In the months and years after 1453 during which Margaret continued her childhood at Bletsoe and Maxey, the English world darkened. In July 1453, the English were defeated at Chastillon in Gascony, and as a result the French monarchy was able to steal what belonged rightfully to the English royal house. This did not help Henry VI’s tattered reputation one little bit. Nor did it help his state of mind. Henry had already comprehensively disappointed the English political nation – he was weak willed, probably far too nice, indecisive, incapable of dealing with his barons, committing crimes such as over accommodation of the barons, to the promotion of favourites like Suffolk and Somerset. He was very pious, which to an extent was an advantage for a king, but he was over pious, and too often failed to do those grubby, earthly things people expected of their king, like magnificent and gorgeous display of power and wealth; though he had finally been grubby and earthy enough at least so that Queen Margaret was now pregnant. Although it must be said that Henry and Queen Margaret’s enemies started circulating scurrilous rumours that Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, royal favourite, was much more likely to have been grubby and earthly with the queen than Henri, but there’s no evidence, and of course they had reason to discredit the Lancastrian heir. Opinion was divided on whether Henry was kindly or rather priggish, but Margaret Beaufort certainly seems to remember him as a kindly man when she met him at the age of 9.
Essentially, Henry VI would have made an excellent monk, and probably been very happy too – he was simply in the wrong job at the wrong time. Whether it was the consistent run of bad news, or the pressure of living a life for which he was not suitable, or something physical, on 15th August Henry collapsed into a stupor from which he could not be raised. The medieval state was simply unable to work without a king, or a figure agreed to be standing in for the king, and Henry’s incapacity, much as Queen Margaret tried to keep it secret, was a disaster, though a disaster probably slightly smaller in magnitude than Henry’s continuous incapability to do his job even when not in a stupor. Both, frankly, put England in a spin.
However, as far as Richard Duke of York was concerned, there was no reason to worry because there was a perfect answer to the problem of Henry. The answer to the problem was him, Richard. I’m a great guy, I’ve got my coat of many colours, I’ll rule instead. And despite this outrageous piece of self promotion, actually people agreed, and a great council in the late summer appointed Richard as lord Protector, to the incandescent fury of Queen Margaret and Somerset, who had been sparring with Richard for some time over political influence – a sparring bout Richard thought he had lost until Henry’s illness intervened. There was a reason Richard was the obvious candidate, irrespective of any personal characteristics, though he was clearly equipped with what you might call a better skill set for the job of king than Henry. Incidentally, as I say irrespective, it reminds me of something I read in the pappy the other day, that the word irregardless has been added to the dictionary. Irregardless, come on people, irregardless, what is wrong with regardless? Why do we need the irri bit? Pull yourselves together everyone, as a society we need to ban mad consumerism and the expensive production of the kind of additional and irrelevant prefixes that must be putting a strain on the world’s resources. Irregardless.
Anyway, back to Richard; the reason for his promotion was that he was descended from Edmund of Langley, son of Edward III, and a brother older than John of Gaunt. So, he had blue blood. It’s also a reminder that we do need to be careful of getting ahead of ourselves about Margaret and seeing her line as candidates to the throne – really no one thought of her that way, Henry had an heir, there were all these Yorks in the way before bastard Beauforts – it just wasn’t a thing. Sure, Margaret and Edmund were well connected, royal blood and all – but it wasn’t remotely likely that they’d be contenders, any more than Terry Malloy
We are not yet, though, quite at civil war stage. Most people saw Richard’s suitability and right to this position, and supported his conscientious and effective efforts to put royal finances in order; so for example, Edmund Tudor and his brother Jasper, seem to have fully supported Richard; Jasper spent a lot of time in London, making sure not only that he supported Richard, but that he was seen to be supporting Richard so that no one carted them away to the Tower. Which is where Richard of York had almost immediately put Somerset, incidentally.
However, to Richard’s chagrin Henry recovered at Christmas 1454, acknowledged his son Edward now born and in February 1455 Richard of York was discharged from his duties as Lord Protector. Queen Margaret and Somerset went for the Yorkist jugular, calling a Council to which they ostentatiously did not invite the leading magnate of the land, Richard, and instead ordered him to present himself before the Council. Richard reckoned the result would be his entoastment. The result was at last the start of the Wars of the Roses. The two sides met in battle at St Albans on 22nd May 1455, and York ran out the winner, and captured the king. Edmund Beaufort showed a good deal more courage and commitment than he’d ever shown in France, but none the less was totalled. York was in the ascendant, but in a much more divisive way now of course – it was extremely difficult to find a fig leaf big enough to cover up this one, although Richard tried the old ‘just saving you from your evil councillors’ line. But in people’s hearts fences were being erected – into the king’s party, the Yorkist party, and the ‘oh good lord how do I avoid getting involved in this unholy mess? Party. For Margaret and the Tudors, St Albans meant it would be impossible to hide away in the country and pretend nothing was happening; they were related to the king, and they were now firmly in the spotlight of politics, hate it, or indeed, loathe it.
So, where was Margaret in all this? Well for the most of it, she was still with her mother at Bletsoe and Maxey. But on 31st May 1455, a few days after the bloodbath at St Albans, she passed her 12th birthday, and so all agreed that the wedding could now go ahead. We don’t know anything about the marriage, but it had certainly taken place by September 1455, and you’d imagine her mother, step father and the St Johns would have been there with the diminutive figure of Margaret at the church door.
What followed is to the modern mind, criminal. And even to the contemporary mind, deeply disturbing. Namely that the marriage was quickly consummated. Edmund was not acting illegally according to the customs of the time, sex at 12 was approved by the church. But it was very much frowned on, and most people with any sense of consideration would have waited; you might remember Henry III marrying a 12 year old Eleanor of Provence, and waiting for 3 years until consummating the marriage, from consideration for a queen that he clearly grew to love.
