughter, Margaret Beaufort, and reportedly had two illegitimate children as well, before his death in 1444, perhaps of suicide, as he was about to be charged with treason.

He had tried to arrange matters so that his wife would have guardianship of their daughter, but King Henry VI gave her as a ward to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, whose influence had displaced that of the Beauforts with John’s military failures.

William de la Pole married his child ward to his son, about the same age, John de la Pole.  The marriage – technically, a marriage contract which could be dissolved before the bride turned 12 – may have taken place as early as 1444. A formal ceremony seems to have taken place in February 1450, when the children were seven and eight years old, but because they were relatives, the Pope’s dispensation was also needed.

This was obtained in August of 1450.

However, Henry VI transferred Margaret’s guardianship to Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor, his two younger maternal half-brothers. Their mother, Catherine of Valois, had married Owen Tudor after her first husband, Henry V, died.  Catherine was the daughter of Charles VI of France.

 

Henry may have had in mind to marry young Margaret Beaufort into his family.  Margaret later recounted having had a vision where St. Nicholas approved her marriage to Edmund Tudor instead of to John de la Pole.  The marriage contract with John was dissolved in 1453.

Marriage to Edmund Tudor

Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor were married in 1455, likely in May. She was just twelve, and he was 13 years older than she was.  They went to live on Edmund’s estate in Wales.  It was common practice to wait to consummate a marriage, even if contracted at such a young age, but Edmund didn’t respect that custom.  Margaret conceived quickly after the marriage.  Once she conceived, Edmund had more rights to her wealth should she die.

Then, unexpectedly and suddenly, Edmund was taken ill with the plague, and died in November of 1456 while Margaret was about six months pregnant.  She went to Pembroke Castle to avail herself of the protection of her former co-guardian, Jasper Tudor.

Henry Tudor Born

Margaret Beaufort gave birth on January 28, 1457, to a sickly and small infant she named Henry, probably named for his half-uncle Henry VI. The child would one day himself become king, as Henry VII – but that was far in the future and by no means thought likely at his birth.

Pregnancy and childbirth at such a young age was dangerous, thus the usual custom of delaying consummation of a marriage.  Margaret never bore another child.

Margaret dedicated herself and her efforts, from that day, first to the survival of her sickly infant, and later to his success in seeking the crown of England.

Another Marriage

As a young and wealthy widow, Margaret Beaufort’s fate was a quick remarriage – though it is probable that she played some part in the plans.  A woman alone, or a single mother with a child, was expected to seek the protection of a husband.  With Jasper, she traveled from Wales to arrange for that protection.

She found it in a younger son of Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham. Humphrey was a descendant of Edward III of England (through his son, Thomas of Woodstock).

(His wife, Anne Neville, was also descended from Edward III, through his son John of Gaunt and his daughter, Joan Beaufort --  Margaret Beaufort’s great-aunt who was also the mother of Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III.)  So they needed a papal dispensation to marry.

Margaret Beaufort and Henry Stafford seem to have made a successful match. The surviving record seems to show true affection shared between them. 

York Victory

Though related to the York standard bearers in the wars of succession now called the Wars of the Roses, Margaret was also closely related to and aligned with the Lancastrian party.  Henry VI was her brother-in-law through her marriage to Edmund Tudor. Her son might be considered to be an heir to Henry VI, after Henry’s own son Edward, Prince of Wales.

When Edward VI, head of the York faction after the death of his father, defeated Henry VI’s supporters in battle, and took the crown from Henry, Margaret and her son became valuable pawns.

Edward arranged for Margaret’s child, the young Henry Tudor, to become the ward of one of his key supporters, William Lord Herbert, who also became the new Earl of Pembroke, in February, 1462, paying Henry’s parents for the privilege. Henry was just five years old when he was separated from his mother to live with his new official guardian.

Edward also married Henry Stafford’s heir, another Henry Stafford, to Catherine Woodville, sister of Edward’s consort Elizabeth Woodville, tying the families more closely together.

Margaret and Stafford accepted the arrangement, without protest, and were thus able to remain in touch with young Henry Tudor.  They did not actively and publicly oppose the new king, and even hosted the king in 1468.  In 1470, Stafford joined the king’s forces in putting down a rebellion that included several of Margaret’s relations (through her mother’s first marriage).

Power Changes Hands

When Henry VI was restored to power in 1470, Margaret was able to more freely visit with her son again.  She had a personal appointment with the restored Henry VI, dining with king Henry along with young Henry Tudor and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, making clear her alliance with Lancaster.  When Edward IV returned to power the next year, this meant danger.

