Right, so it feels that we have reached a sort of watershed in the life of the our hero here. Just as my life can be divided into two distinct periods – before and after I won the under 12’s Tennis trophy for Quorn Tennis Club, so it feels as though Margaret’s life can be divided into pre Bosworth and Post Bosworth. Looking back, it is easy to see a clear dichotomy between the anxious, often wildly troubled life before her son became Henry VII, and the semi regal life after it, where she was almost unassailable in her position – I hope that doesn’t constitute a plot spoiler, by the way. But a word of warning; although we know that Henry VII survived to found a Welsh dynasty that would rule England for over 100 years before the Scots picked up the baton, Henry and Margaret would have been none so sure; after all, Bosworth was just one more in a long line of battles and regime change that had bedevilled 15th century England. And so it would prove; there would be another battle in 1487 for example, and after the battle of Stoke field that year, Margaret didn’t throw herself into a sofa next to Henry in front of an open fire, kick off her shoes and remark ‘well, great to see we’ve polished off the last battle of the wars of the Roses then’. There would be further trouble before too long with Perkin Warbeck, the Cornish would revolt in 1497 and get jolly close to Westminster. Uncertainty and worry had not left Margaret’s life, and as John Fisher remarked, she was most definitely a person for whom every silver lining had it’s cloud. Or at least, she was more likely to worry than celebrate victory.
Having said that, 1485 was a watershed for her, and it might be worth saying the obvious about why. Mothers and their sons don’t always have super close relationships of course, but often they do and in this case they had a relationship so close that it’s intensity feels almost slightly… I don’t know, irritating, hysterical. It might not have inevitably been that way, but look at it from each of their point of view. From Margaret’s point of view, her whole life had been spent against the background of her only son’s precarious present and dodgy future; as we’ve discussed many times over, she had worried, and schemed, and plotted, seen Henry stand on the brink of re-admittance to society, and on the edge of the precipice of delivery into the hands of his potential murderers. We don’t need to see this in the binary context of Henry being king or dead; for much of the time, Margaret’s aim was simply for her son to be admitted to his birthright, and live a full and productive life of which she could be part. We need to see this in the context of the strength of Margaret’s family relationships; she fought all life long for the best outcomes of her wider family, Beaufort, Welles, St John.
But from Henry’s point of view also; there’s the emotional thing, sure – alongside Jasper Tudor, his mother had been the one constant thread of emotional and practical support. But there’s also a practical side to this. I have often said on the History of England, I think, that personal relationships between the king and his great families were the basis of effective rule; incompetent rulers like Edward II and Henry VI were incompetent at least in part because they messed up patronage got the balance wrong, didn’t understand fully the nuances and networks. When Henry arrived as king in 1485, his assurance in dealing with the post conflict settlement was notable; this included not only the obvious – unwinding Richard III’s Titulus Regius, visiting acts of attainers on Richard’s supporters – but it also lay in placating and encouraging traditional Yorkists who had supported Edward IV but were equivocal about Richard III.
How much of this settlement was due to Margaret and her counsel is the question I put to you? Margaret had been a part of the political scene in England at the highest level, frequently seen at court, now married to one of the very highest in the land, Thomas Stanley. We know that Henry honoured his mother, and that she would be at court very frequently – how important it must have been for him to be able to lean on an intelligent and experienced political operator, who knew the people and their families, and whose loyalty to Henry was without question.
Much of this we’ll never know I guess – conversations behind closed walls; but we can be sure that Henry valued Margaret’s counsel through their lives, that Margaret was unashamedly supreme at court. Nicola Tallis called her biography Uncrowned Queen, and as the story will unfold, that is a very accurate description indeed. Also there are very interesting precedents in the 15th century. I give you Margaret Anjou and Cecily Neville for examination. Similar to our hero, Margaret of Anjou became her son’s greatest protector and supporter; with the incapacity of her husband Henry VI, she became the centre of effective power and rule under later Lancastrian rule. The analogy isn’t perfect; unlike Beaufort, the king was for a while incapable, and Margaret of Anjou asked specifically for full regency powers; she also lost support for seeming to lack compassion by executing Yorkists who had previously been pardoned by Henry VI after the second battle of St Albans.
