Margaret Beaufort was never queen – her son, Henry VII, was crowned in 1485, bringing an end to the Wars of the Roses. Yet, Margaret’s story has become one of legend. Often portrayed rather unflatteringly, the real Margaret Beaufort was much more than history makes her out to be. Educated, ambitious, shrewd and cultured, Margaret played a huge role in the founding of the Tudor dynasty.
1. She was married young
Aged just 12, Margaret was married to Edmund Tudor, a man double her age. Even by the standards of Medieval marriage, such an age gap was unusual, as was the fact that the marriage was consummated immediately. Margaret gave birth to her only child, Henry Tudor, aged 13. Her husband Edmund died of plague before Henry was born.
2. Destined for the throne?
Margaret’s son Henry was a Lancastrian claimant to the throne – albeit a distant one. He was removed from her care and placed under various wardships in order to keep him safe and watched by those loyal to the Crown. Margaret’s ambition for her son never waned, and it is popularly believed she believed her son destined by God for greatness.
3. She was nobody’s fool
Despite her youth, Margaret proved herself shrewd and calculating. The Wars of the Roses pitted family against family, and allegiances were fluid. Knowing who to trust and which side to pick was a gamble, reliant as much on luck and political awareness.
Margaret and her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, played the political game and ended up losing badly. The Lancastrians lost the Battle of Tewkesbury: Margaret’s remaining Beaufort cousins were killed and Stafford died of his wounds shortly afterwards.
4. She was far from a weak and feeble woman
Ever-changing political alliances meant taking risks and gambles. Margaret was an active participant in intrigue and plotting, and many believe she masterminded Buckingham’s Rebellion (1483), whilst some theorize she may have been behind the murder of the Princes in the Tower.
Margaret’s precise involvement in these plots will never be known, but it is clear she was not afraid of getting her hands dirty and risking her life to see her son crowned King of England.
5. She didn’t much like marriage
Margaret married three times in her life, and none by choice. Eventually, when circumstances permitted, she took a vow of chastity in front of the Bishop of London and moved into her own house, separate from her third husband, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, although he still visited regularly.
Margaret had long maintained a deep connection with the church and her own faith, particularly during testing times, and many have emphasised her piety and spirituality.
6. She had status
The newly crowned Henry VII bestowed the title ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’ upon Margaret, and she remained an extremely high status figure at court, having almost the same status at the new queen, Elizabeth of York.
Margaret also began to sign her name Margaret R, the way in which a queen would traditionally sign her name (R normally being short for regina – Queen – although in Margaret’s case it could also have stood for Richmond).
Her poitical presence at court continued to be felt strongly, and she played an active role in the life of the royal Tudor family, particularly after the death of Elizabeth of York in 1503.
7. She had no aspirations for power
Unlike many characterisations of her, the real Margaret simply wanted independence once Henry was crowned. Her son relied on her heavily for advice and guidance, but there is little evidence Margaret actually wished to rule directly, or to have more power than her position inherently gave her.
8. She founded two Cambridge colleges
Margaret became a major benefactress of educational and cultural institutions. A passionate believer in education, she founded Christ’s College Cambridge in 1505, and began the development of St John’s College, although died before she could see it finished. The Oxford college Lady Margaret Hall (1878) was later named in her honour.