- Born: 31 May 1443
- Marriage: Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond
- Died: 29 Jun 1509 at age 66
Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII of England of England and grandmother of Henry VIII. She was a key figure in the Wars of the Roses.
Margaret was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. She was also through her father a granddaughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford; following Gaunt's marriage to Katherine, their children (the Beauforts) were legitimized, but their descendants were barred from ever inheriting the throne, though Edward IV of England and every monarch after him is descended from Gaunt and Swynford. Edward and his younger brother Richard III of England were sons of Cecily Neville, grandsons to Joan Beaufort, great-grandsons to John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.
Margaret's first marriage, to John de la Pole, took place in 1450, when she was still a child, but was annulled after a short time. Her second cousin Henry VI had as yet no children, and considered naming her his heir. Instead, he married her to his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.
Edmund was the eldest son of the king's mother, dowager Queen Catherine (the widow of Henry V) by her second marriage to Owen Tudor. Thus, in one of the great ironies of history, Margaret's son Henry, the Lancastrian claimant to the throne at the end of the Wars of the Roses \emdash the one who won it all and united the two houses by marrying the Yorkist princess Elizabeth of York \emdash had plenty of royal blood but no legal claim to the throne; in fact, were it not for the Salic Law barring women from inheriting the French throne, he would have had a greater claim to the throne of France than to that of England. In addition, as Henry derived his claim to the throne from Margaret, it is arguably she and not her son who should have claimed the crown, although Margaret was content to let Henry reign instead of her.
Lady Margaret was thirteen and pregnant when Edmund died. The effect of Henry's birth on her 13-year-old body rendered her infertile for life.
She married thirdly to Thomas, Lord Stanley, some time between 1473 and 1482. Stanley had switched sides during the Wars of the Roses, due to Richard III holding his eldest son, Lord Strange, captive. However, at the end of the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, it was Stanley who placed the crown on Henry VII's head. Stanley was later made Earl of Derby, which made Margaret Countess of Derby, but she was styled "The Countess of Richmond and Derby". She was known for her education and her piety, and her son is said to have been devoted to her.
The King's mother
Margaret was instrumental in the accession of her son Henry. She secretly conspired against Richard III with the Dowager Queen Consort, Elizabeth Woodville, whose sons, the Princes in the Tower were presumed murdered. Once Henry returned from exile in France and won the crown at Bosworth Field, she was the mother of the reigning King but had never been Queen Consort, so she could not claim the title of Queen Mother; instead she was referred to in court as My Lady the King's Mother. However, Margaret was reluctant to accept a lower status than Elizabeth Woodville or even her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York, the present queen consort. She wore robes of the same quality as the Queen and only walked half a pace behind her; she sometimes signed herself Margaret R. Many historians believe the banishment of Woodville in 1487 by Henry VII of England was partly at the behest of his influential mother.
Later life and death
In 1497 she announced her intention to build a free school for the general public of Wimborne, Dorset. With her death in 1509, this wish came to pass and Wimborne Grammar School came into existence. The name of the school was changed to the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth. The site and name of the school has since changed and is now Queen Elizabeth's School, the largest school in Dorset and one of the largest in the country.
In 1502 she established the Lady Margaret's Professorship of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.
Following the accession of her son Henry VII to the throne, she refounded and enlarged God's House as Christ's College, Cambridge with a royal charter from the King. She has been honoured ever since as the Foundress of the College. Her signature can be found on one of the buildings (4 staircase, 1994) within the College. She also founded St John's College, Cambridge, where her portrait hangs in the Great Hall, and where the boat club is called Lady Margaret Boat Club (LMBC). Land that she owned around Great Bradley in Suffolk was bequeathed to St John's College upon its foundation
Lady Margaret Hall, the first women's college at the University of Oxford, was named in honour of Margaret Beaufort.
Margaret died on June 29, 1509 in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey. She is buried in a black marble tomb topped with a bronze gilded effigy and canopy, between the graves of William and Mary and the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Her portrait, at prayer in her richly furnished private closet behind her chamber, is a rare contemporary glimpse into a late Gothic aristocratic English interior. It rewards a close look. The severe black of her widow's weeds contrasts with the splendour of her private apartment, where every surface is patterned, even the floor alternating cream-colored and terracotta tiles. The plain desk at which she kneels is draped with a richly patterned textile that is so densely encrusted with embroidery that its corners stand away stiffly. Her lavishly illuminated Book of Hours is open before her, with its protective cloth wrapper (called a "chemise" binding) spread out around it. The walls are patterned with oak leaf designs, perhaps in lozenges, perhaps of stamped and part gilded leather. Against it hangs the dosser of her canopy of estate, with the tester above her head (the Tudor rose at its centre) supported on cords from the ceiling. The coats-of-arms woven into the tapestry are of England (parted as usual with France) and the portcullis badge of the Beauforts, which the early Tudor kings would use. Small stained glass roundels in the leaded glass of her lancet windows also carry both England (cropped away here) and Beaufort.
Margaret married Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond, son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois Queen of England. (Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond was born in 1430 and died on 1 Nov 1456 in Carmarthen Castle, Carmarthenshire, South Wales.)