Was Margaret Beaufort the ‘mother-in-law’ from Hell?

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Mother-in-laws.  Who’d have ‘em – am I right?  (Actually mine’s very nice, so yes I would).

They’re the butt of the joke of countless comedians – and that’s hardly a modern phenomenon.  Perhaps it’s no wonder then, that as we trawl through the records of history, we assume that it’s always been the case.

Nowhere does this assumption seem to let us down more than when we talk of the relationship between Elizabeth of York and her legendary mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort.  In fact countless blog post on the internet and many history books, tell of infamous conflict between the two Tudor matriarchs and accounts of bullying and dominance by the elder to the younger.

However, there’s little evidence to support it.  Most of it, I understand, comes from the report of a foreign ambassador who noted that Margaret dominated her daughter-in-law  but, others have argued it is ridiculous to judge their entire relationship based on one comment from an outsider.  Alison Weir also suggests that this particular incident may have been the result of Margaret feeling over-protective of Elizabeth, believing her to be pregnant.

Besides which, there are several indications that the two women got on well.

  • When Elizabeth’s daughter and Margaret’s name sake, Margaret Tudor, was pledged in marriage to the much older King of Spain, both women were worried that the teenage girl would be ‘harmed’ by her husband who ‘would not wait.’ Clearly Elizabeth was motivated by maternal concern and Margaret by her own bitter experience of the medieval marriage market.  The records show that grandmother and mother teamed up to save the young Princess and thanks to their combined efforts Henry VII listened.
  • Similarly, there is evidence that when Elizabeth’s younger sister, Cecily of York, fell from the King’s favour following an unauthorised second marriage, it was Margaret who interceded for her. Whether this was out of direct affection for Cecily or in partnership with Elizabeth is not certain but, it is hardly an act of a woman who despised her Yorkist in-laws.
  • They spend an awful lot of time in each other’s company. This of course, may have been unavoidable but, it seems unlikely that two powerful woman who hated each other couldn’t have worked harder to ensure a greater distance.

Other arguments peruse that Margaret only walked one step behind Elizabeth, that Henry’s mother had Elizabeth’s banished, yet none of them are as illuminating as people might like.  When researching this topic I came across an interview with author Amy Licence, who I think puts it better than I ever could:

If Elizabeth did find her  [Margaret] at all “overbearing”- and this is a modern reaction- she may well have accepted that, as it was balanced by the assistance Margaret was able to offer. Having an experienced older woman at her side, particularly when she was pregnant or in Henry’s absence, may well have been reassuring. As for being “close,” again, this is subjective and perhaps, a bit of a misnomer; in terms of the late medieval impulse for survival and the need to forge alliances, Elizabeth and Margaret found a sort of equilibrium that allowed them to be allies. I think their mutual interest bound them together.

The personal feelings of the two women are unknown to us and, as stated above, that is not the paradigm which would have shaped their thinking.  Ultimately both had made the decision to throw all their resources, not to mention their respective claims to the throne, fully behind project Tudor.  They were both wise enough to know that any other considerations had to be left at the chamber door.

What do you think geeks?  Have I missed any evidence?  Am I too flattering to the characters of both women?  Was Margaret actually the mother-in-law from Hell?  I want to know what YOU think!

Book review: Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty

NortonBeaufort

Margaret Beaufort is a character that features heavily in the story of others.  Henry VI, Richard III, Elizabeth of York and of course, her treasured son, Henry VII.  But tracking down a book devoted solely to her is no easy task.

The 1992 offering by Jones and Underwood is generally seen as the definitive guide.  I’ve read it and its excellent – but pretty academic and heavy going.  If you’ve got a full time job, and not so well versed in academic reading, it takes a while to wade through.

Therefore it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that when Elizabeth Norton published her account of ‘Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the Tudors’ it caused something of a revolution amongst fans of the medieval matriarch.

