Guest Article by: Samia Chebbah
MARGARET BEAUFORT: FROM FRAGILE TO MATRIARCH
Summary of the historical context in which Margaret Beaufort evolved : The War of the Two Roses
The war went from 1455 to 1485 and opposed the Lancastrians to the Yorkists. Both houses were descendants of King Edward III of England. And both were after the throne of England. Two heirs and in turns kings were fighting: King Henry VI (king Henry V’s son) from the House of Lancaster and King Edward IV (Richard, Duke of York’s son) from house of York.
As the legitimate heir of his father, Henry VI was crowned king from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471 after battling during the War of the Roses. When he became mentally ill, Richard, Duke of York and the future Edward IV’s father, became Lord Protector of England in 1454. He might have seen a way to claim the throne for his own son in case the king died. Was he not, after all, a descendant from Edward III himself? That was made possible when Henry VI’s son Edward was killed during one of the numerous battles of that war: Tewkesbury in May 1471.Later that same month, King Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London where he was kept prisoner by Edward of York.
After that event, it was easy for Edward IV (who reigned from 1461 to 1470 and from 1471 to 1483) to definitely seize the throne from the hands of the Lancasters. As a matter of fact, his successor was his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, famously known as Richard III. Little did the brothers know that the House of Lancaster was not dead, waiting to arise and take the throne back. Beware of Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry Tudor!!
Margaret Beaufort: between politics and strategies
When we mention the Tudors, we especially think of Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I. We hardly mention that Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII acceded the throne of England because of the determination of his mother, Margaret Beaufort.
Born in 1443, she was herself a descendant of King Edward III of England. She was married 3 times and betrothed once when she was 6.
At 12, she married Edmund Tudor and became a widow and pregnant at 13. It was said that the delivery on January 28th, 1457 was very difficult and that mother and son, Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII) almost died. What is interesting to know is that not only Margaret Beaufort descended from royal blood but Edmund Tudor also had a royal grandfather in the name of King Charles VI of France. Actually, Edmund and the future King Henry VI of England were half brothers through their mother, Katherine of Valois, Princess of France and Henry V’s former Queen. However, although we understand that Henry Tudor descended from kings, it is essential to note that on each side, it was out of wedlock and thus illegitimate. As a matter of fact, long after Henry V died in 1422, Katherine of Valois was in a relationship with a man from her household, Owen Tudor. The same went with Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt whose mistress, Katherine Swynford gave him numerous children known as the Beaufort. Those children were recognized by Parliament in 1397 but not allowed to ascend the throne of England. No matter what, Margaret Beaufort considered her son a true Lancastrian.
In the XVth century, in a society dominated by men, how did Margaret Beaufort become the centre piece of the creation of the Tudor dynasty? And how did she manage to put her son on the throne of England when the legitimacy of Henry Tudor was not that obvious to everyone else?
We may find the answer in her second marriage to Henry Stafford on January 3rd, 1458, when she started to have an independent mind. As a matter of fact, she was used to accompany her husband to Parliament. It seems obvious that it was the source of her becoming powerful in terms of politics and strategy. Actually, at the beginning of their marriage, both were Lancastrian. When in 1461, Edward IV ascended the throne, they both decided to recognize the new king to ”protect Margaret Beaufort’s properties”. Learning how to please one side or the other, Margaret Beaufort was still welcome at Court and thus able to use strategies, the king allowed her to keep her financial ressources (money meant power). That meant that she was able to move according to her plans: have her own son, Henry Tudor, crowned King of England.
We find evidence of those plans in May 1471, when the Lancastrians, Henry VI and his son, Edward died (both killed by the Yorkists), Henry Tudor became the last Lancastrian heir according to Margaret Beaufort. She immediately sent him to Brittany, France in order to protect him from being killed by the Yorkists. By doing so, Margaret Beaufort confirmed that not only she was determined to have her son crowned king of England, she also asserted that her heart had always been with the Lancastrians.
Actually, it seems like 1471 was not a good year for Margaret Beaufort. Henry VI and his son died. Her husband Sir Henry Stafford died in October and her own son, Henry left for Britanny. How did she manage to work her plans properly when she was left all alone? She did not seem to lose hope. She married a fourth time with Thomas Stanley in June 1472 when she was 29. He was a steward of the royal household. The year is 1472, under the reign of Edward IV. The Yorkists were back again. Obviously, Margaret was more than ready to accept to side with the opposing house in order to satisfy her ambitions. She was the perfect example of the mother who would do anything for her child. And when in 1483, Richard of York became king of England, Margaret proved to be rebellious and in punishement, lost her properties. She would have to wait two years in order to win it back and on top of it all, exterminate the House of York.7
Battle of Bosworth Field, 22 August 1485
The Battle of Bosworth was the last battle of the War of the 2 Roses. It was also the event that marked the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. Henry Tudor came back from exile to England at the beginning of August 1485. It seemed like Henry Tudors as well as the Lancastrians had multiple supporters in England and in France. Would it be enough to fight against King Richard III’s army?
We know that Thomas Stanley and his brother, William’s army decided at the last minute to fight with Henry Tudor against Richard III, the then king of England (from 1483 to 1485) and who died during that battle. In fact, the side that would chose the Stanley brothers were decisive since Richard III’s army was larger than Henry Tudor’s one. What is more, to ensure that both Stanleys would show their loyalty, King Richard kept William’s son, Strange, prisoner, even threatening to execute him at once if they did not prove to be loyal to the king. Fortunately, that did not happen. Should we entitle Stanley with the merit of being a ”kingmaker” by allowing Henry Tudor to win the crown of England ? Were the Stanleys the heroes of that battle more than Margaret Beaufort was?
To that extent, the victory of the battle of Bosworth reminded of the difficulty and the incertainty of the birth of Henry Tudor. Mother and son overcame the ordeal twice.
Even though Margaret Beaufort was determined to assert her son’s right to the crown of England, one can say that she benefited from the help of men.
About the Author: Samia Chebbah
I live in France and french is my mother tongue. I am in love with the History of England ! Whenever I go there, visiting castles is my top priority ! My favourite period is the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. So it came as no surprise that when I had to decide the dissertation topic for my Master’s Degree, the English monarchy was my first choice. And so I talked about the ennoblement of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s race for supremacy. I am very curious and always have to make some researches when I learn about a new historical event! I have found it to be very enriching to do so because it always leads to another fact. This is the magic of history I guess!