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!

When was Margaret Beaufort born and why does it matter so much?

(c) Christ’s College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Tudor era can boast a plethora of family feuding, crimes of passion, collections of tragedy and acts of cruelty that would stretch the imaginations of even today’s most far-fetched soap opera writers.

And of course, Tudor addicts like me, will know that the founding of the Royal dynasty begins with one savage, selfish and almost unforgivable act of cruelty.  That of a pre-teen child bride being forced into marriage with a man twice her age and exposed to sexual intercourse and the dangers of child birth long before her body, let alone her mind, was ready for either.

Margaret Beaufort fascinates me.  I have spent more time trying to stitch the fragments of her life together than I have any other member of history’s royalty.  And that’s why, as I have trawled through some of her earlier biographies, I have been fascinated to find that many have underplayed the trauma of her early years by making a simple but significant error, calculating her birth date at 1441 rather than the correct 1443.

Why does this matter?  Because it, in part, dilutes the tragedy.  If born in 1441 than Margaret fell pregnant at 14 and gave birth at 15.  Still far too young of course – but it would have meant both her body and mind would have enjoyed two extra years of development and by the standards of the day, this would have been far more socially acceptable.

The origins of the error are fairly simple and apparently arise from misinterpreting evidence given at the inquest of her father’s death.  However, a much stronger case can be made for a 1443 birth date; in that year her father – preparing to go off on a military adventure – was negotiating the future of his unborn child should anything happen to him.  Further to this a book of hours from the family has been discovered that states her birth clearly as 1443.

But there is another piece of evidence which, despite rarely cropping up in the debate, actually makes the case for a 1443 birth almost watertight.

In his funeral sermon of the venerable Lady, her long-time friend and confessor Bishop Fisher makes it clear that she gave birth ‘before she was 14 years of age.’

Surely, I hear you ask, this could just be a miscalculation?  No, it can’t be.

By saying ‘not yet 14’ Fisher is not just making a passing comment on her age.  In fact, were she 14 or over he probably wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Fourteen was the closest thing that this era had to an age of consent.  Sex was just about permissible at 12 but few thought it appropriate before the age of 14.  Sometimes, this proviso was even written in to marriage contracts.

By saying that she was ‘not yet 14 years of age’ Fisher is acknowledging – subtly and tactfully of course –  the early tragedy that befell her.  That a man had violated her before an age at which it was appropriate.  That everything that followed – her ensuring her son’s early safety and fighting for continual advancement – shows her incredible strength of character by being able to overcome this early tragedy.

Recent students of Margaret Beaufort cannot help be amazed at how she survived and recovered from such a horrible early experience.  It would seem, from Fisher’s comments, that contempories also had a sense of it.  No wonder that respective for this great lady, was almost universal.

Was Henry VIII unfaithful within a year of his first marriage?

A few weeks ago, I blogged some #QuickFireThoughts on the extra-marital antics of the young Henry VIII.  While I maintain my view that he was probably a virgin upon marriage, I’ve had cause to doubt my suggestions that he might have been faithful to Catherine of Aragon in the early years of marriage.

Although I didn’t go into detail in my previous post, my reflections were based largely on David Loades’ view that accusations of Henry getting all Marvin Gay* with Anne Hastings (nee Stafford) had been misinterpreted by some historians.  This lady of high-breeding was the first woman that Henry was accused of playing away with.  According to Loades, it would be wiser to interpret their affair as simply being one of courtly love – a kind of permitted flirtation involving tokens, love letters and gestures – rather than one of a sexual nature.

This seemed credible.  But having had the chance to #DigALittleDeeper I’ve started to (as Celine would say) think twice.

Rumours of the King’s affair with Anne Stafford come down to us because they are preserved in a letter home by Don Luis Caroz, the Spanish Ambassador.  Now pay attention – this next bit gets complicated!

The story goes that Anne’s sister, Lady Fitzwalter (when both were at court), was getting pretty anxious about the attentions being paid to her sibling by William Compton, a courtier and BFF of Henry VIII.  Lady Fitz got so worked up that she had a quiet word with her brother, the Duke of Buckingham who decided to intervene directly.  Now remember Tudor fans, the Stafford family were descended from Edward III through two separate lines.  They were brimming with old royal blood and considered the Tudors as under-qualified upstarts.  The thought of his sister carrying on with the lowly Compton would have horrified old Buckingham.