Readable, well researched and accessible, the book gives the most appealing reconstruction of the Countess of Richmond and Derby.  While it lacks the high story telling of an Alison Weir or David Starkey offering, it is easy to follow and accessibly referenced.  The inclusion of letters written by Margaret herself in the appendix is an unexpected treat that gives readers a first-hand glance into the mind of the woman herself.

Understandably, there is a heavy focus on Margaret’s later life, when she was in a position of prominence that generated a wealth of surviving historic records.  But the picture of her early years is painted as well as possible.

The front cove tells us that this is the ‘true story of the Red Queen’ – a nod to how popular fiction has slightly distorted Margaret’s reputation in recent years.  Perhaps because of this, the biography does not massively dwell on the empathetic and speculation.  But it does gives readers the intellectual framework to safely speculate.

If you are a fan of Margaret, the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor era, then this is worth getting your hands on.  Despite the book being quite long, and me being a slow reader with a full time job, I finished it in days.

Margaret Beaufort, Mother of the Tudor Dynasty, by Elizabeth Norton, was published by Amberley Publishing Plc in 2010.  At time of writing it was available for purchase on Amazon for £52.17 (hardcover) and £9.98 paperback)

Why Margaret Beaufort could NOT have killed the Princes in the Tower

Picard - Beaufort - Princes

I’ve always known that a handful of people judge Margaret Beaufort guilty of the death of the Princes in the Tower.  But until I published my series on Richard III – and incurred the wrath of the Ricardians – I had no idea just how widespread the theory was.

Absolutely no contemporary source links Margaret to the crime.  An obscure 17th century biographer attempting to redeem Richard III links the deaths to a ‘certain Countess’ (presumably of Richmond) but offers nothing by way of evidence.   I can’t shake the feeling that this view is currently so popular because of the ‘White Queen’ TV series in 2013.

It is, I believe, credible to suggest that Margaret had a motive.  With the sons of Edward IV out the way, nothing would stand in the way of her son making an alliance with Elizabeth of York, uniting their claim to the throne and over throwing the tyrannical Richard. But a motive is not proof.  It isn’t even close.

At the heart of this debate, in my opinion, is a correct understanding of how closely guarded the Princes were. Mancini tells us that Richard dismissed the boys’ servants and drew them closer into the tower.  Only Richard’s loyalist men had access to them in the context of a high security prison.

How could Margaret possibly have gained access to the Princes, even if she had wanted to?  The usual arguments go like this:

She was a wealthy woman who could have bribed the guards – She was a woman of some means.  But what on earth could she have given Richard’s most trusted men that would trigger abandonment of their master.  Killing princes, even ones deem illegitimate, is a pretty risking business – one you would answer for with your head.  I just can’t believe that you would do it under the orders of anyone but the ruler of the day.

Her husband, Lord Stanley was a mover and shaker at court – Yes he was.  But it does not equate that he would have access to the Princes.  He was powerful; but he was not part of Richard’s inner circle.

I’m worried about the way some people are thinking about the Wars of the Roses at the moment.  I consider myself a feminist and I agree that for too long, historians neglected the powerful impact that women have made throughout the ages.  But we do no favours to anyone when we try and make the facts match our values.  Women were not the key players in the 15th century.  Perhaps they should have been.  But they weren’t.

When engaging with people on this debate, I keep hearing people argue Margaret’s guilt with lines such as ‘she was a powerful woman in a man’s world.’  Perhaps she was; but it’s disturbing that people are almost suggesting that the murder of two young boys is somehow a display of power that we feminists should be proud of.

There’s much we don’t know about Lady Margaret Beaufort.  But what we do know suggests she was a kind, generous, pious, if a little austere figure.  Child murder was not something that was likely to appeal to her and even if it had, she could not have had the means.

Only one man had access to the Princes – only one man can reasonably be assumed to have murdered them.

What do you think geeks?  Am I underestimating Margaret’s ambition?  Have I been naive to the means or access she might have had?  I want to know what YOU think!

