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#OnThisDay in 1443: Lady Margaret Beaufort was born

Although in her later years Lady Margaret enjoyed relative comfort as the King’s mother, her childhood was fraught with unhappiness and instability. Just a few days before her first birthday, Margaret’s father, the Duke of Somerset died after having fallen out of favour with the King (some believed that he had committed suicide for that very reason), leaving behind his wife and infant daughter. Shortly after his death, King Henry VI made Margaret the ward of William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk. However, she continued to stay at Bletsoe Castle with her mother until her marriage.

Lady Margaret Beaufort at prayer; By Rowland Lockey -, Public Domain,

Lady Margaret Beaufort at prayer; By Rowland Lockey – in the Public Domain

Margaret was 12 when she was selected as a wife for Edmund Tudor, the King’s half-brother. At 24, Edmund was twice her age, but both he and his brother Jasper treated Margaret with kindness and respect. The marriage was short lived, however, and Edmund died in captivity a year later.

At the time of his death, Margaret was seven months pregnant, and she soon gave birth to their only child, a son, who she christened Henry after the King. Because she was only 13 years old, the birth was quite difficult and complicated, and despite being remarried twice, Margaret didn’t have any more children.

Less than a year after her son’s birth, Margaret married Sir Henry Stafford, the younger son of the Duke of Buckingham. Like Edmund, Sir Henry was a great deal older than Margaret, but their marriage was a happy one. Both had inherited sizable fortunes, and lived in comfort until 1471, when Sir Henry died of wounds sustained while fighting in the Battle of Barnet.

In the meanwhile, after having lived with his uncle Jasper for a few years, young Henry Tudor had been forced to flee to France, where he lived in exile for nearly 15 years. Margaret rarely saw her son, but communicated with him through letters and continued to actively champion his cause in England.

A year after becoming a widow yet again, Margaret married for the third and final time – to Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable of England. For Margaret, this was merely a strategic alliance, as being Stanley’s wife, she was allowed access to the court of King Edward IV. For a while she remained passive, but after Richard III’s ascension in 1483, she began plotting against the new King with King Edward’s widow, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth. The Dowager Queen sought revenge on King Richard for allegedly murdering her sons, the Princes in the Tower, while Margaret wanted to put forward her son’s claim to the throne. The two women forged an alliance, and Henry Tudor was betrothed to King Edward’s oldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

In 1485, Henry Tudor returned to England and challenged King Richard III at Bosworth. In the battle that ensued, Richard was defeated, and Henry was crowned King Henry VII. Margaret’s husband had fought in the battle, and although he was initially fighting for King Richard, he changed sides halfway through. Stanley’s betrayal was the turning point in the battle, and ensured his step-son’s victory.

Thomas Stanley was later granted the title of Earl of Derby, and by virtue of her first and third marriages, Margaret was styled The Countess of Richmond and Derby. However, in court she was referred to as “My Lady the King’s Mother”. Henry continued to rely on his mother’s advice and guidance for the rest of his life, and Margaret enjoyed special privileges in parliament. In her later years, Margaret took a vow of chastity despite still being married to Thomas Stanley. She moved away from her husband, and although she continued to visit him occasionally, she lived alone for most of the time.

The beginning of the 16th century was a time of great personal loss for Margaret. In 1504, she was widowed for a third time when Thomas Stanley passed away. In 1502, her grandson Arthur died, followed closely by her daughter-in-law Queen Elizabeth. The consecutive deaths of his son and wife were a great blow to King Henry, who died in 1509.

Despite having been widowed thrice, the death of her son was the most devastating loss to Margaret. She had spent her whole life ensuring his safety and working to put him on the throne of England, and Henry, in turn, had been devoted to his mother. After his death, Margaret was the chief executor of Henry’s will, and arranged his funeral.

Margaret also organised the coronation of her grandson, the new Henry VIII. It was one of her last acts on earth, and she died a few days later on June 29, 1509, having lived a long and fruitful life. In accordance with her wishes, she was buried next to her first husband, Edmund Tudor, in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey.

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