22 January 2020

From Child Bride to King's Mother

By Meynnart Wewyck via Wikimedia Commons
Twelve-year-old Margaret Beaufort had the weight of a dynasty on her shoulders. The Lancastrian side of the Plantagenet family tree was stripped and bare compared to their Yorkist rivals. Half a century earlier, the first Lancastrian king Henry IV had deposed his cousin and taken the throne. Now, Henry's grandson, the weak and mentally ill Henry VI reigned with no royal brothers to support him and only one toddler son, Prince Edward, as heir. His hated French wife Marguerite of Anjou wielded too much authority. His Welsh half-brothers, the Tudor sons of his mother's second but nonroyal marriage, and a scattering of Beauforts were all that remained. Within just of few generations, the 12 children of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster had produced only a handful of living descendants.

And, those Beauforts had a questionable history. John of Gaunt's four Beaufort children were all born to his longtime mistress Katherine Swynford. They were all considered illegitimate until he married her after the death of his second wife. By the time they were legitimated, they were already adults. It was through them that young Margaret descended. She was a girl, but the only child of the most senior Beaufort line and therefore, some would argue, second in line after baby Prince Edward.

At least that's probably what the King's half-brother Edmund Tudor had in mind when he decided to marry the little girl. He might one day be King by right of his wife should anything unfortunate happen to his royal half-brother and nephew.

Margaret's father the John Beaufort 1st Duke of Somerset died when she was a toddler. Initially, Margaret remained in the physical custody of her mother, who had several other children from an earlier marriage. However, the wardship of great heirs and heiresses was the purview of the King, who awarded Margaret to William de la Pole 1st Duke of Suffolk, who soon married the tiny girl to his son John. After William's death, that marriage was annulled and King Henry VI awarded wardship of Margaret to his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. The Tudor brothers were the sons of the King's mother Catherine of Valois, who had married Welsh knight Sir Owen Tudor after the death of King Henry V left her a young widow.

Henry VI intended for Margaret to marry Edmund, whom he had created 1st Earl of Richmond. Once her first marriage had been annulled there was no reason to wait long for her second nuptials. The bride was 12. The groom was 24. The outbreak of the first incursions of the Wars of the Roses, including the capture of King Henry by Richard of York, perhaps led to an overly hasted consummation. Despite the wedding, such a young girl would normally have been left untouched for a couple of years, but Edmund appears to have been in a hurry. And, Margaret appears to have been quite fertile. She conceived within a few months, but Edmund soon left her to fight for his royal half-brother.

The King quickly deposed York, but Edmund was unsuccessful in putting down the Yorkist forces in Wales. He was captured and imprisoned. He died there of bubonic plague two days after his first wedding anniversary. Three months later, 13-year-old Margaret gave birth to Henry Tudor 2nd Earl of Richmond. The birth was a difficult one and she never conceived again. She and the child were then left under the protection of Jasper Tudor as the King continued to struggle with the Yorks (and with his mental health).

When Margaret married Sir Henry Stafford, her son was left in the care of the Tudors in Wales. Though she managed to glide rather smoothly through the tempestuous ups and downs of the Wars of the Roses, serving in both Yorkists and Lancastrian courts, her son soon became a clear threat. With the death first of Edward Prince of Wales and of King Henry VI, most people saw young Henry Tudor as the rightful claimant to a throne being held by York cousins. The young man fled to the continent for safety. Despite the distance, Margaret remained in constant contact and seems to have spent much of her energy to ensure that her son could one day return and claim the heritage that he had inherited through her. She was clever and crafty, maintaining a loyal outward appearances at all time. Her third husband died fighting for the Yorks before she was 30. Within a year, she married Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable, and earned a place in the court of the Yorkist Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV.

After King Edward's death and the disappearance of this two sons, the Princes in the Tower, apparently at the hands of their uncle who had usurped the throne as King Richard III, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort hatched a plan: Henry Tudor would return to England, defeat Richard and marry Elizabeth's oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York.

When their plan was successful in 1485, Margaret took a place of honor as the mother of the new King Henry VII. As he and his bride grew their family, Margaret did not always remain at court, but she did remain a strong influence on her son, who never forgot that she had constantly laid the groundwork for his triumph. He even granted her full legal independence from her husband. Very few women at the time ever had control over their own property and lives. When he died in 1509, he left his mother as his chief executor and it was she who planned the coronation of her teenage grandson King Henry VIII.

Margaret's son had been the driving focus of her life since she was 13 years old. With his death, she perhaps felt that her work had been completed. She survived him by only two months.



  1. Cheryl, where are you??? I miss you! I hope you are well, hoping inpatiently for new article. Stay healthy, take care. Milka

  2. Thanks for checking on me, Milka. I am well and hope you are, too. I've just been less interested in writing lately. I'll work on something for you soon. đź’—

  3. That's great, I can't wait :-))))