Margaret was born on 31st May 1443 during a period of instability known as the War of the Roses. Her father was the great-grandson of Edward III and she was a wealthy heiress. She was well educated and highly religious.
To help secure his fragile reign Henry VI proposed the marriage of Margaret to his half-brother Edmund Tudor. While girls could legally marry at the age of twelve, it was usual for them to remain with their parents until they were old enough to safely have children. However, Margaret became pregnant at the age of thirteen and six months later Edmund died of Plague. Margaret fled to her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor. At Pembroke Castle she gave birth to Henry Tudor but both nearly died in labour and Margaret was unable to have more children.
Margaret was a devoted mother. However, in 1486 Henry was taken from Margaret when Edward IV disposed Henry VI as king. His wardship was sold to William Herbert, who was loyal to Edward IV. Henry lived alongside the children of the household and was given a good education.
In 1458, at the age of fourteen Margaret was married to another powerful noble, Sir Henry Stafford. Margaret had no say in the marriage but they fell in love and she was happily married for fourteen years. She helped Stafford look after his estates, continued her education and sent presents to the son she loved deeply but rarely saw.
When Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne in 1470, the thirteen-year-old Henry Tudor returned to his mother. However, Edward IV reclaimed the throne a year later. Due to his royal blood Henry Tudor was in so much danger his mother sent him into exile with his uncle Jasper.
In 1472 Margaret married William Stanley, who held a position of influence in the court of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret chose this political match hoping it would enable her to negotiate the safe return of Henry from exile.
When Edward died in 1483, his heir Edward V was only twelve-years-old. His uncle Richard III seized power and Edward V and his brother were imprisoned in the Tower of London. The princes soon disappeared (assumed murdered). Margaret used this to begin negotiations with Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth and her allies agreed to support Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne on the condition that he married Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
In 1485, Henry Tudor landed in Wales and marched to meet Richard III at Bosworth Field. Margaret had persuaded her husband to support Henry but Richard III had taken Stanley’s eldest son hostage. Stanley was placed in an awkward position when summoned to fight for Richard III. His troops sat on the side-line for much of the battle but at the last minute acted decisively saving the battle for Henry.
Henry VII rewarded his mother with vast estates and his first parliament gave her the right to administer her own lands which was very unusual. Elizabeth of York briefly lived with Margaret and here Henry got to know his future wife. Henry turned repeatedly to his mother for advice and support, and gave her many responsibilities including overseeing the royal nurseries where her grandchildren were raised.
Margaret also encouraged the spread of the “new learning” sweeping Europe as part of the Renaissance. She helped the new printing industry to expand and supported the influential Bishop Fisher to revive religious education. She founded two new colleges at Cambridge and funded several professorships in divinity (religion).
Margaret outlived her son by only a few months. She oversaw the peaceful transition of power to her grandson Henry VIII in January 1509 and appointed the privy counsellors to advice the young king. Margaret was buried at Westminster Abbey in June 1509 having helped both her son and grandson to successfully ascend to the English throne.
Written for Sheroes of History by Debbie Fisher. Debbie is a History teacher who also writes about history and education at historytiglet.wordpress.com and @historytiglet.
Find out more…
The BBC documentary series, The White Queen and her Rivals with Philippa Gregory featured information about Margaret. You can find out more on this page.
Philippa Gregory wrote a best selling novelised account of Margaret Beaufort’s life titled, The Red Queen, part of her Cousins’ War series.
There are several other books about or based on Margaret’s life, here are a selection:
Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton (non-fiction)
The Beaufort Bride: The Life of Margaret Beaufort (The Beaufort Chronicles Book 1) by Judith Arnopp (fiction)
Listen to Phillipa Gregory talk about Margaret Beaufort in this video series: