Lady Margaret Beaufort is the stuff of historical novelist dreams. As a child during England’s Wars of the Roses between the Lancasters and the Yorks, she gave birth to a child herself: Henry VII, who would begin the all-new Tudor Dynasty. Over the next five decades, Margaret proved to be her son’s best advocate and a political powerbroker in her own right. From her perilous childhood to her adult courtly schemes, there was often little difference between her life and an episode of Game of Thrones. Armor up with these 42 resilient facts about Margaret Beaufort, the scheming teen mother of the Tudor Dynasty.
1. Daddy’s Little Cash Cow
Margaret Beaufort was the only surviving child of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, who was a leading military general in English campaigns against the French. In other words, she was one of the most eligible marriage catches in the country.
2. By His Own Hand?
Margaret’s father might have taken his own life. At the age of 40, John Beaufort passed away from ambiguous causes shortly after a humiliating military blunder in France. It was such an embarrassment that he was banished from court and almost accused of treason by the king. With such shame and mystery hanging over him, John’s contemporaries whispered of suicide.
3. Wrong Side of the Bedsheets
The Tudors owe Margaret Beaufort for their claim to the throne, albeit from an illegitimate line. Beaufort was a descendant of King Edward III via his son, John of Gaunt. Less fortunately, the Beaufort family only descended from royalty through John’s affair with his longtime mistress, Katherine Swynford.
4. Yeah, But Who Is Going to Stop Me?
It was technically illegal for Margaret’s family to inherit the throne. While her royal ancestor John of Gaunt eventually married Katherine Swynford and legitimized their children, these offspring were legally barred from being kings. Umm, yeah like that mattered so much in the end…
5. Keeping Care (and Cash) in the Family
After the (perhaps self-inflicted) death of her father, Beaufort became an incredibly wealthy heiress when she was only a toddler. Obviously, she was too young to control her wealth. Instead, the young girl was taken as a ward of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, who quickly married her to his son, John.
6. Too Young to Care About You
Margaret Beaufort never officially recognized her first wedding to John de la Pole. Since the marriage happened before she was 12 years old, the heiress was not bound by canon law to take it seriously.
7. Breaking up Is Easy to Do With a Royal Command
Whether or not the preteen Margaret considered herself married to John de la Pole became moot a few years later, anyway. King Henry VI of England annulled her match in order to wed the wealthy Beaufort heiress to his own half-brother, Edmund Tudor. Better to keep that money in the royal family, right?
8. Double the Trouble
At the time of her “second” marriage to Edmund Tudor on November 1, 1455, Margaret was only 12 years old. At 24, the groom was twice her age at 24.
9. Teen Mom OG (Original Gentlewoman)
Just one year into her first official marriage, Margaret Beaufort became a widow. Edmund was captured by Yorkist forces in The Wars of the Roses, and died in captivity, of the plague, on November 3, 1456. Not a good way to go. Even worse, the 13-year-old Margaret was heavily pregnant with their child, the future Henry VII.
10. Not a Bother, In-Law!
Margaret’s brother-in-law Jasper Tudor would take care of her for the rest of her pregnancy. Being only 13 years old, she needed all the help she could get. Jasper would remain a close character in her life as they worked together to help Henry Tudor secure his lands (and eventually, the throne).
11. We’ll Think of You A Lot, Mags
The first Oxford University college to admit women is named in Margaret Beaufort’s honor. “Lady Margaret Hall” was founded in 1878 and bears the motto of its resilient namesake: “Souvent me Souviens,” which is Old French for “I often remember” or “Think of me often.”
12. An Amicable Uncoupling (and Reunion)
Despite the traumatic circumstances of her son’s conception and birth, Margaret would honor her only boy’s father in memory. Despite her many other (and more long-lasting) marriages, she buried herself next to Edmund Tudor upon her death. It was good optics for the Tudor dynasty, after all.
13. In Bed With the Enemy?
Life goes fast when you’re a teen mom in the Wars of the Roses: just one year after the birth of her fatherless son, Margaret needed to marry again. Her third husband was Sir Henry Stafford, a younger son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham and—shockingly—an eventual Yorkist supporter.
14. From Frenemies to Lovers
Despite Margaret Beaufort’s birth to the Lancastrians, she and her Yorkist third husband were happy. Henry Stafford even helped his young bride get back her family lands. Personal letters and documents portray a loving relationship. In his hastily slapped-together will, Stafford even referred to Margaret as “my most entire belovyd wyff.”
