Friends, rivals, enemies? The relationship between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville

 

With the ‘White Princess’ currently broadcasting in America it’s important to take a more balanced look at the relationship between the so called ‘Red Queen’ and ‘White Queen.’

Being UK based I haven’t actually seen the ‘White Princess’ so I’m basing any comments on the book and what American friends have reported.

Sorry about the length and quality.  Am working on my skills!

As if we weren’t excited enough…Weir teases Twitter with beautiful Boleyn book artwork

At the beginning of the year, this site listed a number of books we were most looking forward to hitting our shelves.  At the top of the list was the second installment of Alison Weir’s six novels telling the stories of Henry VIII’s curious Queens.

‘Anne Boleyn: a King’s Obsession’ will debut in book stores on May 18th.  Across social media, the best-selling author and historian has been hinting that the novel will explore new and potentially controversial theories about Anne’s relationship with Henry and her attitudes toward female advancement.    Given that Weir has previously stated that writing fiction gives the historian a greater degree of freedom when exploring thoughts and theories, anticipation is high as to what remains to be revealed.

However, for those more interested in a fresh take on one of history’s greatest love epics and the downfall of the original tragic heroine, there’s just as much reason for eager excitement.  If the new artwork and endorsements from fellow writers released last week are anything to go by, absorbing the new book is going to be a beautiful experience from start to finish.

The USA cover for the second ‘Tudor Queens’ book

Did Margaret Beaufort ever love Edmund Tudor?

I promised you a mini-series on Margaret Beaufort.  And a mini-series on Margaret Beaufort you will get.

Here’s my mutterings on her first (proper) marriage.

What think you all?

NB: I make two mistakes in this video – one I didn’t realise until I uploaded it.  Can you spot it?

A new video mini-series on Margaret Beaufort

Hi geeks!  Currently ‘shooting’ a new video mini-series on the mother of the Tudors. Got some great questions in that I was going to answer all at once – but the video got way, way, way too long.

So here’s the intro.  Pretty soon all the clips about Margaret and her marriages should be up.  Hope you enjoy!

Was Henry VII the first King to ‘give peace a chance’?

King Henry VII.jpg

I’ve never been that interested in the debate around ‘when medieval England ended.’  It’s not a question that a contemporary could ever have asked and I don’t totally see the point in it.

Nonetheless I agree that saying the battle of Bosworth field was the ‘end of the medieval era’ is far too simplistic.  People would not have looked out of their windows the day after and seen a radically different world.

That said, it is clear that the Tudor dynasty ushered in a new era in the way that England was governed.  What fascinates me at the moment, is how much that may have been down (at least in part) to Henry VII’s personal style of Kingship.

I like Henry.  It’s a shame that he gets so little attention in comparison to his showy son and chaotic Yorkist predecessors.  But I genuinely believe he was a man of good character.  Part of the reason for this, is that I believe he was less blood thirsty than your typical ruler – even if he was not adverse to tyrannical tendencies.

On the fact of it, my claim seems strange.  This is, after all, a man who won the crown in battle and had to bear arms more than once to defend it.  But when we take a minute to consider the context and other facts, I do think my comments have some credibility.  For example:

  • He did not seek glory in foreign battles.  Establishing his claim to the French throne was of little interest to him in contrast to the Henrys that had gone before him and the one that would succeed him.  There is an added irony to this in that he was the grandson of a French princess and arguably had a far greater claim to that throne than he did to the one he occupied.
  • He was remarkably lenient with those who crossed him, Perkin Warbeck being the most obvious example.  This is not to say that he wasn’t a man of his times.  His eventual murder (because that’s what it was) of the vulnerable Earl of Warwick was almost unforgivable – but it seems that he did this for the sake of his dynasty rather than out of any blood lust.
  • He did not generally take part in battles himself.  You could argue this made him a coward.  But it does reinforce the argument that tales of great chivalry and conquest were of little personal interest to him.

Perhaps, after the Wars of the Roses, he thought England bored of battle.  Maybe his own experience of a life on the run had exhausted his appetite for conquest.  But whatever else can be said in critique of the miserly usurper, Henry Tudor, I would much rather live in a country with a high tax economy than one where my life was often in danger.

Anne Boleyn is one of history’s villains. So why do we love her so much?

Anne boleyn.jpg

Maybe it was ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’’.  ‘The Tudors’ probably packed a punch.  It could just be the natural fascination we all have with tales of triumph that turn to disaster.  But whatever the reason, Anne Boleyn is loved by 21st century history geeks.