Henry Stafford has been persuaded to join the Yorkist side in the fighting, helping to win the Battle of Barnet for the York faction.  Henry VI’s son, Prince Edward, had died in the battle that gave victory to Edward IV, the Battle of Tewkesbury, and then Henry VI was murdered shortly after the battle. This left young Henry Tudor, age 14 or 15, a logical heir to the Lancastrian claims, putting him in considerably danger.

Margaret Beaufort advised her son Henry to flee to France in September of 1471.  Jasper arranged for Henry Tudor to sail to France, but Henry’s ship was blown off course. He ended up taking refuge instead in Brittany. There, he remained for another 12 years before he and his mother would meet in person again.

Henry Stafford died in October of 1471, probably of wounds from the battle at Barnet, which aggravated his poor health – he’d long suffered from a skin disease.

Margaret lost a powerful protector – and a friend and affectionate partner – with his death.  Margaret quickly took legal measures to ensure that her estates inherited from her father would belong to her son when he returned to England in the future, by putting them into a trust.

Protecting Henry Tudor’s Interests Under Edward IV’s Rule

With Henry in Brittany, Margaret moved to further protect him by marrying Thomas Stanley, whom Edward IV had appointed as his steward.  Stanley gained, thereby, a large income from Margaret’s estates; he also provided her with income from his own lands.  Margaret seems to have become close to Elizabeth Woodville, Edward’s queen, and her daughters, at this time.

In 1482, Margaret’s mother died.  Edward IV agreed to confirm Henry Tudor’s title to the lands Margaret had placed in trust a decade earlier, and also to Henry’s rights to a share of income from his maternal grandmother’s estates – but only upon his return to England.

Richard III

In 1483, Edward suddenly died, and his brother seized the throne as Richard III, declaring Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid and their children illegitimate. He imprisoned Edward’s two sons in the Tower of London.

Some historians believe that Margaret may have been part of an unsuccessful plot to rescue the princes shortly after their imprisonment.

Margaret seems to have made some overtures to Richard III, perhaps to marry Henry Tudor to a relative in the royal family. Possibly because of growing suspicions that Richard II had his nephews in the Tower murdered – they were never seen again after a few early sightings of them after their imprisonment – Margaret joined the faction rebelling against Richard. 

Margaret was in communication with Elizabeth Woodville, and arranged for the marriage of Henry Tudor to the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, Elizabeth of York.  Woodville, who was treated badly by Richard III, including losing all her dower rights when her marriage was declared invalid, supported the plan to put Henry Tudor on the throne along with her daughter Elizabeth.

Rebellion: 1483

Margaret Beaufort was quite busy recruiting for the rebellion.  Among those she convinced to join was the Duke of Buckingham, her late husband’s nephew and heir (also named Henry Stafford) who had been an early supporter of Richard III’s kingship, and who had been with Richard when they seized custody of Edward IV’s son, Edward V. Buckingham began promoting the idea that Henry Tudor would become king and Elizabeth of York his queen.

Henry Tudor arranged to return with military support to England in late 1483, and Buckingham organized to support the rebellion.  Bad weather meant that Henry Tudor’s journey was delayed, and Richard’s army defeated Buckingham’s.  Buckingham was captured and beheaded for treason on November 2.  His widow married Jasper Tudor, Margaret Beaufort’s brother-in-law.

Despite failure of the rebellion, Henry Tudor vowed in December to take the crown from Richard and marry Elizabeth of York.

With the failure of the rebellion, and the execution of her ally Buckingham, Margaret Beaufort’s marriage to Stanley saved her.  Parliament at the behest of Richard III took control of her property from her and gave it to her husband, and also reversed all the arrangements and trusts that had protected her son’s inheritance.  Margaret was placed in Stanley’s custody, without any servants.  But Stanley enforced this edict lightly, and she was able to remain in communication with her son.

Victory in 1485

Henry continued to organize – perhaps with Margaret’s quiet continued support, even in her supposed isolation.  Finally, in 1485, Henry sailed again, landing in Wales. He immediately sent word to his mother upon his landing.

Margaret’s husband, Lord Stanley, deserted Richard III’s side and joined with Henry Tudor, which helped swing the odds of the battle towards Henry.  Henry Tudor’s forces defeated those of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, and Richard III was killed on the battlefield.  Henry declared himself king by right of battle; he did not rely on the rather thin claim of his Lancastrian heritage.

Henry Tudor was crowned as Henry VII on October 30, 1485, and declared his reign retroactive to the day before the Battle of Bosworth – thus allowing him to charge with treason anyone who had fought with Richard III, and to seize their property and titles.

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