Transcript for Margaret 5

Margaret pretty quickly identified the best answer to her sticky situation. It lay just 2 miles away in Pembroke, where there was a massive, powerful and well maintained castle – not as comfortable as Lamphey of course, but in these troubled times castle walls might be preferable to colourful tapestries. And behind those walls was the castle’s owner, the Earl of Pembroke – also known as Jasper Tudor, her ex husband’s younger brother. Unlike Edmund, Jasper had been at the battle of St Albans fighting for his king; but again, as York was made Protector, he again continued to work with him; the civil war had yet to reach the levels of viciousness and retribution it would soon acquire. Jasper and Margaret, and indeed Henry VII would have a long association, and one day Jasper would share in the spoils and rewards for loyalty.

Margaret could at least now concentrate on the fast-approaching birth of her child. There would one day be a document created on how royal births should be dealt with – all the protocols and so on – which was until very recently was thought to have been created by Margaret. It is now longer attributed to her, and it was of course designed for the highest in the land – but most of it would be relevant for noblewomen at least.

The whole ritual around childbirth was surrounded by mystery, wonder mixed with a bit of fear. I see many different stats, but the one I am sticking to is that 10% of births resulted in the death of the mother. That is an interesting stat because of course if you were playing the wheel at Las Vegas, say, you’d probably put your shirt on a 90% win rate. But bear in mind that often women had very large families – Margaret’s mother for example, had 7 St Johns, 1 Beaufort and 1 Welles, equalling 9. There’s a probability sum you can do, which I learned at school, immediately forgot of course because I was more interested in the footie results, to calculate the probability of dying with 10% chance over 9 children, and many years ago a kind listener did do the sum. My point is that if you have 9 children, a 10% chance of death each time becomes a significant risk. So it would make sense to take precautions.

Getting the right midwife would be objective number one; we know from Margaret Paston’s letters that she was so fixated on getting the perfect person, that even though the midwife she wanted was incapacitated with a bad back, she had her brought over  – in a wheelbarrow. The midwife’s job might involve some horrid decisions of course; the teaching was clear, that if there was a choice between Mother and Unborn child, the mother’s life must be saved first; but in such situations, the midwife would need to have female relatives of the mother around, so that they could take responsibility for any hard decisions. If the baby died before birth, unbaptised, it could not be buried in the churchyard, and so a priest must be on hand to baptise the baby in case of trouble if any part of it at all protruded. Second to the midwife, though, was God, obviously an important advocate to have on your side in most situations. A book of Hours, which no doubt Margaret would have had by her side, has multiple prayers to be said to protect a woman from various mishaps, very much including childbirth. You’d want the saints to tug on God’s arm on your behalf to boot just to remind the omnipotent of what was going on in west Wales – so Margaret would no doubt have had relics of a saint with her.

Childbirth was very much women’s work – there was none of this nonsense about fathers being present. And the preparation would start some time in advance, several weeks for a noble woman. Everything in the apartments must be covered with rich tapestries, including the windows, except one for a bit of light. Sounds horribly airless. There was a bit of an occasion, when the expectant mother would take communion and retire for the confinement with the midwife and her female friends, along with some nibbles, sweetmeats those days, rather than cheesy whatsits. The women around her

Are to be made all manner of officers, butlers, sewers and pages; receiving all needful things at the chamber door

It was to be a completely heremetically sealed apartment, until the birth. We don’t know anything about how far these conventions were followed in Margaret’s case, we don’t have any idea of who was around. It seems very likely though, sadly, that Margaret would have been surrounded by people she didn’t know very well; so although safe behind Pembroke’s mighty castle walls, still she must have felt very alone and scared at 13. We can only hope the people who were around her were nice and did a good job. The very slight indication we have, is that it was a difficult birth; the slight indication comes once more from John Fisher’s sermon

Like Moses [Henry] was wonderfully born and brought into the world by the noble Princess his mother, who was very small of stature, as she was never a tall woman. It seemed a miracle that, at that age, and of so little a personage, anyone should have been born at all, let alone one so tall and of so fine a build as her son

Having said that…Fisher wasn’t there. So, either he’s busking here, or Margaret told him. But it’s not rocket science to suggest that a small 13 year old would probably have had a tough birth. However, on 28th January 1457, Pembroke castle rang with a baby’s outraged screams, accompanied, presumably, by a sort of squeaking noise as people all said ‘ooh isn’t he lovely’ even though, like all new born babies, Henry was no doubt pug ugly. Just saying.

