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: Margaret Beaufort

(Born May 31, 1443- Died June 29, 1509). Daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somersetdownload (2) and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. Married to John de la Pole 2nd Duke of Suffolk, Edmund Tudor 1st Earl of Richmond, Sir Henry Stafford, and Thomas Stanley 1st Earl of Derby. Mother of Henry Tudor, later known as Henry VII. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. She never gave up on her son Henry Tudor.

Margaret Beaufort was born on May 31, 1443 to John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. She had seven half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage to Sir Oliver St John. Her father was the  second son of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, the first son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Margaret’s father went to France to fight for King Henry VI, but it went badly, and he either died from illness or committed suicide on May 27, 1444, leaving Margaret his sole heiress.

Under a deal that her father made with Henry VI, the king took wardship of Margaret, but the king broke that deal and passed on the wardship to William de la Pole 1st Duke of Suffolk. At this time, Margaret remained in her mother’s house to receive her education. On January 28, 1450, William de la Pole, who was not popular at all with Parliament, was ordered to be arrested. Between January 28 and February 7, 1450, Margaret and John de la Pole, the eldest son of William de la Pole, were married, yet they never lived together. With this marriage, William de la Pole was seen as reaching too far since Margaret was a potential heir for the throne and was charged with treason. William de la Pole was murdered on May 2, 1450. Margaret never recognized this marriage as she was under twelve when she was married.

In 1453, Margaret and her mother were called to court when Henry VI granted the wardship of Margaret to his half brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. With her first marriage annulled, it paved the way for the marriage between Margaret and Edmund. Margaret was 12 and Edmund was 24 at the time of the wedding on November 1, 1455. The marriage was consummated and soon Margaret was pregnant. Unfortunately, Edmund would never meet his son as he died on November 1, 1456 of the plague. Margaret gave birth to her only son Henry Tudor on January 28, 1457 at the age of 13. It was a difficult birth and Margaret was never to have another child after Henry.

Being a single mother and a young widow, Margaret knew that she had to marry again to make sure that she could financially survive. She arranged her own marriage and after the required one year of mourning was over, Margaret married Sir Henry Stafford on January 3, 1458. From what we can tell, it sounds like a happy marriage between Margaret and Sir Henry Stafford. When Henry was two years old, his uncle Jasper was granted wardship over him and so Margaret and Henry were seperated. After the Battle of Towton, Jasper fled to Scotland to help Margaret of Anjou, Edward Duke of York became Edward IV, and Henry Tudor was stripped of his lands and put in the custody of William Herbert. At this time, Margaret was able to keep in contact with her son.

In 1469, the House of Lancaster came back into power, but only for a short amount of time as the House of York came back into power. At the Battle of Barnet on April 14, 1471, Sir Henry Stafford was injured  fighting for the Yorkists and he would die from his wounds on October 4, 1471. Margaret was a widow again at the age of 28. Henry and Jasper fled the country for their own protection, leaving Margaret alone and in need of another husband and protector.

In June 1472, Margaret married her fourth and final husband Thomas, Lord Stanley. This was a marriage of convenience as Margaret was able to enter the court of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville in order to gain favor and secure her son’s return to England. Before this could happen, Edward IV died on April 9, 1483. The crown passed on to the king’s eldest son Edward V, but Edward and his brother Richard went to the tower for their own protection, never to be seen again. Their uncle Richard III became king, and even though Margaret carried the train at Queen Anne’s coronation, Richard stripped Margaret of all of her titles and land. During this time Margaret was plotting with Elizabeth Woodville to arrange a marriage between Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York.

In 1483, Henry and Jasper failed to invade England. Richard found out that Margaret was part of this plot and she was charged with high treason, but instead of being executed, she was placed under house arrest. Margaret’s life changed for the better when her son was able to defeat Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, with the help of Margaret’s husband Thomas, Lord Stanley, and became King Henry VII.  Thomas, Lord Stanley was made Earl of Derby and Margaret was made Countess of Richmond and Derby. Margaret was able to see her son once again after 14 years apart. Margaret became the King Mother and was the second most important woman at court, next to Queen Elizabeth of York, who married Henry VII on January 18, 1486. Margaret was there to help with the births of her grandchildren, and the deaths of a few including Arthur Prince of Wales, who died on April 2, 1502.

Elizabeth of York would die on February 11, 1503, leaving Margaret’s son a widower. Thomas, Lord Stanley would die in 1504, and although she spent most of her son’s reign styling herself as a widow in order to have control over her own properties and finances, it still must have been a hard loss for Margaret. Margaret’s beloved son Henry VII died on April 21, 1509, and she took his death the hardest. Margaret Beaufort was able to see her grandson Henry VIII’s coronation on June 23, 1509, but then she died only six days later on June 29, 1509.