Margaret Beaufort [1443 - 1509] “Souvent me souviens” (“I remember often”)
Margaret Beaufort,Margaret was born on the 31st May 1443 at Bletsoe Castle in Bedfordshire. Her parents were Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe and John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, grandson of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and his mistress (and eventual wife) Katherine Swynford, and Margaret was their only child. A descendant and passionately loyal supporter of the House of Lancaster, was married, while still a child of twelve, to the king’s half-brother Edmund Tudor, as a way of endowing him with her enormous fortune and lands. Her husband died of plague leaving her a thirteen year old widow with a baby son and she was speedily remarried by her family; but the triumph of York meant that the new king Edward ordered her little boy Henry Tudor into the guardianship of one his favourites. Margaret must have thought that she would never live with her son, or see her true king again. All she could do was to hope that the House of York would destroy itself. It looked as if she was right to hope. The York court was riven with faction, and in 1470 their advisor and mentor, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick turned against them and restored King Henry of Lancaster to the throne. This was a great moment for Margaret Beaufort. Acknowledged as a great heiress of the House of Lancaster she summoned her son Henry Tudor and took him to be presented to his half-uncle, the king of England.
A legend around this meeting, say that the king had greeted his half-nephew saying that the boy would be greater than any of them.
The Lancastrian triumph did not last for long.
Edward the exiled York King recaptured the throne, killing the Lancaster heir in battle and murdering the king. Henry Tudor had to flee into exile with his uncle Jasper and Margaret was widowed for the second time and alone. With brilliant political skills, Margaret selected the most powerful and trusted supporter of York to be her husband number 3. She wanted a man who was clever enough to see that her son might have a chance at the throne one day, and duplicitous enough to serve two sides at once. She found a perfect partner in Thomas, Lord Stanley. They married, and he introduced Margaret to her enemy’s court where she became so well liked that Elizabeth chose her as a godmother for one of the Princesses. But then, unexpectedly, Edward the King died and the throne was seized by his brother Richard of Gloucester. Margaret, smoothly, befriended the new queen Anne, and was first lady of her court, carrying Anne’s train at the glamorous coronation. As Richard and Anne celebrated their accession to the throne, their apparently dear friend Margaret Beaufort played a double game, weaving the dissatisfied Duke of Buckingham into an alliance with her and with the former Queen Elizabeth. She betrothed her son Henry Tudor to Elizabeth’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and when the Duke of Buckingham raised his men for a rebellion against Richard III he was counting on the arrival of Henry Tudor and his troops. They never came. Bad weather kept them in port, and the Beaufort rebellion was washed out in a deluge of rain. The two princes in the Tower had disappeared, and were said to be dead. King Richard knew Margaret had been plotting against him but he trusted her husband, to keep her under house arrest. She never stopped plotting for her son, and when he finally invaded and rode onto Bosworth Field it was Margaret who provided the ally, the husband she had married for this very moment. Henry Tudor won the battle saved by his step-father’s cavalry, he received his crown on the battle field from his step-uncle’s hands. His first act after marching into London was to retreat with her for two long weeks, to celebrate their triumph and to plan their future. She was a co-ruler of England, housed in every royal palace in the best rooms often with interconnecting doors to her son. She wrote the Book of the Royal Household, determining how state and private occasions should be erformed. She was a keen landlord of her vast lands, and took an active part in the government of the kingdom. She outlived her adored son but survived long enough to see her grandson HenryVIII erit the throne. A sponsor of printer William Caxton, she translated and published the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis along with other devotional works. Founder of Christs’s and St John’s Colleges at Cambridge she endowed the Lady Margaret professorships of Divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge University. In 1499 Margaret took a vow of chastity before Archbishop Fisher and lived out the last years of her life as she had always wanted, devoted to pray and study.
She called herself ‘My Lady, the King’s Mother’ and she signed her name like a royal: Margaret R – Margaret Regina.
Margaret died aged 66 on June 29, 1509, just two months after her son. She is buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Her tomb was sculpted by Pietro Torrigiano and features a portrait effigy of Margaret dressed in traditional widow’s dress, her head resting on two pillows decorated with the Tudor badge, her hands raised in prayer and the Beaufort family crest at her feet. The Latin inscription, written by Erasmus, translates as
“Margaret of Richmond, mother of Henry VII, grandmother of Henry VIII, who gave a salary to three monks of this convent and founded a grammar school at Wimborne, and to a preacher throughout England, and to two interpreters of Scripture, one at Oxford, the other at Cambridge, where she likewise founded two colleges, one to Christ, and the other to St John, his disciple. Died AD1509, III Kalends of July [29 June]”