There is one woman in the period of the Wars of the Roses who I feel very strongly for, and I realise this isn´t exactly “kosher” as she very often is incredibly vilified as an untrustworthy schemer and basically as guilty of the defeat of Richard III as if she had been on the battlefield at Bosworth herself.
I, on my part, see a woman who were determined to survive on her own terms and to do whatever it took to do what she thought was best for her son in a time and a society that didn´t view her or anyone of her gender as much more than the property of a father or a husband.
I´m talking, of course, of Margaret Beaufort.
She was born on May 31st 1443 at Bletsoe Castle in Bedfordshire, into a life that must be said to have been far from easy even though she would be one of the richest heiresses in England. Through her father, Earl of Somerset, she was also the great granddaughter of John of Gaunt through his relationship and later marriage to Kathrine Swynford, lady in waiting to his second wife.
In his late teens, John Beaufort who was also the cousin of the at the time reigning king Henry V, had been part of a military expedition to France as a part of the Hundred Years War in a disastrous expedition which landed John in French prison for 17 years. He had to pay a hefty ransom to be able to return to England, where he found himself at a loss when it came to establish himself as the landed lord he was born to be. He married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, daughter of Sir John Beauchamp, de jure 3rd Baron Beauchamp of Bletsoe and his second wife Ellen Stourton. She was also the widow of Sir Oliver St John with whom she had seven children, half-siblings that would come to mean a lot to Margaret over the years to come.
In fictional books, none mentioned and none forgotten, it is sometimes suggested that Margaret’s relation to her mother was strained, to say the least, but there are no historical evidence to suggest that this was the case, on the contrary, they seem to have been quite close and fond of each other. Margaret would never, however, get a chance to develop a relationship to her father. When she was not even one year old, he was sent away on a military mission to France by Henry VI, to the still ongoing Hundred Years War which already had robbed him of 17 years of his life. John of course did belong to a class in society that was more or less expected to function as military commanders when so was needed, but John Beaufort basically had no experience as most of his previous time in France had been spent in prison.
It quite soon went wrong after John Beaufort and his troops arrived in France. While their mission was to march on Gascony where he was meant to function as lieutenant and captain-general, but ended instead up in Brittany, where Beaufort´s men looted border towns.
It is said that Beaufort was ill at the time, and maybe he somehow lost control over his men, but it would be he who bore the brunt of the king´s rage when he returned to England. Henry VI refused to receive him at court. In disgrace and possibly facing charges of treason, John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, died on May 27th 1444, just days before the first birthday of his daughter Margaret. It is assumed that he may have committed suicide due to his disgrace.
Before embarking on his mission to France, John Beaufort had made provisions for his young daughter, one of which was ensuring an understanding with the king that she was to stay in the care of her mother. This is something that can be seen as obvious in modern times, but in medieval times it was a given that wealthy heirs and heiresses should be given as wards to other prominent families who would also take their share in the profits from any estate own by the child in their care. It would soon be obvious that Henry VI was less than inclined to honour any promises given to a percieved traitor, and the Fortune´s Wheel of young Margaret Beaufort had just started turning.
More to follow…..
Sources: Margaret Beaufort, Mother of the Tudor Dynasty – Elizabeth Norton
Women of the Cousins War/Margaret Beaufort – Michael Jones
Tomb of John and Margaret Beaufort in the minster church of St Cuthburga, Wimborne Minster, Dorset – Memorino