Margaret Beaufort & Her Four Husbands


Margaret Beaufort is arguably the great winner of the Wars of the Roses. Certainly she is one of the few to have lived through the war in its entirety and, as such, became the matriarch of the House of the Tudor. Mother to Henry VII, she is an ancestor to every English/British monarch since Henry VIII (as well as Scotland’s James V and Mary Stuart). But though she existed in the same world as Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, she is rarely seen as exciting as them – she never wore a crown and by the time she held substantial power, she was a woman in 50s. Instead, she is usually depicted as the mother-in-law from hell, a meddler and a jarring mix of pious and power-hungry.

To some, she is even a contender as the true killer of the Princes of the Tower.

Margaret was born in the spring of 1443 to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Lady Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. Via her father she had strong blood connections to the royal House of Lancaster, then led by the 21-year-old King Henry VI – indeed, John and the King were second cousins. Her great-uncle, Cardinal Beaufort, was one of the most powerful men at the King’s court and her aunt, Joan, was the Dowager Queen of Scotland.

Five years before her birth John had been released as a prisoner-of-war in France, where he had languished for no less than 17 years. Captured as a teenager, he returned to England at the age of 35 where he quickly married and lapped up as many financial rewards as he could. Among them was a request from the King’s government to lead an army in France to support the defense of Aquitaine which was sweetened with money and an elevation from an earldom to a dukedom. Reluctant to leave home, he delayed his departure for months, not arriving in France until after the birth of his first child, Margaret.

The campaign was a disaster, John made an enemy of the powerful Richard, Duke of York (then England’s Lieutenant of France) and he returned an unpopular figure. It’s unclear if John’s blunders were premeditated as part of his secretive mission, but you can read more about that here. Just as Margaret reached her first birthday, John was dead – ever since, rumors have swirled that it was suicide, though the Beauforts always maintained he contracted an illness abroad.

John’s dukedom passed to his younger brother, Edmund, but the bulk of his wealth was left to his only child. Thus, before Margaret could walk or talk she became one of England’s greatest heiresses and a sought after prize on the marriage market – not a bad lot for a woman in the 15th century and, as we will see, the defining characteristic of her adult life.

Margaret’s first years were overseen by her mother, Margaret Beauchamp, who would have been in her early 30s when her daughter was born. Her marriage to John had been her second; her first marriage to Sir Oliver St John had ended with his death in 1437 and produced seven children. Her attractiveness to John when he returned from France the next year was the inheritance she had come into in 1421 – like her daughter, she was independently wealthy.

Before her father’s death, Margaret had been made a ward of none other than the King himself, who personally brokered her first marriage while she was still in the cradle. Wardship of her lands was gifted by the King to one of his closest advisers, William de la Pole, Marquess of Suffolk, who was then in the midst of arranging the King’s own marriage to Marguerite of Anjou. William had one son, John, roughly a year older than Margaret, and the marriage of the two children provided them with a hefty fortune and the merging of two respectable families.

Little is known of Margaret’s childhood, save that she appears to have been close to at least some of her half-siblings and was likely given a decent education. When she was around four her mother remarried again to Lionel de Welles, 6th Baron Welles, by whom she had one son, John, in 1450.

1450 was a turning point for Henry VI. Nearly 30 years into his reign and five years into his marriage, he had no children and the French territory gained by his father was slipping rapidly through his fingers. The man held responsible for this latter issue was William de la Pole, now Duke of Suffolk, and by the early weeks of the year, it was clear Parliament was going to bring charges against him. Hastily he solidified the marriage between his son and heir with Margaret, making her a bride before her seventh birthday. By May Suffolk was dead, murdered on a ship leaving England to deliver him to his banishment.

Margaret’s link to John de la Pole, thus, was no longer desirable to her mother and stepfather and, given the children’s ages, very little about either’s life changed. Both remained in the custody of their respective mothers and quite likely there was little recognition of Margaret’s marriage in her household – later in life she herself failed to acknowledge it.

