Margaret Beaufort was born on May 31, 1443, to John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, and Margaret Beauchamp. As a member of the Beaufort family, Margaret descended from John of Gaunt, King Edward III’s third son. Initially an illegitimate branch of the royal family, King Richard II and later Henry IV, legitimized the Beauforts. However, Henry barred his half-siblings from inheriting the English throne in 1407.
As John Beaufort’s only child, Margaret became his heir upon birth. When John died the following year, the infant inherited his vast dukedom, making Margaret a desirable marriage prospect. Although originally married in 1450 to John de la Pole, the marriage would be annulled in 1453. Two years later, Margaret married for the second time to King Henry VI‘s younger maternal half-brother, Edmund Tudor.
Unlike Margaret Beaufort, Edmund Tudor had no English royal blood. Instead, the nobleman had Welsh (father Owen Tudor) and French (mother Catherine of Valois) ancestry. However, Edmund’s lackluster pedigree mattered little to Henry. Wanting to elevate his brother’s position at court, the king arranged an advantageous marriage for Edmund. Although 12 years older than his bride, Edmund married Margaret in 1455.
Beginning of a Civil War
Despite her young age, Margaret Beaufort became pregnant after her wedding. However, Edmund won’t live to see the birth of their child. During 1455, the Wars of the Roses began between two factions of the royal family: the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. The Lancastrians supported Henry VI, while the Yorkists supported Richard, Duke of York. Although Richard technically held a stronger claim to the throne, the Lancastrians refused to yield him any political power. Fearing for his safety, Richard raised an army against Henry.
As staunch supporters of Henry VI, Edmund and his brother, Jasper, championed the Lancastrian cause. However, Yorkists captured and imprisoned Edmund in 1456. Infected by plague, Edmund succumbed to the disease on November 3, 1456. Now a widow, Margaret Beaufort gave birth to the couple’s only child, Henry Tudor, on January 28, 1457. Possibly due to her young age and a difficult pregnancy, Henry would be Margaret’s only child.
To protect his vulnerable sister-in-law, Jasper Tudor arranged for Margaret to marry a fellow Lancastrian named Henry Stafford in January 1458. While Margaret went to live with her new husband, she entrusted the care of her infant son to Jasper. During Henry’s early years, Margaret visited Wales multiple times to see her son. However, this would change in 1461.
The Yorkists Take Control
On March 29, 1461, the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. The Yorkist victory enforced Edward IV‘s usurpation of the English throne and cost the Tudor’s dearly. Margaret’s former father-in-law, Owen Tudor, was killed after the battle, while Jasper fled to Scotland. The Yorkist king also took Henry Tudor’s lands and gave them to his younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence. To make matters worse, Margaret’s son was placed in the custody of a staunch Yorkist, William Herbert.
In 1470, a rebellion against Edward IV by a former ally led to him fleeing abroad. In his place, Henry VI was restored to the English throne. Despite optimism amongst Henry’s supporters, the Lancastrian restoration would be short-lived. Edward returned from exile with an army and engaged the Lancastrians on May 4, 1471.
During the Battle of Tewkesbury, the Yorkists dealt the Lancastrians a crippling defeat. After the fighting ended, Yorkists killed Prince Edward and his father, Henry VI, ending the Lancastrian line. Edward IV also imprisoned the former queen, Margaret of Anjou. Upon the Lancastrian’s defeat, Jasper Tudor fled England with his nephew. It would be fourteen years before Margaret Beaufort saw Henry again.
Continued in Margaret Beaufort: Part Two
Cawthorne, N. (2012). Kings & Queens of England: From the Saxon Kings to the House of Windsor. London: Arcturus.
Griffiths, R. A., & Thomas, R. S. (2005). The Making of the Tudor Dynasty. The History Press.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Margaret Beaufort. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Beaufort