Once this stage was done, the new mother could not go outside until she had been purified; the church followed the Jewish tradition in this. Before this could happen, the mother was expected to lie in for at least 40 days. The lying in period could be rather more public; Christine de Pisan tells a story about a merchant’s wife, presumably well to do, who had visitors walk by an ornamental bed ‘decorated like an altar’, with all manner of rich tapestries, with the woman herself dressed in crimson silk. The Jones can be such a pain. [1] Although I’m told these days it’s the Kardashians, a programme I am proud to tell you I have never seen, and I shall continue to wallow in my ignorant prejudice.

As to why the mother needed to be purified, I am not quite so clear, but it seems to be related to all those bodily fluids involved in the process; although there’s been a tradition recently of seeing purification as a result of clerical misogyny, it’s equally possible that the ritual, and its associated period of lying in, may have been a way of enforcing rest. You might have remembered that Baptism was done soon after birth – within 8 days was the rule. This meant that generally the mother wouldn’t be at the ceremony. The churching ceremony, celebrated when the mother was purified after her lying in, would be a happy occasion, even a bit of a hooley with music, candles, a feast and plenty of almsgiving if an occasion for the well heeled.

That’s all the tradition; and someone of Margaret’s status would have expected to do all of it and push the boat out in the process. But in Margaret’s circumstances, far from home, surrounded by trouble it’s likely only the basics came to pass; lying in, a nice quiet time; baptism of course, and maybe a simple church service. We can’t know, but low-key is probably the name of the game.

One question from all of this, is how it affected Margaret’s attitude to sex and childbirth, and whether she was physically affected. I hate to keep saying it, but with such things there’s no way to get inside Margaret’s head, and she didn’t leave a map. But birth at her age has to be dangerous, and the fact is, that she was never pregnant again. Her remaining two marriages were clearly for practical purposes, not the result of any ‘grandes passion’ but her marriage to Stafford seemed happy, and unlike much later in life when she married Thomas Stanley she didn’t make any public announcements about chastity. There is a possibility Margaret actively chose to avoid having children completely I suppose, and there’s a chance that maybe she avoided any kind of sexual activity completely; it would tie in to a degree also with Margaret’s piety, and the church’s adoration of chastity. Nicola Tallis points to a religious book Margaret donated to Clare college, that contains the handwritten question if loathing sex was a sin[2]. She speculates that it could be in Margaret’s hand but again, guess what – books were valuable items, handed from person to person and used by multiple people – we really can’t know. But either way, Margaret never has children again, and it seems uncontroversial to conclude that to some degree at least sex and childbirth at such an early age left her scarred, whether physically, mentally, or both.

As Margaret recovered in the early days of 1457, she was probably encouraged to think quickly about the future and what her situation held for her and for her son. Obviously, Jasper and his nice thick, solid walls provided reassuring protection from the slings and arrows of the Welsh and Yorkists, but they provided no protection from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Margaret remained a very attractive catch on the marriage market, young and with a most attractive fortune. In addition to the share of the Beaufort and Holland estates she had brought with her to Edmund’s sweaty little paws, she had added a substantial dower from the lands of the earldom of Richmond – with a nominal income of £200, but which might have been substantially higher in practice. Margaret, by the way, also continued to be the Countess of Richmond despite Edmund’s death – though she did not carry her ex-husband’s title with her to any new marriage. So with all this lovely land, little Margaret was now swimming in the equivalent of the seas of Amity – full of sharks who might at any moment turn and notice this valuable prize. So it seems to have been quickly decided that Margaret must marry again, and acquire the protection of a husband; thereby she’d be protected from being bought and sold on the marriage market.