Three years later, King Henry quietly dissolved the union, which was easy enough to do given that the children were still under the age of consent and it had never been consummated. He had a better bridegroom in mind for the young heiress: his own half-brother, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. He granted Margaret’s wardship to Edmund and Jasper jointly, and it’s likely that she was intended to marry Edmund from the outset.

Edmund was the eldest son of Henry VI’s mother, Katherine of Valois, and Owen Tudor. Their relationship was conducted in secret after Henry V’s death and resulted in at least four children – little is known of the logistics of this young family and who exactly knew, but in January 1437 Katherine died and Henry took over the protection of his half-siblings. Edmund and his brother, Jasper, were first educated within a convent and then provided with a secular education on Henry’s dime. In 1453 the two men were in their early 20s, they had been elevated to the peerage and they were welcome at Henry’s court as not only his closest kin, but potential heirs given the King’s continued childlessness.

The last possibility was null and void as of that October when the Queen finally delivered a son, Edward of Westminster, but nevertheless the union of Beaufort and Tudor merged two families with royal connection and, arguably, distant claims to the throne. As Margaret was only 10 at the time, the wedding itself was postponed until November 21, 1455 when she was 12. Likely it was held in London in the presence of the King and Queen since Edmund attended the opening of Parliament a few days earlier.

It’s possible that the marriage wasn’t meant to be immediately consummated, but it certainly was by April 1456, when Margaret conceived. If Edmund was meant to hold off, his decision not to was likely financial not lust – he could not fully gain control of his wife’s fortune until there was a child.

By then, Margaret had left England and her mother’s household, following Edmund to Wales where he had been ordered by Henry to defend the border. By June 1456, Edmund and his men had successfully quashed most of the Welsh rebels, however the Duke of York (the same man who feuded with Margaret’s father back in 1443) was by then a thorn in Henry’s side and sent an influx of men under William Herbert that August. They seized Carmarthen Castle, where Edmund was staying, imprisoned him and left him behind as they moved on in an attempt to take control of South Wales.

Edmund was released in November, however he had grown dangerously ill while in captivity – likely of the plague – and died soon after. Margaret was 13, pregnant and a sitting duck in the middle of Wales.

Margaret traveled hastily to Pembroke Castile where her brother-in-law, Jasper, had moved upon hearing of his brother’s death. The bulk of Edmund’s fortune passed on to Jasper, however his title – Earl of Richmond – was bequeathed to his posthumous son who was born on January 28, 1457.

We don’t know the specifics, but the traditional narrative is that in addition to her youth, Margaret was small for her age and childbirth was so physically traumatic that it left her incapable of bearing any more children. Certainly that makes a certain amount of sense – after all, she seemingly conceived Henry without difficult a few months after marriage and despite two more husbands there are no further records of pregnancies or births, much less additional children. Still, it’s worth noting that we have no idea what Margaret’s actual experience was – nor do we know what she thought of Edmund or the realities of their married life.

Rumor has it that Jasper wanted the child to be called Owen after his and Edmund’s father, but that Margaret insisted he be christened Henry. In one version of the story, the infant was in fact bestowed a Welsh name in honor of his Tudor heritage until his mother changed her mind and insisted he be given an English moniker. With hindsight of course Margaret seems very prescient – more likely, she was well-aware that her future as a young widow was dependent on the goodwill of the King and she wanted to underline her and her son’s relationship to him.

As Margaret recovered from childbirth she spent the winter at Pembroke Castile with Jasper and Henry, but she wasn’t given much time. Jasper knew it was important to find Margaret another husband and he landed on an alliance with the Stafford family. He befriended the enormously powerful Duke of Buckingham and in March he and Margaret traveled to his manor home of Greenfield near Newport. At some point during the trip it was decided that Margaret would marry his second son, Sir Henry Stafford. Buckingham’s eldest son, Humphrey, was already to married to Margaret’s cousin.

