Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 7 : The Reign of Richard III

On 9th April 1483, Edward IV died he was only 40 years old. He had two sons, Edward, now Edward V, and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Edward V had been brought up largely at Ludlow Castle and the Marches of Wales. He was now brought towards London in the care of his maternal uncle, Anthony, Earl Rivers.

The King’s party was met at Stony Stratford by his paternal uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard swore allegiance to Edward, but arrested his uncle and half-brother and sent them to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire for safekeeping. They were executed without charge or trial on 25 June 1483.

A protectorate was established under Richard. However within a few weeks he declared that all of the children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were illegitimate. He assumed the Crown as Richard III. Edward V and his younger brother were last seen in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483.

During this period neither Stanley nor Margaret appear to have made any objections to Richard’s actions. In fact they both appear to be in high favour. The day prior to Richard’s coronation he met with Margaret and Stanley with regard to debts owed to Margaret from the family of the Duke of Orleans, an overdue ransom from the French wars.

The next day, 4th July 1483, when Richard and his wife, Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, were crowned at Westminster Abbey, Margaret carried the Queen’s train. She also served the Queen at the coronation banquet together with Katherine, Duchess of Norfolk, Richard III’s maternal aunt.

In the aftermath of the coronation, Margaret attempted to come to an accommodation with Richard. Using Richard’s ally, the Duke of Buckingham, who was also her nephew by marriage, the possibility of a marriage between Henry Tudor and a daughter of Edward IV was again mooted.

Despite this, it soon became apparent that Richard did not completely trust either Stanley or Margaret, perhaps because of their relationship with Elizabeth Woodville who had retreated to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. Stanley’s son, George, Lord Strange, was kept close by the King.

Richard III’s usurpation of the throne led to widespread discontent among those who had been loyal to his brother Edward. Within weeks there were plots against him and it has been alleged that Margaret was part of an attempt to free Edward V from the Tower with a view to him being restored to the throne supported by Henry and Jasper. Henry would then be married to Edward V’s sister Elizabeth of York. It is rather difficult to believe that Margaret would have risked everything for Edward V. In any event, the attempt was unsuccessful, and before long, Edward V disappeared from view.

Margaret had had a good relationship with Queen Elizabeth Woodville and this alliance now became the basis of negotiations to overthrow Richard. Surprisingly, no bar was put in place to messages passing between Margaret and Elizabeth Woodville at Westminster Abbey. The messenger was Margaret’s physician Lewis Caerleon. Simultaneously Margaret was corresponding with Henry in Brittany via her servant Hugh Conway.

At the beginning of Richard’s reign, the Duke of Buckingham was one of his chief supporters, however by the end of that first summer the two had fallen out. It is not clear why Buckingham deserted Richard. There are a number of theories, including that Buckingham was repelled by the murder of Edward V and his brother Richard, or that Buckingham had always intended to press his claims to the throne. He was descended from Thomas of Woodstock, fifth son of Edward III, and as such his claim, which was through the maternal line, was weaker than that of both Margaret and Richard.

Later, the Tudors would claim that Buckingham was rebelling in order to place Henry Tudor on the throne, however such an idea seems highly unlikely. Buckingham had received huge grants and marks of favour from Richard. Why would he risk that for an unknown exile?

On 24th September 1483 Buckingham wrote to Henry and invited him to join the rebellion, which was also supported by Edward V’s half-brother, Thomas, Marquess of Dorset. and Sir Edward Woodville. Unsurprisingly he did not address Henry as rightful king. Margaret was prominent in the plans for the rebellion, although again it’s difficult to believe that she would have promoted anyone other than her son as King.

It may be that she was playing a long game and encouraged Buckingham to believe that he should claim the throne for himself, with the hope that he would either overreach himself and fail, resulting in his removal in his rebellion by Richard; or, that if the rebellion were successful, Henry would be preferred by either the nobles or the Commons. It is certainly possible to believe that Margaret was so attached to her son that she believed everyone would follow him. Alternatively, Buckingham was attempting to fool Margaret into thinking that he would support Henry, whilst planning the rebellion for his own benefit.

Whatever Buckingham’s plans, his rising, both that led by himself in South Wales, and that led by the Woodvilles and the Greys in Kent, was crushed. Buckingham did not have the support of his tenantry. He was betrayed by one of his own men and captured by the King.

Henry had raised a small fleet in Brittany and set sail for the south-west coast of England. On arrival he became suspicious that the men sent to greet him and inform him that Buckingham’s rebellion had been successful, were not genuine, and he turned away from the shore and sailed back to Brittany.

Margaret was now at risk. Her part in the rebellion was known, and it was only the fact that her husband had been completely unaware of her plans and had remained loyal to Richard that saved her and her lands. It’s hard to believe that Stanley had no idea what was going on, however he remained sufficiently aloof from it to be able to claim complete innocence. Margaret was attainted in the Parliament of 1483 and her lands were granted to her husband.

Although Margaret must have felt the blow of losing direct personal control, this was a far more lenient punishment than might have been meted out – although at this date no royal or noble women had been executed for treason, they had certainly been punished in unpleasant ways, by incarceration in either prisons or convents. Nevertheless the punishment was as harsh as consistent with retaining Stanley’s loyalty, a virtue of which Richard could not be certain.

Stanley was promoted to Lord Steward of the household and Constable of England, in the hope of keeping him onside. However Richard miscalculated. It is far more likely that Stanley refused to join Buckingham’s rebellion because he resented Buckingham’s influence in South Wales, rather than because he felt any loyalty to Richard.

Margaret’s personal role in fomenting rebellion and negotiating with both Buckingham and the Woodvilles in a long-term plan to promote her son, indicate that her character was both steely and pragmatic. She was willing to achieve her goal for Henry by negotiation, as with Edward IV, by trickery, as with Buckingham, and by long-term planning, as with Elizabeth Woodville.