Margaret Beaufort was the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. The Countess of Richmond had just one child, Henry Tudor. It was her lineage that gave Henry the claim to the throne: Margaret was a great-granddaughter of King Edward III, though from a line that King Henry IV determined could never inherit the throne.
Lineage and infancy of Margaret Beaufort
Margaret was an important figure throughout her life. As the granddaughter of John of Gaunt, she was politically significant. She was the sole legitimate child and therefore heiress to her father’s lands. John Beaufort, her father, was the Duke of Somerset. Inheriting his lands and title at an early age, Margaret was put in the care of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Through this, she was contracted to marry John de la Pole. This was a politically motivated move by Suffolk and though the marriage took place in 1444 and was confirmed by Papal Dispensation, she never recognised the marriage herself and it was annulled due to the illegality of the marriage under canon law.
Marriage to Edmund Tudor
The annulment led to King Henry VI becoming more involved in Margaret’s future. As an important heiress, it was important to ensure that the lands and power that she wielded were put to good use for the crown. Henry’s solution was to contract Margaret, still only 9 years old, to his half-brother, Edmund Tudor. Margaret and Edmund married in 1455, a marriage that she later noted was was the result of divine guidance. These were politically chaotic times. The factionalism at court had just turned into warfare. The nation was tense. Margaret, still only 13, was heavily pregnant when in 1456 Edmund died in captivity of the Plague.
Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudors infancy
Margaret was cared for by Jasper Tudor who provided for her and the newly born Henry Tudor. Jasper also arranged Margaret’s 3rd marriage. She was married to Henry Stafford, the second eldest son of the Duke of Buckingham. This period continued to be one of great tension. The Wars of the Roses raged in the late 1450s and early 1460s. Margaret was of Royal Blood and herself and her son had a claim to the throne at a time when the conflict was being fought on dynastic lines. To ensure the safety of her son, Margaret persuaded Jasper Tudor to take Henry into exile. This led to a fourteen-year period in which mother and son did not see one another.
The death of Henry Stafford
Margaret then suffered the loss of her husband. Henry Stafford died of wounds whilst fighting for the Yorkists at the Battle of Barnet. This placed Margaret in a potentially precarious position. Stafford had a good relationship with the Yorkist elite and she had benefitted from this at court. Now her own lineage could be seen as a potential problem, especially as the Lancastrian line was now deceased. Margaret needed to marry again to maintain her own position and influence at court. So, in 1472 she married Sir Thomas Stanley.
It appears that the marriage of Margaret Beaufort to Thomas Stanley was simply one of political expediency. She enjoyed favour at court, being the godmother of one of the Princesses. It also allowed her to observe the political situation and to ensure that her son’s position was safe. This led to her negotiating with King Richard III and conspiring with Elizabeth Woodville.
Margaret Beaufort conspires with Elizabeth Woodville
Margaret Beaufort’s most famous political act is undoubtedly the arrangements that she masterminded with Elizabeth Woodville. The agreement to marry Henry Tudor to Elizabeth of York was politically astute. It gave additional legitimacy to Henry’s claim to the throne whilst disarming some of the potential Yorkist opposition, after all, Elizabeth of York was the senior heiress of Edward IV once the Princes in the Tower had disappeared.
It is also believed that she had a role in the rebellion led by the Duke of Buckingham. Given Henry’s abortive attempt at landing in England during that uprising, it is hard to believe that she hadn’t conspired in some way.
Margaret Beaufort as ‘My Lady the Kings Mother’
Following the Battle of Bosworth Margaret Beaufort became known as “My Lady the King’s Mother”. She was granted rights far in excess of those afforded to other women of noble birth. Indeed, she was given legal independence beyond that of any other woman and in terms of rank was roughly equal to both the Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, and the Queen Consort, Elizabeth of York.
In later life, Margaret lived separately from her husband, Thomas Stanley, though maintained a good relationship with him. She remained significant within court, having a role in the upbringing of both Princes Arthur and Prince Henry, the future King Henry VIII.