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!

How the ‘White Queen’ got Margaret Beaufort so, so wrong…

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As I trawled through my Google analytics the other day, I noticed that my post on the ‘Three things the White Queen Got Wrong’ was one of the highest read so far.  In fact, with the exception of anything about Prince Harry, the Wars of the Roses is easily the most popular topic.  Clearly the hit BBC series had something to do with that.

And for the most part, I’m a fan.  I’m relatively relaxed about the fact that historical fiction needs to take twists and turns that cause it to differ from the facts.  Obviously I wish that people would channel their new found interest into checking out an actual history book, but the fact that they don’t isn’t the fault of fiction writers or TV producers.

But it’s the Margaret Beaufort stuff that still bothers me.  I know, I know – I’ve blogged about this before.  However, the more I get into engaging with the historical community on Twitter (which I love by the way) the more I realise that some stuff still needs to be said.

For me, it isn’t the fact that the White Queen series has got facts about Margaret’s life wrong.  These things happen and actually the Philippa Gregory book of ‘The Red Queen’ is chronologically very accurate (and btw, an excellent read).  It’s the fact that her portrayal on the series – and how she is presented in other formats – has totally skewed perceptions of her.  This has now reached such an extent that back in 2013, the BBC history website (which many might understandably view as a respectable source) actually listed Margaret as a potential killer of the Princes in the Tower – almost as if the case against her was as strong of that against Richard III.

Anyway, I’m getting toward the end of my rant.  What I want to do quickly, is just list three things I believe about Margaret which the White Queen TV series entirely failed to capture:

  • She had a sense of humour – Okay, so she didn’t exactly leave behind a collection of published jokes in her (for the time) quite extensive collection of books, but that doesn’t mean she was all work and no fun.  There is evidence of her sharing jokes with servants and making humorous remarks in correspondence.  Her household was remembered as a happy place to be.
  • She was a pragmatist – I really did not like the Lancastrian fanatic that was presented in the White Queen.  Yes, she knew where her deep loyalties lay but she was as happy as most people of the era to play the game.  When she needed to be loyal to the Yorkist Edward IV (who she was actually genetically more closely related to than she was Lancaster’s Henry VI) then loyal she was.
  • She was quite a good wife – Margaret’s second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, was presented in the series as a loyal and long suffering spouse to the cold and aggressive Margaret.  Despite being only fifteen when she married the thirty-something year old, there is much evidence that their wedding was warm and happy.  Its childlessness is probably better explained by the damage caused by the birth of Henry VII (when Margaret was just 13) rather than any sexual frigidity on her part.

Rant over for now.  But one day, I would love to see a novel and TV series that present the warmer, practical and realistic Margaret that I have been privileged to get to know through study.

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!

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!

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

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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

The top 10 questions I would love to ask historical figures

Most of the blog so far has been pretty heavy.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s kind of the point.  I need an outlet for my intense musings on the big questions and love discussing such epic matters with others.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun as well.  To that effect, I’ve compiled a list of 10 questions I would love to put to our Royal forebears but, sadly will never be able to.

Here we go:

Elizabeth I – “You were the virgin Queen – I get that.  But what does that actually mean…?”

Richard III – “Come on now…own up.  How close to the truth was Thomas More?”

Queen Anne – “If you knew you were going to be the last monarch to veto an act of Parliament, would you have vetoed a few more?”

Katherine Parr – “Was Seymour worth the wait?”

Mary I – “In hindsight, might it have been worth taking a chill pill?”

Henry VIII – “Catherine Howard.  Adultery.  How did you not see that one coming?”

Margaret Beaufort – “Did you really have a vision telling you to marry Edmund Tudor?”

Princess Beatrice – “What was the juiciest  thing you cut out of Queen Victoria’s diary?”

Henry VI – “Do you think Edward was your boy?”

Richard II – “Seriously.  Dude.  What happened there?”

Okay geeks over to you…what questions would YOU like to put to the Royals of Britain’s past.

