Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 6 : Yorkist Courtier

Margaret’s choice for her fourth husband was Thomas, Lord Stanley. The Stanleys were an influential family, based in north-west England and north-east Wales, holding huge tracts of land in Cheshire and Lancashire. They were also hereditary Kings of Man. Margaret arranged her marriage to Thomas Stanley in some haste, not even waiting for the traditional year of widowhood to be completed. This suggests that there was no possibility whatsoever in her mind of her being pregnant.

The marriage between Stanley and Margaret was one of territorial ambition. Stanley had little or no influence in the southern counties and Margaret needed somebody to protect her and her lands. Stanley is remarkable for having negotiated the Wars of the Roses without ever committing himself or his troops to battle. He did, however, serve Edward IV faithfully.

The marriage probably took place in Lancashire at the Stanleys principal residence at Knowsley early in June 1472. Although there was still an age gap between Margaret and her fourth husband, it was less than that between her and her previous husbands. Stanley was around 37 at the time of their marriage, widowed and with children by his first marriage to Lady Eleanor Neville, sister of Warwick the Kingmaker.

Margaret and Stanley travelled widely in the next few years amongst her lands and his. Her house at Woking was extended but she also spent time at his properties in the north, including Knowsley and Latham. Stanley appears to have trusted his wife and relied upon her business sense evidenced by as some of the regular land disputes that occurred between tenants being referred to her, amongst others of his trusted advisers.

The couple were frequently at court. Unlike others of the Yorkist affinity Stanley seem to have had a good relationship with the Woodvilles. Stanley’s son and heir by his first wife, George, Lord Strange, was married to Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s niece.

Lady Margaret’s place at court and good relationship with the King and Queen, was emphasised by her presence in November 1480 at the celebration of the birth of Bridget, the seventh child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret carried the baby to her christening.

This intimacy with the Queen was later to pay dividends.

Margaret’s overriding desire was to provide for her son Henry. In May 1472, following the death of Stafford and prior to her marriage with Stanley, Margaret drew up a will which would have transferred her estates to Henry, on the assumption that by the time of her death he would be back in royal favour. It is easy to look back with hindsight and think that Margaret was planning all along for her son to become King however is probably more realistic to believe that she accepted that Edward IV’s dynasty was secure. He had two sons to follow him and was a popular king.

On 3 June 1482, in the presence of the King at Westminster, a document was drawn up intended to safeguard Henry’s future. The first item was Stanley’s promise not to interfere with the settlement of Margaret’s estates made in her 1472 will. The second item dealt with the disposition of the estates that Margaret had inherited the previous month on the death of her mother, Margaret Beauchamp. Henry, referred to as 'Earl of Richmond' was to receive lands to the value of 600 marks a year upon certain conditions, the first of which was that he was to return from exile to 'be in the grace and favour of the King’s Highness. Edward IV confirmed this agreement by seeding the indenture.

In 1486 Stanley stated that at the time of this agreement Edward IV and Margaret had discussed the possibility of marriage between her Henry and his elder daughter, Elizabeth of York. However Margaret’s biographers Jones and Underwood, dispute this. Their contention is that, had Edward IV considered a marriage to his daughter at that time it would have necessitated a land grant to Henry to be made immediately, otherwise Elizabeth would have been married far beneath herself.

On balance it seems unlikely that Edward IV would have considered such a step. It’s far more likely that Stanley was attempting to give Henry’s accession to the throne some hint of justification by Edward IV. It was not long after this alleged discussion that Elizabeth of York was betrothed to the Dauphin of France.