Most Influential Tudor Women: Margaret Beaufort

On my Facebook page called, Tudors Dynasty, I asked my followers who they believed to be the most influential women of the Tudor era. It is because of this poll that I decided to turn this into a series of episodes about some amazing Tudor women.

Before I start, let’s understand what influential truly means.

The Definition of Influential is: having great influence on someone or something.

Now that we know the definition of the word, does that change our ideas about who we believe were some of the most influential of the Tudor period?

Poll Results

When I posed this question on my blog and took a poll, the winner was, with 35% of the votes, Queen Elizabeth I, followed by her great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort with 27% and rounding off the top three was her mother, Anne Boleyn with 19%. I honestly was not too surprised by the results.

Since I have already done a six-part series on Elizabeth I decided to do this episode on Margaret Beaufort – someone whom many of you have requested I talk more about.

With that, this article could not have happened without the wonderful guidance of Susan Abernethy and her website, The Freelance History Writer. Susan is also the admin for the Facebook page, Tudor History Lovers.

So, here we go…

Margaret Beaufort

Let’s talk about Margaret Beaufort. Authors like Philippa Gregory have not done Margaret the justice she deserves. While Gregory used to be one of my favorite Historical Fiction authors, I agree with many that her dislike for Beaufort is evident in her books.

Margaret lived quite an amazing life. Born on the 31st of May 1443, Margaret was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp. Margaret’s father was the grandson of the well-known, John of Gaunt and his mistress (whom later he married) Katherine Swynford.

Margaret Beaufort was married several times. Not unusual for the time. Her first marriage (which may have only been a betrothal) was around 1450 – Margaret was merely six or seven years old and she wed John de la Pole. Pole’s father, the Earl of Suffolk had arranged the marriage. Whether or not there was an actual marriage is unclear but Margaret was returned to her mother and it is agreed that the marriage was never consummated. However, when the Earl of Suffolk was disgraced in 1450, their marriage (or betrothal) was voided. It was as if the marriage never happened and later in life Margaret never considered him as one of her husbands.

That same year Edmund and Jasper Tudor were granted her wardship by their half-brother, King Henry VI.


Before I go forward, for those unfamiliar with their genealogy, the King, Edmund and Jasper all shared the same mother, Katherine of Valois. Katherine was the wife of King Henry V and they had a son, Henry, who became the Sixth King Henry upon the death of his father and predecessor.

Katherine, still young (not quite 21) and stunningly beautiful fell in love with Owen Tudor (a member of her household), they may have secretly wed (there is no evidence available to prove a marriage) but we do know that they were the parents of Edmund and Jasper. Following along?

First Marriage

Some have speculated that Henry VI planned the wardship of 1453 so that one of his half-brothers could wed Margaret, who was a surviving member of the House of Lancaster. Two years later (1455) Margaret, then twelve years old married Edmund who was twenty-two and the Earl of Richmond.

Even though Margaret was only twelve at the time of their marriage the marriage was consummated and Margaret soon became pregnant. Margaret was just a child by today’s standards and physically she most definitely was still very petite.

In August of 1456, while Margaret was pregnant with his child, Edmund Tudor was captured by an ally of the Duke of York and imprisoned. He died three months later of the plague at Carmarthen Castle. After the death of her husband, the heavily pregnant thirteen year-old girl placed herself under the protection of Jasper Tudor, her brother-in-law at Pembroke Castle, the place her son Henry (named for King Henry VI) was born at the end of January 1457.

Wars of the Roses

Shall we discuss briefly the Wars of the Roses briefly?

The Wars of the Roses were the civil wars fought in England and Wales between the Houses of York and Lancaster between 1455 and 1485 and most definitely ended with the battle of Bosworth in 1485, when the army of Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII, the first Tudor king) killed Richard III. In my opinion, the battles began when King Henry VI could no longer rule his country due to his health condition. What was his health condition?