Margaret Beauforts claim to the throne – conclusion

Whitequeenmargaretandhenry

In the past few posts we’ve seen that the childhood Margaret, though a wealthy heiress, was not deemed to be a candidate for the throne.  However, as Lancaster was gradually depleted there were those who began to ponder whether her blood line could lead to a dynasty of Kings.

In truth, when we see Margaret or her young son portrayed as the ‘heirs to Lancaster’ in historical fiction books and TV dramas, their status has been somewhat inflated in order to give currency to their characters.  Margaret Beaufort has even been described in one series as ‘the Red Queen’ – an attribute that should surely go to Margaret of Anjou if it’s going to go to anyone.

But I can’t forget that when trying to frame her sort-of father-in-law in 1450, Parliament accused him of having tried to marry his son to her because he believed her to be the heir to the throne.  While he almost certainly hadn’t believed anything of the sort, those accusing him could not have done so if there was not a hint of credibility to the claims.  But it probably was just a hint.  Everyone thought the Duke of York was the heir; but perhaps when people discussed what would happen after Henry VI’s demise, Margaret occasionally got a mention.

Everything of course changed in 1470 when Lancaster had no option but to look for anyone with Royal blood and glanced briefly at Henry Tudor.  Any claim he had came through Margaret – but no one thought she herself could be Queen.  However, Henry’s chances only really picked up when people started rebelling against the tyranny of Richard III.  At this stage, people primarily supported him because he pledged to marry Elizabeth of York – who did have a good claim.

As I said at the beginning, Margaret Beaufort is my Royal history heroine.  Through arranging the engagement of her son to Elizabeth, and risking much to take part in rebellions, she can claim credit for the rise of the Tudors.  But there’s no need to retrospectively raise her status to make her a compelling character to study.  She has interest and appeal in bucket loads.

Margaret Beaufort’s claim to the throne part 3: The better arguments

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As we have shown in the previous post, most of the arguments that suggest Margaret was looked upon as a potential heir to the throne are not satisfactory.  Now it is time to examine the two stronger theories.

In part 2, I examined three of the most common reasons given for Margaret having a claim to England’s throne; but I also showed why they sadly don’t amount to much.

But there are two stronger – although I think ultimately unsatisfactory – reasons that are also given.

Parliament had acknowledged her claim in 1450

Maybe.  When she was the ward of the unpopular Duke of Suffolk, Parliament had accused him of trying to marry her to his son ‘pretending and believing her to be the heir to the throne.’

Essentially they had major beef with Suffolk, the King’s unpopular adviser and wanted him out.  They needed an excuse.  Margaret had been his ward for years and he had either married her or planned to marry her to his son.  Those that had it in for Suffolk concocted a story that he had ganged up with the French to try and do away with the King, and get his son to claim the throne by right of marriage to Margaret.

It does add weight to the claim that she was considered next in line, but…but, but, but: we have to remember that neither was Suffolk saying he thought she actually was (and indeed, he denied he thought she was) and nor did Parliament suggest that she actually was.  They were accusing Suffolk of pretending she was.

Nonetheless in order to Parliament’s framing of Suffolk to have been in any way credible, there must have been a certain sense that Margaret was not an outlandish candidate for succession.  It’s also very possible that anyone who was not keen on the idea of the Duke of York being next in line, may have considered Margaret a more viable option.

Her son had to flee to exile in 1470 – surely that means he was considered a rival to the Yorks?

This is a strong argument.  Why on earth did the future Henry VII have to flee the country when the Yorks were restored in 1470 if he was no threat?  Some must have thought him a claimant and that claim was transmitted from his mother.

