(Countess of Richmond)

Born: 31 May 1443, Bletsoe Castle, Bedfordshire, England

Died: 29 Jun 1509, Abbot's House, Cheyney Gates, Westminster, England

Buried: Westminster, Middlesex, England

Father: John BEAUFORT (1° D. Somerset)

Mother: Margaret BEAUCHAMP

Married 1: John De La POLE (2° D. Suffolk) 1449 ANNULMENT 1452

Married 2: Edmund TUDOR (D. Richmond) 1 Nov 1455


1. HENRY VII TUDOR (King of England)

Married 3: Henry STAFFORD BEF 1464

Married 4: Thomas STANLEY (1° E. Derby) BEF Nov 1482

Daughter and sole heiress of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, Henry VI's Captain. Her grandfather, John, Earl of Somerset, was the son of John of Gaunt by his mistress, Catherine Swynford, whom he afterwards married, and his offspring by whom an act of parliament legitimised. Thus, if the House of York were extinguished or set aside, Margaret had herself a shadowy claim to the crown. She was a girl of ten when she lost her father, and she grew up a pious, studious, and accomplished woman. She was contracted to marry, while still a child, to John de la Pole, 2° D. Suffolk, but the marriage was dissolved. At fourteen she married Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, half-brother of Henry VI, and father by her of Henry, Earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII. A few months after the birth of this their and her only child, her husband died, Nov 1456. Three years later she was married to Sir Henry Stafford (d. 1481), son of Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham -just when civil war in England was breaking out afresh. She played little part in the early education of her only son, but was in a position to help him flee abroad to safety in 1471, when the victory of Edward IV ayer the Lancastrians, and more important the death of Henry VI and his son, put the young Henry Tudor's life in danger, for he was now the leading male representative of the Red Rose. The little Henry of Richmond's uncle by the father's side, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, was a fierce Lancastrian, and when that cause was overthrown, both of them fled to France, whence the nephew was to return one day to gain the battle of Bosworth and ascend the throne of England.

Margaret was a woman of forty when in 1481 she lost her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford. By her third marriage with Lord Stanley, the great nobleman whom the Yorkist Edward IV delighted to honour became the step-father of the Lancastrian Pretender. The match seems to have been one of convenience on her side, probably it was so on both sides.

Margaret herself gained by it a powerful protector high in the favour of the King. Her piety was of the ascetic kind, and she passed part if not all of her married life with her third husband in a way not unusual in those days for wedded dames, of great devoutness. Her father-confessor, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester says:

"Long time before that he (Lord Stanley) died, she obtained of him licence, and promised to live chaste, in the hands of the reverend father my Lord of London, which promise she renewed, after her husband's death, into my hands again"

Her influence over Lord Stanley must, nevertheless, have been very considerable, and to it in all probability was due the accession of the Tudor dynasty to the throne of England.

In 1483, after Richard III had seized the throne, she plotted to overthrow him, encouraging the Duke of Buckingham to rise and sending to her son in exile, urging him to invade England. The plot failed, and she narrowly missed death at Richard's hands. But Margaret of Richmond's participation in the conspiracy which preceded Buckingham's abortive insurrection was well-known to Richard, and he could not hope to bribe her to be loyal to him or to desert the cause of her own son. Strange spectacle, while honours were heaped on the husband, all that seemed prudently possible was done to humiliate and punish the wife. Lord Stanley was made Constable of England for life in the Dec of 1483. Early in the new year, on the 22 Jan 1484, a parliament met at Westminster, opened by Richard in person, his confidant and instrument, Catesby, being chosen Speaker of the Commons. Among the acts passed by this parliament for the punishment of persons implicated in Buckingham's conspiracy and insurrection, was, one directed against "Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother to the King's great rebel and traitor, Henry, Earl of Richmond". It recited that "she had of late conspired, confederated, and committed treason" against the King, by "sending messages, writings, and tokens to the said Henry; desiring him to come into this realm and make war against him", and had also raised "great sums of money" to be employed for the same purpose. Nevertheless, it was added, the King considering "the good and faithful service that Thomas Lord Stanley had done, and intendeth to do, and for the good love and trust that the King hath in him, for his sake remitteth and will forbear to her the great punishment of attainder of the said Countess". Margaret was, however, disabled from inheriting any lands or dignities, and declared to have forfeited her estates to the crown, only a life interest in them being conceded to Lord Stanley. It was an enactment which did not make the mother of Henry, Earl of Richmond - or for that matter, perhaps, his step-father either-more loyal to Richard of Gloucester.

