Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 5 : Widowed Again

This domestic peace was not to last. The Yorkists, having won a comprehensive victory at Towton, had begun to fall out amongst themselves. In particular, Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, and his cousin, the Earl of Warwick, were unhappy with the level of reward they had received, and resented the promotion of Edward’s in-laws, the Woodvilles.

Warwick and Clarence plotted against the King, and in 1469, broke out in open rebellion. Edward summoned his forces, including Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and guardian of Henry Tudor, and met the rebels at Edgecote Moor. Edward was defeated and captured. The victorious Warwick summarily executed Pembroke, and Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s father and brother were given a quick trial at Warwick’s castle of Kenilworth before being swiftly beheaded.

Henry Tudor, aged twelve, was, luckily, swiftly whisked away by Sir Richard Corbett, who took him to safety at Weobley, where he was cared for by Lord Ferrers, nephew-by-marriage of Herbert, and a Yorkist. Margaret was frantic with worry and sent a group of eight men to travel first to Raglan then to Weobley. She sent gifts to the household of Lord Ferrers and pocket-money for Henry, in particular to buy him bows and arrows.

Margaret was keen to have the wardship of her son back in her own hands and on the 21st October 1469 at the Bell Inn on Fleet Street, London, Stafford’s Council met with that of Earl William of Pembroke’s widow, Anne Devereux, to try to reach an accommodation. Margaret also went to meet George of Clarence, who had been granted the lands of the honour of Richmond, which, if there had been no war, would have devolved on young Henry. No immediate agreement was reached, and, just at this delicate juncture, Edward IV was released by Warwick and Clarence. They had realised that there was no hope of replacing Edward with Clarence, and the internal Yorkist strife risked letting in the Lancastrians.

Henry Stafford nervous that Margaret’s activities would be taken as a sign of disloyalty, rushed to Edward’s feet with presents.

The brutal and incestuous nature of the conflict between Lancaster and York is shown by the next outbreak of war, which again directly affected Margaret. In 1470 Sir Thomas Burgh of Gainsborough, Edward IV’s Master of the Horse, quarrelled with Richard, 7th Lord Welles, Margaret’s step-brother, and Welles’ son, Sir Robert, attacked Gainsborough Hall.

Lord Welles was summoned to London, being promised a pardon if he appeared in front of the King. Following Towton (where his father, Lionel, Margaret’s step-father was killed) Welles had sworn allegiance to Edward, and fought for the Yorkists at Hexham in 1464. It is possible, but unproven, that the skirmish with Burgh was in support of Warwick and Clarence. Despite Edward’s promise, Welles was executed. Sir Robert Welles now began to raise troops against the King. Edward IV summoned Stafford to join his army, which he did, meeting the King at Stamford in Lincolnshire on 12th March 1471.

Sir Robert Welles forces were then comprehensively overcome by the King’s army at the battle of Losecote Field. Stafford was obliged to inform Margaret’s mother of the death of her stepson – although it is possible that Margaret Beauchamp did not mourn him too strenuously. After his father’s death he had challenged her over their respective inheritance rights.

Despite these victories, all was not going well in the Yorkist world. Warwick and Clarence had decided to throw in their lot with Queen Marguerite of Anjou and by July 1470 Edward IV had been forced to flee as Henry VI was reinstated on his throne. Henry, however, did not have the ability or the temperament (particularly after having been held prisoner in the Tower since 1465) and before long Edward IV returned to reclaim the throne.

In October 1470, as part of the wardship negotiations mentioned earlier, young Henry had been delivered to Jasper at Hereford. Now that the Lancastrians were back in power Jasper and Henry rode to London for the new parliament and Margaret and Henry were reunited. This was probably the last time Margaret was to see her son until the day after the battle of Bosworth. On 20 October Margaret together with her husband Stafford, brother-in-law Jasper, and son Henry, dined with Henry VI’s Chamberlain, Richard Tunstall. It is alleged that this is the occasion on which Henry VI pointed to the young Henry and said that one day he should be king. Margaret and Henry were together for a couple of weeks mainly based at Woking with a visit to Guildford, Maidenhead and Henley.