The great disorder or illness that struck down King Henry in August 1453 and kept him in what appears to have been a catatonic stupor for over a year. The causes are still not known to modern medicine. Most modern diagnoses of the King’s illness tentatively identify it as catatonic schizophrenia. Henry’s maternal grandfather King Charles VI of France suffered from recurring, severe bouts of “madness”, during which he became dangerously violent, did not recognise his wife or the fact that he was king.

When the Henry VI was having one of his bouts was about the time that Richard, Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III) began to fight for what he believed was his rightful place on the throne of England. Anyway, I digress – Back to Margaret.

Birth of Henry Tudor & Second Marriage

At thirteen years old, the birth of her son had been hard on the young woman’s body. It is believed that Margaret suffered permanent damage from childbirth and would have no other children.

For the first year of Henry’s life Margaret remained at Pembroke with her brother-in-law. She had asked Jasper for assistance in finding her a second husband. Finally an agreement was made and Margaret married the Duke of Buckingham’s son, Henry Stafford in January 1458. After the wedding, young Henry stayed in the custody of his uncle Jasper and Margaret and her husband made regular visits.

Separated From Her Son

Unfortunately their happiness would not last long when in 1461, Edward, Earl of March became King Edward IV, Margaret’s son’s wardship was sold to a Yorkist supporter – Lord Herbert. Luckily for Margaret she was still able to schedule regular visits to see her son and when she could not see him she would send letters to Lord Herbert asking about her son’s well-being.

The Battle of Barnet, in April 1471, was a game changer for Margaret and her little family. Her husband was wounded and had to return home due to his injuries. Less than a month later there was another Yorkist victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury. It was at Tewkesbury that Henry VI’s wife, Margaret of Anjou was defeated and their son Edward was killed.

Roughly a week after the Battle of Tewkesbury, Henry VI, who had been locked in the Tower was killed – or murdered.

Because of the death of Henry VI, Margaret Beaufort and her son held the strongest claim to the English throne on the Lancastrian side. Because of those claims, young Henry’s life was in danger as he posed a threat to Edward IV and the House of York – because of that Jasper Tudor fled England with Henry and ended up in Brittany.

Six months after he sustained his injuries at the Battle of Barnet, Margaret’s second husband (Henry Stafford) died, most likely from his wounds.

Third Marriage

Margaret, a Lancastrian (with rights to the throne) was in danger without a husband during the reign of the Yorkist, Edward IV. Eight months after the death of her second husband, Margaret married for a third time to Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. With Stanley’s influence and position at court Margaret was able to protect her land and wealth, but Stanley, as her husband, would now have access to it all – so it benefited him in the long run.

Since her new husband was tight with King Edward IV both Stanley and Margaret did spend time at court. It does not appear, however, that their marriage was necessarily a happy one. That is no unusual as many marriages during the time were arranged and did not happen out of love.

While at the court of Edward IV, Margaret tried everything in her power to return her son Henry to favor.

It wasn’t until 1476 that she gained favor with the Queen consort, Elizabeth Woodville and six years later Margaret was given the honor of holding Princess Bridget at her christening.

After ingratiating herself with the King and Queen she was able to persuade Edward IV to allow her son, Henry to return to England. Part of the deal was that they had also discussed a marriage between their daughter the Princess Elizabeth and Henry Tudor. Unfortunately, before the deal could be finalized Edward IV died. Henry could not yet return to England – it was not safe.

Reign of Richard III

Margaret and her son were once again thrown into political uncertainty with the reign of the new young King Edward V. Because of the young King’s youth his uncle and protector, Richard of Gloucester had the children of his brother (Edward IV) and Elizabeth Woodville declared illegitimate due to a marriage between the deceased King and Eleanor Butler prior to his marriage to Woodville. The next in line to the throne after Edward’s children was….you called it, Richard. He then became Richard III.

Richard did not have an easy time of it. There were many who believed what he had done was completely unacceptable (especially Elizabeth Woodville) and would do whatever it took to remove the usurper.

This was about the time that Margaret Beaufort and dowager queen Elizabeth Woodville began to discuss more seriously a marriage between their children. This marriage would benefit both parties and the two women were eager to see it come to fruition.

Richard III at the time was not sure who he could trust, I mean, it was really his own fault. Did he truly believe that his nieces and nephews were illegitimate? Or did he just use it as an excuse for his ambition? Since Richard did not know for sure if Stanley, the husband of a Lancastrian heir would be loyal to him, he imprisoned him for a short while. Once Stanley had declared his support for Richard III he was released. Surprisingly, both Stanley and Margaret took part in the coronation of Richard and his consort, Anne Neville. Margaret had gained enough favor that she carried the queen’s train.

Henry was constantly on Margaret’s mind. All she wanted for her son was to regain his titles and lands that were stripped from him when Edward IV came to throne. In addition, she wished for her son to return to England after YEARS in exile.

With the help of her nephew, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret felt confident that her son could return to England and fight for the Crown.

When Richard III discovered the plot to remove him from the throne, the Duke of Buckingham was apprehended and executed. Margaret’s life was spared (only because of Stanley’s loyalty to the king) but she was attained for treason by Parliament and sentenced to life in prison (really house arrest) – her goods and lands were also confiscated by the Crown.

Battle of Bosworth

Even though Margaret was under house arrest she was still able to keep in contact with her son. By the Summer of 1485, Henry was on his way to England with his uncle Jasper and troops. It was the Battle of Bosworth that changed the course of history when the troops of Henry Tudor (along with the help of his step-father) defeated and killed Richard III.

Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England when Richard III took his last breath and his army was defeated.

Margaret, at least for a moment, could breathe a sigh of relief. She was released from her house arrest (and obviously got back her goods and land) and after fourteen years apart the mother and son were reunited.

Henry VII

With her son was back in England and now King, the marriage she had planned with Elizabeth Woodville happened on the 18th of January 1486, about two months after his coronation. This marriage combined together the Houses of York and Lancaster, effectively ending the War of the Roses.

From day one of Henry’s reign Margaret was by her son’s side. He had been away from England for over a decade and she was able to offer him advice on politics when needed. Margaret also played an important role in Henry’s new reign as she assisted in many matters including ceremonies and special commissions.

I love this next part – due to her new position as My Lady, the King’s Mother, Margaret was able to gain independence from her husband. This allowed her to have sole claim to all her property and land. Almost unheard of back then.

Margaret may have also been a mother-in-law from hell. Poor Elizabeth of York (who had been raised to marry one day and become a consort) was overshadowed by Margaret who essentially acted like she was Queen.

When it came to her grandchild, Margaret was delighted. She is said to have had a special relationship with her grandson, Henry.

From Susan Abernethy and her website,

In her later years Margaret made significant religious, educational and literary contributions. She became a patron and benefactor of two colleges at Cambridge University.

Margaret would just barely outlive her son, Henry VII who died in April 1509. She was able to witness the wedding of her grandson Henry to Katherine of Aragon and then the dual coronation. Margaret passed away on the 29th of June 1509 – five days after Henry’s coronation.

After years of upheaval and struggles, Margaret Beaufort could finally rest in peace knowing that the Tudor name would be carried on through her grandson Henry VIII. Little did she know how it would all play out. The Tudor dynasty reigned 118 years.


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Margaret Beaufort – My Lady the King’s Mother (Guest Post)

Margaret Beaufort – My Lady the King’s Mother

Guest article by Moniek Bloks of History of Royal Women

Lady Margaret Beaufort was born on 31 May 1443 at Bletso as the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Margaret had seven half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage to Sir Oliver St John and would later have another half-brother from her mother’s third marriage to Lionel de Welles, 6th Baron Welles. Her father was the second son of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, the eldest son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster by his mistress and later his wife, Katherine Swynford. Margaret would never know her father. He died on 27 May 1444.

