Monday, 5 December 2016

The Marriages of Margaret Beaufort - Judith Arnopp Casts Light

I'm delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp back to the blog, and to hear what she has to say about Margaret Beaufort, who is the subject of Judith's new trilogy and perhaps an often misunderstood woman. 

Over to you, Judith:~

Margaret Beaufort’s life was not one of romance, and her main passion seems to have been for her only child, Henry Tudor. She is remembered for the battle to help her son become king of England, for her piety, and for her charitable work. For Margaret, marriage was a matter of politics, security and a stable position in a wildly insecure world.

Margaret’s son became the first Tudor king, Henry VII, yet his early life was spent in obscurity, much of it in exile overseas, separated from his mother, his family and his lands and property. Henry was born at Pembroke Castle when the recently widowed Margaret was just thirteen years old. Her situation immediately makes our modern-day hackles rise and, although childhood marriage was the norm, it was unusual, even in in the 15th century for a marriage to be consummated so young. [1]
Edmund Tudor

It is believed that Henry’s birth caused such physical damage to Margaret that it was impossible for her to conceive another child. No further pregnancies are recorded, but this did not deter her from marrying twice more.  Her youthful marriage to Edmund Tudor is made more remarkable by the fact that this was not Margaret’s first experience of the married state. At six-years-old a marriage was arrange with the eight-year-old, John de la Pole; the eldest son of the Duke of Suffolk, a union that was quickly annulled when the duke fell into disfavour with the king. As a mark of favour toward Margaret, she was subsequently betrothed to the king’s brother, Edmund Tudor.

Both historians and fiction authors often assume Margaret’s marriage to Edmund Tudor was unhappy, yet there is no evidence for this. Although there was a disparity in age, and he took her straight from the nursery at her mother’s home at Bletsoe castle to the wilds of Wales, she never spoke ill of Edmund. Much later in life, despite remarrying, she made her wishes clear that she should be buried with Edmund at Carmarthen; a wish that was ignored. She was, instead, interred at Westminster Abbey close to Henry VII, while Edmund lies at St David’s, his body moved from Carmarthen during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Edmund died at Carmarthen in 1456, either from the plague or wounds received in battle, or possibly a mixture of both. Margaret was left a vulnerable widow, six months pregnant and far away from the court of her cousin, King Henry VI. She turned for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, who took her to his fortress at Pembroke to await the birth. Shortly after she was churched, seeking security as the country descended into civil war, Jasper assisted her in forming an alliance with Henry Stafford, a younger son of the Duke of Buckingham.

Henry Stafford was Margaret’s senior by twenty years but they appear to have been happy, making their home at Woking and, despite the distance and the inconveniences of 15th century travel, travelling several times a year to visit her son at Pembroke where he remained under the care of his uncle, Jasper Tudor.

Stafford suffered from a chronic ailment known as St Anthony’s Fire, which subjected the sufferer to sore skin and recurrent attacks of fever. However, when the wars broke out in earnest, he was not ill enough to escape playing his part. When Edward IV came to power, Stafford sought the favour of the new king, and Margaret fretted about the fate of her son, now the ward of Edmund Tudor’s old enemy, William Herbert at Raglan Castle in Wales. 

File:Unknown woman, formerly known as Lady Margaret Beaufort from NPG.jpg
Unknown Woman formerly known as Margaret Beaufort

With the fall of the house of Lancaster, Stafford and Margaret sought the favour of Edward IV, possibly in the hope of regaining custody of young Henry. Stafford attended Edward at court until the Earl of Warwick, disillusioned with his slipping influence over the young king, turned his coat and allied himself with Margaret of Anjou. 

This uncomfortable alliance culminated in success and during Henry VI’s brief readeption, Margaret and Stafford attended his court along with Jasper and Henry who followed the Lancastrian king home. The Staffords enjoyed a short holiday with Henry at Woking but it was a short-lived respite, and Edward returned with an invasion fleet a short time later. This time, when Jasper and young Henry fled overseas Margaret was unaware that fourteen years would pass before she would see her son again.

Margaret had placed all her hopes on Henry VI’s reinstatement, and his defeat must have been made worse when Stafford suddenly changed allegiance. He switched sides and rode out alongside Edward IV to the battle of Barnet where he was wounded, never to recover from the injuries he sustained. 

While King Edward rode to victory at Tewkesbury, Margaret was once again left widowed, and vulnerable. The Battle of Tewkesbury saw an end to Lancaster’s hopes; Henry VI’s heir, Prince Edward, was killed, and the old king put to death soon after. Margaret’s son now moved a few steps closer to becoming heir to the Lancastrian claim but few were left to support him. He was an exile and she, widowed once again, was powerless.