On 11 November Henry and Jasper returned to Wales. Margaret again began negotiations with the Duke of Clarence to try to secure some lands for Henry Tudor, but the best that could be agreed was that Henry would succeed to the honour of Richmond on the death of Clarence. All of this became academic as on 14 March 1471 Edward IV arrived back in Yorkshire.

Margaret and Stafford were faced with almost an insurmountable problem as to which side they should support.

Events were moving fast. Margaret’s cousin, the Duke of Somerset, as head of the Lancastrian forces was now in London supporting Henry VI. He visited Margaret at Woking on 24 March 1471 and stayed for four days with a retinue of some 40 men. His objective was to persuade Stafford to join the Lancastrian forces but Stafford would not commit himself.

Somerset was planning to join the other Lancastrian force from France that was due to land in the West Country led by Queen Marguerite and Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. Meanwhile Edward was marching south towards London. At some point Stafford had to make a decision as to whether to support Lancaster or York.

In the event he selected York. His reasons for doing so are unknown. Both his father and his elder brother had fought valiantly for Lancaster and he himself had done so in the past. Perhaps he was mindful that he had personally sworn allegiance to Edward or perhaps he believed that Edward had more chance of victory. Edward had certainly shown himself to be an extremely competent general, and overall, the Yorkists won more battles than the Lancastrians during the conflict.

Whatever the reasons for Stafford’s choice, on 12 April he headed towards Edward’s forces, arriving at Barnet with a small contingent of men. Before he left, Stafford made his will, naming Margaret as his executor. On 14 April Edward’s Yorkist army defeated the Lancastrians under the Earl of Warwick. Stafford was seriously wounded. Meanwhile what was left of the Lancastrian army, reinforced by Queen Marguerite and the Prince of Wales troops, was aiming to join up with the Lancastrian army which had been recruited by Jasper Tudor in Wales and there was a race to reach the Severn crossing before the Yorkists caught up with them.

At Tewkesbury the two forces met, the Lancastrians still not with their full complement and the Yorkist exhausted from Barnet and a long march. The Yorkists won a resounding victory and Somerset and the other Lancastrian leaders were killed, even those who had reached the sanctuary of Tewkesbury Abbey.

Edward IV was now unchallenged King. Edward, Prince of Wales was dead, possibly on the battlefield but more likely killed in the presence of Edward and his brothers Gloucester and Clarence. Henry VI also died in the Tower as soon as Edward reached London. He was almost certainly helped on his way although the reason for his death was given as 'pure displeasure and melancholy'.

Stafford’s decision to support Edward IV now paid off. Although after Towton Edward IV had shown himself to be in favour of reconciliation with Lancastrians by now the changing fortunes of war and the increasing bloodiness of the conflict had brought the King’s ruthless side to the fore.

Margaret was in a position to plead for her mother and her other Lancastrian relatives but she did not trust the King completely. During Henry VII’s reign, Bernard Andre, his chronicler, recorded that Margaret wrote to Jasper and to Henry in Wales warning them not to accept a pardon from Edward IV. Margaret was no doubt concerned that had Henry been granted a pardon, he might well have gone the same way as Lord Welles and the young Edward, Prince of Wales.

Motivated by Margaret’s warning or believing that there was no hope for the Lancastrian cause, Jasper and Henry escaped to France.

On 4 October 1471 Margaret was widowed again as Henry Stafford died of the wounds received at Barnet. He was buried at Pleshey.

Margaret was still only 28 years old. She had been married three times and widowed twice – losing one husband to Lancaster and one to York. Her very name was suspect and it was incumbent upon her to try to protect herself and her inheritance so far she could. She therefore chose to marry again with all speed.