When he went to his sister to confront her, he actually found her to be in Compton’s presence, perhaps confirming his worst fear.  He upbraided them both before Anne’s husband, Lord Hastings, packed her off a nunnery.

The problem is that rumours persisted that Compton had only been a stalking horse.  Really, he was providing cover for an affair underway between Anne and Henry and these were rumours that the Spanish ambassador believed.

Henry guessed straight away that Lady Fitzwalter – a favourite lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon – had been the source of the exposure and banished her from court.  The Queen was furious about the whole situation and struggled to conceal her wrath.

What then should we, all these years later, make of it?

On the one hand there is no evidence – just rumour – that Henry had been involved with Anne at all.   Nonetheless, I believe there is every reason to think that he had been behaving less than honourably.

To start with, is the King’s reaction, which the ambassador certainly believes to be, incriminating.  True, Henry might not have liked the thought of Lady Fitzwalter bad mouthing his good mate, but would this really have been enough to trigger such a reaction?  Similarly we must consider the Queen’s anger.  Is it likely she would have allowed it to become so widely known that she was quarreling with the King simply because of the behaviour of his friend?  It is also unlikely that she would be quite so miffed if the only interactions between Anne and Henry had been those of innocent courtly love.

I think the most compelling reason to believe in Henry’s guilt is that the Spanish ambassador, a man who knew the characters involved and possibly had access to more information than we see in the letter, had reason to think Henry had strayed.  At the time of writing, Catherine’s father was the effective King of Spain – the ambassador is unlikely to have reported gossip that he was not sure could be substantiated, especially when it affected his reader’s daughter so personally.  That said, it is clear from internal evidence that a big reason for writing was to try and get Catherine’s Friar – who he believed had goaded the Queen into over-reacting and therefore potentially costing Spain influence – into trouble with authorities back home.

As ever, we can never be 100% sure.  But at the very least, I’m happy to confess that my previous suggestion about Henry’s early faithfulness should now be discarded.  For more on this subject, I suggest readers check out David Loades’ book on Henry VIII and ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Alison Weir.  While researching I also came across this extremely good blog post by Susan Higginbotham, which is well worth checking out.

So geeks…over to you.  Am I being too quick to judge?  Am I simply being swayed by Henry’s unfair reputation as a womaniser?  Or have I hit the nail on the head?

*And getting it on

Would Katherine Parr really have had pre-marital sex with Seymour?


I do enjoy a good Philippa Gregory novel.  Not only does her poetic style really bring the historical characters to life, but she clearly makes a monumental effort to research her subjects – even if her interpretation often differs from mine.

Currently I’m having a good time wading through her epic novel on Katherine Parr, sixth and final wife of Henry VIII.  It’s a great read, but within the first few pages I was already growing a tad concerned about some misunderstandings that were no doubt bound to influence people’s understanding of the great Queen Consort.  For, in the very earliest part of the book, she has given herself to Thomas Seymour in body as well as heart.

Fans of Katherine Parr will know that Thomas Seymour did indeed become her husband, after the ultimate demise of Henry VIII.  There was also certainly some kind of mutual attraction and discussion of marriage prior to Katherine’s elevation to Queen.  But for me, the suggestion that she would have been foolish enough to have slept with him in 1543 is a bridge too far.

Here’s why:

  • Discovery would have risked everything – In the Tudor court people gossiped.  Would Katherine really have risked this destruction of her reputation, especially if she had already got wind of the fact that the King was after her?
  • She was a woman of virtue – Gregory’s Katherine is a woman who is not much-bothered by religion prior to her marriage to Henry.  It’s fair to say that people used to think her devout Protestantism was something that developed later, but most historians now think that her conversion had taken place before 1543.  It is unlikely that she would have so easily surrendered to a man in defiance of God’s will.
  • She would have been scared of pregnancy – Contraception was not exactly top-notch in Tudor times.  Katherine knew that if she fell pregnant it would have been game over for her place in society.
  • She didn’t get pregnant – “Ah-ha”, I hear some of you say in response to my point above.  “Perhaps Katherine didn’t fear pregnancy because after two childless marriages she believed she couldn’t actually get pregnant.”  This is possible; some contemporaries did speculate that she was infertile so it’s not impossible that she believed that herself.  But she was probably realistic enough to put that down to first being married to a sickly teenager and then to a much older man.  Besides, even if she had believed this, we all know that when she did eventually marry Seymour, she conceived rather quickly.  The fact that she did not fall pregnant in 1543 argues against a relationship of heated sexual congress.

