Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Life in the time of Margaret Beaufort by Judith Arnopp #History #Tudors #WarOfTheRoses @JudithArnopp

Life in the time of Margaret Beaufort
 by Judith Arnopp

Lady Margaret Beaufort at prayer

Fifteenth century England was dominated by the wars of the roses but for the vast majority daily life continued as usual. While the peasantry fought the twin perils of pestilence and penury, the nobility’s battle was for the English crown. For the upper classes the constant fluctuation between York and Lancaster made life unstable and monarchy and allegiance became fluid. The fall of one’s preferred king could mean loss of status, financial ruin and even death. One had to tread very cautiously; a careless word, a smile in the wrong quarter could spell the end of prosperity, the acquisition of property, the stripping of a title. The wisest kept their heads down and hoped the ‘right’ monarch would come out on top but for most, this was not an option. Margaret Beaufort, the protagonist of my trilogy The Beaufort Chronicles, was given no choices. She learned from a young age to think before speaking, to consider her actions before carrying them out and to place her trust carefully.

Even for the era she was born into, Margaret’s upbringing was remarkable. During her infancy, her father, John Beaufort, Earl and later Duke, of Somerset, took his own life while awaiting the pleasure of the increasingly unstable/inefficient King Henry VI. Margaret became the ward of one of the most powerful men of his day, William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk (later Marquis and Duke) but she was allowed to remain in the home of her mother, Margaret Beauchamp, at least for the first decade of her life. She was just eight years old when Suffolk, taking advantage of Margaret’s wealth and status, married her to his young son, John, but since neither had yet reached their teens, the marriage remained unconsummated. Suffolk’s subsequent disgrace with the king and his ignoble death saw the marriage hastily annulled and Margaret’s future placed in the hands of the king, Henry VI.

Margaret’s early years were spent learning the graces required of an heiress of high status. We know she was well educated, more than one historian noting that her French was ‘first rate’ but it is unlikely she would have mastered many of the required skills by the time of her second marriage at approximately eleven years of age. It is my feeling that her education continued long after she left the schoolroom at Bletsoe. Margaret set great store on knowledge and in later life endowed many places of learning. After she was married to the half-brother of the king, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond she accompanied him to a wild and unstable Wales. She would have needed to learn hard and fast, with lessons in politics and survival taking precedence over languages.

Tomb Effigy of Edmund Tudor

Even in the early days of the conflict, war had a direct effect on Margaret. The homes she shared with Edmund at Caldicot and Lamphey would have rung with the boots of soldiers, the coming and going of messengers, and her husband was constantly away fighting. She was widowed just a year after the wedding when Edmund Tudor died at Carmarthen in 1456 in the act of defending Henry’s holdings in Wales. He left Margaret six months pregnant and vulnerable. She quickly turned for protection to her brother in law, Jasper Tudor, who housed her for the duration of her pregnancy at Pembroke Castle where she gave birth to a son, Henry Tudor. Shortly after his birth, keen to avoid another arranged marriage, she took matters into her own hands and with Jasper’s aid, betrothed herself to Henry Stafford, the younger son of the Duke of Buckingham.
Pembroke Castle

Despite Stafford’s change of allegiance from Lancaster to York after the accession of Edward IV, the marriage appears to have been successful. It is doubtful Margaret was comfortable with this shift in loyalty, her blood and heart lay with Lancaster but perhaps it reveals an early example of Margaret’s fortitude.

She and Henry Stafford lived largely at Woking, making improvements to their properties and striving for acceptance at Edward’s court. At first Margaret was not invited to court but eventually, as Stafford proved his loyalty to Edward, she was welcomed at court. Calm seems to have settled on Margaret around this time, the only fly in her ointment being the exile of her son, Henry, who had fled overseas with his uncle Jasper when Edward took the throne. Margaret never ceased to petition for his return but was continually denied. In the unrest that surrounded the defection of the Earl of Warwick to Lancaster, the Staffords continued, at least outwardly, to support York. It was while fighting for Edward IV at Barnet in 1471 that Henry Stafford sustained wounds, dying a short time afterwards.

By 1472 Margaret had married again, this time to the powerful northern magnate, Thomas Stanley. Largely due to her husband’s relationship with King Edward, Margaret remained on good terms with the king and queen. She was on the verge of securing the return of her son’s rights and properties when Edward IV died unexpectedly at Easter in 1483.
Portrait purported to be of the first Earl of Derby but the costume is of a later period.

During the period of unrest that followed, the juvenile King Edward VI’s throne was denied him and the crown instead placed on the head of his uncle, Richard of Gloucester. Margaret’s frustration and insecurity must have been immense but she did not falter. Stanley swore allegiance to King Richard while Margaret displayed loyalty, enjoying the honour of bearing Anne Neville’s train at the coronation. To all intents and purposes, Margaret had reconciled herself to Gloucester’s rule, it is only in hindsight we realise she was perhaps not as content as she seemed.