Why did Edmund Tudor behave in such a hideous way? He was after all a lot older than Margaret, 25 years old, it’s a very odd situation. Well the normal explanation, looking for logical reasons rather than emotional ones which we can’t know, is that obviously he’d married Margaret for her land and money. But until she had a child, he had no permanent rights over her possessions – since unconsummated marriage could be challenged and annulled relatively easily. So, greed is one answer, but security maybe another – the political scene was now very challenging for Edmund and his brother.
Of Margaret’s view we cannot of course be sure. Generally, the church’s teaching was that a wife could not deny sex to her husband, though as this passage suggests, this works both ways:
Let the husband render to his wife what is her due, and likewise the wife to her husband. A wife has no authority over her body but her husband; likewise the husband has no authority over his body but his wife. You must not refuse each other except perhaps by consent for a time, that you may give yourself to prayer and return together again lest Satan tempt you because you lack self-control.
It may well be, that at the age of 12, Margaret simply assumed this was what was natural and required. There is some indication however, later in life, that Margaret quite naturally did not think, looking back, that it had been a good idea or positive experience. When it was proposed that her Granddaughter Margaret be married to James IVth of Scotland, she worked hard to make sure they waited a while lest her new husband be tempted to consummate the marriage too early, and ‘injure her and endanger her health’.
It was time though for Margaret, now Countess of Richmond of course, to leave her childhood behind in other ways, and set up house with Hub. And so they travelled to Lamphry just near to Pembroke in West Wales, a part of the world I am told is particularly beautiful and yet to which I have never been. If it’s anywhere near as beautiful as Mid Wales which is where I’ve normally ended up, then it is beautiful indeed. One day. Anyway, there is a reason why Edmund took himself to Wales, and indeed why his brother Jasper had also been made Earl of Pembroke; and that was to establish and maintain Henry’s royal authority there. Incidentally while we are on Jasper, I ‘ve never been able to hear the name without a slight thrill of fear, because at school jasper was the name for a wasp, and wasps hate me so. I took the time to look it up, and d’you, there it is in the OED – Jasper, one of the names for wasp, though even they don’t know why. Well houdi Elbow. I almost forgive them the irregardless crime. Anyway, royal authority in west Wales was challenged by a fiery character called Gruffydd ap Nicholas. Over the last 20 years or so, Nicholas and his family had established a dominance over west Wales, by various means, fair and foul. For a while he’d worked closely with the Duke of York, who had land holdings there; and he’d supported Henry VI. His sons Owen and Thomas helped him create a rule of lawlessness which had any royal officials eating out of his hand, and powerful enough to ignore petitions of complaint in Parliament, and to treat the royal castle at Carmarthen as pretty much his own territory, and base form which to terrorise any that opposed him.
Edmund and Margaret took up residence at the Bishops Palace at Lamphey, built as a rural retreat for the Bishop of St Davids, and very grand indeed. Edmund’s first preoccupation was to wrest some sort of control back from Nicholas, and in the summer of 1456 their struggle for control focussed on the castle at Carmarthen, a struggle with Edmund won. Which you’d think was a good thing, but it actually roused another dragon into the fight. The Duke of York was now once again Protector of the realm, and was constable of Carmarthen and Abersytwyth castles. York didn’t really want a Lancastrian in control, and wanted to make sure Nicholas also knew which side his bread was buttered, and who was supplying the butter. And so a Yorkist stalwart, William Herbert, was sent into Wales; Edmund Tudor was captured and briefly imprisoned, Nicholas submitted to save his skin.
By this time, Edmund would have heard the news that his 13 year old wife was pregnant, and was presumably looking forward to receiving his legal right to his wife’s property. He was however, not to enjoy it. Plague was raging across West Wales, as plague regularly did; it may be that the presence of all this fighting and armies was what generated the plague in terms of camp fever, or dysentery – Herbert’s army was a substantial 2,000 men strong, and armies often spread disease. Either way, Edmund Tudor was one of its victims, dying on 1st November 1456 at Carmarthen castle.
This must have been a complete terror to Margaret – talk about a baptism of fire. There she was, just 13, pregnant and now alone in a strange land far from the people she knew; and full in the knowledge that violence and disease was all around her. Irregardless of her worries about the situation his death had left her in, we can’t know for sure whether she was personally upset at his loss – they’d not known each other for long, and he was impossibly old for a thirteen year old, obviously, a 26 year old is pretty much a Martian I’d have thought at that age. But actually, there are indications that whatever her feelings as the time, she did not hold Edmund’s behaviour against him – or maybe her piety helped her to forgive me. In her first will of 1472, she left instructions to have him reburied in Bourne, in Lincolnshire, and for her to be buried beside him; which is fascinating, since this was after her marriage to Edward Stafford, which seems to have been a pretty happy one. It may be explained by Margaret’s love of lineage, to which Edward Stafford did not add, or it could be that Edmund was her beloved son’s father; or maybe she retained the awe of a 12 year old for a 26 year old, who knows. But she also ordered prayers to be held for her husband’s soul at Christ’s College Cambridge, and ordered that Edmund’s coat of arms be included on her tomb. So irregardless of what we might think, it seems Margaret made her peace, or even remembered him fondly.
Irregardless of all that, Margaret was in a jam that would have had Abraham reaching for the sauce. She was alone, tiny, surrounded by violence and plague, and expecting a child in the next couple of months. What on earth was she to do now?
Well, we will find out next, here at the MB Shedcasts. Until then, thanks for listening and being members, and live long and prosper