Unfortunately we have no idea what our Margaret thought of remarrying so quickly, but there’s a good chance that she and Jasper were in alignment that the best thing she could do for her son was offer him stability and another protector. Given the political chaos unfolding, it was safer to make the choice herself than run the risk of having it be made for her.

Margaret and Henry Stafford were married in January 1458 – the bride was 14 and the groom in his early 30s. The wedding is believed to have taken place at Maxstoke Castle in Warwickshire, a residence owned by Buckingham, and from there the couple split their time between a number of manors, including Bourne Castle in Lincolnshire. Thanks to Margaret’s wealth, the couple lived comfortably and they invested significantly in their homes, renovating them to be as comfortable as possible.

Unfortunately, Margaret’s marriage brought about the separation of her and her son, who was left behind in his uncle’s care in Pembroke Castle. Indeed, after their first year together in Wales, the two wouldn’t reside under the same roof permanently for another 27 years. Margaret’s love for her son, however, shouldn’t be questioned – she and Stafford visited him at Pembroke frequently and she kept a close eye on his care.

Personally, this likely foretold a relatively peaceful few years for Margaret on the homefront. Politically, it was a minefield. Physical fighting had first broken out between the houses of York and Lancaster in May 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans, which had taken the life of Margaret’s uncle, Edmund Beaufort. The dukedom of Somerset was now held by her cousin, Henry, while “court” was an increasingly dangerous place as the two sides careened towards all out warfare.

Buckingham and his sons fought at the First Battle of St Albans, at which the eldest, Humphrey, was badly wounded. In May 1458, some four months after Margaret wed the younger brother, Humphrey died, predeceasing his father – it may have been as a result of his wounds, or possibly an unrelated illness. In theory, the dukedom of Buckingham would have then passed to Margaret’s own husband upon the death of her father-in-law, however Humphrey and her cousin had already produced an heir. When Buckingham died two years later in the summer of 1460 following the Battle of Northampton the new duke was six-year-old Henry Stafford, a figure who would become incredibly important to Margaret’s life in later years.

Staunch Lancastrians, Stafford and Margaret supported the King and Queen until the bitter end. In March 1461 Stafford fought alongside the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton and thus found themselves on the losing side when York’s son was proclaimed King Edward IV just days later and King Henry, Queen Marguerite and Prince Edward took flight. On June 25, Stafford capitulated to the Yorkists and received a royal pardon from the new King, Margaret wrapped up in the amnesty. Jasper, however, did not, beginning the life of a nomadic exile that would take him through Wales, Scotland eventually the continent.

As for four-year-old Henry, he had been left behind at Pembroke Castle, likely because Jasper assumed it would hold against a Yorkist siege. In fact, it fell that summer, coming into the possession of the very man Jasper held responsible for Edmund’s death – William Herbert. Edward IV kept Herbert in South Wales, likely seeing him as the Jasper Tudor of his own reign. He elevated him to the peerage shortly after coming to the throne and, in March 1462, Herbert paid the crown for Henry’s wardship. Henry, alongside the fatherless Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was then moved to Herbert’s estate of Raglan in south east Wales. Cared for by Herbert’s wife, Anne Devereux, he was intended to marry Herbert’s daughter, Maud, and was likely provided with the same comforts and amenities – if not better – than he had received at Pembroke.

He was, however, separated from his mother, though they were allowed to correspond and, thanks to Stafford’s capitulation, Margaret was also granted occasional visits to Raglan. In September 1467, for instance, there is a record of Margaret traveling with her husband to see her son for a about a week.

The arrangement came to an abrupt end in 1469 when Edward IV was betrayed by his younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence, and his closest adviser and cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. In defense of Edward, Herbert rode out from Raglan with an army including 12-year-old Henry Tudor. He was arrested following the Battle of Edgecote Moore by Warwick’s men and unceremoniously beheaded on July 27. Henry, for whom this was his first military experience, was saved from the battlefield by Sir Richard Corbet, a man related to Anne Devereux by marriage.