15. Marriage Is Not a Measuring Contest, My Dear
Margaret got used to living a life under pressure. Although her third husband, Henry Stafford, brought a handsome 400 marks-worth of estates from his father, Margaret was the household’s primary “breadwinner,” with income from her much larger lands.
16. Back to Tinder, I Suppose
In 1471, Margaret became a widow for the second time. Stafford helped the Yorkist king Edward IV reclaim his throne from Henry VI in battle, but died from his injuries while doing so. At least this time Margaret was a full adult in the world at around 28 years old.
17. Maybe You Want to See the Rest of Europe, Son
The (probable) murder of King Henry VI in 1471 thrust Margaret’s 14-year-old son Henry Tudor into the spotlight as the foremost Lancastrian claimant to the throne. Cool in theory, but bad news in a Yorkist regime. For his own safety, his mother sent him away to France. Although bad sailing weather landed the boy in Brittany, he was as safe as a fugitive could be. Tragically, mother and son would not see each other again for 12 years.
18. ‘Til Inconvenience Do Us Part
Margaret’s fourth and final marriage—like her first three—came one year after her latest widowhood. It’s largely believed she only married Thomas Stanley to get in with the Yorkist king’s inner circle. This woman knew how to play the game of thrones.
19. Sisters Before Misters
Despite fictional portrayals, Margaret demonstrated consistent loyalty to at least her female Yorkist in-laws. She served as an attendant to Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s consort, and was even appointed as godmother to one of the princesses.
20. Maggie’s Got Your Back
In the eventual reign of Margaret’s son Henry VII, one of the surviving York princesses, Cecily, married a commoner without the king’s permission. Cecily was punished with banishment and the loss her lands. Margaret would intervene on Princess Cecily’s behalf to get some of her estates restored.
21. Closed for Business
It’s been suggested that Margaret’s lack of children after Henry Tudor might not have been caused solely by medical issues. Instead, she might have taken a vow of celibacy in her third marriage to Henry Stafford, which would explain the lack of kids. She definitely took a vow of chastity in 1499, during her fourth marriage, and renewed these vows in 1504. After that first labor, can we blame her?
22. New Boss, Old Duties
In 1483, the sudden death of Edward IV put his brother Richard III on the throne. Richard was thought by some to be a murderous usurper who first imprisoned two of Edward’s heirs in the Tower of London and then killed them to secure the crown. But as Edward’s queen Elizabeth Woodville fled court with her surviving children, Margaret showed herself to be a survivor yet again. She took the regime change in stride, serving as a lady-in-waiting to Richard’s consort, Anne Neville. She even bore the new queen’s train at her coronation.
23. Mission Truly Impossible
Due to her closeness with Elizabeth Woodville—and shared interests in seeing Richard III gone—Margaret is sometimes believed to have been involved in a plan to rescue Elizabeth’s sons in from the Tower. If true, the plot was obviously botched: the boys were never seen again.
24. The Families That Come Together, Invade Together
Almost immediately after the ascension of Richard III, Margaret began to scheme with deposed Queen Elizabeth Woodville. The plan? Put both their kids on the throne. On Christmas Day 1483, Beaufort’s Henry was pledged to marry Woodville’s daughter, Elizabeth of York.
25. Queen of the Pages
Margaret, if you haven’t figured it out by now, was a skilled propagandist. She once commissioned a reprinting of the French romance Blanchardin et Eglantin, whose story had suspicious similarities to the alliance she made with Elizabeth Woodville in wedding their kids together. What better way to sell a foreign invasion than a love story?
26. I Didn’t Get Your DM, Sorry
Eventually, Margaret must have clued her fourth husband in on her plans to put Henry Tudor on the throne. During Henry VII’s invasion of England against Richard III in 1485, Thomas Stanley did not answer King Richard’s call to fight alongside him—even though Richard currently held Stanley’s son George as a hostage. Cold, dad, real cold.
27. Miss Congeniality 1483
Margaret had a gift for turning potential enemies into friends. By 1483, she not only got the Yorkist widow Elizabeth Woodville to support her Lancastrian son, but she also recruited military help from early Yorkist supporters. There would be no Henry VII of England without his powerbroker mother.
28. I Do What I Want!
Henry Tudor’s first rebellion against Richard III in 1483 actually went bust. Henry escaped and Margaret herself was placed under her husband’s custody and deprived of her servants as punishment for her role in the conspiracy. Fortunately for Margaret, though, her husband Thomas was pretty laissez-faire about keeping an eye on his wife’s schemes, and didn’t enforce these edicts with an iron fist.
