Marketed as the first full biography of Margaret Beaufort in over three decades, ‘Uncrowned Queen’ is the latest release from Dr Nicola Tallis, one of the rising stars of the new generation of historians that have come to the fore in recent years. On the back of her earlier work exploring the lives of Lettice Knollys and Jane Grey, Tallis has now turned her attention to the matriarch of the Tudor Dynasty, seeking to reveal her “true character as a living, breathing woman” which is a “far cry from flat representations” of recent memory, two-dimensional ideas that only serve to portray her as “a religious fanatic who was obsessively ambitious on her son’s behalf”.
Tallis endeavours to reveal the true Margaret by covering her subject’s life chronologically in three parts, the first covering her childhood and how she famously became a mother at just thirteen, a fact which still shocks the modern conscience 562 years later. Perhaps more interesting to the more experienced reader is how Tallis examines Margaret’s early years alongside her St John half-siblings, and her education, the foundations of which enabled her to grow into a woman described at her funeral as one ‘of singular wisdom’.
The second part examines Margaret’s comparative lesser-known years as Lady Stafford and thereafter Lady Stanley, maintaining a low-profile as a Lancastrian heiress in a perilous Yorkist world, before the book is rounded off with her most well-known years as the devoted mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor sovereign. No part is skipped, with each section of Margaret’s life given full attention. This truly is a full biography in ever way, and not just an empty promise on the cover.
What do we ultimately learn of Margaret herself through Tallis’ research? Well, unlike the dour, negative image that has unjustly pervaded historical fiction and social media, a false reading that has partly influenced this work, the real Margaret proves to be a woman who maintained a joyous court, often presiding over raucous festivities at her various manorial homes whilst maintaining an enthusiastic penchant for collecting jewels. We learn of her charitable nature, which has so often been unfairly depicted as religious fanaticism, and her deep love for her family, not just her son Henry but even her York in-laws to whom she has often been erroneously pitted against in historical fiction. This, then, is compulsive reading as the layers of history are carefully removed to allow the real Margaret, a warm, amiable, loyal, woman to emerge.
Tallis cautions that Margaret’s image “has been through some revisions over the years since her death, but the popular one has rarely been accurate”, lamenting how her impact on English history has therefore “often been little more than a footnote, overlooked and ignored”. With this book that can no longer credibly be the case.
‘Uncrowned Queen; The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Matriarch’ is an eminently readable and insightful book packed with fascinating detail about an astonishing figure who deserves far greater spotlight than she has hitherto received. The early 16th century humanist Polydore Vergil, who knew Margaret Beaufort personally, once referred to her as ‘a most outstanding woman’ and this truly is an appropriately outstanding account of her life that rights many wrongs.
Amy Licence is arguably the most prolific historical writer in Britain at the moment, and I often marvel at how she constantly puts out numerous books concurrently without any depreciation in quality. Coming hot on the heels or her recent releases is Red Roses, the first book which focuses on the women of the House of Lancaster during the 14th and 15th centuries.
The story of the Wars is very much en vogue at the moment, which is great news for those of us enamoured with the struggle between York and Lancaster, a period often overlooked in favour of the later Tudor period. That being said, within a few years so many books have been released on the subject it seems difficult to find a book that takes a fresh look at the conflict. Licence has managed to do just that, concentrating on the females surrounding the various Lancastrian leaders. The men may have got the glory, but behind them were their women – the wives, daughters and mistresses whose lives and influences played a key role in how the Wars played out. Some, like Blanche of Lancaster and Joan Beaufort, were born Lancastrians whilst others like Katherine Valois and Margaret Anjou were married in. It is no surprise to see Licence, renowned for her women’s histories, note in her final chapter that the book is an attempt to provide an alternative narrative of English history and to ‘complement the dominant male version of events with one of female experience and influence’.
Licence’s book is chronologically split into five parts, allowing easy navigation between subjects and also breaking up the oft-times confusing nature of the period, which in this respect spans about 150 years. Part One focuses on the various wives of John of Gaunt, that father of the Lancastrian Dynasty and one of England’s most wealthy and influential magnates. Through his three wives, Gaunt’s descendants would reign over England, Portugal and Spain, spreading the Lancastrian connection across Europe. Part Two focuses on the struggle between Richard II and Henry IV with Part Three providing an overview of the early 15th century and the stories of Katherine Valois and Joan Beaufort, Queens of England and Scotland respectively. Part Four features the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, led in part by the domineering Margaret Anjou, queen to the beleaguered Lancastrian king Henry VI. The final part of the book finishes, perhaps fittingly, with arguably the greatest of all the Lancastrian women, Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian by descent and marriage.