When Margaret heard of Edgecote Moor she dispatched servants to Raglan to account for her son’s whereabouts, not realizing he had left. In fact, Henry ended up in the home of Herbert’s brother-in-law, Lord Ferrers, where he was joined by Anne Devereux.

Henry was without a keeper, and his estate held by Edward IV’s rebellious brother, Clarence. Clarence and Warwick had been temporarily victorious, the King now held in glorified house arrest in the north. Margaret, with the support of Stafford, seized the opportunity as one in which she could help protect her son’s future. She and Stafford visited Clarence’s residence in London on August 24, 1469 and then, on October 21, dined with Anne Devereux and Lord Ferrers at the Bell Inn on Fleet Street to discuss Henry’s wardship. The meeting was seemingly a success, but there were consequences. By the end of the summer, Warwick and Clarence were forced to give Edward up and he returned to London in full glory. Warwick and Clarence were pardoned, but still viewed with suspicion. At this time, he made Stafford’s younger brother the Earl of Wiltshire for his loyalty – but Stafford himself, who had met with Clarence alongside his Lancastrian wife, remained a mere knight.

Even so, Stafford was by Edward’s side in March 1470 when Margaret’s stepbrother, Robert Welles, led a rebellion, and it was Stafford who was sent to impart the news of his death to his mother-in-law, Margaret Beauchamp.

What came next was a turn of events covered in more detail here, but in short: Warwick and Clarence rebelled again, this time forcing Edward IV into exile. Warwick aligned himself this time with none other than Marguerite of Anjou, who had spent the better part of a decade toiling away in France with her son. Prince Edward was betrothed to Warwick’s daughter, Anne, Clarence was set aside and the followers of Warwick merged with the traditional Lancastrians (even if an uneasy peace) to take down the House of York.

By then Jasper had joined the Lancastrian exiles on the continent, serving stints in the employ of King Louis XI (his first cousin via his mother). As such, he was crucial to the restoration of Henry VI in October 1470 and one of his first acts was to collect his nephew from Anne Devereux and bring him to London for the opening of Parliament. There, he was reunited with Margaret, who was determined to win her son back his full inheritance now that the House of Lancaster reigned supreme.

On October 27, Henry traveled to Westminster for an audience with Henry VI, after which he dined with Margaret, Stafford, Jasper and Henry VI’s royal chamberlain, Sir Richard Tunstall. Sadly, we have no idea what was discussed, but it marked the brief intersection of the last Lancastrian reign with the first Tudor, and of the great Tudor founders coming together some 15 years before their time had truly come.

For the next two weeks, mother and son were reunited for first extended period since Henry’s infancy. At the end of it, Henry returned to Wales, now in Jasper’s custody. Margaret remained in London, and on November 27, she met again with Clarence at Baynard’s Castle to negotiate for the restoration of the Richmond estate. Unfortunately, Clarence wasn’t in a giving mood – particularly now that he was little more than a sideshow to a Lancastrian reign – and refused to concede. Instead, what little Margaret could get was that Henry could receive the Richmond inheritance upon Clarence’s death (Clarence was only eight years old than Henry).

By the end of the year, Prince Edward and Anne Neville were married and France and Burgundy were on the cusp of war, the former supporting Lancaster and the latter protecting York. By spring, Edward IV was back in England and on April 2, Clarence was reunited with his brother, officially switching sides back to the Yorkists. Twelve days later, Edward and his other brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester and William, Lord Hastings, went up against Warwick and his Neville kin at the Battle of Barnet – it was a Yorkist victory and ended in Warwick’s death. Marguerite of Anjou arrived in England, unknowing, with Prince Edward and Anne Neville just days later. Instead of returning to France they pushed forward and on May 4, the House of Lancaster was finally and completely defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

So, where were Margaret and Stafford in all of this? We can guess where Margaret was – mentally, at least – for the fortune of her son was based in a Lancastrian victory. As for Stafford, he had fought alongside Edward IV and pledged his loyalty on more than one occasion. Early in April the Duke of Somerset (Margaret’s first cousin) visited Stafford to persuade him to join their cause, but two days before Barnet, he decided to join Edward’s side. As such, when Lancaster was crushed, Stafford and Margaret were in good standing with the reigning House of York.