Most historians talk admiringly at this point of Margaret taking control of her own destiny; and I guess that’s an impression reinforced by the fact that she would travel along with Jasper to visit a prospective groom, which isn’t always the case in such negotiations. But that’s all the evidence there is really, and I would think that young as she was, Jasper Tudor must have had a big hand in advising her. Either way, they were looking for a family with enough grunt to protect Margaret in a time of political turmoil, and they quickly spotted the perfect candidate. His name was Henry Stafford. A 31 year old man, in slightly dodgy health according to his account books and the regular purchase of medicine; without 2 beans to rub together. None of which sounds very exciting. But Margaret may well not have been looking for exciting – rather looking for safe. And for that, the bones told a good story.

Because Henry was the second son of one of the very most powerful magnates in the land, Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham had vast tracts of land, and his income and influence was no more than a smidge below that of the Duke of York himself. He was connected to both Lancastrian and Yorkist families by marriage, and at this moment was doing his very best plastering job, trying to cover up the cracks shattering the wall of the English state, trying to bring the parties back together.

After her churching in March 1457, Margaret left her baby boy in the hands of a wet nurse, as was normal for the nobility of the time; this might be one Joan ap Howell, since Henry would one day award her an annuity of 20 marks. She then set off with Jasper to see Buckingham and his son; and it is this that indicates an unusual level of involvement by Margaret, since it wasn’t strictly necessary – the men could have stitched the deal up over beer and sandwiches. But a mother was of course usually involved in match making, and in the absence of a mother it’s not really surprising that Margaret was heavily involved.

The deal was quickly done. Henry was a little old to be marrying for the first time; the life of a younger son could often be a bit depressing, the life of a hearth knight without the resources to get married or be a catch. Added to that, Henry’s ailment seems to have been quite serious, maybe St Anthony’s fire, producing a serious skin compliant. So, Margaret for him was a great chance to escape the hearth, escape the prospect of a life in the shadows, and build a future – and a moneyed one at that. For Margaret, Henry brought security in the embrace of one of the most powerful families; and a husband who would hopefully be duly grateful and attentive. Anyway, they would have to wait for a while – Margaret was still in her widow’s weeds, and would be until January 1458, when a year after the death of her first husband would be over. Also, they needed papal dispensation – Henry’s mother, Anne Neville, was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt. As far as I can see, most of the nobility of England seemed to be descended from John of Gaunt in some way. Dispensation was duly delivered by April 1457, so things had really gone fast. For the rest of the year, Margaret hopefully enjoyed time with her little boy.

On 3rd January, so as quickly as possible, Margaret and Henry were married – being married twice before your 15th birthday has got to be some sort of record. The couple were probably married at Buckingham’s favourite pile, Maxstoke Castle in Warwickshire, which remains intact interestingly, though only rarely opened to the public by the lucky Fetherston Dilke family forced to make shift and mend within its walls. They then set up home at one of Margaret’s manors, at Bourne in Lincolnshire, so back to Fenland for Margaret. The house doesn’t survive, but the Abbey’s church does, rescued for the community in the reformation and very grand; and Margaret would have a lasting relationship with the Abbey.

So that all sounds very nice, heart-warming and happy; and all the indications will be that Margaret and Henry have a pretty good marriage and life together, so Margaret really had found as safe a harbour as possible in torrid times. But, there is a but; it came at a price. Henry, her little baby boy, did not come with her, but stayed with Jasper; and his wardship was given to Jasper and the Earl of Shrewsbury; Henry VI would also make Jasper Constable of Carmarthen castle, both gifts no doubt bolstering his most loyal supporter in south Wales. Margaret would have to work hard to maintain contact with her son through most of her life, and the painful separation started here.

Until next week then folks, thanks for listening and being members, good luck everyone, and have a good sen’night.

[1] Gristwood, S ‘Blood Sisters’, P55

[2] Tallis, N Uncrowned Queen p57

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