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Lady Margaret Beaufort (31 May 1443 – 29 June 1509), Countess of Richmond and Derby, was the mother of King Henry VII and grandmother of King Henry VIII of England. She was a key figure in the Wars of the Roses, an influential matriarch of the House of Tudor and foundress of two Cambridge colleges.

Early life

Margaret was born at Bletsomarker Castle, Bedfordshire, on 31 May 1443. The date and month are not disputed, as she required Westminster Abbeymarker to celebrate her birthday on 31 May. The year of her birth is more uncertain. William Dugdale, the 17th century antiquary, has suggested that she may have been born two years earlier, in 1441. This suggestion is based on evidence of inquisitions taken at the death of Margaret's father. Dugdale has been followed by a number of Margaret's biographers. However, it is more likely that she was born in 1443, as in May 1443, her father had negotiated with the King about the wardship of his unborn child in case he died on a campaign.

She was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. At the moment of her birth, Margaret's father was preparing to go to France and lead an important military expedition for King Henry VI. Somerset negotiated with the king to ensure that, in case of his death, the rights to Margaret's wardship and marriage would belong only to his wife. However, Somerset fell out with the king after coming back from France. He was banished from the court and was about to be charged with treason. He died shortly afterwards. According to Thomas Basin, Somerset died of illness, but the Crowland Chronicle reported that his death was a suicide. Margaret, as his only child, was the heiress to his fortunes.

On Margaret's first birthday, the king broke his arrangement with Margaret's father and gave her wardship to William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, though Margaret remained with her mother. Margaret's mother was pregnant at the time of Somerset's death but her sibling did not survive and Margaret remained sole heiress. Although she was her father's only legitimate child, Margaret had two half-brothers and three half-sisters from her mother's first marriage whom she supported after her son's accession.

Marriages

First marriage

Margaret was married to Suffolk's son, John de la Pole. The wedding was held between 28 January and 7 February 1450. Papal dispensation was granted on 18 August 1450 because the spouses were too closely related. Three years later, the marriage was dissolved and the king granted Margaret's wardship to his own half-brothers, Jasper and Edmund Tudor.

Margaret never recognized this marriage. In her will, made in 1472, Margaret refers to Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, as her first husband. Under canon law, Margaret was not bound by the marriage contract anyway, as she entered the marriage before reaching the age of twelve.

Second marriage

Lady Margaret Beaufort.
Even before the annulment of her first marriage, Lancastrian King Henry VI chose Margaret as a suitable bride for his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Edmund was the eldest son of the king's mother, Dowager Queen Catherine, by her second marriage to Owen Tudor.

Margaret was 12 when she married 24-year old Edmund on 1 November 1455. Edmund, a Lancastrian, died while a prisoner-of-war of Yorkist forces the following November, leaving a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with their child. At Pembroke Castlemarker on 28 January 1457, the Countess gave birth to her only child, Henry Tudor. The birth was particularly difficult; at one point, both the Countess and her child were close to death, due to her young age and small size.

Margaret and her son remained in Pembroke because of the wars between the House of Lancaster and the House of York and remained there until the Yorkist triumphs of 1461. Margaret Beaufort's relationship with her only child was extraordinary. The mother had barely seen her son since he was a young child; from the age of two, Henry lived with his father's family in Wales and from the age of fourteen, he lived in exile in France. During this period, their relationship was sustained by letter and few visits.

The Countess always respected the name and memory of Edmund, for he was the father of her only child. In 1472, sixteen years after his death, Margaret specified in her will that she wanted to be buried alongside Edmund, although she enjoyed a long, stable and close relationship with her third husband who died in 1471. She had no children with her future husbands. The birth of her only child when she was only thirteen years old was difficult enough to render her infertile.

Third marriage

On 3 January 1462, Margaret married Sir Henry Stafford, son of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham. The dispensation for the marriage, necessary because Margaret and Stafford were second cousins, was granted on 6 April. The Countess enjoyed a fairly long and harmonious relationship for the first time during her marriage to Stafford. Margaret and her husband were given 400 marks worth of land by Buckingham, but Margaret's own estates were still the main source of income. Margaret's estates enabled the pair to enjoy an aristocratic lifestyle.

She became a widow again in 1471.

Fourth marriage



In June 1472, Margaret married Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable and King of Mann. Their marriage was at first a marriage of convenience; the couple married solely for practical reasons. Recent historians have suggested that Margaret never considered herself a member of the Stanley family.

The Countess was instrumental in secretly conspiring against Richard III with the Dowager Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, whose sons, the Princes in the Tower, were presumed murdered. They were aided by the fact that Margaret's third husband had switched sides because Richard III held captive his eldest son, George Stanley (styled Lord Strange by marriage to the female holder of that hereditary lordship). George was Thomas Stanley's son by his first wife, Eleanor Neville, whose brother, Richard Neville was very active in the Wars of the Roses. Margaret was Thomas Stanley's second wife.

At the end of the Battle of Bosworth Fieldmarker in 1485, it was Thomas Stanley who placed the crown on his stepson's — Henry VII's — head. Stanley was later made Earl of Derby, which made Margaret Countess of Derby, but she was styled "The Countess of Richmond and Derby."