I guess her courtship with Henry had all the great ingredients of a classic love story – and her downfall the perfect tragedy.  She captures the imagination of the romantic, and as Alison Weir notes, in our 21st century mindset, she has reached the status of ‘celebrity’.

She deserves our interests – maybe even our fascination.  But should she really command our love?

Let’s recap for a minute.  This is a woman who ruthlessly forced a devout and caring woman off the throne and did her level best to ensure that she was treated as badly as possible for the remainder of her life.  As Queen she did all she could to see the Lady Mary, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter humbled and harmed.  If anyone got in her way, she destroyed them.

I’m not sure I’d want a girl like that for a friend.

Perhaps we’re reacting to centuries of Anne being treated unfairly.  The ruthless ‘qualities’ that allowed her to prosper were much admired in men.  Indeed, the equally savage Henry VIII has gone down in history as one of England’s greatest Kings.  And of course, the (almost certainly) false charges levied against her have meant that previous generations regarded her as a sexually perverse harlot.

Her intelligence, her cunning and her determination now receive much greater recognition from historians.  This is positive.  But am I the only one that thinks there’s something freakishly ironic about how the blogsphere fawns over Anne as if she’s some kind of tragic heroine.  If the character of Anne Boleyn was cast on Eastenders she would be seen as far worse than a soap bitch.  She would be hounded as an undisputable villain.

Okay Boleyn fans…are you going to let me get away this this?  Show me where I’m going wrong.

Why Lancaster DID have a better claim than York – at least according to Edward III

Loyal readers will know that I’m something of a ‘Wars of the Roses’ fan.  I mean, obviously I’m not actually a fan of any war – but you get what I mean.

Some argue the wars ended in 1471, others in 1485.  In reality they are still bring fought today – just on social media rather than the battle field.

Or, to be less dramatic, it is fair to say that the debate around which Royal House – York or Lancaster – had the best claim to the throne is still hotly debated.

Choosing the Red and White Roses.jpgThe Wars of the Roses saw the houses of York and Lancaster fight for the throne
between 1455 and 1470

The argument – with respect to my fellow geeks – is not always at the most sophisticated level.  A slightly flippant summary would go along the lines of ‘I’m a Tudor geek so Lancaster had the best claim’ to be retaliated with ‘York had the moral high ground because I fancy Max Irons.’

Up until recently, my more moderate view was that ‘York probably had the best claim’ while accepting it wasn’t a black and white issue.  I even created some quite hilarious memes to that effect.  But there’s a reason I decided to pick up my virtual biro and pen this post.  That’s right super cool readers…following a bit more research, I have changed my mind.

Let’s have a quick recap. In 1399, Henry Bolinbroke deposed his cousin Richard II and established the house of Lancaster on the throne of England.

Henry IV – as Bolinbroke became – was the eldest boy of John of Gaunt – third son of Edward III.

The Lancastrian crown then passed safely down the dynasty for three generations until in the late 1450s people got fed up with the well meaning but weak Henry VI who was probably mentally ill.  He was challenged for the throne by his distant cousin Richard, Duke of York – a descendant of Edmund of Langley, Edward III’s fourth surviving son.

On the face of it therefore, York’s claim seems pretty weak; Langley was certainly the younger brother to Gaunt.  But here’s the snag.  Richard was also descended from Philippa of Clarence, the daughter of Lionel of Antwerp – Edward III’s second son.  So, if you accept that women can transmit their claim to the throne to their male descendants, York really did have a claim worth taking seriously.

Richard, Duke of York claimed the throne as a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp,
Edward III’s second son

By the end of the end of the 15th century, descent through the female line was broadly accepted as a legal basis for succession.  Henry VII loosely claimed the throne through his mother, Margaret Beaufort and his son had a far greater claim through descent from Elizabeth of York.  Perhaps because my interest in history began in the Tudor era, I have always been tempted to read this mindset into earlier generations and this might be why I had always assumed York’s claim was slightly superior, despite recognising it was complicated.

However, the more I’ve researched the politics, law and conventions of the 14th century, the more I’ve begun to question my thinking.  I’ve discovered that- while Salic law, which prohibits women from inheriting the throne was never formally introduced – the trend toward male-only inheritance was gaining currency.  Many nobles were entailing their estates so that only sons could inherit.

It would seem that the great Edward III has similar sentiments.  Disaster struck the Royal House when Edward the Prince of Wales (known to history as the ‘Black Prince’) died prematurely leaving one surviving son behind.  In a world of high mortality, the succession was far from secure.

To the political classes it was unclear whether the next heir after Prince Richard (the future Richard II) was Roger Mortimer, son of Philippa of Clarence (the heir general) or John of Gaunt and his son (the heirs male).

