Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” by Elizabeth Norton

Queen Elizabeth I is often known as “the Virgin Queen” because she never married. 25673950There were some men who tried to court Elizabeth, including Robert Dudley, but none could ever get her to the altar. That was when she was queen, however, there was one man who was very close to marrying her when she was just  Elizabeth Tudor. The man was Thomas Seymour, the brother of Edward and Jane Seymour and the husband of Catherine Parr. In Elizabeth Norton’s book, “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen”, she explores the relationship between Thomas and Elizabeth and why he was her temptation.

Elizabeth Norton explains who Thomas Seymour was:

Thomas Seymour once said that the memory of brave men lived forever and that ‘a good name is the embalming of the virtuous to an eternity of love and gratitude among posterity.’ To future generations, his good name was lost; but those who had known him still remember him fondly. He was a turbulent, troublesome individual, but also a likable one, and – at the start of 1549- the man who would come closest to marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. As far as is recorded, no other man ever climbed into bed with England’s virgin queen, or trimmed her clothes and intimately appraised her body. As Elizabeth looked at Thomas’s portrait in the gallery at Somerset Place, she would have been able to reflect upon the man who had so nearly seduced her. He was the temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. (Norton, 280).

So how did Elizabeth meet Thomas Seymour and why did Elizabeth chose to become “the Virgin Queen”? These are the questions that Elizabeth Norton wants to answer in her book.

Norton begins her book with the birth of Edward VI, the death of Jane Seymour, and the relationship between Catherine Parr and Henry VIII. Catherine Parr had been married a few times before Henry and she tried to be the best step mother to Henry’s three children as she could be, but when Henry died, things changed. Since Edward VI was still a minor, he was granted a Lord Protector, his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. His brother, Thomas Seymour, wanted to marry either princess Mary or princess Elizabeth, but after he was rejected by both, he would marry Catherine Parr shortly after the death of Henry VIII, sending shock waves throughout the court. Catherine would allow Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey to be raised in her household, thinking that it would be beneficial for the young girls. While it was great for their education, Elizabeth was constantly under the wandering gaze of Thomas Seymour.

Thomas is reported to come into Elizabeth’s bedroom early in the morning when she was barely dressed to hug her and tickle her. Elizabeth’s governess Kate Ashley would often try to persuade Thomas to leave her alone, but he did not give up. There was one incident where Thomas took a knife to one of Elizabeth’s gowns while she was walking in a garden and tore it to shreds. It is even rumored that Elizabeth gave birth to Thomas’s child and that the child was thrown into a fire, but  Norton explains why this story is not related to Elizabeth. Catherine Parr was aware of what was happening, but because she promised to love and obey her husband, she never confronted Thomas about the relationship, although she did dismiss Elizabeth from her household. Catherine would eventually become pregnant and give birth to a baby girl. While she was on her deathbed, she did not want to see Thomas; Catherine would die on September 5, 1548, which meant that Thomas was a bachelor yet again.

With the death of Catherine, Thomas turned his eyes towards politics. He wanted what his brother Edward Seymour had, control of the king. He joined forces with William Sharington, a member of parliament and a known embezzler, to build an army to overthrow the government. During this time, he wrote a letter to Elizabeth to ask her to marry him. Kate Ashley thought it was a good idea and she told Elizabeth to send her reply through Thomas Parry that she desired to marry him. Unfortunately, Thomas Seymour would be caught by his brother Edward Seymour when it was reported that Thomas tried to either kidnap or kill the king. Thomas’s scheme with Sharington would be found out, as well as his relationship with Elizabeth; Thomas Parry and Kate Ashley were sent to the Tower for interrogations. Thomas Seymour would quickly be found guilty and was executed for treason. It was with Thomas’s death that Elizabeth’s desire to marry died as well.

Elizabeth Norton in her book “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” paints a picture of the young Elizabeth Tudor in which love was her desire and Thomas Seymour was indeed her temptation. Norton shows Thomas Seymour in such a way that makes him intriguing. I found myself wanting to learn more about Thomas Seymour and his relationship with Elizabeth. This book was so well written and fascinating. If you are interested in Elizabeth’s childhood, Thomas Seymour and his fall, and the reason why Elizabeth chose to be known as “the Virgin Queen”,  this is the book for you.