Cecily Neville, however, mother of Edward IV is a much closer parallel; she had an even stronger reputation for piety, she was a commanding presence at court; both Edward and Richard referred to her for counsel. She also had a reputation for being a terrier in defence of her landed rights, she was a generous benefactor to education; and used her influence to exploit wardships and protect her tenants. Cecily is a very interesting parallel, and maybe she and Margaret hit it off in the 1470s when they were both at court; certainly Cecily left a breviary bound with cloth of gold for Margaret in her will, and Cecily was honourably dealt with by Henry VII – though probably as much because she was the grandmother of his wife as much as from Margaret’s intervention. Cecily was as staunch in her championing of the family of York and Margaret was in her son; Cecily famously left Henry VII a wheel of fortune in her will when she died in 1495, a reminder not to get too comfortable on that throne. Anyway, it is entirely possible that Cecily impressed Margaret with her example.
Well let’s get back to the narrative then and we can see how Margaret does react to the turn of fortune’s wheel. After Bosworth in August 1485, Henry trogged off down to London as you do if you are going to claim the country, and the London streets were of course packed with well wishers – you didn’t last long in London without knowing which side of your bread held the butter. We don’t know if Margaret met her 28 year old lad there or on the way, but it must have been quite a reunion. I’m imagining:
‘Yeah m’aright. Y’aright?’
The lever of the One-armed bandit had been well and truly pulled for Margaret, and before Henry’s coronation the trust between mother and son was apparent. Margaret was given a vast house from which to base herself in London, Coldharbour House, and immediately entrusted with the Guardianship of some critical people; Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, the Yorkist candidate for the throne the Earl of Warwick, Edward Stafford the young Duke of Buckingham. But Margaret didn’t spend all her time there, no indeed; she must have spent much time in September 1485 at her old stamping ground at Woking – with her son once again; you might remember that in the Happy days of Henry VI’s second gasp, she’d had her son with her before he went off to Wales. Now, I do not know, but I would bet a pound to a penny that Beaufort and Sons were as thick as thieves as the messengers and well wishers came and went, and that the results of their fireside chats would be seen at the forthcoming coronation and parliament. But the help that Henry’s mother was able to give her son was practical, as well as in terms of advice; so as the king formed his household, he was able to draw on a core of competent administrators in Margaret’s household over which she kept stern control; included in this was Reginald Bray, Margaret’s right hand man who went on quickly to work in Henry’s service.
Well, the coronation was of course as much a victory party as a coronation; the virtuous were front of stage at said post match party, such as the ever loyal Jasper Tudor who after a couple of decades of loyal service finally cashed in his chips as Duke of Bedford, with marriage to Katherine Woodville, and was given the honour of carrying the crown. Thomas Stanley also found himself in receipt of goodies although William Stanley oddly probably felt that although he’d been rewarded, it could not be described as lavish. Margaret of course turned on the waterworks, and you’d have to be made of stone not to have done the same had you been Margaret
When the king her son was crowned in all that great triumph and glory, she wept marvellously
At the following parliament from November to December there was further redress for Henry’s followers; but maybe we can also see the influence of his mother, or at least the strategy of a Cecily Neville rather than a Margaret of Anjou; for restoration was made to many who had suffered under Richard III who were staunch Yorkists; just as Margaret has suggested the idea of Marrying Elizabeth of York to help bring Lancaster and York together, so she made sure that Henry’s victory did not lead to a bloodbath. Margaret also played a part in this; for example, she found space in her household for one Ralph Bigod, a former Knight of the Body to Richard III.
The Parliament did all the business stuff as well – Henry declared himself as king by right rather than by conquest, Richard’s Titulus Regius was repealed. But the other casher in of chips was of course Mum, achieved in a rather remarkable way.