Later in her marriage, the Countess preferred living alone. In 1499, with her husband's permission, she took a vow of chastity in the presence of Richard FitzJames, Bishop of London. Taking a vow of chastity while being married was unprecedented. She moved away from her husband and lived alone at Collywestonmarker. She was regularly visited by her husband, who had rooms reserved for him. Margaret renewed her vows in 1504.

The King's Mother

Henry VII, Margaret's only child.


With her son winning the crown at Bosworth Field, the Countess was now referred to in court as "My Lady the King's Mother". As such, she enjoyed legal and social independence which other married women could not. Her son's first parliament recognized her right to hold property independently from her husband, as if she were unmarried.

The Countess arranged her son's marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV. The marriage strengthened her son's claim to the throne. The Countess herself was reluctant to accept a lower status than the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, or even her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York, the current queen consort. She wore robes of the same quality as the queen consort and walked only half a pace behind her.

Margaret had signed herself M. Richmond for years since the 1460s. In 1499, she changed her signature to Margaret R., perhaps signifiying her royal authority (R standing either for regina, which means queen in Latin, as was the custom emplyed by female monarchs, or for Richmond). Furthermore, she included the Tudor crown and the caption et mater Henrici septimi regis Angliae et Hiberniae.

Many historians believe the banishment of Dowager Queen Elizabeth in 1487 by Henry VII was partly at the behest of his influential mother. The Countess was known for her education and her piety, and her son is said to have been devoted to her. He died on 21 April 1509, having designated his mother chief executor of his will. She arranged her son's funeral and her grandson's coronation; at the former, the Countess was given precedence over all the other women of the royal family.

On the death of Henry VII, the Countess was declared to be regent for her grandson, Henry VIII, who was considered too young to reign on his own.

Death

Her regency was short lived however, as the Countess died on 29 June 1509 in the Deanery of Westminster Abbeymarker, just over two months after the death of her son. She is buried in a black marble tomb topped with a bronze gilded effigy and canopy, between the graves of William and Mary and the tomb of Mary I of Scotland, in the Henry VII Lady Chapelmarker in Westminster Abbeymarker.

Legacy

In 1497 she announced her intention to build a free school for the general public of Wimbornemarker, Dorsetmarker. With her death in 1509, Wimborne Grammar School, now Queen Elizabeth's Schoolmarker, came into existence.

In 1502 she established the Lady Margaret's Professorship of Divinity at the University of Cambridgemarker.

In 1505, following the accession of her son Henry VII to the throne, she refounded and enlarged God's House, Cambridge as Christ's Collegemarker with a royal charter from the King. She has been honoured ever since as the Foundress of the College. A copy of her signature can be found carved on one of the buildings (4 staircase, 1994) within the College. In 1511, St John's College, Cambridgemarker was founded by her estate, either at her direct behest or at the suggestion of her chaplain. Land that she owned around Great Bradleymarker in Suffolk was bequeathed to St John's upon its foundation. Her portrait hangs in the Great Hall at St John's, and the college boat club is called the Lady Margaret Boat Club (LMBC).

Lady Margaret Hallmarker, the first women's college at the University of Oxfordmarker, was named in her honour.

Portrait

Her portrait, at prayer in her richly furnished private closet behind her chamber, is a rare contemporary glimpse into a late Gothic aristocratic English interior and tells a great deal about her status and lifestyle. The severe black of her widow's weeds contrasts with the splendour of her private apartment, where every surface is patterned, even the floor alternating cream-colored and terracotta tiles. The plain desk at which she kneels is draped with a richly patterned textile that is so densely encrusted with embroidery that its corners stand away stiffly. Her lavishly illuminated Book of Hours is open before her, with its protective cloth wrapper (called a "chemise" binding) spread out around it.

The walls are patterned with oak leaf designs, perhaps in lozenges, perhaps of stamped and part-gilded leather. Against the wall hangs the dosser of her canopy of estate, with the tester above her head (the Tudor rose at its centre) supported on cords from the ceiling. The coats-of-arms woven into the tapestry are of England (parted as usual with France) and the portcullis badge of the Beauforts, which the early Tudor kings later used in their arms. Small stained glass roundels in the leaded glass of her lancet windows also display elements the arms of both England (cropped away here) and Beaufort.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

[[Image:Lady Margaret Beaufort Arms.svg|thumb|right|upright|Margaret Beaufort's arms as wife of Edmund Tudor]]

Titles and styles

  • Maiden: Lady Margaret Beaufort
  • First and Second marriages: The Countess of Richmond
    • Second Marriage: also Lady Stafford
  • Third Marriage: The Countess of Richmond and Derby
  • Son's reign: My Lady The King's Mother
  • Grandson's Reign: My Lady The King's Grandmother


Ancestors

Through her father, Lady Margaret Beaufort was a granddaughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, and a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and his mistress and third wife Katherine Swynford.

Following Gaunt's marriage to Katherine, their children (the Beauforts) were legitimized, but the legitimation carried a condition: their descendants were barred from ever inheriting the throne. Despite this, Lady Margaret's own son Henry VII (and all English, British, and UK sovereigns who followed) are descended from Gaunt and Swynford.

Margaret's ancestors in three generations

Notes and references



Bibliography

  • Jonas, Michael K and Underwood, Malcolm G: The King's Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, Cambridge University Press 1993 ISBN 0521447941
  • Krug, Rebecca: Reading families: women's literate practice in late medieval England Cornell University Press 2002 ISBN 0801439248


External links




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