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”.

Biography: Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Henry_Stafford(Born September 4, 1454- Died November 2, 1483). Son of Humphrey, Earl of Stafford and Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset. Married to Catherine Woodville, the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Father of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Elizabeth Stafford, Henry Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and Anne Stafford. Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham would become one of Richard III’s most trusted advisors, but he would switch sides and side with Henry Tudor, leading to his ultimate execution.

Henry Stafford was born on September 4, 1454 to Humphrey Earl of Stafford and Margaret Beaufort, the daughter of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Henry’s father, Humphrey Stafford, was killed at the first battle of St. Albans in 1455. His grandfather Humphrey the 1st Duke of Buckingham was killed at Northampton in 1460. Both men were fighting for the Lancastrian cause. His grandfather, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, gained his title from his mother and was the son of Edmund, 5th Earl of Stafford, and of Anne, daughter of Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of Edward III. His mother was Margaret Beaufort (not to be confused with Margaret Beaufort mother of Henry Tudor), daughter of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, grandson of John of Gaunt. When his grandfather passed away, the title of Duke of Buckingham passed onto Henry at the tender age of 4. With the royal blood on both sides of his family plus his title and inheritance, Henry’s future was very important to Edward IV.

In 1466, Henry Stafford married Catherine Woodville, the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and became the brother-in-law to the king Edward IV. Henry and Catherine had four children; Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Elizabeth Stafford, Henry Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and Anne Stafford. In 1474, Henry was made a Knight of the Garter and in 1478, he was a high steward at the trial of George, 1st Duke of Clarence. After Edward IV’s death on April 9, 1483, Henry decided to join forces with Richard Duke of Gloucester.
It was Buckingham who helped Richard obtain possession of the young King Edward V. For helping Richard, he was rewarded with the offices of Justiciar and Chamberlain of North and South Wales, and Constable of all the royal castles in the principality and Welsh Marches. According to Sir Thomas More, it was Buckingham who gave a speech at Guildhall on June 24, 1483 to the people to make Richard Duke of Gloucester king.

Richard Duke of Gloucester became King Richard III and Buckingham served as chamberlain and later Constable of England. Richard III thought that he could trust Buckingham as one of his right hand men, but he was sadly mistaken. In early August, Buckingham withdrew from court to Brecon, a town in Wales. Some say that he withdrew because he believed that he deserved more for his services to Richard III, others believe that he became disgusted with Richard III, or that he had his own desire for the crown since he did have royal blood in his veins. What we do know is that he began talking with a man name John Morton, who was a prisoner in the custody of Buckingham. Morton told him about a young Henry Tudor and Buckingham decided to support Henry Tudor and his mother Margaret Beaufort to have Henry Tudor replace Richard III as king of England.

A widespread plot was soon formed, but Richard had early warning, and on October 15, 1483, he issued a proclamation against Buckingham. Buckingham, as arranged, prepared to enter England with a large force of Welshmen. Buckingham’s troops were stopped by a massive flood on the Severn and he himself took refuge with a follower, Ralph Bannister, at Lacon Hall. Bannister betrayed him for a large reward, and on the November 1, 1483, Buckingham was brought to the king at Salisbury. Buckingham never saw Richard III and right after his trial on November 2, 1483, a Sunday, he was beheaded in the courtyard between the Blue Boar Inn and the Sarcen’s Head Inn near the marketplace at Salisbury. He died at the age of 29 and his titles and honors were forfeited.