My Lady the King’s Mother as she was to be titled, was declared to be a femme sole. This was a quite remarkable move and is worth describing briefly; in the medieval world once married, a woman’s legal status was described as a femme coverte; the origin seems to have originated somewhere in the legal reforms of Henry II. The principle in law was that husband and wife become one, which sounds all very equitable but in practice was, of course absolutely not, because the single person turned out to be the bloke; all the women’s goods and a femme couvert could not own property, sign legal documents or enter into a contract, or keep a salary for herself – if she did earn a bob or two, she’d have to turn it over to her hubby.
But there was another legal status for women which was femme sole. This was almost always seen as driven by economic reasons – very often adopted by widows or some single women in towns who were in control of a business and needed to exist legally as it were, to be able to make contracts and all that sort of thing. Margaret’s situation though was very non standard; she was a married woman for crying aloud, this was social revolution, the kind of thing that makes Colonel Mustard spill his G&T with horror. The femme sole thing seems to me to be absolutely fundamental to understanding Margaret’s attitude to the rest of her life. It’s maybe partly that so far she had exercised horribly little control over her life; or indeed it could be that she’d tried very hard to exercise control – and found the situation after the Buckingham rebellion had failed personally humiliating; is it possible to be cross at not being executed because you are not seen as legally responsible? But the real thing I think is that Margaret Beaufort considered herself to be a Queen in every way, and that she should be not only in control of her own destiny, but in control of her community’s destinies as a natural leader of society. Afterall, her claim to the throne was stronger than that of her son’s; there is no prospect in which Margaret would have asserted her rights over her son’s given everything her life had been about. But nonetheless, she felt her lineage in her very water.
I wonder in this what Thomas Stanley thought, Mr Margaret Beaufort that is. You might say well who cares, but it might have been hard for him to take – or maybe not. Margaret was now the king’s mother, so with or without the femme sole thing, she had the superior social status, and precedence really mattered back then, in spades with brass knobs on. But Margaret’s new legal status resulted in a detailed agreement with Stanley about how much of his wife’s income he would now get – which was between 1/3rd and 2/3rds of Margaret’s existing estates, but absolutely zip of any grants made to Margaret since 1485. From Henry’s point of view this approach had a triple benefit; he was already in the process of rewarding Stanley anyway – he had no desire to give him even more through Margaret; it meant that his grants to Mum now would go straight to her; and it meant that longer term any grants to Margaret would not be alienated permanently from the Crown – when she died, they’d revert to the Crown.
The grant to Margaret came in the ‘great Grant’ of 1487, so took a couple of years to come through. The substantial estates she received generated additional income of over £1000 a year, which lifted her total income in 1488 to £2,000, which put her up with the richest magnates in the land; and the grants were concentrated in the West Country, and most importantly in the Midlands, where Henry would have plans for his mother. This of course was no more, surely, than just deserts for Margaret; but just before you break out into cheers, start scattering the confetti and hang out the bunting on the Siegfried line there is just a soupcon of a hard edge; Margaret’s benefit in terms of grants came at the expense of others hoping for royal favour – notably the Marquis of Dorset, Elizabeth Woodville’s son by her first marriage, who had wobbled and tried, though failed, to leave the Tudor camp at Brittany. He was now suspect and would not be really trusted by Henry before his death in 1501. As with a few things with Margaret, it is important at all times to remember that she is no pushover.
Anyway, Margaret had been fully en-flushed, and was ready to join her son at court. And there, another important figure was to join them – Henry had adopted the policy of marriage to Elizabeth of York at Margaret’s suggestion, and now in a rather obvious piece of theatre, at the end pf Parliament Henry was begged to marry her again. To everyone’s amazement, (not) he graciously, accepted. Wow. OK, so next time – Margaret and the new Tudor court. Shy and retiring or giving it large? Your guess.