Book Review for Women's History Magazine Issue 70 Autumn 2012 & Issue 71 Spring 2013:
Mother of the Tudor Dynasty
by Elizabeth Norton
Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2011. £9.99, ISBN 978 1 4456 0578 4 (paperback), pp. 255
Reviewed by Ruth E. Richardson M.Phil., author of 'Mistress Blanche,
Queen Elizabeth I's Confidante
Margaret Beaufort, born 1443, was pivotal in linking the Plantaganet and Tudor dynasties. Without Margaret's persistence – and the author makes a good case for this – it is probable that her son, Henry, would not have acquired the English throne. Others, notably George, Earl of Warwick ( Clarence's son and nephew to both Edward IV and Richard III) had superior claims. The author suggests that Margaret, aware of this, was the instigator of the final negotiations for Henry to marry Edward IV's eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. Henry won his throne through battle but marriage with Elizabeth conciliated his position.
Through her father, John Beaufort Duke of Somerset, Margaret was descended from King Edward III via John of Gaunt through his liaison with Katherine Swynford whom Gaunt later married. Their children were declared legitimate but a question remained whether this allowed claims to the throne. Margaret's father died before she was a year old. As 'one of the greatest heiresses in England' her wardship, a valuable asset for King Henry VI, was granted to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk. Margaret, who was allowed to remain with her mother, Margaret (Beauchamp), was well educated for the time becoming proficient in French. She was contracted in marriage to Suffolk's son but this was dissolved and Margaret, in her Will, ignored this putative marriage. Events moved on and the wheel of fortune, in which Margaret believed, turned again.
On Suffolk's downfall Margaret's wardship was reassigned to the king's half–brothers. The elder of these, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, aged twenty-four, married Margaret, then aged twelve years. Edmund died before their son was born the following year. A difficult birth, combined with her small stature, nearly proved fatal and left Margaret unable to bear more children. Nevertheless, her proximity to the throne and her wealth still made her a desirable match and she was married a third time to Henry Stafford, son of the Duke of Buckingham, and then fourthly to Thomas Lord Stanley, later Earl of Derby. Throughout her subsequent marriages and times of widowhood Margaret continued to use her title of Countess of Richmond. It allowed her to sign her name Margaret R, which could be mistaken for signifying that she was queen but perhaps that was her intention! She certainly passed her claim to the throne to her son and she worked tirelessly to achieve his succession, managing to negotiate the dire pitfalls of the politics of the time.
Margaret outlived her son Henry VII who died on the 21st April 1509. As his son, Henry VIII, was two months short of his legal majority, Margaret, as 'the only adult member of the immediate royal family living in England' acted as Regent for the interim. She was her son's executor and arranged his funeral. She selected the members of her grandson's first Council ensuring it was headed by churchmen and was balanced between scholars and soldiers. She lived to see Henry VIII's first marriage and attended his coronation. Margaret died, aged sixty-six years, on the 29th June, the day after Henry's eighteenth birthday. She had taken a full part in the life of the new royal family and played a significant role in the lives of her grandchildren. In particular, she had made known her views concerning a too-early marriage for her eldest grand-daughter, suggesting she retained painful memories of the early consummation of her second marriage.