The same couldn’t be said for Jasper or Henry, particularly when it became clear to them in Wales that Prince Edward died on the Tewkesbury battlefield and Henry VI was quietly put to death days later. Fourteen-year-old Henry, with his Tudor and Beaufort parents – not to mention his Valois grandmother – was one of the few Lancastrians left with royal connections. He was also now old enough to be treated like the threat he was and Edward IV and his brothers were well-aware of him. On June 2, Jasper took Henry and set sail for France – there wasn’t a game plan, save the need for preservation and Jasper was confident King Louis would protect them, if for no other reason than to annoy King Edward.

Unfortunately, wind blew them off course and they ended up not in France but in Brittany. The setback would end up fortuitous, for Duke Francis II welcomed both earls to his court and treated them with honor, knowing full well they were valuable pawns against both England and France. It began a 14-year stay of life in an only occasionally gilded cage.

Back in England, Stafford had been badly wounded at Barnet. Margaret sent servants to move him back to their residence at Woking (an old Beaufort manor gifted to the couple when Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham married Katherine Woodville, the youngest sister of Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth, in 1466). It was there on October 4, 1471 that Stafford died. Margaret, twice-widowed and the mother of an adolescent, was only 28.

As when Edmund died, Margaret began plotting her next marriage almost immediately, anxious not to allow herself – or her fortune – to become a pawn of the crown. With Henry safe and abroad and the House of York seemingly secure, she notably decided to cast her lot in with those in power. Likely, she thought it was the best way to secure her son’s future by ensuring there was little suspicion around her – it also bought her proximity to those who could help.

She decided on Lord Thomas Stanley, a man with close connections to the Woodville family who already possessed one of the largest fortunes in England. Together, they were a formiddable pair, which they likely well-knew, their interest in one another fueled by ambition. On June 2, 1472, Margaret placed the estates of Devon and Somerset – which she had inherited from her father – in a trust with the direction that a separate estate of lands be created for Henry. Ten days later she married Stanley.

The marriage brought Margaret back to Edward IV’s court. There, she would have been in close proximity to her “first husband,” John de la Pole, her union to whom had been annulled some two decades before. Around the same time Margaret married Henry Stafford, John had married Edward IV’s elder sister, Elizabeth. Together they had at least 11 children, while John had been restored to the dukedom of Suffolk by Edward early in his reign.

Margaret played the part of a loyal Yorkist courtier well, even developing at least a cursory friendship with Queen Elizabeth by attending upon her and her daughters, of which there were six in total. Elizabeth (b. 1 466), Mary (b. 1467), Cecily (b. 1469) and Margaret (b. April 1472) all predated Margaret’s arrival at court, but she is also known to have stood as godmother to at least one of Elizabeth’s daughter. The likeliest candidates are Anne (b. 1475), Katherine (b. 1479) or Bridget (b. 1482).

Certainly by the 1480s she was well-trusted by the King and Queen, despite Jasper and Henry’s presence in Brittany. Throughout the second half of his reign, Edward negotiated with varying levels of intensity with Duke Francis to bring Henry home, a deal that would have entailed the young man’s pardon and restoration to the earldom of Richmond. That it was a sincere wish is safe to assume, for the destruction of Lancaster in 1471 had brought Edward security – he had two sons who survived infancy and, until 1478 when Clarence was executed, two younger brothers. At this point, Margaret was not publicly positioning Henry for the throne – and indeed, there wasn’t a path to it for him.