Margaret was now a wealthy heiress, and Margaret’s wardship automatically passed to the King as was usual and he granted it to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, although Margaret remained with her mother for now. Her mother would have been responsible for her early education. She certainly learned excellent French. By 1450, William de la Pole found himself deeply unpopular and on 28 January the commons in parliament ordered his arrest. Between 28 January and 7 February, he had his eldest son John de la Pole marry Margaret but they probably never lived together as man and wife. They were just eight and six years old. For William, the marriage was the final nail in the coffin. Margaret was, after all, a potential heir to the throne, and William was now accused of treason. He was exiled, but his ship was intercepted, and he was murdered on 2 May 1450.

For now, Margaret remained with her mother but in February 1453 Margaret’s mother was summoned to court, and she brought her daughter with her. In April, they attended the St George’s Day celebrations of the Order of the Garter at Windsor Castle, and young Margaret received money from the King for clothes. He also ordered Margaret’s wardship to be granted to his half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. He probably had a marriage between Margaret and one of the Tudor brothers in mind. Edmund was the eldest, and it was he who she married on 1 November 1455. She was just 12 years old, while Edmund was 24. Her first marriage was dissolved, and Margaret would always refer to Edmund as her first husband.

The marriage was consummated straight away, despite contemporaries commenting that Margaret was of small stature and underdeveloped. She fell pregnant in early 1456, but Edmund never lived to see the birth of his child. He died on 1 November 1456 of the plague. On 28 January 15457, still only 13 years old, Margaret gave birth to her only child, a son. It was a long labour, and it could very easily have caused her death and the death of her child. It was a miracle that they both survived. It is believed that Margaret was injured during the birth as she never had another child. At the time, she was living with her brother-in-law, Jasper. She was devoted to her son from the moment he was born.

Within weeks of her son’s birth, Margaret had arranged her third marriage as she was aware that the King might force a third marriage upon her. She would wait out her year of mourning for Edmund and married Sir Henry Stafford on 3 January 1458. It was probably a happy marriage, and Henry referred to her as his “beloved wife” in his will. She may have lost custody of her son when he was about two years old. His wardship was granted to Jasper Tudor and the Earl of Shrewsbury and Margaret and Henry visited him at Pembroke Castle.

Time’s were troubled. As Henry VI descended into his own mind, factions began to fight over the throne. Henry VI’s wife Margaret of Anjou was defeated at the Battle of Towton and driven towards Scotland. Edward, Earl of March, a Yorkist, was now King Edward IV. Jasper Tudor sailed to Scotland to aid Margaret of Anjou. Young Henry was not immediately a threat to the new King, but he was stripped of his lands and taken into the custody of William Herbert. Margaret was not barred from contacting him, and they kept in touch.

Unknown woman, formerly known as Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, by Unknown artist – NPG 1488 © National Portrait Gallery, London

A huge part of Margaret’s life was devoted to religion, and even in her old age, she was renowned for fasting. Her daily life was strictly regulated around prayer and devotion, and she prayed so much that she injured her knees and back.

The year 1469 saw the short resurgence of the House of Lancaster, but by 1471 Edward IV was securely back on the throne. At the Battle of Tewkesbury Margaret of Anjou’s son was killed and not much later King Henry VI was quietly murdered. Margaret of Anjou was imprisoned and was allowed to return to France a few years later. Sir Henry Stafford had been wounded in the Battle of Barnet, and he eventually died of his wounds on 4 October 1471. Young Henry Tudor went with his uncle into exile; his Lancastrian blood was now a serious threat. Margaret felt the danger too and wasted no time in finding a new protector and husband.

In June 1472, she married Thomas, Lord Stanley, who was prominent at court. Once she had proven herself loyal, she could one day use that influence to return her son to favour. Margaret gradually came into favour as she attended on King Edward IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. She was well on her way to securing her son’s return to England when King Edward IV died suddenly on 9 April 1483.