All this being said, I have to recognise that when it came to Seymour, Katherine did lose her often level-headed outlook.  Her passion for him was such that she married him with unseemly haste after Henry VIII’s demise, and at risk to her reputation.  The circumstances though were different and Katherine knew it was her last shot at happiness and I don’t think this consideration can override those I have outlined above.

Where does this leave us?  Simple: read Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Taming of the Queen’ by all means, but read some historical biographies about Katherine as well.  That way you can get all the entertainment necessary to storytelling, as well as being sure that you’re across the facts.

I recommend the following:

Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter


Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

The Six Wives of Henry VIII  by Alison Weir


Did Katherine of Aragon really come to her second marriage a virgin?


After the wedding celebrations of Katherine of Aragon to Arthur, Prince of Wales, the teenage couple was ‘put to bed’ in keeping with the Tudor custom.  What happened that night would later become an issue of great controversy.  In this post we explore whether Katherine’s claim that the marriage was never consummated stands up to scrutiny.

As a trusting kind of person, I’m always inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Given that Katherine of Aragon went to her death insisting that when she entered her second marriage to King Henry VIII, she did so as a virgin despite the fact she had briefly been married to his brother, I’ve always tended to believed her.

Of course, given that this (intensely personal) issue was at the heart of her husband claiming a legitimate case to divorce her, perhaps Katherine had little choice but to insist on her pre-marital purity.  Certainly a good batch of historians seem to think so.

So I decided to #DigALittleDeeper and I have to confess that – with all the usual caveats around how we can never truly know – I’m still inclined to side with Katherine, although it’s something I’d like to discuss in more depth in the future.  To start with, I’m not satisfied that the arguments against her really stack up.  Let’s explore.

  • There was an assumption , upon her first husband Arthur’s death, that the marriage was consummatedThis is based on the fact that they waited a few months before declaring the future Henry VIII, ‘Prince of Wales’ on the basis that Katherine might be pregnant.  Similarly, when going through the process of arranging Katherine’s second marriage, her mother was keen to ensure that the Pope granted dispensation for the marriage regardless of the whether the first union had been consummated.

These arguments are sensible enough, but in reality no one probably asked Katherine much about the wedding night.  Her mother, Queen Isabella of Castile, wasn’t keen for this clause because she suspected that her daughter had been enjoying the fruits of young love; it was a sensible precaution by a wise and worldly woman who wanted to protect her daughter and the alliance with England, from any future attempts to undermine her second marriage.  The fact that even with it, this is exactly what happened, demonstrates what incredible foresight the infamous Queen of Castile must have possessed.

  • Prince Arthur seemed to think there had been intimacy – Friends of the 15 year old groom were later to tell of the young prince’s claims the morning after the wedding that marriage was ‘thirsty work’ and that he had spent the night in the ‘midst of Spain.’  There is no reason to think that these friends of Arthur’s were lying, but you really don’t need to be a historian to deduce that this is likely to have been youthful bragging; you just need to have been, or to have ever met, a teenage boy.
  • Katherine had a motive to lie – Yes, she did.  David Starkey very cleverly argues that given her upbringing in the court of her parents, the Spanish Kings, she was more than aware of the real politick of the Royal marriage market and would have done all she could to advance her country by becoming Queen of England.  I have a great deal of time for this argument.  However, Alison Weir argues that she would never have continued this lie to her death bed.  Given Katherine’s clear devotion to her faith and the fact she would have wanted to meet her maker with a clear conscience, we must conclude that this is the superior argument.  What’s more, Katherine seemed rather confident in challenging Henry, that he knew full well that she came to him as a maid.  Without wanting to be graphic, if this is true then there would have been ways the King might have noticed it at the time; a daring challenge for her to make if she didn’t know it to be true.

There are other arguments too.  When Katherine did declare that her first marriage had been unconsummated, people believed it.  Sex in teenage marriages was often not encouraged as it was thought to be dangerous.  We know Margaret Beaufort, based on her own bitter experience, intervened to try and protect her granddaughter from teenage intercourse.  Could she have done the same for her granddaughter in law (this last point is a bit far-fetched but has given me a great idea for a #WildCard)?

