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!

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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In defence of Henry VI

Image result for Henry VI

Been thinking lately about good King Henry.  No not that one.  Nor that one.  Not even that one.

I speak not of Henry VIII, who transformed England perhaps more than any other ruler.  Nor do I dwell on his father, who founded the infamous Tudor dynasty.  I do not even mean the fifth Harry, who took England to its 100 year war zenith at the battle of Agincourt.

Instead, I’ve been pondering the reign of Henry VI – the man whose reign was seen as so disastrous that it led to the Wars of the Roses and ultimately, the downfall of Lancaster and the rise of York.  He was weak.  Easily led.  He had no desire for glory in war.  He lacked ruthlessness.  He was far too trusting; particularly when it came to unscrupulous advisers.

All this is accurate.  He had none of the qualities necessary for successful medieval Kingship.

But something bothers me about how history judges him.  No sympathy has emerged and few rarely speak up for his good qualities.  He was a man of genuine religious conviction.  He was compassionate.  He invested in education.  He forgave people that wronged him.  He was not promiscuous.  He took care of his maternal half-brothers.  He was a lover of peace.

None of this, I agree, would have endeared him to contemporaries.  But shouldn’t the 21st century observer be pouring praise on these virtues?  After all, the behaviour of Catherine Howard made her a totally unsuitable Tudor Queen; but the modern reader has sympathy with her, recognising that she was essentially an abused teenage girl, forced into marriage with an obese man in his 50s.  Why isn’t Henry VI given the same generosity?

It has come to my attention of late that the Wars of the Roses are still being fought – albeit by history fans on Twitter.  Great!  But it surprises me that so many side with Edward IV at the expense of poor Henry.

Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve said above, I understand why contemporaries would have seen Edward as the better King.  But shouldn’t we judge differently?  Shouldn’t we be quick to acknowledge that virtuous, faithful, peaceful Henry is a better offering than adulterous, gluttonous and war ready Edward – even if we have to sadly acknowledge that the latter probably makes you a better ruler of 15th century England?

But we don’t.  Part of me can’t shake the feeling that this has all been distorted by the fact that so many history fans have a crush on Max Irons…

Anyway, for this blogger at least, Henry VI deserves a reprieve.  He may have been one of the most unsuited heads to ever wear a crown – but he’s one of the finest characters in the annals of history.

Okay Yorkists (and other geeks) – do your worst.  Tell me where I’m going wrong!  I want to hear what you think!

Was Edward IV a usurper?

Image result for edward iv

I stumbled across something interesting the other day.  For some reason, I was checking out the Wikipedia entry on ‘usurpers of the English throne’ (we’ve all done it) and discovered that it features a list of those who had seized the crown.  As you can imagine, it was an exciting moment!

But it was also a moment that triggered a surge of indignation in my usually placid personality.  For while Henry IV, the first Lancastrian King had made his way onto the list, Edward IV of the House of York was strangely absent.

Before this spirals into a whole Lancaster vs York partisan thing, let me be clear: I fully accept that Henry IV deserves his place on the list.  Even though his bid to seize the throne was initially fairly popular and despite propagandist claims that his cousin Richard II ‘agreed’ to the new arrangement, there can be no doubt that Henry of Bolingbroke was a usurper.  Richard II was clearly forced off the throne and even if he had died or surrendered it willingly, there was arguably another with a better claim.

But excluding Edward IV, who seized the throne from the Lancastrians in 1461, really got my goat.

Although the authors of the page do not present a reason for their spurious (yes, I said it – spurious) decision, it’s not hard to guess where they’re coming from.  While Henry Bolingbroke – as the eldest son of Edward III’s third son – was the heir male of his grandfather (or at least, he was after Richard II had actually died), the house of York descended in the female line from Lionel of Antwerp (Edward’s second son), making Edward IV the heir general of his namesake.  Most historians now believe this gave York a superior claim to the throne.  No doubt the Wikipedia entry does therefore not list the first York King as a usurper because they view it as a restoration of the true blood line.

But this doesn’t stack up.

To start with, back in 1399, when Henry IV was crowned, there was genuine confusion as to whether someone could base their claim to the throne through descent in the female line.  Obviously this had become fairly meaningless by the end of the War of the Roses when even the best Lancastrian claimant (Henry Tudor) was basing his right to the crown on his mother’s lineage.  But for as long as the male-line Lancastrian wing existed, they had a right which could well have been viewed as superior.

The real reason actually goes much deeper.  Regardless of the ‘who had the better claim’ debate, the truth was that by 1461, the house of Lancaster was an established dynasty.  The crown had passed seamlessly from the first Lancastrian King to his son who reigned so successfully that his infant boy inherited without challenge.  Not only had Henry VI inherited the crown smoothly enough, he had held it for the first 40 years of his reign without anyone questioning it.  When Edward IV managed to get his hands on power, Parliament had only recently re-asserted Henry’s right to it, albeit at the cost of disinheriting his son.

To take the throne, Edward IV had to seize it by force.  Both law and the establishment were initially against him.  In my book, this is the very definition of usurption and, to be frank, it should be in anybody’s.  Perhaps the Wikipedia community could take a little look at this post and snap into edit mode.

(Editor’s note: What really makes my blood boil is that Richard III is also excluded from the list of usurpers.  I’m too angry about this to even put pen to paper.)

Well geeks over to you…am I misjudging what it means to usurp?  Are you a crazed Yorkist who believes that house can do no wrong?  Do you have a crush on Max Hastings and are letting that cloud your view?  I want to know what YOU think!

Book review: Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty


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)

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…?

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


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!