On June 3, 1482 Margaret’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp, died and later that month Stanley signed a document in the presence of his wife and King Edward that he would never interfere with Margaret’s estates and that certain lands would be granted to Henry should he return to England and be in the King’s grace and favor. At some point in this back and forth, the possibility of Henry marrying Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was raised, however if this was true then it must have been dangled as a reward before 1475, the year in which she became betrothed to King Louis’s eldest son, the dauphin.

On April 9, 1483 Edward IV died at the age of 40. He was succeeded by his 12-year-old son, Edward V, who government was to be led by his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, until he reached his majority. The new King, however, had been living at Ludlow near the Welsh border in the protection of his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and half-brother, Richard Grey (the younger son born to Queen Elizabeth via her first marriage).

The events of the next several weeks are captured in more detail here, but the end result was that Edward V and his siblings were branded bastards and Queen Elizabeth’s marriage declared illegal. Edward and his brother were lodged in the Tower of London, Elizabeth and her daughters sought sanctuary in Westminster and Richard, Duke of Gloucester was named King Richard III.

Stanley had initially aligned himself with those that sought to protect Edward V’s reign, but Richard decided to make his peace with Stanley, a decision that included consideration of the now 26-year-old Henry Tudor living abroad. On July 5, 1483 Margaret and Stanley met with Richard and his chief justice William Hussey to discuss a ransom debt she believed owed to her by the Orleans family in France. She also took this as an opportunity to approach her nephew, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (now 29 and Richard’s closest councilor) and ask him to intervene on her son’s behalf. Again, the idea of marrying Henry to Elizabeth of York was raised – this time receiving the interest of not only Richard, Stanley and Margaret, but Buckingham, his wife (Katherine Woodville), and the Bishops of Worcester and Ely.

The following day, Stanley was appointed Richard’s steward and Margaret bore the train of Richard’s wife, Anne Neville (Warwick’s daughter and formerly married to Marguerite of Anjou’s son, Prince Edward).

Just one week later, Richard sent an agent to Duke Francis in Brittany, urging him to keep Henry Tudor under lock and key. Francis responded by with a long list of demands that Richard was ill-equipped to meet – as such, Henry continued to enjoy the greater share of freedom that Francis had slowly begun allocating him, including greater expense invested into his upkeep. Yet another fortuitous turn came when King Louis – arguably Europe’s most powerful monarch at the time – died on August 30, his throne passing to his eight-year-old son, Charles, and his government coming into the hands of his daughter, Anne, Duchess of Bourbon.

Margaret, meanwhile, had grown invested in the idea of Henry marrying Elizabeth of York. She decided to make contact with Elizabeth Woodville, now living behind heavy lines of security from inside and outside Westminster Abbey sanctuary. The two women shared a Welsh physician, Lewis Caerleon, who was freely allowed to pass Elizabeth’s guards and so the tradition goes that Elizabeth and Margaret began negotiating the idea of their two children marrying, using their combined influence to topple Richard from the throne.

If Margaret wanted Henry on the throne by this point, which it stands to reason, then in the timespan of a year she had gone from trying to bring about his reconciliation with the House of York to wanting him to overthrow it. The x-factor here is Edward V and his younger brother, for if they were alive then it seems fair that the most reasonable choices for sovereign were Edward or Richard. With Edward dead, and Richard presumably responsibile (or at least perceived as such), then all of a sudden Henry has a viable means to taking the throne – all he has to do is depose an unpopular monarch and marry the beloved Elizabeth of York, daughter and sister of two slain Yorkist kings.

It is for these reasons that Margaret is oftentimes accused of having a hand in the Princes’ deaths. As with almost any theory, sure, it’s not impossible. Personally, I don’t believe it.