Henry's marriage to Elizabeth of York, which joined the houses of York and Lancaster, was also her work. It seems that the project for marrying Richmond to the Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Edward IV, had been already communicated by Margaret to Elizabeth Woodville (then with her children in sanctuary at Westminster), through a Welsh physician, who ministered medically to both of them. Edward's widow now welcomed the scheme, and promised the co-operation of her friends. Great nobles and prelates entered into the plot all the more eagerly that the murder of the young Edward V and his brother in the Tower by Richard's command had begun to be bruited abroad. Messengers were sent with money and advice to Richmond in Brittany, and he consented to everything. The 18th of Oct (1483) was fixed for a general rising. By that day Henry was to arrive in England at the head of an invading force, and co-operate with the levies of Buckingham and his fellow conspirators. In the battle of Bosworth, was the support or neutrality of her husband's family (the Stanleys) which gave Henry victory.

Margaret of Richmond survived Lord Derby a few years. Her letters -those to her son Henry VII, like his to her, overflow with genuine affection- show her to have been a woman of business and of the world; in one of them there is even a touch of humour.

Henry VII recognized the services his mother had performed for him. When answering a request of hers, he wrote:

'I shall be glad to please you as your heart desire ir, and I know well that I am as much bounden so to do, as any creature living for the great and singular motherly lave and affection that it hath pleased you at all times to bear me'.

Margaret's letters to him were equally affectionate; Henry was: 'my own sweet and most dear king and all my worldly joy... my good and precious prince, king, and only beloved son'. The Spanish Ambassador reported in 1498 that she was one of the most important advisers of the King, but we know little in detail of the work she did. The King allowed her to sign her name 'Margaret R.', apparently, as if she were a queen herself.

Two little original pieces from her pen, still extant, both of them on Court ceremonial and etiquette, are curious in themselves and as exhibiting her knowledge of, and interest in, the niceties of some of the pomps and vanities of this wicked world. One of them seems to have been composed in anticipation of the birth of her grand-son, Prince Arthur, the first born of Henry VII and of Elizabeth of York. This is the "Ordinance as to what Preparation is to be made against the Deliverance of the Queen, as also for the Christening of the Child of whom She shall be Delivered", a programme of Court procedure and code of etiquette in which nothing is forgotten, from a minute detail of state-ceremonial and pageantry, to directions anent "he little cradle of tree, of a yard and a quarter long and twenty-two inches broad, in a frame fair set forth by painter's craft". When the presumed inmate of the "little cradle of tree" had grown into a boy of eleven, and was to be married, in form, at least, to Catalina de Aragon -the marriage that helped to bring about the English Reformation- Margaret gave a sumptuous and skilfully-ordered banquet to the Spanish courtiers, male and female, who came with the spousal-contract to England. Each Spanish gentleman present had by his side an English lady, each English gentleman a Spanish lady, and all were "served, after a right goodly manner, both of their victuals, dainties, and delicates, and with diverse wines, abundant and plenteously", in Margaret's Town-house of Cold Harbour, in what is now Upper Thames street, and on the site of which stands, or lately stood, Calvert's brewery, with its extensive manufacture of "Entire!" Five years afterwards the young Arthur died, and ten months later again the Queen, his mother, followed him to the grave. It was probably this event that led Margaret to compose and promulgate her second extant ukase, "The Ordinance and Reformation of Apparel for Great Estates or Princesses, with other Ladies and Gentlemen, for the Time of Mourning". Devoted though she might be to the contemplation of heavenly things, she retained a quick eye for terrestrial differences and distinctions, and what these allowed and disallowed. A chin-cloth of fine linen was then commonly worn at funerals, and called a Barbe. In this, her second "ordinance", Margaret peremptorily and stringently forbids any lady, under the degree of a baroness, to wear the Barbe over the chin, "which noble and good order," says the high lady, with stately indignation, "hath been and is much abused by every mean and common woman, to the great wrong and dishonour of persons of quality".