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard (c. 1520, after a lost original).

Despite her apparent acceptance, the denouncement of Edward’s heirs and Gloucester’s accession to the throne rekindled Margaret’s political ambition, and shortly after the first reports of the disappearance of the princes in the tower, she began to plot with the dowager queen against King Richard.

Treason is an ugly word and to move against an anointed monarch is a perilous path to take. Margaret was all too aware of the consequences of her actions if they were discovered but something, be it blind ambition or moral outrage, drove her on. She played a major part in Buckingham’s rebellion and when her role in it was discovered Richard III’s leniency probably surprised Margaret as much as anyone. A man caught red handed at the same crime would have faced a traitor’s death but the king showed unprecedented clemency, and placed Margaret under house arrest in the charge of her husband, Thomas Stanley. This leniency provided the opportunity for Margaret to continue her intrigue from within her plush prison. She worked determinedly against Richard’s regime, not just to bring her son home but to crown him King of England.

Buckingham finds the River Severn swollen after heavy rain, blocking his way to join the other conspirators.

Life in the time of Margaret Beaufort was both unstable and dangerous. Her role in the events during the years 1483 -5 would be less remarkable had she been ignorant of the possible consequences but Margaret Beaufort was raised amid bloodshed. She knew the price of treason. Before she was born her father died as a direct result of failing his king, and during the course of the wars that followed she lost uncles, cousins and friends, as well as suffering separation from her only son during his fourteen years of exile.

Margaret was indefatigable in her efforts, she negotiated her unstable world as assuredly as if she were playing a game of chess. Utilising her considerable acumen, she rose from a relatively insignificant position in the House of Lancaster to becoming, not just the most powerful woman in England, but the ultimate victor of the wars of the roses.
Margaret's son — Henry VII

Judith Arnopp

Judith Arnopp’s life-long passion for history eventually led her to the University of Wales where she gained a BA in English and Creative Writing, and a Masters in Medieval History.

Her first novel, Peaceweaver was published in 2009, quickly followed by The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd but she remained largely unknown as an author until her first best-selling Tudor novel, The Winchester Goose. Since then she has continued to write in the Tudor era, producing five further novels covering the lives of Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr and Elizabeth of York.

The Beaufort Chronicles comprises of three volumes: The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman and The King’s Mother tracing the fascinating life of Margaret Beaufort. She is currently engaged in researching the Dissolution of the monasteries for her eleventh novel which is yet to be named.

Judith’s non-fiction work has also been published in various historical anthologies, the latest being Sexuality and Its Impact on History which will be published in March 2018 by Pen and Sword Books. You will also find her work on many on-line magazines and blogs. Judith is easily accessible on her webpage and blog or you can follow her on social media. Website   Website   Blog  Facebook  Twitter

The Beaufort Chronicles

As King Henry VI slips into insanity and the realm of England teeters on the brink of civil war, a child is married to the mad king’s brother. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, takes his child bride into Wales where she discovers a land of strife and strangers.
At Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace Margaret must put aside childhood, acquire the dignity of a Countess and, despite her tender years, produce Richmond with a son and heir. 

While Edmund battles to restore the king’s peace, Margaret quietly supports his quest; but it is a quest fraught with danger.
As the friction between York and Lancaster intensifies 14-year-old Margaret, now widowed, turns for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. At his stronghold in Pembroke, two months after her husband’s death, Margaret gives birth to a son whom she names Henry, after her cousin the king. 

Margaret is small of stature but her tiny frame conceals a fierce and loyal heart and a determination that will not falter until her son’s destiny as the king of England is secured. 

The Beaufort Bride traces Margaret’s early years from her nursery days at Bletsoe Castle to the birth of her only son in 1457 at Pembroke Castle. Her story continues in Book Two: The Beaufort Woman. 


  1. The life of Margaret Beaufort has always fascinated me. Thank you for such a fabulous post!

  2. I think Margaret Beaufort is one of the most interesting women in English history. Thank you for sharing her story with us today, I must check out your books.

  3. Reading Judith's books has awakened my interest in history . I studied the War of the Roses at school but it made no sense what so ever.
    What a shame my history teachers hasn't read Judith's work!

  4. A superb piece. I still have to read these books but have read others by Judith and loved them.

  5. Thank you! I've only just seen these replies or I would have responded much sooner. The wars of the roses is like a tight knot in a shoe lace, almost impossible to untangle. It would be so much easier if everybody hadn't been named Margaret or elizabeth, or Henry or Edward.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx