Margaret Beaufort was born on 31 May around 1443 at Bletsoe Castle, Bedfordshire, England. She was the only child, therefore sole heir of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. She was later to become both the Countess of Richmond and Derby.
John Beaufort was in the service of King Henry VI of England and was about to lead a military expedition in France when Margaret was born.
He was determined to secure the rights of his daughter and negotiated with the king that if he should be killed that the wardship and marriage of his daughter would be given to her mother. The normal practice was for Margaret to become the ward of the crown.
The king was not to keep his word, and following John Beaufort’s death in 1444, the king passed wardship of Margaret’s lands and estates over to William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk; she was however left in the care of her mother.
While still a child Margaret was married to John de la Pole, Suffolk’s son, but this marriage was later dissolved. Henry VI then arranged a marriage for her to Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond in 1455 when she was still only around fifteen years old, however following capture by Yorkist forces, he was imprisoned and died of the plague on 3 November 1456, however Margaret was already pregnant.
Margaret gave birth to her only child, a son Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) on 28 January 1457 at Pembroke Castle while she was under the protection of her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke.
Henry was to be raised during the Wars of the Roses, a series of battles between the families of York and Lancaster.
Margaret married for a third time, while still a teenager on 3 January 1458 to Sir Henry Stafford. This seemed to be a happy marriage for Margaret, but again she was to see herself a widow at the age of twenty-eight when Stafford was injured at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 and later died of his wounds.
Before the year was over, Margaret entered into a fourth marriage with Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, Lord High Constable and King of Mann. A marriage of convenience that gave Margaret the chance to return to the court of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Following the death of Edward IV and the seizure of the English throne by Richard III, Margaret was to serve the new queen Anne Neville.
Edward IV’s sons, now heirs to the throne, disappeared, believed murdered by Richard. This was to be the start of a plot against Richard by Margaret and Elizabeth Woodville.
Margaret’s son Henry Tudor was betrothed to Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. It was believed that a marriage between the two could unite the families of York and Lancaster.
At the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor’s Lancastrian force was victorious over Richards Yorkist army, resulting in the death of Richard III. Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort’s son was now crowned King Henry VII of England; the Tudor Dynasty had begun.
Margaret held a deep love for her son and had been the driving force in getting him to power, she also held much influence over him. She was to dominate her daughter-in-law Elizabeth, but be very fond of her grandchildren, undertaking their education, including the future King Henry VIII.
Margaret was a strong, devoutly religious woman who had taken a vow of chastity with the agreement of her fourth husband. She was known for her acts of charity, both in education and religion.
She is remembered for founding Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1505 and also beginning the development of St John’s College, Cambridge, which was finished after her death.
Lady Margaret Beaufort died in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey on 29 June 1509. She had outlived her beloved son Henry by two months, and was to die the day after her grandson, Henry VIII’s eighteenth birthday.
She is buried in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster.