Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 10 : Cares of State

In 1492 Henry prepared to invade France. Margaret made significant contributions to the campaign – in the shape of a gift of £666 and a substantial supply of grain. Part of the justification for the invasion of France was the debt owed to Margaret for the ransom of the Duke of Orleans. In support of her claim, Margaret was permitted to use the Royal Secretariat. Henry and Margaret, living up to their later reputations for avarice, made a great deal of this debt, exaggerating the amount outstanding.

Margaret’s first biographer, one might say hagiographer, Bishop Fisher, claimed that Margaret was constantly in tears for, at times of joy, she was always aware that the wheel of fortune could turn. This picture of a constantly weeping saint is hardly attractive to modern eyes but it was standard 16th century praise of pious women.

Whether or not Margaret cried frequently, she was certainly aware that fortunes could change very rapidly. The first twelve years of Henry VII’s reign were troubled by frequent Yorkist insurrections. The first, led largely by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, son of the man who as a child had been Margaret’s first husband, had the aim of placing the pretender Lambert Simnel on throne – presumably Lincoln intended to have him removed him as soon as the Yorkists were victorious. The rebellion was defeated at the Battle of Stoke in 1487.

A second, more serious insurrection involved the use of another pretender, Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower. Family unity broke down as Sir William Stanley, perhaps believing that Warbeck was who he claimed to be, joined the conspiracy. Although William Stanley was executed, this does not seem to have affected Henry’s relationship with his stepfather.

Thomas Stanley had been created Earl of Derby and was one of Henry’s senior councillors. Nevertheless, it appears that both Henry and Margaret were unimpressed by Derby’s minimal efforts at Bosworth and he was not in Henry's closes circle of advisers. In 1504 Margaret took a vow of chastity and separated her household from his, although there was no open breach.

At the time, there were different views of the level of influence Margaret held. One contemporary commentator suggested that although Henry honoured his mother he didn’t actually pay much attention to her advice. Others believed that she had a strong influence over him. She certainly played a more prominent role in advising the King than women had done since the days of the Angevin Queens in the 11th century.

This influence is demonstrated in her protection of Henry's sister-in-law, Cicely of York, when after the death of Margaret’s half-brother Lord Welles, Cicily made a marriage that Henry heartily disapproved of. Despite being banished from court, Cicely was allowed to stay with Margaret at Collyweston.

Margaret and her Council were often given consent by the King to examine complaints and redress grievances. There are a number of instances in the late 1490s and early 1500s of men brought before Margaret’s court for investigation. Unlike most courts of leading nobles, powers extended beyond jurisdiction within her own lands. It even appears that she may have had a specific commission as in the 1520s when a petition was drawn up against the Duke of Richmond’s Council of the North, Lord Darcy wrote that

'the… commission that my Lady the king’s grandam had, was tried and appeared greatly to the king’s disadvantage in stopping of the many lawful processes in course of his laws at Westminster Hall'.

It appears that Margaret was the only magnate Henry VII completely trusted. Margaret’s power gave weight to the idea that a femme sole could be appointed as a Justice of the Peace. In the early 17th century in a debate at Lincolns Inn on the validity of women as Justices, the King’s attorney declared that he had seen judgements made by her in that capacity.

In 1503, Margaret’s power as King’s deputy in the Midlands was very clearly shown in her arbitration between the town and University of Cambridge. The two sides were forever arguing and Margaret was now empowered to settle the matter. The parties selected arbitrators and she presided over a number of informal sessions to try to resolve the issues.

In May 1503 Margaret and her Council presided over the implementation of a complex agreement and the creation of rules for arbitrating any further disputes. Margaret herself was given power to deal with any further problems.

Margaret and Henry did not always agree. In 1503 he took her palace of Woking from her - substituting it with a life interest in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, a step which Margaret obviously resented. On the King’s death she took immediate steps to recover Woking.