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: Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

Quartered_arms_of_Sir_Thomas_Stanley,_1st_Earl_of_Derby,_KG(Born 1435- Died July 29, 1504). Son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and Joan Goushill. Married to Lady Eleanor Neville and Lady Margaret Beaufort. Father of George Stanley, 9th Baron Strange, Sir Edward Stanley, James Stanley, Bishop of Ely.  Thomas Stanley was a wealthy landowner who was able to find favor with successive kings during the Wars of the Roses, until his death in 1504.

Thomas Stanley was born around 1435 and he was the eldest son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and his wife Joan Goushill. The Stanleys supported Henry Bolingbroke and the Lancastrian cause until the reign of Henry VI. Stanley was a squire for King Henry VI in 1454, but then the king fell mentally ill. In 1455, the Wars of the Roses broke out between the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset. Somerset was killed at the first battle of St. Albans, which should have ended the conflict, but it only embroiled it. In the late 1450’s, Stanley decided to marry Eleanor Neville, the sister of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, aligning himself with the Yorkist cause. In 1459, after a lull in the fighting, Margaret of Anjou marched against the Yorkist army, which included Warwick, Stanley’s brother in law. At the Battle of Blore Heath in August 1459, Margaret of Anjou ordered Stanley to raise an army to stop Warwick, but Stanley refused to fight; Stanley’s brother William was firmly on the Yorkist side and he was attainted.

In 1460, Stanley saw that the Yorkist cause was coming into power and so he decided to side with York and his cause. Stanley fought alongside his brother in law Warwick against the Lancastrian army. Edward placed Stanley in charge of maintaining the peace in north-west England, which he did. After the death of his father in 1459, Stanley inherited his father’s titles, including those of Baron Stanley and “King of Mann” as well as his extensive lands and offices in Cheshire and Lancashire. Stanley was the last person to call himself “King of Mann” as his successors would style themselves as “Lord of Mann”.

When Warwick decided to revolt against the king between 1469 and 1471, Stanley was torn on who to support, his king or his brother in law. In 1470, when Warwick fled to France to join the Lancastrian cause, Stanley made his choice and decided to go to Manchester to seek aid and support. When Warwick made his way back to England, Stanley joined forces with him to restore Henry VI to the throne. Edward came back in 1471 and Warwick was killed. Stanley was forgiven for his disloyalty and right after Edward was restored to the throne, Stanley was appointed steward of the king’s household and thereafter became a regular member of the royal council. Stanley’s wife Eleanor Neville died around this time, cutting his ties with the Warwicks and the Nevilles.

Stanley was looking for another wife and in 1472, he married Lady Margaret Beaufort, dowager Countess of Richmond and the mother of Henry Tudor. In 1475, Stanley led an expedition to France and in 1482, he helped Richard Duke of Gloucester in Scotland, playing a large role in capturing Berwick upon Tweed.

On April 9, 1483, Edward IV died, leaving his son Edward V king, Stanley was among those who sought to maintain a balance of power between the young king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was now Lord Protector, and his maternal family, the Woodvilles. When the Duke of Gloucester attacked this group at a council meeting in June 1483, Stanley was wounded and imprisoned but was not executed like Hastings. That month, Parliament declared Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York illegitimate on the grounds that their father Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid , by way of a prior pre-contract of marriage with Eleanor Butler. The Duke of Gloucester was therefore declared king Richard III and it was confirmed through the act of Parliament called Titulus Regius.

Richard III decided not to isolate Stanley so he let Stanley to keep his position at court and allowed Margaret Beaufort to carry Queen Anne’s train at her coronation. Shortly afterward, Margaret’s properties and titles were given to Stanley and she was placed under house arrest instead of being executed for treason for aiding her son to overthrow Richard III. After the failed Buckingham rebellion in 1483, Stanley was given more forfeited properties and he was made Lord High Constable of England. Margaret was one of the conspirators in this plot and the one who arranged the marriage between her son Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. Stanley, in 1485, asked to leave court to go to his estates in Lancashire. Richard III , being very suspicious, agreed that he could if Stanley would allow his son George Stanley Lord Strange to stay at court. In reality, Lord Strange was a hostage.

The Stanleys were in constant communication with Henry Tudor and they were helping him with his landing in Wales and his invasion into England. Richard, hearing about this plan, ordered Stanley to raise an army and join him without delay. Stanley decided to fake an illness. Richard knew that Stanley had switched sides and the morning of the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard said that he would kill Lord Strange if Stanley didn’t side with him. Stanley and his brother William decided to sit on the sidelines. Stanley did not fight, but it was his brother William who decided to intervene on Henry Tudor’s behalf, which helped Henry win the crown. Even though Stanley did not participate in the fighting, it is said that he is the one who placed the crown on Henry’s head after the battle was won. Henry VII was grateful to Thomas Stanley and made him the 1st Earl of Derby. William Stanley would foolishly side with Perkin Warbeck and would be executed for treason in 1495.

Stanley died at Lathom, Lancashire on July 29, 1504, and was buried in the family chapel in Burscough Priory, near Ormskirk in Lancashire. His son Lord Strange would die shortly afterward so the earldom of Derby was passed onto Stanley’s grandson Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby.