Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 11 : Matriarch

One of Margaret’s roles at court was as custodian of royal etiquette and protocol. Her regulations on the correct manner in which a royal lady should prepare for childbirth were followed by her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York, and those wives of Henry VIII who bore children, as well as by her great-granddaughter, Mary I, when she believed herself pregnant.

These regulations were soon required as Margaret became a grandmother within a very short space of time after her son’s marriage. Her first grandchild was born, perhaps prematurely, in September 1486, and to the delight of everyone proved to be a prince. Arthur, as he was named in homage to Henry VII’s claimed descent from King Arthur, was soon followed by others.

In 1498 Margaret bought gold brooches for two of them, Princess Margaret (who was her goddaughter as well as her namesake) and Henry, Duke of York.

That Henry and Margaret enjoyed a close emotional bond cannot be denied. Their letters to each other are very much more affectionate than is common during the period. On his birthday in 1501 Margaret wrote 'this day of St Anne’s that I did bring unto this world my good and gracious prince, king and only beloved son'.

Nevertheless Margaret was not the only woman in Henry’s life. He quickly became deeply attached to Elizabeth of York – the level of affection showed by Henry to Margaret, to Elizabeth and to his daughter Margaret suggests that, far from being the chilly presence he is often portrayed as, he was actually a man of warm personal emotions.

Early in 1501 was the zenith of Henry VII’s reign. At that time he had three living sons, Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry, Duke of York and Edmund, Duke of Somerset, as well as two living daughters, Margaret and Mary. He had agreed marriages between his two eldest children, Arthur to Princess Katharine of Aragon and Margaret to James IV, King of Scots.

Margaret took a considerable level of interest in the negotiations around these matches, although one aspect of her involvement was to discourage the match between Princess Margaret and James of Scotland on the basis that the Princess was too young to consummate the marriage. Presumably remembering her own experiences as a bride of twelve , Margaret did not wish her granddaughter to be exposed to the same dangers.

Margaret attended the wedding of Arthur and Katharine, sitting with Henry and Elizabeth in a small room overlooking the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral whilst the marriage was solemnised. Her palace at Coldharbour was extensively refurbished with the sum of 1000 marks being spent on cloth of gold and other elaborate provisions for the young couple to be entertained there following their marriage.

When Princess Margaret was eventually married to James IV of Scotland in 1503, it was from Margaret’s home at Collyweston that she departed. Margaret noted the arrival of the royal party on 5 July in her Book of Hours. The court remained at Collyweston for three weeks with Margaret overseeing the lavish entertainment. Another important political event to occur at Collyweston was the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Margaret’s half-brother, Oliver St John, to Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare. Kildare who had been a Yorkist supporter was now appointed Henry’s treasurer in Ireland.

This marriage reflects the fact that, although Henry VII was undoubtedly Margaret’s main focus, she was also deeply attached to her half siblings, and arranged advantageous marriages for many of them. It is contended by her biographers Jones and Underwood, that the marriage of Sir Richard Pole, her half nephew, to Lady Margaret Plantagenet, daughter of the Duke of Clarence, was the result of Margaret’s influence. Similarly, the marriage of Elizabeth of York’s sister, Cicely, to Margaret’s half-brother Viscount Welles may also be seen as occurring to please Margaret.

Other interpretations of these events are that Henry VII had a deliberate policy of marrying Yorkist women to Lancastrian men and that as the Richard Pole was not of particularly exalted birth, this was quite a safe match.