Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 9 : My Lady, the King's Mother

Henry was crowned in an impromptu ceremony on the battlefield. He rode south to London arriving in the capital by 7 September and took up residence at Baynard’s Castle before leaving the capital to visit his mother at Woking, when she had raced immediately upon hearing the news of the victory at Bosworth. He was there for at least a fortnight and during this period he showed his gratitude and affection for Margaret, now aged 41, by making extensive grants to her.

Margaret was granted the house of Coldharbour in London, overlooking the Thames, and she was also assigned various noble wards - guardianship being a very lucrative business in the 15th century. Henry had promised to marry Elizabeth of York, making a solemn oath in Vannes Cathedral that should he be successful in his conquest, he would marry the Yorkist heiress. Elizabeth, together with her younger sisters and cousin Lady Margaret Plantagenet, had been at Sheriff Hutton, one of Richard’s Yorkshire castles, at the time of the Battle of Bosworth. These royal ladies were now consigned to the care of Margaret.

She was also granted the wardship of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, son of the executed Duke Henry. The reason for this grant was probably threefold: first, Buckingham was the wealthiest nobleman in England, and therefore the use of his lands during his minority would be of substantial benefit to Margaret: second, he was Margaret’s great-nephew by marriage as well as her second cousin and thus a family connection; third, he had a viable claim to the throne and would require careful watching – a job that Henry could only entrust to his mother.

Margaret’s husband Stanley received many of the spoils of battlefield, including Richard’s tapestries which were sent to Knowsley. Margaret received Richard’s Book of Hours. She also took into household a number of former king’s servants and retainers, suggesting that there was a policy from the outset of the new rain to seek reconciliation.

For kingship to be completed in the 15th century, coronation was required. Henry’s took place on 30 October 1485. An overjoyed Margaret is recorded as weeping with joy during the ceremony.

Henry VII’s first parliament, which was not held until after the coronation lest there be any hint that Henry owed his Crown to it, reconfirmed the legitimacy of the Beauforts, without that embarrassing edition of the clause excluding them from the crown. Henry did not dwell on his genealogical claims but rested his right kingship largely on his victory at Bosworth, which was seen to be justification at the hands of God himself.

Strictly speaking Henry’s claim to the Crown was weak. If female inheritance were permitted, as seem to be generally accepted, then the legitimate heir was Elizabeth of York. If only inheritance through the male line were permitted, Henry had no claim at all. If Elizabeth’s claims and those of the remainder of the York family were ignored, then Margaret herself should have been Queen.

It is not known whether Margaret ever considered herself as a realistic claimant to the throne. Although the principle of female inheritance was accepted, it is unlikely that people would have fought for a female claimant when a man was available. Nevertheless, Margaret almost immediately adopted semi-regal status. She was referred to throughout Henry’s reign as ‘my lady, the King’s mother’ as well as by her titles of Countess of Richmond and Derby. Around the end of the century, she even took to signing her documents Margaret R, rather than the more usual noble style which would have been M Richmond. The ‘R’ being ambiguous as it could have stood for Richmond or for Regina.

Similarly to a Queen, Margaret was granted by Parliament the status of a femme sole i.e. she was able to manage her affairs as though she were either a single woman or a widow rather than a wife. Margaret was also permitted to retain men in livery, a licence not granted to any other woman.

Margaret was treated with almost the regal status of her new daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York, whom Henry married in January 1486. At Elizabeth’s coronation, Margaret and Henry watched from a gallery, the usual practice of the King observing his wife’s coronation if it took place at a different time from his own. The following day Margaret sat at the Queen’s right-hand as Elizabeth dined in state.

In 1487 she was recorded as wearing mantles and robes and a coronet indicating royal status and in 1488 when she and Elizabeth were invested as ladies of the Order of the Garter – the last women to be so honoured before the 20th century – the two ladies wore the same Garter robes of red furred with miniver and woven with golden letters.

As well as the frequent use of her Beaufort portcullis badge in Henry VII’s propaganda offensive, Margaret herself used the Royal fleur-de-lis. She too, had a cloth of state. Of course, this lauding of the King’s mother was not entirely new. Edward IV had treated his mother Cicely, Duchess of York similarly. Duchess Cicely tended to refer to herself as ‘Queen by rights’. Margaret was never declared Queen by rights, yet the implication hung in the air.

Throughout the 1480s and 1490s Margaret was frequently with the King and Queen. In 1488 her Beaufort family was honoured when Edmund the last duke, Margaret’s cousin, and his brother, John, were given a ceremonial reburial in Tewkesbury Abbey. Another illegitimate relative, Charles Somerset, was brought into royal favour.

Margaret was at Windsor in 1492 with Henry to oversee works to St George’s Chapel and made a personal contribution of a hundred marks to the costs. In 1496 the King, the Queen and Margaret toured her estate in Dorset at Canford, Poole and Corfe where they stayed for a while on 30 July 1496. Corfe was an important part of the Beaufort inheritance and had been extensively improved and repaired by Margaret in 1488. The royal progress of 1496 also allowed a visit to Wimborne Minster, where Margaret’s parents lay. She made in offering at their tombs. This visit to Margaret’s estates was followed up by visits to the east of the country.

All three travelled east to be entertained at Castle Hedingham in Essex, by the Earl of Oxford, to whom Henry owed his victory at Bosworth, moving on to Bury St Edmunds, Thetford, Norwich, Walsingham and King’s Lynn. By early September they reached Cambridge and then travelled through Huntington and Peterborough before arriving at Margaret’s main residence outside London, Collyweston, on 7th September.

Margaret had lodgings assigned to her at all the royal palaces. At Woodstock, her chambers were linked to the Kings by means of a common withdrawing chamber. Apparently they often passed the evenings playing cards or chess together. Similarly at the Tower of London which was still in use as a royal palace, Margaret’s rooms were next to the King’s own bed chamber and council chamber.