However at this point, Lancaster had little choice.  In the 1450s, York was generally considered Henry VI’s heir: but this was hardly an option now.  And, after the battle of Tewksbury the house of Lancaster (including the Beauforts) had been eliminated in the male line.  Henry Richmond was ‘the closest Lancaster had to Royalty.’  Therefore at this point it does seem that opinions had shifted and Margaret’s Beaufort claim now had validity.  But we must be clear.  This was placed firmly on her son.  Nobody envisaged her making a bid for power herself.

So where does all this leave us?  Let’s hop on over to the conclusion to find out.

Margaret Beaufort’s claim to the throne Part 2: Some arguments that don’t stack up

by Unknown artist, oil on panel
by Unknown artist, oil on panel

Margaret Beaufort is the idol of many Royal history geeks.  But are the constant claims that she was once seen as a potential Queen of England really justifiable?

As I have said in the intro, I think it’s unlikely that anyone ever saw Margaret Beaufort as a potential Queen of England.  But there are four reasons historians sometimes give – and another one I have factored in – as to why I could be wrong.  We’re going to explore the first three, which I am confident don’t stack up, in this post before moving on to the two I have a little more time for in the next.

Hold on tight, here we go:

ARGUMENT 1: The reason Henry VI married her so young to his brother was to provide Lancaster with an heir and even to give his brother the chance of succeeding him (by right of marriage).  Therefore, she must have had a good claim.

Historians tell us that arranging the marriage of Edmund Tudor (his maternal half-brother who had no claim to the throne) to the semi-royal Margaret Beaufort was one of the few acts of Henry VI’s reign that was entirely determined by him rather than his wife or an advisor.  If this is true, it seems unlikely that he had the succession in mind.  He certainly did nothing to dispel the assumption that the Duke of York was next in line.  If this was his plan, then it was a demonstration of strategic thinking that he failed to exhibit at any other stage of his ill-fated career.

Instead it seems far more likely – and in keeping with his character – that he was keen to provide his brother with a wealth and security which had previously alluded him.  Margaret – whatever else she was or wasn’t – was one of the richest heiresses in England and the King wanting to put these resources the way of his brother seems much more in keeping with the naïve but kindly character of the Henry, who had poured affection and blessing on his siblings whenever he was able.

ARGUMENT 2: Edmund Tudor risked sexual relations with the young Margaret because he knew an heir was desperately needed

I’m afraid this argument doesn’t stack up.  True Margaret fell pregnant at 12 – something which was shocking even by the standards of the day and possibly a risk to Tudor’s reputation.  But – however much we might want to excuse him of it – this can’t be because he was desperate to provide an heir and stability for England.   By this point the King and Queen had been able to beget an heir themselves.  A spare might be handy, but disgraceful urgency was hardly needed.

The reasons that he, Edmund Richmond, rushed to impregnate his child bride were far less noble.  Margaret was rich.  If he fathered a child by her – regardless of what happened to the mother – he would gain a life interest in her estates.  It was a brutal act of avaricious.  Perhaps it’s not hard to see where Henry VII inherited his love of money…

ARGUMENT 3: Henry VII based his claim through his mother, so it must have been credible

I think there’s something in this argument, but we have to be careful.  Richard III had become unpopular.  There wasn’t many people left to challenge him.  Because the line of Henry IV and the male-line Beauforts had been eliminated at the Battle of Tewksbury, Henry of Richmond was the ‘closest thing Lancaster had to Royalty.’  In and of itself it wasn’t much of a claim, but with a pledge to marry Elizabeth of York, people started to flock to him.   Might, primarily, made right.

When examined closely, none of the above really point to Margaret having much of a claim to the throne.  But join us in part 3 for a couple of slightly stronger arguments.

Well geeks…over to you.  Have I misjudged these arguments?  Was Margaret given in marriage because of her Royal blood?  Have I devalued Henry VII’s claim?  Or am I spot on…?

Intro: Did Margaret Beaufort have a claim to the throne?

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The courage and determination of Lady Margaret Beaufort has inspired countless Royal history geeks throughout the generations.  But was she really, as so many writers have suggested, ever considered a contender for the crown?

