Chapter 12 : The End of an Era
Nevertheless, as Margaret always feared, good times cannot last forever. First, Prince Edmund died in 1500, then Arthur, within five months of his marriage, died in April 1502. Queen Elizabeth, in a bid to restock the royal nursery, died in childbirth in February 1503. Margaret, in her role of keeper of royal precedent, drew up the ordinances of the Queen’s elaborate funeral. Later in the year there was a further thinning of the ranks at the English court as Princess Margaret left for Scotland.
In 1504 Margaret herself was widowed. We cannot infer anything about her marriage to Stanley, as there are no personal records to give any indication of their feelings for each other. One clue may be that the inauguration date of St John’s College, founded by Margaret, and the annual Requiem Mass she required to be held at Wimborne Minster, were the date of his death. The marriage had lasted for over 30 years and Stanley had protected her from the most serious consequences that could have flowed from her involvement in Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483. During the last few years of their marriage they had been leading more or less separate lives after Margaret took a vow of celibacy.
A new menace appeared on the horizon to harass the King and, presumably, his mother. The brother of the late Earl of Lincoln, Edmund de la Pole, was now claiming the throne. In recognition of his Yorkist ancestry he was referred to as the White Rose.
In this matter, Henry was able to gain the upper hand when de la Pole was returned from his safe haven in Burgundy. In 1506, the Duke of Burgundy, Philip of Austria together with his wife, Juana, Queen of Castile had been shipwrecked in England. The couple had been sumptuously entertained, with Margaret involved in all the festivities.
Henry proved reluctant to let the stranded pair re-embark until Philip’s father, the Emperor Maximilian, had agreed to return Edmund de la Pole. Maximilian required that Henry promise to spare Edmund’s life, and Henry kept his word.
Towards the end of 1506, Henry, who had grieved for the loss of his wife sincerely, was considering taking a new wife. Henry’s various marriage plans did not come to fruition – he does not seem to have prosecuted the matter with any great vigour and his reign descended into a time of darkness, increasing suspicion, and financial exactions which, now that men had forgotten the bloodier years of the wars, seemed tyrannical.
On a brighter note, in June 1507 Margaret attended court to watch a tournament in which her grandson Henry took part – on a horse for which she had given him the saddle and harness. The following year she sent him a gift when he proved himself proficient at the game of ‘running the ring’.
During the years of the new century, Margaret was heavily involved in the development of her charitable schemes, in particular the foundation of Christ’s Church College, Cambridge.
Henry VII was beginning to ail. When the he fell ill in 1508, Margaret returned to her home in Coldharbour from which she frequently journey down to his favourite palace of Richmond to visit him. In April 1509, the King died. He was just past 52 while Margaret herself was 65.
At the King’s funeral in May 1509, largely arranged by Margaret, she took precedence over all the ladies present. She was also the chief executor of his will.
Following the coronation, Margaret moved to lodgings at Westminster. Technically Henry VIII, being not yet 18, was still a minor and Margaret was involved in the Council formed to manage the government. However, she had been ailing since the beginning of the year and now she fell seriously ill. The immediate cause of Margaret’s illness was attributed to eating a cygnet. She was given 'waters and powders' but she did not rally and died on 29 June 1509.
Accounts of her death include two vignettes that reflect her character. Bishop Fisher, taking the religious perspective, recalled that when the last rites were performed, she
'with all her heart and soul she raised her body… And confessed a surety that in that sacrament was contained Christ Jesus the son of God, but died the wretched sinners upon the cross, in whom wholly she put her trust and confidence'.
Reginald Pole on the other hand, grandson of her half-brother, said that while she was dying Margaret had recommended that Fisher watch over Henry VIII carefully, lest 'he turn his face from God'.
Margaret had made her will on 6 June 1508 and added further instructions in early 1509. She had chosen to be buried in Westminster Abbey in the Lady Chapel funded by Henry VII. On 3 July her body was moved to the Abbey where it lay in state until it was transferred into the Lady Chapel on the ninth of the month.
A contract for the construction of her tomb was entered into by her grandson Henry VIII on 23 November 1511, the work being performed by the Italian sculptor Pietro Torregiano who had also been commissioned to complete the tombs of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
An epitaph for the monument was composed by the humanist Erasmus. She is surrounded in death with the symbols of her ancestors, the Yale of Kendal and the Beaufort portcullis along the tomb, together with the arms of John, Duke of Somerset, Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, Henry V and Katharine of Valois, Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, her grandson Henry VIII and his wife Katharine of Aragon, and her grandson Arthur, Prince of Wales.
The sermon preached at her month mind (a service held amongst the day after the death) on 29 July 1509 was delivered by Bishop John Fisher who had been closely associated with Margaret in her various charitable endeavours. As with most funeral orations it concentrated on the departed’s positive characteristics.
'All England for her death had cause of weeping. The poor creatures that were wont to receive her arms, to whom she was always piteous and merciful; the students of both universities, to whom she was as a mother; all the learned of England, to whom she was a patron; all the virtuous and devout persons, to whom she was a loving sister; all the good religious men and women whom she was so often wont to visit in comfort; all good priests and clerks, to whom she was a true defender S; all the noble men and women, to whom she was a mirror an example of honour; all the common people of this realm, the whom she was in their causes, mediatrix, and took right great displeasure for them; and generally the whole realm had cause to complain and to mourn her death.’
Lady Margaret Beaufort, from an inauspicious beginning as the daughter of a disgraced man who may have committed suicide, wove her way skilfully across the treacherous ground of the Wars of the Roses. She achieved what might have seemed almost impossible at the birth of her son in 1457 – his recognition as King, despite his rather tenuous claim to the throne and his successful passing on of the Crown to her grandson Henry VIII. Without Margaret’s constant efforts it is unlikely that the Tudor dynasty would ever have been established.
This article is part of a Profile on Lady Margaret Beaufort available in paperback and kindle format from Amazon.
Listen to our interview with Renaissance English History Podcast on Lady Margaret Beaufort here.