As I said, we can never know.  Fundamentally, for me, it comes down to who do you trust more out of Katherine and Henry?  Both had reason to lie, but if Henry really did believe his wife did not come to him a virgin, then he was fundamentally unbothered by it for over a decade of his marriage.  The change of heart only occurred when he became desperate for both a son and another woman.  The rest of Henry’s reign also shows us how he was very comfortable with either lying to others or, more likely, deceiving himself about the true facts of a situation when it suited him to do so.  Katherine however, would gain an almost saintly reputation, going to her death bed declaring that Henry was the only man to ever know her.

For me, the jury has come in on this issue and it has declared, at least for now, for Katherine of Aragon.

Could Edward IV have been illegitimate?


The great Tudor rose.  Red for Lancaster and white for York.  A symbol that good King Henry had united the waring houses and brought stability to England.

And of course it wasn’t just a piece of empty imagery; it was a symbol of success.  He had infused his Lancastrian blood with the rival genepool of Elizabeth of York, thanks to an alliance between their respective mothers, giving birth in turn to a host of young Yorkcastrians, better known to us as the Tudors.

But what if there was a break somewhere in the chain?  What if instead of uniting his line with the descendants of Richard, Duke of York, Henry had inadvertently hooked up with the heir to a little-known French archer?  According to rumours, he had done just that.

The story goes that when they were both in France, Cecily, Duchess of York and her husband the Duke were temporarily estranged due to his military commitments.  During this separation, she succumbed to the advances of an archer named Blaybourne and fell pregnant with the child that would one day become Edward IV, hero of the house of York and father to the first Tudor Queen.

Most damagingly, it is claimed the story originates with Cecily herself.  As even the most casual observer of this era will be aware, Edward’s marriage to the low-born Elizabeth Woodville (whose family were both known as Lancastrian sympathisers and fierce social climbers) was immensely controversial.  Apparently, so enraged was she with her son, that she threatened to confess that he was illegitimate and deprive him of the throne.

It’s a serious accusation but one we should be cautious about taking at face value.  There is no record of the rumour before 1483 when it emerged in the pages of Dominic Mancini, an Italian scholar dispatched to England to serve as the eyes and ears of a continental Bishop.  It must be remembered that at this point, Richard III and his cronies were putting it about that Edward IV was a bastard, in order to bolster his younger brother’s claim for the throne.  It is likely therefore that this rumour crops up for the first time in 1483 and probably didn’t spring from Cecily’s lips.

Without being able to depend on this fundamental plank of evidence, the rest of the arguments fall down somewhat.  Let’s explore them.

  • The absence of the Duke of York at the time of conception – When you look at Edward’s birthdate (in late April 1442) and work backwards, it appears as if the Duke of York was away from home at the time of conception, but the truth is, we just don’t have enough evidence to read too much into it.  The couple resided in France at the time and while the Duke was away, he wasn’t so far that the Duchess couldn’t have joined him for some of this time.  Of course, the future King could also have been slightly premature or even a little late – there isn’t much time in it.  All of these seem more likely than the Duchess secretly ‘liaised’ with a man of such lower rank, that tongues would surely have been set wagging.  We should remember that no rumours of Edward’s paternity are recorded before a time when they were politically advantageous to someone.
  • A low-key baptism – It has been suggested that Edward’s low-key baptism (in the corner of the church), which contrasted a year later with a more lavish christening for his younger brother, indicate that the Duke of York was not going to splash out for a baby that he didn’t think was his.  However, this is counter-intuitive; if the Duke of York had decided to raise this child as his heir, even if he was suspicious of paternity, surely he would have gone out of his way to maintain a pretence of legitimacy rather give the world a sign that his wife had so embarrassingly betrayed him.  Besides, the Duke and Duchess had previously had a son who died very soon after birth; their decision to go for a low-key baptism was probably a sign that they had concerns for his health and wanted to make sure he was dedicated to God before anything went wrong.  Incidentally, this somewhat backs up the suggestion that he was premature.
  • A lack of physical resemblance between father and son – This is a bit of a non-starter.  Yes, Edward was tall and strapping (which his father was not) but there are plenty of obvious people in his blood line (on both mother and father’s side) where he could have got this from.  Family resemblance is tricky and for those of us analysing today, we don’t have an awful lot to go on.
  • Both his brothers accused him of being a bastard – Yes they did.  Both had a political motive for doing so.  Others made such accusations as well, but not until long after he was born and crowned.  Besides, when a noble was born in another country, away from the glare of the commentators of the day, rumours often surrounded the circumstances of their birth.  John of Gaunt is an example of this.