For reasons I’ve never quite been able to fathom, Lady Margaret Beaufort is my Royal history heroine.  A lioness of the House of Tudor who never wore a crown herself but paved the way for her heirs to do so.  She successfully seated her dynasty on the throne of England and no force in history has been able to knock it off.

To some, her brutal determination derived from the fact that she, a descendant of the house of Lancaster was the true heir to England.  It was her duty to see that her claim was realised, even if in the form of her son.

And this was certainly part of the Tudor narrative.  To bolster his security on the throne, her son would surround himself with images of the Beaufort Portcullis to remind everyone that the blood of Edward III – however distantly – trickled through his veins.  But how much was this a retrospective realisation by Henry VII’s court?  Had anyone prior to 1485 really thought that Margaret of Richmond had any real claim to the crown of England.

I love Margaret Beaufort.  But at time of writing I don’t think that she was ever really considered a potential Queen of England by anybody.  In her childhood I just don’t believe anyone thought it credible.  When Lancaster was all but depleted people looked straight to her son – and even then only with the thinnest of hopes.  Henry VII’s claim was in truth based on conquest and marriage.

Examining this further certainly requires a mini-series.  First we will look at the reasons usually given for Margaret’s claim and see why they don’t stack up.  Then we will explore the best arguments in her favour before summing up in a conclusion.

Enjoy!  I did.

Introducing Margaret Beaufort week

Dan Jones Margaret Beaufort

There are a few things on TV really worth watching.  Dan Jones’ ‘Britain’s Bloody Crown’ (which should probably be called ‘England’s Bloody Crown’) is one of them.

Not only is it a well-researched yet entertaining docu-drama (which can be something of a rarity), last week he even managed to achieve the near-impossible and present a moderate, reasoned and non-partisan picture of Richard III which still made it clear that he almost certainly killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

But it was the trail for this week’s episode that really got my ears pricked.  This Thursday, Jones is to devote an entire episode to the legendary Margaret Beaufort, mother of the Tudors and one of my historic heroines.

In excited anticipation of this, I have decided to declare this week MARGARET BEAUFORT week on Royalhistorygeeks.org.  During the week I will flood the site with content of Henry VII’s illustrious mother, inviting comment, dialogue and discussion as I do so.

First, I will kick off with a mini-series on whether the young Margaret really had a valid claim to the throne as many historians and writers have suggested.  Then I will devote a post to explaining why, despite the bizarre suggestions of some Ricardians, she, the Countess of Richmond could not possibly have killed the Princes in the Tower.  After that I will tackle another myth, that Margaret and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth of York did not get along.  I also intend to post a review of Elizabeth Norton’s excellent biography of ‘The Mother of the Tudor Dynasty’.

Finally, I will eagerly watch the episode on Thursday night and post my critique following it.  This week’s gonna be a blast guys.  Join me for the ride!

Was the War of the Roses really just a Tudor myth?

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I’m loving Dan Jones’s new Channel 5 series on the Wars of the Roses.  It’s so refreshing to see a TV show which is both engaging and well researched.  He’s a good presenter and having read ‘The Hallow Crown’ some months ago, I can confirm that he’s also a very convincing historian and compelling writer.

But I do have one bone to pick with him.  Although not laboured in the excellent two episodes I’ve seen so far, in both his book and other articles, Jones has been quick to label the Wars of the Roses as a ‘Tudor construction.’