His son and heir, now King Edward V was just 12 years old, and he was intercepted on his way back to London by the Duke of Gloucester (Richard, King Edward IV’s brother) and the Duke of Buckingham. Elizabeth Woodville felt threatened enough to gather up her daughters and the Duke of York to seek the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. The Duke of Gloucester later demanded that she hand over the Duke of York and so she did. Elizabeth Woodville’s and King Edward IV’s marriage was declared null and void, because of a (possible) pre-contract between Edward and Eleonor Butler. King Edward V and his siblings were now considered illegitimate, and The Duke of Gloucester was proclaimed King Richard III. Margaret and her husband attended the new King’s coronation, and Margaret carried the new Queen’s train.

What happened next remains one the greatest mysteries in history. The boy King and his brother disappeared from the Tower, presumably murdered. We do not know who was responsible for this.

Margaret made contact with Elizabeth Woodville, still lodged in Westminster, to discuss the possibility of marriage between Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV and Henry Tudor, if he managed to overthrow Richard III. A conspiracy in 1483 failed, and Margaret found herself attained for high treason. Her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and she was kept under house arrest.

King Henry VII by Unknown Netherlandish artist; NPG 416 © National Portrait Gallery, London 2017

Her life changed again in August 1485. Henry invaded with an amassed army of around 5,000 men and defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry Tudor was now King Henry VII, and Margaret was My Lady, The King’s Mother. She would, at last, see her son again, after 14 years apart. Although she was not a Queen in her own right, she would not take a backseat during her son’s reign. She took a vow of chastity, and an act was passed declaring her a “sole person”, giving her autonomy to act as a widow, despite the fact that her husband was still alive. She was often at court during her son’s reign.

She would gain a reputation as a difficult mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York and she certainly overshadowed Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Henry married on 18 January 1486 and she gave birth to their first child, Prince Arthur, in September 1486. Margaret was present for the birth and also for the birth of her second grandchild, Princess Margaret in November 1489. Elizabeth would go on to bear eight children, though only three survived to adulthood. There were now three Queens at court. Margaret was essentially a Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville was the actual Queen Dowager and Elizabeth of York was the Queen consort. There was bound to be friction. Elizabeth Woodville was eventually forced to retire to Bermondsey Abbey, where she died in 1492. Margaret’s relationship with Elizabeth of York was a complicated one. They were often thrown together and perhaps Henry feared that elevating Elizabeth too much would make it appear as though he only held the crown through marriage.

Margaret often wore the same clothes as Elizabeth, some gifted by Henry and she signed her name Margaret R, which could stand for either Regina (Queen) or Richmond. Margaret was clearly the dominant party, but they also worked together if they shared interests. Elizabeth of York tragically died in childbirth on 11 February 1503. Margaret herself was widowed again in 1504, although they had been living separately for a while, it must still have been a personal loss.

Margaret survived her only son; King Henry VII died on 21 April 1509. Margaret was devastated at his death, and she threw herself into organising his funeral. Margaret herself was also in ill-health, and in the weeks following his death, her health rapidly deteriorated. She lived to see her grandson’s coronation on 23 June 1509 and began to prepare for death. She died just six days later on 29 June 1509.

Read more: Elizabeth Norton – Margaret Beaufort

About the Author:


My name is Moniek (please call me Mo!) and I live in Arnhem in the Netherlands. I have a very British heart and I hope to live there one day. My interest began with Anne Boleyn and the Tudor times, but it greatly expanded over time as I found more and more admirable women in other countries and kingdoms.  I enjoy visiting the places where these women lived and died and I love reading about them.

WEBSITE: History of Royal Women

I am not a historian and this is just a hobby!

If you wish to contact me, you can do so here. You can also find me on TwitterYoutube and Facebook.

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