Aside from all the above there are other points worth mentioning.  Cecily was outraged by such rumours (suggesting, again, that she didn’t start them) and it seems hugely out of character for her to have committed adultery, especially with someone of low-birth.  I think it is also reasonable to assume that Richard, Duke of York believed that Edward was his; he is unlikely to have claimed the throne for his descendants and willingly passed it on to another man’s son.

All this said, I have only had chance to #digalittledeeper into this topic.  One day I would love to research it more thoroughly and am certainly open to changing my mind.

Valentine’s day special: Were Victoria and Albert really a love match?


As a Valentine’s day special, we will take a step back and decide whether Royalty’s greatest love story was really the great romance many of us have always believed it to be…

Studying Royal History is never boring, but it can be intense.  Brother against brother, father killing son, wife betraying husband and cousin rising up against cousin.  Sometimes, you need a bit of light relief.

For me, it was always the love story of Victoria and Albert that gave me that a-plenty.  Two young adults who, however dynastically convenient, fell head over heels in love.  In the innocent throws of passion that followed, they created an idyllic set of children that would serve as a timeless model of exactly what a Royal family should look like.

Such tales don’t just make easy reading; if the modern reader is able to overlook the fact that the two lovers were first-cousins, it is essentially a tale of romance that we can all either relate or aspire to.

But lately, as I’ve been conducting some – albeit fairly light – research around the ‘happy couple,’ I’ve noticed that there’s now a narrative circulating that perhaps all was not as it seemed.  This is something I don’t remember coming across as a teenager, but certainly seems to have been doing the rounds in recent years.

Don’t get me wrong, very little that I read suggests that the conventional view is dead in the water,  but there is a sense that the young Coburgs were not the love story we have been led to believe.  Were much of Victoria’s later platitudes to Albert a product of guilt?  Were they both really the victims of an arranged marriage?  Was it the case that plain Victoria felt a hormonal passion for her striking new husband, but he was more disappointed in his plump, immature and unintelligent bride?

Having decided to #DigALittleDeeper I have concluded that the following observations certainly seem fair:

  • Victoria and Albert’s match was certainly one arranged (or strongly, strongly encouraged) by their family. Their uncle Leopold, had once been in prime position to become Prince Consort of Britain; it was almost certainly his belief that this ambition should be fulfilled by the next generation of his kin.
  • After Albert’s death it does seem the case that Victoria looked back at their marriage through rose-tinted spectacles. Contemporary letters and other sources suggest their marriage could be quite tempestuous and a strain on both parties.
  • It does seem that whatever Victoria’s pleasures, Albert experienced a degree of melancholy in the marriage, particularly in the early years.

However, is any of this really enough to take away from the more romantic tales that have come down to us?  Yes, their marriage was somewhat ‘arranged,’ but this would always be the case for the woman ruling the most powerful Kingdom in Europe.  It should be noted that some of the other potential matches for her were more favourable to other stakeholders, including the UK government.  Victoria and Albert’s personal chemistry was part of what made the match achievable.

It is almost inevitable that following Albert’s untimely death, Victoria would always remember her marriage with more romance than accuracy, but that doesn’t mean she rewrote history.  Were there elements of guilt for the times that she didn’t think herself a good wife?  Probably, but that’s hardly untypical in situations of grief.  While evidence does suggest that there were many tempestuous moments in their marriage, perhaps in a marriage dominated by passion, this shouldn’t surprise us.

As for what was going on in Albert’s head and indeed, his heart, we can of course never truly know.  If indeed his passion did not match that of his wife’s, we would be wise not to draw too much from that.  Victoria was in her own country, her own surroundings and occupied an established role in society.  Not only did Albert not have the security of a well-worn constitutional role, he also had to adapt to leaving all his friends, family and the country he had grown up in.  If he was battling with aspects of mild depression from time to time, it does not make sense to attribute that to how he felt about his marriage.

Besides, there is evidence that suggests his marriage to Victoria was something that excited him on every level.  The love letters he sent to his future bride, testify to a man excited about forthcoming nuptials and everything that this would entail.  Throughout the 1840s, Victoria was rarely free from pregnancy.  True, they both felt a duty to create a new and idyllic Royal family after the scandals of the Hanoverian years, but it’s difficult to think that this scale of reproduction was the product of duty alone.

As with so many things, this is something I would like to research further.  Based on what I can see so far, I won’t be abandoning the romantic notions of this Royal coupling that I have found so comforting over the years.  For once, this is a tale of romance that is rooted in reality.