Book review: Elizabeth of York, the first Tudor Queen – by Alison Weir

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When Alison Weir’s biography of Elizabeth of York was published in late 2013, it was hailed as helping to rescue the memory of a ‘forgotten Queen.’

I never thought that was entirely fair.  I had certainly been taught about Henry VIII’s mother before I reached secondary education and I struggle to imagine that my school had a particularly outlandish curriculum.  But, it’s true to say that the image that comes down to us is deeply unsatisfying.

The almost dowdy mother.  The unthinkingly loyal consort.  The saintly persona.  The woman devoid of sexuality and of sensuality.  Could such a person have really produced the rumbustious Henry VIII, the chaotic Queen Margaret of Scotland and the daring Mary Tudor?

This is perhaps why some recent historians and fiction writers have gone too far in readdressing the balance.  Here the picture doesn’t fit either.  The White Princess.  The fearsome loyalist to the House of York.  The woman who dreams of lost brothers returning from across the sea.  The courageous Queen who fights against the power of her miserly husband and authoritarian mother-in-law.  Surely there’s a balance to be struck?

As ever, that is exactly what Weir achieves.  By revisiting the contemporary sources, she presents a reconstruction of the Queen which is well-researched, realistic and entirely human.  We start to get a glimpse – because perhaps it can only ever be a glimpse – as to what it might have actually been like to be in the presence of this fifteenth century matriarch.

To an extent, the book is counter-revisionist.  It reasserts Elizabeth’s genuine closeness to Henry VII (which many have questioned) and good relationship with his mother Margaret Beaufort.  It is clear that she was one of the key players that threw herself into making project Tudor a success.  She may not, as some have suggested, have explosively fallen out with her own mother – but she knew that her focus was the future.

No reader will be left with the impression that Elizabeth of York was a silent figure in the background.  The book is full of examples of where she used her influence, particularly for the good of others, and explores the impact she had on her own children to whom she was perhaps untypically close.

Weir also lets us have a bit of fun.  We explore intriguing theories that suggest the young Princess may have cosied up to  uncle Richard III more than we might think decent.  But she also reminds us exactly which theories we do and do not have evidence to support.  While I’m not entirely sure I believe in the genuineness of Elizabeth’s lost letter to the Duke of Norfolk – where she pleads for marriage to her uncle Richard – my huge respect for Weir, who does think it worthy of consideration, means I am going to have to think again.

Perhaps most striking is the author’s discovery that Elizabeth was present at the Tower of London at the time Sir James Tyrell – the man who had supposedly confessed to the murder of her brothers, the Princes in the Tower – was executed.  Could it be that she was brought there to hear his confession?

“Elizabeth of York: The first Tudor Queen” is not my favourite Alison Weir offering – I prefer the less one-person focused books such as ‘York Vs Lancaster’ – but it is toward the top of the list.  Quite simply, it is a must read for any fan or the era, or indeed anyone who enjoys getting up close and personal to a remarkable figure of history who might otherwise be forever misunderstood.

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, by Alison Weir was published  by Vintage in 2013.  At the time this post was published the book was available on Amazon for £4.99 (Kindle), £15.99 (hardback) and £9.48 (paperback).

Richard III part 6: Two issues that made me think twice…

Early in my research, I started to form the view that Richard III was responsible for the death of his nephews.  However, during my journey I stumbled across a couple of road blocks that gave me more than a little pause for thought. Continue reading

Richard III part 5: MORE of less – can we trust Thomas More’s account?

The most detailed account of Richard III’s murder of the Princes in the Tower was penned by lawyer and philosopher Thomas More c. 1515.  But can his ‘History of Richard III’ be trusted and respected as a credible piece of historical research and writing? Continue reading

Richard III part 4: Alternative theories – who else could have been responsible for the death (or rescue) of the Princes in the Tower?

In the last blog post, I demonstrated that circumstantial evidence strongly points toward Richard’s guilt; who else could really have overcome his defences and murdered the closely guarded Princes?  Nonetheless the centuries that followed have spawned countless alternative theories, some of which are worthy of examination.

Continue reading