Essentially, because the Duke of York inherited the Mortimer claim via his mother, it is this question that legitimised the Wars of the Roses.  But, little did I realise until recently, it is actually one that Edward III had decided to answer.  In 1376 he created a document that made clear his intent to entail the throne through the male line.  Should Richard II’s line fail, his intent was that the crown should pass to Lancaster.

Early modern half-figure portrait of Edward III in his royal garb.

The mighty Edward III wanted his throne to pass only
through the male line

Legally, the only thing that could really override this would be if Richard had nominated a successor – but he appeared to leave the question open, possibly for political leverage.  However he did ultimately name Henry as his successor by the handing over of the ring – admittedly under some duress.  When Parliament accepted Henry IV’s sovereignty in 1399 it was probably not because of the size of his army – and indeed there is much to suggest that his ‘coup’ was relatively bloodless – and more to do with the fact that,  once a case could be made to dispose Richard, a Lancastrian succession was legally appropriate.

That said, there were those in the reign of Henry IV who always believed the Mortimer claim to be superior – although usually because they had something to gain from thinking like that.   I accept this is not a closed conversation.

But what you can’t do, is start applying attitude changes retrospectively.  By the 1460s, people were more open to female succession in the 1460s.  To an extent, even Lancastrians had to be.   Henry VI’s unimpressive efforts in reproduction were leaving Margaret Beaufort as one of the talked about candidates for the crown.  But you can’t wind the clock back and uproot a dynasty and this is why no one took York’s claims particularly seriously until he made them good on the battle field.  When changes in attitude take place and the rules of succession evolve, it is generally accepted that these apply only to future generations.

Lady Margaret Christ's College Library.jpg

In her youth, Margaret Beaufort was talked about by some Lancastrians as the
potential heir to the throne

I’ve had blogged previously about why Edward IV must be deemed a usurper; this post reinforces my views.  The House of York did not have a superior claim to the throne than Lancaster; instead they did what other usurping dynasties before them had done – they allowed might to make right and came up with a justification to rubber stamp it.  Lancaster had done the same in 1399 by attempting to claim senior descendants from Henry III.  It just so happens that York’s claims had a little more credibility to back up their military antics.

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The Tudors didn’t destroy Richard’s reputation – he did that himself!

People have been asking me recently what I think about historical fiction.  I assume what they mean by that is ‘how much does it matter whether fiction based on history actually follows the facts.’

And my answer?  Not much.  Personally, I much prefer fiction that sticks as closely to the available facts as possible while adding some snap, crackle and pop where it’s needed. Philippa Gregory and last year’s ‘Victoria’ series just about got it right for me.  But ultimately if something is labelled fiction than that’s exactly how it should be treated.   Readers and watchers should not assume they are getting the factual truth and if they do, that is not the fault of novelists or TV producers.

But there is a genre of history that worries me much more.  The 1 hour documentary.  I understand – and accept – that things need to be simplified for TV.  I recognise that there has to be different entry points for varying levels of knowledge and interest and many of my curiosities were sparked through this very medium.  However, I am getting a little fed up with the huge oversimplifications that have been transmitted through our TV screens in the last year or so which make a big impact on popular understandings of the historic debate.

Lucy Worsley’s ‘History’s Biggest Fibs’ got me a bit riled on Thursday night.  While I did really enjoy much of it, the assertion that the ‘Wars of the Roses’ was a Tudor myth and that Richard III’s name was blackened by his successors, drove me crazy.

I’ve blogged previously about the Wars of the Roses, but can I please just but in a plea for sanity when it comes to the accusation that the Tudors led some kind of deliberate propaganda campaign to tarnish the previously saintly reputation of the last Plantagenet King.

File:Henry7England.jpg

Of course Tudor writers would have been mindful of the need to please the new dynasty and this would have been reflected in their writing.  As Worsley notes, John Rouse’s work is a perfect example of this – he was complimentary about Richard in his life time but negative about him once Henry Tudor came to power.

However we now know that things once believed to be a Tudor invention have turned out to be true.  Richard’s curved spine, so often dismissed as Tudor spin has been established as fact.

The account of Dominic Mancini – dated 1483, two years before the Tudors took over – makes it clear that people strongly suspected Richard in his own lifetime of usurping the throne and doing away with the Princes.

Of course Richard’s reputation suffered under his successors.  Things rooted in truth were exaggerated and he was not treated with a sense of balance and objectivity.  But the beginnings of his huge unpopularity and the link to the crimes many hold him responsible for, can clearly be found in his own reign and lifetime.