29. He Shoots, She Scores
A lifetime of campaigning for her son paid off for Margaret. In August 1485, Henry Tudor finally defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.
30. A Royal Mouthful
As she was never a “Queen” herself, Margaret Beaufort could not be titled a “Queen Mother.” Instead, Henry VII gave his mom the specially-made title of “My Lady the King’s Mother.” Say that three times fast.
31. A Mother’s Right to Pass Judgement and Sign Her Own Cheques
As My Lady the King’s Mother, Margaret enjoyed special legal privileges that other women of her era did not. For one, she could hold property in her own right—not just as an attaché to her husband. Margaret was also given the right to act as a Justice in northern England. After all Margaret did for House Tudor, I guess it’s the least Henry could do.
32. An R-Rated Ego?
Did Margaret Beaufort see herself as the real “Regina” (Queen) of her son’s reign? From 1499 onwards, Margaret styled her signature as “Margaret R,” which reads a lot like “Margaret Regina.” Some historians insist the “R” simply stood for “Richmond,” i.e. the region of her second husband. However, she had been styling herself as “M. Richmond” for decades before. Why the change, Maggie?
Margaret wore clothes of the same quality as her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York. Likewise, Margaret walked only a half-pace behind the Queen. Before you go “So what?” remember that Margaret technically ranked below Elizabeth in her son’s court, having never been a queen herself. From anyone else, such conduct would have been flagrantly rude. Margaret Beaufort, of course, was not “anyone else” in Henry Tudor’s court. He knew what—or rather who—got him there.
34. A Mom of Many Tongues
Not much is known about Margaret’s early education, but she was definitely scholarly. In addition to keeping a private library, she also produced the first English translation of the Imitation of Christ. Not one to settle for mere bilingualism, she also did the English translation of the Netherlandish treatise, The Mirror of Gold for the Sinful Soul from its French version.
35. Not Mary Poppins, But Close
Margaret looked after her Tudor grandkids from the nursery to their honeymoon suites, and King Henry gave his mother the responsibility of overseeing their childhood household. She also hired the ladies-in-waiting for her grandson Prince Arthur’s new wife, Catherine of Aragon. Moreover, it was also at Margaret’s behest that the Spanish Catherine learn French, so she could have at least one common language with her in-laws.
36. Substitute Queenie
After 1503, Margaret took over many of the “Queen’s jobs” upon the death of Elizabeth of York from childbirth. She was housed in the same manors as Henry’s oldest daughter, Margaret, who was named after her.
37. Grandma to the Rescue
Beaufort rescued her granddaughter Margaret from a dangerously-timed marriage. In 1500, Henry VII had plans to marry his 10-year-old daughter Princess Margaret to the 27-year-old James V of Scotland. Together with Elizabeth of York, the King’s mother deeply protested this move.
Beaufort insisted they wait until her namesake was older. She did not trust the infamously lusty James to wait until Princess Margaret was mature enough to consummate the match, and the princess was small and fragile. The King’s Mother cited her own birth of Henry at age 13 as having violently “spoiled” her adult fertility. As with many things, Henry gave way to his wise mother. Princess Margaret didn’t leave for Scotland until she was 13 (which is only hardly “better” by our standards, but Beaufort deserves points for trying).
38. No Rest for the Resilient
Beaufort famously outlived her only son, Henry VII, who died on April 21, 1509. Even on her son’s grave, Margaret took on the reins of responsibility: she planned not only her son’s funeral, but also the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII.
39. Not All Battles Are Fought With Swords
Margaret almost died giving birth to the Tudor dynasty. Her youth and petite stature proved dangerous to not only Margaret herself but her unborn baby.
40. Just Mommy and Me
Perhaps due to the difficult pregnancy, Henry Tudor would be the only child Margaret ever had. Although she survived to give birth to this healthy son on January 28, 1457, the young mother would never conceive again.
41. The Life of the Party for Now
The last family events that Margaret witnessed in her eventful life were the wedding of her grandson Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon and the couple’s joint coronation. Margaret herself died just two months after her beloved son, at the ripe age of about 68.
42. No Leaving Until the Job Is Done
Margaret died just five days after the coronation of Henry VIII, and one day after his 18th birthday—almost as if she were waiting for the last Tudor male to be a majority-age king in his own right before she retired forever. Margaret Beaufort did not leave loose ends.
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