The Countess would seem to have taken an especial pleasure in super-intending the education of the young. Very possibly she delighted in the society of youth. In the first year of her son's reign, we discover the facts of her not only being entrusted with the 'keeping and guiding' of the unmarried daughters of Edward IV, but also 'to her great charges' of the 'young lords', the Duke of Buckingham and the Earls of Warwick and Westmoreland". When Henry VIII himself was removed from the nursery to the school-room, it was to the Countess that the King and Queen, 'confided the important charge of superintending his education'; and while this young royal gentleman was in her care, we find her associating with him under her roof her young kinsman, afterwards Sir John St John, father of Oliver, first Lord St John of Bletshoe. Much earlier she is mentioned as maintaining certain well-born youths at their studies, under Maurice Westbury, an Oxford academician. She is said to have tried to draw Erasmus from his studies to superintend those of her husband Lord Derby's son, James Stanley, who, through her influence, was afterwards made Bishop of Ely: "the worst thing she ever did", says an admirer of hers, but a candid and blunt one. This zeal for education was turned to the account of the Universities by her spiritual pastor and master, Fisher. He persuaded her to devote to the founding of St John's College, and to the further endowment of Christ College, Cambridge, money which she intended leaving to monks and priests to say masses and sing dirges for her soul; and it is significant that so zealous an ecclesiastic as Fisher should have thus diverted the stream of Margaret's bounty. Its most magnificent academic memorials are St John's and Christ College, Cambridge, but her name is more directly perpetuated by the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity, which she founded at Oxford as well as at Cambridge, and by the Margaret Preachership at the latter University, all of them being earlier in date than her munificence to the two Cambridge colleges.


Henry VII died in the Apr of 1509, having appointed, as one of the executors of his will, her whom he styled in it, "Our dearest and most entirely beloved mother, Margaret, Countess of Richmond". The first ten weeks of the reign of King Henry VIII, his grand mother, lady Margaret, acted as a regent, until he came on age. Margaret survived her son only a few months, dying on the 3rd of the following Jul, in the 69th year of her age. She was buried in the chapel of Westminster Abbey which is called after her son the King. Fisher preached Margaret of Richmond's funeral sermon; and in it he dilates on her possession of all womanly and princess-like good qualities, affectionateness, amiability, affability, dignity-on her munificent charities, public and private, her tending and nursing of the sick, her devoutness and asceticism, her self-imposed penances, austerities, and manifold mortifications of the flesh. "Every one that knew her loved her, and everything that she said or did became her". Hers is an altar-tomb, with an effigy, brass gilt and enamelled, by the same artist, Peter Torrigiano, who executed in the same Chapel that similar tomb of her son and his Queen, which Bacon called "one of the stateliest and daintiest in Europe". Her modest epitaph, briefly chronicling her academic and other munificences, was written by Erasmus, and for it, "as is entered in a Computus, or old book of accounts", that witty and learned gentleman received the sum of twenty shillings from the University of Cambridge, in which, three years afterwards, he was appointed Margaret Professor of Divinity.

Polydore Vergil described Margaret as 'a most worthy woman whom no one can extoll toa much or toa often for her sound sense and holiness of life'. She was a great patron of the Arts, giving her support to John Skelton and to Bernard André, the blind poet laureate. She translated Thomas a Kempis into English and gave her support to William Caxton. Like many Catholics of her generation, she believed in an active, learned ministry for the Church, endowing a preachership at Cambridge with the condition that the priests appointed should give a dozen lecturesduring their terms of office in a number of rural parishes.

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