It was to Margaret that news came that the none other than the Duke of Buckingham was prepared to support Henry’s claim. The news didn’t – and still doesn’t, really – make much sense given that Richard’s success just a few months before had been facilitated by Buckingham. He, too, had profited massively from Richard’s accession, becoming to him what Warwick had once been to Edward IV in the early 1460s. Buckingham’s motives can only be guessed at, but theories span his disgust with Richard murdering the Princes, him laying in wait by murdering the Princes himself and a keen understanding that the tides of public opinion were turning away from Richard. (I would like to return to Buckingham and his role in all of this at a later date, so for the purposes of today I’m going to keep moving.)

Buckingham joined Margaret and Elizabeth’s rebellion. The first step was telling the man in question, so Margaret sent Henry frantic missives at Francis’s court, ordering him to prepare an invasion. Luckily, Francis was prepared to support him – the deposition of Edward V had affected him personally, for Edward had been betrothed to his daughter.

Unfortunately, the scale of the rebellion – which had garnered support from several nobles – was difficult to keep quiet. Richard learned of it, including Buckingham’s involvement, on October 11. Buckingham was arrested on October 31 and executed on November 2. In the midst of this, Stanley and his kin chose to remain neutral, destroying what little chance Buckingham had had of survival in the face of Richard’s wrath.

As for Henry, he had departed from Brittany at the head of a small flotilla of ships, upon seeing the English coast littered with Richard’s men, he and his entourage turned around. They ended up in France and from there returned to Brittany where they learned of Buckingham’s death. Indeed, the fact that Henry was allowed to return to Brittany is a sign of how slim his chances of winning seemed – well, that and France was plagued by internal politics thanks to a child king.

But Henry wasn’t prepared to give up, this shot at taking the throne apparently setting him on a course from which he couldn’t or wouldn’t turn away. Understanding that his success depended on the support of Yorkists – and that he wouldn’t receive that support unless he cemented his allegiance through marriage – he pledged on December 25, 1483 in front of witnesses to marry Elizabeth of York.

Back home, Margaret and her husband were in an uncomfortable position, for her role in the failed uprising was well-known. Stanley, whose personal loyalty to Richard wasn’t questioned, was named Constable of England that same December, while the extended Stanley family saw new grants and positions that further empowered them. Because of Stanley, Margaret was safe from the law, but the small change to the legality of her estates was devastating for a woman who had grown up independently wealthy – her right to all of her titles and estates reverted to her husband, rendering her wholly dependent on him. Richard’s council also demanded that Margaret be stripped of her servants and that Stanley effectively keep her under guard or glorified house arrest.

Richard similarly spared his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville. Instead, he negotiated with her her return to court, the visual of her and his nieces hiding in sanctuary not doing much for his reputation. In March 1484, the two Elizabeths and the other Yorkist princesses appeared at Richard’s court before retiring to the country. A month later, Richard and Anne’s only son, Prince Edward, was dead, and by Christmas of that years, rumors were swirling that Richard meant to annul his marriage to Anne and instead marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. By March 1485, Anne was dead and Elizabeth had been sent to court to protect her and Richard’s reputations.

Yet another small twist here brought some irony for Margaret – with Prince Edward dead, Richard needed an heir. He decided upon his nephew, the Earl of Lincoln, son of John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, Margaret’s former husband.

As for Henry, he was in increasing danger thanks to his public play for the English crown. In September 1484 he left Brittany for France with the permission of Charles VIII and the Duchess of Bourbon. The move had been nothing short of an escape, and involved the secret plotting of Henry and Jasper to cross the border, traveling straight for Anjou without stopping. In France, Henry was joined by the English Earl of Oxford, one of the few Lancastrian lords who refused to make their peace with York after 1471. Among his other followers were Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset (Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest son via her first marriage) and Sir Edward Woodville (Elizabeth Woodville’s younger brother).

But Elizabeth Woodville was hardly waiting for Henry Tudor’s arrival – nor, seemingly, was Elizabeth of York. When rumors of the younger Elizabeth’s relationship reached Henry abroad he had dismissed them with the cynical promise to marry her younger sister, Cecily, if that’s what it took. The elder Elizabeth, meanwhile, was writing to Dorset, begging him to come home. He attempted to, was intercepted and returned – from that point onward, his fate was tied to Henry and Henry never trusted him again.