Margaret wasted little time in looking about for another husband. This time she selected Thomas Stanley, a wealthy landowner, and an ambitious man with the knack of keeping out of trouble.

It is difficult to assess the relationship between Margaret and Thomas; as his services to the king increased, the couple were often at court where Margaret served the queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret’s ambition to have Henry restored to his lands and titles never waned and she worked quietly to secure his pardon; a dream that was all set to reach fruition when the king died suddenly in April 1483.

The subsequent announcement that the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous and their offspring bastards, launched one of the most debated period of events in English history. Until then, it seems Margaret had resigned herself to York’s rule and was loyal to the king. It is unlikely that she harboured any real hope of securing the crown for her own son. 

For a while, she served Richard III loyally, carrying the queen’s train at the coronation and serving her at the banquet afterwards. But, once rumours began to circulate of the princes’ disappearance from the Tower, and dissent for the new king grew, her ambition seems to have been stirred.
Henry Tudor

She probably kept Stanley in ignorance when she began to plot with Elizabeth Woodville against the king, but when her part in Buckingham’s rebellion was revealed, she escaped the scaffold by a whisker. With puzzling leniency, Richard III placed Margaret under house arrest, in the custody of her husband. This severed Margaret’s contact with the outside world, and with no other choice than to involve Stanley in the intrigue.

Her marriage to Stanley was a business arrangement from the start, and the pair were probably never romantically close.  But her enforced house arrest made him her only hope and somehow, she persuaded Stanley to throw in his lot and support her son in his desperate bid for the throne. It is clear that someone acted as go-between, for we know letters and money passed between Margaret and Henry. Stanley seems the obvious candidate. When the time came, Henry and Jasper were well-funded enough to raise an army and ships to sail for the Welsh coast in August 1485.

Richard III’s suspicions of Stanley’s disloyalty prompted him to hold his son, George, as hostage to Thomas Stanley’s support but, as had been his habit throughout the wars of the roses, Stanley did not commit himself to either side; it was his brother, William, who saved the day by rushing in at the last to defeat the Plantagenet king.

Legend says it was Thomas Stanley who plucked the coronet of England from a thorn bush and placed it on the head of Henry Tudor, an act surely designed to place him in the good graces of the new king and, of course, the king’s mother. 

Shortly after Henry’s accession, an unprecedented act was passed in Parliament which effectively gave Margaret the power to act as a widow, freed from male constraint. Stanley died in 1504, four years before Margaret but this time she had no need of male protection. Her union with Stanley seems to have been one of respect and affection, although physical relations, if there were any at all, were dispensed with when Stanley agreed to Margaret taking a vow of chastity.

Although the couple lived separately for much of the time, there is no suggestion of animosity. Margaret provided chambers for Stanley in her many houses, and the pair visited each other regularly. After the struggles of her early life, Margaret entered a time of peace. Secure in her exalted position, she dedicated her remaining years to charitable works, advising her son on matters of state, and overseeing the raising of her grandchildren. 

She was an independent woman, and when she died, two months after Henry VII, on the twenty-ninth day of June, 1509, she was in charge of her own affairs, her own destiny, and no longer in need of a husband to protect her, or champion her cause. 

With the Tudor dynasty securely on the throne, she died content, secure in the knowledge that she was leaving England in the charge of her grandson, King Henry VIII.  It is as well she never lived to witness what was to follow.

[1] Discussed in deeper detail HERE


The Beaufort Woman is available for pre-order HERE


  1. What an excellent post, Judith, lovely! I used to believe that she was the evil wicked woman that might have killed the princes. It's quite obvious that she is innocent of all these accusations, but she was a very extraordinary lady, a survivor and her story is amazing.

  2. Fantastic article, Judith. It's so sad, yet she was obviously an incredibly strong woman. Such difficult, harsh & tragic times and yet so normal back then. It's truly fascinating & I love the youthful portrait. Fantastic blog Annie. :)

  3. thank you for your kind comments. There are many evil wicked women in fiction but thankfully fewer in real life. Writing from Margaret's perspective made me realise for the first time just how tough life was for her in the beginning. I think she could be 'difficult' but none of us are innocent of that. As the King's Mother she was charitable and caring, possibly her way of giving thanks for her achievements. I am looking forward to tackling book three - after I've had a bit of a rest :)