Don’t get me wrong.  He’s not saying that the battles didn’t happen or that the crown didn’t endlessly change hands.  He’s trying to make the point that the framing of it as a dynastic struggle, York  vs Lancaster, or red rose vs white, was whipped up by the Tudors in order to present themselves as the ultimate reconcilers of the conflict through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

To an extent I agree with him.  The early stages were about the Duke of York trying to replace the ministers of the Lancastrian King; he probably was genuinely loyal to the monarch himself at the start.  But, I still struggle to endorse the theory that it has come down to us as a dynastic struggle solely because that’s the way the Tudors wanted to spin it.  Here’s a few #QuickFireThoughts from me:

  • The Duke of York, the main antagonist in the conflict, was motivated in part by the fact that, because of his Royal blood, he felt he should be playing a greater role in government.
  • The main wielder of power (after the Queen) was the Duke of Somerset, a Beaufort descendant of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He was appointed more because of his Lancastrian blood than any great ability.
  • York’s main beef was with Somerset. Therefore, even at the earliest stage, there was an element of York vs Lancaster.  Dynastic loyalty meant something, even at the beginning.
  • York’s closest supporter, the Earl of Warwick, was a member of his family and the fiercest defenders of the status quo, Beauforts and Tudors, were close in blood to the King.

So to cut a long story short, I think dynastic loyalty and the question of power by right of blood were always facets in what contemporaries called ‘the cousins’ war.’  I get that Dan Jones knows a lot more than me, I’m just increasingly fed up with so much stuff getting written off as ‘Tudor propaganda’ when I’m not entirely sure there’s much evidence for it.

So geeks…what do you think?  Did the Tudors re-write history?  Did Dan Jones got a little carried away?  Do I have a clue what I’m talking about?  I want to know what YOU think!

Book review: Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

Richard iii book

In the summer of 2013 I, like the rest of the UK, was absorbed by the BBC’s White Queen.  Like the rest of the UK, I fell in love with the brilliant acting, the dramatic story telling and the fact that for a precious few weeks, the things I loved were becoming main stream; people actually wanted to talk to me about the subjects I was usually told to shut up about!  I even recall a fair few people at work gathering round as I drew a Plantagenet family tree on the white board!

Of course, those that made it to the end of the series (which presumably wasn’t quite so many given the BBC’s decision to axe it) were talking about one thing: who was responsible for the death of the White Queen’s sons, the legendary Princes in the Tower?

It was never something I had looked into but, based on the odd David Starkey documentary here and there, I had always thought that Richard III was the most likely candidate.  But, after this documentary I realised there could be so many others; Margaret Beaufort, portrayed as such a fanatic throughout the series was most in the frame and even Anne Neville may have had blood on her hands.  This was something I needed to research.

A friend recommended that I read Alison Weir’s ‘Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.’  I was so grateful he did.  Because she set me straight immediately.

Not only is the book well researched, thoroughly readable and insightful, I would actually go as far to say that anyone reading it with an open mind, cannot walk away with the conclusion that anyone other than their infamous uncle, Richard III, was responsible for the death of the innocent Princes.  I appreciate that’s a bold claim but, I challenge anyone (who has read it) to defy me!

The brilliance of Weir’s work is not in the unveiling of any new or profound revelation, but in its sheer simplicity.  Many have said that too little is known of the late 1400s and that answers can never truly be reached.  She disagrees.  Instead of focusing on the absence of source material, she relentlessly peruses what is available to us today, orders it with logic and common sense and shows that the pattern of events and other contemporary comments point in one clear direction.

The book also provides a great window into the latter stages of the War of the Roses and brings to life a host of characters who each played their part in the dramatic events.  Although this was actually written before the book ‘York vs Lancaster,’ I recommend reading the aforementioned first, in order to ensure you have the context front of mind.

In the opening of the book (first written in 1992), Weir remarks that when it comes to Richard III we are never likely to have more evidence at hand then we have today.  Interestingly, we have of course since then made an epic discovery in the form of Richard’s remains.  Every further nugget of information that has come to light since then, only backs up the author’s analysis.

No book is perfect.  Every historian, however hard they try, brings some subconscious biases to the table.  But having now read this book three times, and aspects of it far more, I can’t quite believe that there is even a single Ricardian left standing.

Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir was first published in 1992 with a revised edition published by Vintage in 2014.  It is available for purchase from Amazon in ebook, paperpack and hardcover format