The English were well-aware of Henry Tudor’s movements, and that he had been well-received by the French. By the early summer Richard and his government were preparing for an invasion, and so it was that Stanley opted to leave court, probably to keep his options open. Richard, not trusting Stanley or Margaret, decided to keep Stanley’s son from his first marriage, Lord Strange, as an incentive for loyalty.

On August 7, 1485, Henry landed in Wales and began his trek east. Richard hastily summoned Stanley to his side, only to be refused. Instead, the man plead forgiveness since he was suffering from the sweating sickness – an illness contagious enough it was unlikely a king would otherwise have insisted he come anyway. Lord Strange was arrested and, while in custody – possibly under torture – he admitted that he, his father and his uncle, Sir William Stanley,  were for Henry Tudor. Lord Strange, confident that his father would help him, promised that if he asked him to join the King, he would.

But Stanley decided there was more power in remaining non-committal – thanks to the men he could deliver and his ties throughout the country, Richard dared not harm his son until he knew Stanley’s loyalty for certain. Stanley met with Henry the day before battle on August 21, finally offering the younger man the certainty he needed. As for Richard, he continued to tell him he was blocking the rebel’s path to London, but still refusing summons.

Battle went forth on August 22 on Bosworth Field. Richard was flanked by John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who was killed, and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who failed to materialize when ordered. Historians remain divided on Northumberland’s motivation with some arguing he was truly detained – worth noting is that Northumberland had grown up with Henry in William Herbert’s household. Alongside Henry were Jasper and Oxford, among other supporters. As for Stanley, he and his brother, Sir William, arrived on the field, however they remained immobile in the throes of battle – a sympathetic reading may say that their presence was able to cause the confusion needed, while their critics maintain they held back before supporting whoever seemed likeliest to win. At the last minute, Sir William stepped forward on Henry’s side and when Richard was slain and his circlet obtained, it was Stanley who is reported to have crowned his stepson.

It took a few days for news of Henry’s victory to spread through the country. On August 26, the Mayor of London ordered all soldiers not in service to leave and preparations began for the new king’s arrival. Henry was received there on September 3. It wasn’t until October that Margaret and Henry were finally reunited, spending several days together at her manor of Woking. It was the first time mother and son had been together since the autumn of 1470 15 years prior. From then on, Margaret saw to it that they were never separated again, ordering her rooms to be near his as she took a place of supreme prominence at his court. And from the outset, it was observed that she had a particular influence on her son.

One of Henry’s earliest gifts to his mother was Richard’s illuminated book of hours discovered in his tent at Bosworth. Another was the residence of Coldharbour in London, which is where she received Elizabeth of York, still Henry’s intended bride, that autumn, as well as the long-dead Duke of Clarence’s children, the Earl of Warwick and Margaret. Yet another child put in her custody was Edward Stafford, the son of the late Duke of Buckingham and Katherine Woodville. As for Katherine, she and Jasper Tudor were married that same fall.

Margaret’s reunion with Henry that year ushered in a new phase of her life, one in which she was the matriarch of a new Tudor dynasty and, in many ways, a more forceful and powerful presence at his court than his own wife would ever be. It’s a period of her life worthy of closer inspection and so, for the sake of time and space, we’ll return to it another time. Instead, we’ll conclude by noting that as Margaret watched Henry’s crowning in Westminster Abbey on October 30, 1485, it must have seemed worlds away from his birth nearly 29 years before when she was a 13-year-old widow, wholly dependent on her brother-in-law at Pembroke Castle. Margaret would end up outliving her son for just a few weeks, overseeing the transition to her colorful and forceful grandson, Henry VIII, in 1509. It was a fate certainly not expected of a young Beaufort girl more than half a century before.

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