Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Woodville, House of Tudor, King Henry VII of England, King Henry VIII of England, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Prince Arthur
After her son’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the Countess was referred to in court of Henry VII as “My Lady the King’s Mother”. Her son’s first Parliament reversed the attainder against her and declared her a feme sole. This status granted Beaufort considerable legal and social independence from men. She was allowed to own property separately from her husband (as though she were unmarried) and sue in court – two rights denied her contemporary married women.
As arranged by their mothers, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York the daughter of Edward IV. The Countess was reluctant to accept a lower status than the dowager Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) or even her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York the Queen Consort.
She wore robes of the same quality as the queen consort and walked only half a pace behind her. Elizabeth’s biographer, Amy Licence, states that this “would have been the correct courtly protocol”, adding that “only one person knew how Elizabeth really felt about Margaret and she did not commit it to paper.”
Margaret had written her signature as M. Richmond for years, since the 1460s. In 1499, she changed her signature to Margaret R., perhaps to signify her royal authority (R standing either for regina – queen in Latin as customarily employed by female monarchs – or for Richmond). Furthermore, she included the Tudor crown and the caption et mater Henrici septimi regis Angliæ et Hiberniæ (“and mother of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland”).
Many historians believe the departure from court of Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville in 1487 was partly at the behest of Henry’s influential mother, though this is uncertain.
Beaufort exerted considerable political influence within the Tudor court. The power she exercised was evidently obvious; a report from Spanish envoy Pedro de Ayala dating to 1498 claimed Henry VII was “much influenced by his mother and his followers in affairs or personal interest and in others.” In the earlier years of her son’s reign, records indicate Margaret usually accompanied the royal couple when they traveled.
While Margaret’s position in the royal court was, to some extent, an expression of gratitude by her son, she was likely far less the passive recipient of Henry’s favor one might expect.
Later in her marriage, the Countess preferred living alone. In 1499, with her husband’s permission, she took a vow of chastity in the presence of Richard FitzJames, Bishop of London. Taking a vow of chastity while being married was unusual but not unprecedented.
The Countess moved away from her husband and lived alone at Collyweston, Northamptonshire (near Stamford). She was regularly visited by her husband, who had rooms reserved for him. Margaret renewed her vows in 1504. From her principal residence at Collyweston she was given a special commission to administer justice over the Midlands and the North.
Margaret was also actively involved in the domestic life of the royal family. She created a proper protocol regarding the birth and upbringing of royal heirs. Though their relationship is often portrayed as antagonistic, Margaret and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth worked together when planning the marriages of the royal children.
They wrote jointly of the necessary instruction for Catherine of Aragon, who was to marry Elizabeth’s son Prince Arthur. Both women also conspired to prevent Elizabeth and Henry’s daughter Margaret from being married to the Scottish king, James IV, at too young an age; in this matter, Gristwood writes, Margaret was undoubtedly resolved that her granddaughter “should not share her fate”.
After Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1503, Margaret became the principal female presence at court. When Prince Arthur died, Margaret played a part in ensuring her grandson Prince Henry, Duke of York, the new heir apparent, was raised appropriately by selecting some members of his new household.
The Countess was known for her education and her piety. Biographers Jones and Underwood claim the entirety of Beaufort’s life can be understood in the context of her “deeply-felt love and loyalty to her son”. Henry is said to have been likewise devoted.
Henry VII died on April 21, 1509, aged 52, having designated his mother chief executrix of his will. For two days after the death of her son, Margaret scrambled to secure the smooth succession of her grandson, Henry VIII. She arranged her son’s funeral and her grandson’s coronation. At her son’s funeral she was given precedence over all the other women of the royal family.
Before her death Margaret also left her mark on the early reign of Henry VIII; when her eighteen-year-old grandson chose members of his privy council, it was Margaret’s suggestions he took.
The Countess Margaret died in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey on June 29, 1509, (probably aged 66). This was the day after her grandson Henry VIII’s 18th birthday, 5 days after his coronation and just over two months after the death of her son Henry VII. She is buried in the Henry VII Chapel of the Abbey. Her tomb is now situated between the later graves of William III and Mary II and the tomb of her great-great-granddaughter Mary I, Queen of Scots.