Two weeks ago we took a look at the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, noting that his unpopularity was wrapped up in the humiliating losses in Normandy under the command of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. His death in March 1450 was swiftly followed by the first serious rebellion in Henry VI’s reign – that of a man under the moniker “Jack Cade,” who led an uprising that swept the countryside that summer. It was suppressed and its participants put to death, but an uneasy pallor settled over Henry’s court.
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.
On January 28, 1457 the future King Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle in Wales, but the real star of the show was his mother, the Countess of Richmond. In fact, at the time of his birth it couldn’t have seemed less likely that the infant would one day ascend the English throne and it certainly wasn’t seen as an event of national importance. His father was Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, the younger half-brother of King Henry VI, through the second marriage of their mother, Katherine of Valois.
But unlike Henry VI, who was fathered by the celebrated Henry V, Edmund and his siblings were fathered by a Welshman attached to Queen Katherine’s household, Owen Tudor. For political reasons, the relationship was conducted under the radar and it wouldn’t be until the early 1450s that Edmund and his younger brother, Jasper, were transitioned from a legally grey area to members of the peerage as the Earls of Richmond and Pembroke, respectively.
Because of these circumstances, the infant Henry Tudor born in 1457 had a better claim to the French crown than the English, if you disregard the Salic Law, barring inheritance of the throne through a woman (a pesky byproduct of the Hundred Years’ War).