Lady Margaret Beaufort, born on 31 May 1443, played a pivotal role in the tumultuous Wars of the Roses during the late fifteenth century. She is best known as the mother of King Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, and her efforts to secure the English throne for her son were instrumental in the rise of the Tudor dynasty. Lady Margaret Beaufort’s influence extended beyond the political realm; she was also a patron of the arts and a benefactor of educational institutions during her son’s reign.
The Contested Claim and Political Maneuvering
Lady Margaret Beaufort was a descendant of King Edward III, which bestowed upon her a disputed claim to the English throne. Recognizing the political instability of the period, she actively manoeuvred to secure the crown for her son, Henry Tudor. Her efforts culminated in Henry’s decisive victory over King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, marking the end of the Wars of the Roses. Lady Margaret’s strategic planning and political acumen were crucial in orchestrating this triumph.
Unusual Autonomy and Influence
With her son crowned as Henry VII, Lady Margaret wielded an uncommon degree of political influence and personal autonomy for a woman of her time. She utilized her position to exert her authority and shape the course of the kingdom. Lady Margaret Beaufort’s power extended beyond mere influence; she actively participated in decision-making processes and held considerable sway over the direction of the Tudor dynasty.
Patronage and Cultural Contribution
In addition to her political achievements, Lady Margaret Beaufort made significant contributions as a patron of the arts and a cultural benefactor during her son’s reign. She was responsible for the establishment of two prominent Cambridge colleges: Christ’s College, founded in 1505, and St John’s College, which was completed posthumously by her executors in 1511.
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, a foundation named after her in the nineteenth century, became the first Oxford college to admit women. Her patronage and support initiated a flourishing era of Tudor patronage, fostering intellectual and artistic development.
Origins and Family
Lady Margaret Beaufort was the daughter and sole heiress of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was a legitimate grandson of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. Her mother was Katherine Swynford, whom John Beaufort later married. Lady Margaret was born at Bletsoe Castle, Bedfordshire, on 31 May 1443. She inherited her father’s considerable fortune and contested claim to the throne, which would shape her future and that of her son.
Early Years and Challenging Circumstances
At the time of Lady Margaret’s birth, her father was preparing to lead a military expedition. He negotiated with the king to ensure that if he were to die, Margaret’s wardship and marriage rights would be granted solely to his wife. However, Somerset fell out of favour with the king, and upon his death, Margaret became a pawn in the unstable political atmosphere of the Lancastrian court. Her custody was granted to William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, while her extensive lands remained under the crown.
Marriages and Controversy
Lady Margaret Beaufort‘s first marriage was to John de la Pole, the son of the Duke of Suffolk. The exact date of their wedding is uncertain, but it likely took place in January 1450. However, the marriage was dissolved three years later, and Margaret’s wardship was granted to Jasper and Edmund Tudor, half-brothers of King Henry VI. Margaret never recognized her marriage to De la Pole, as she had entered into it before reaching the age of twelve and was not bound by canon law.
Lady Margaret’s second marriage was to Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, the half-brother of King Henry VI. The marriage, arranged by the king, aimed to strengthen Edmund’s claim to the throne. Margaret was only twelve years old at the time of the marriage. Unfortunately, Edmund was captured by Yorkist forces shortly after their wedding and died in captivity, leaving Margaret widowed at a young age.
Motherhood and Challenges
Margaret’s difficult journey through motherhood began when she gave birth to her son, Henry Tudor, at the age of thirteen. The birth was challenging, and it is said to have caused permanent physical injury to Margaret. Despite subsequent marriages, she never had another child. Margaret’s devotion to her son remained steadfast throughout her life, and she considered Edmund Tudor, her second husband, as her first husband in her will.
Involvement in the Wars of the Roses
Lady Margaret found herself caught in the crossfire of the Wars of the Roses, with her husband and father-in-law losing their lives in the conflict. She navigated the changing tides of power and allegiances, seeking to secure her son’s safety and rights. Margaret actively conspired with Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the Yorkist princes, and played a part in plotting against King Richard III. Their efforts aimed to supplant Richard and place Henry Tudor on the throne.
Lady Margaret Beaufort’s Influence and Legacy
Lady Margaret Beaufort’s influence and accomplishments continued to grow after her son’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field. As the mother of the king, she enjoyed a position of prominence in the Tudor court. Her petitions for independence and liberty, which granted her legal and social autonomy, were successful. Lady Margaret actively participated in the governance of the realm, shaping the course of the Tudor dynasty.
Passing and Commemoration
Lady Margaret Beaufort passed away on 29 June 1509, a few months after her son’s death and on the day after her grandson Henry VIII’s 18th birthday. She was buried in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey. Her tomb, created by Pietro Torrigiano, features a gilded bronze sculpture and an inscription penned by Erasmus. Lady Margaret’s lasting contributions to education, patronage, and the rise of the Tudor dynasty ensure her enduring place in English history.
*Feature Image: Wikimedia