We are treated to the author’s own reserved ideas on the period, putting forward her theories on events without leaping to sensational conclusions, as unfortunately often seems to be the case these days. The book runs through a number of primary sources, discussing contemporary opinions on the subject at hand with modern analysis. What is particularly appreciated is that the author does not attempt to enforce her developed opinion as fact, but rather puts forward the information and lets the reader decide. It’s a power I, as the reader, appreciates being given.
As is Licence’s wont, Red Roses is a thorough and detailed piece of work, well researched and different enough from other Wars of the Roses books to make it a worthwhile read. Although I would have preferred to see colour photographs, that this is the only real gripe I have with the book is indicative of the strength of the work presented. It’s a fascinating project documenting the lives of many intriguing women, connected through a shared Lancastrian affinity. An engaging and informative read.
Amy Licence is the author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses, including In Bed With the Tudors (‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail’ Daily Express), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York and The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII. Amy has written for the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and BBC History Magazine and has appeared on BBC radio and television. She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children.
When Henry Tudor won the crown of England at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, he acceded to the throne as the first sovereign of the House of Tudor, a cadet branch of the House of Lancaster.
Henry had wrested the crown from Richard III and claimed kingship through right of conquest – God had granted him victory through battle. Nonetheless it was prudent to put forward a blood claim to the throne which Henry duly did, emphasising his descent from Edward III through his mother Margaret Beaufort. For good measure Henry also ensured the people were aware of his descent from the ancient Welsh princes who had ruled the island before the arrival of the Norman Plantagenets and his close-kin to his uncle Henry VI (although he shared no blood ties to English royalty through this connection).
Traditionally it has been understood and accepted that Henry’s direct lineage was as the son of Margaret Beaufort, herself the daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp, and Edmund Tudor, the son of Owen Tudor and Katherine de Valois. Lately however a theory has been put forward that Henry’s father Edmund was in fact the son of Edmund Beaufort and not Owen Tudor, thus casting the entire Tudor ‘myth’ into disarray.
So should Henry Tudor, first king of the Tudor Dynasty…have in fact been Henry Beaufort?
Edmund Beaufort and the Queen
So who was Edmund Beaufort? Edmund was born in 1406 and was the son of John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset and an illegitimate son of John of Gaunt. Although dynastically very powerful through his Lancastrian connection, Edmund was not blessed with a great inheritance and was often given many well-paid offices by his cousin Henry VI. This method of overt favouritism did not sit well with Richard, Duke of York, who not unfairly viewed Beaufort as a rival for power. This quarrel turned deadly rivalry would form the foundation of what eventually became known as the Wars of the Roses.
In 1422 Henry V died of dysentery in France and left a young, beautiful widow, Katherine de Valois. The council which governed in the name of her new-born son Henry VI were presented with the unusual scenario of a dowager queen still young enough to remarry – a potential situation which was a political issue. This was compounded by rumours that she already had an admirer – the brash and ambitious young Edmund Beaufort.
It is often alleged that an affair was already in commencement by 1427 between the roughly 21-year-old Edmund and 26-year-old Katherine. This was possibly the catalyst for an unusual parliamentary statue passed that year which expressly forbid the remarriage of any dowager queen without the consent of the king. Although evidence of the act no longer exists it was referenced by later historians, including mention by the seventeenth century writer Edward Coke who stated the act stipulated ‘no man should contract with, or marry himself to any Queen of England, without special licence or assent of the King, on pain to lose all his goods and lands’. In 1427 the king was only six years old, with the expectation he would not be able to grant his assent for another decade. It is assumed this act persuaded Edmund Beaufort to cease his relationship, real or otherwise, with Katherine de Valois, who would shortly become involved with Owen Tudor, a Welshman of no lands and no goods.
From around 1430 until her death in 1437 it has commonly been accepted that Katherine de Valois and Owen Tudor were secretly cohabiting and together had four children – Edmund, Jasper, Owen and a daughter. If their marriage was not known to the Council before her death, it certainly became so after she passed away in January 1437. Owen was rapidly arrested by the council and accused of breaching the aforementioned act. He eventually won his pardon from the king, his step-son, in November 1439; his sons Edmund and Jasper were taken into the care of their half-brother Henry VI whilst Owen was embraced by the monks of Westminster Abbey.
Edmund Beaufort became an English army commander in 1431 and named Earl of Dorset in 1442 and promoted to Marquess a year later. He was Lieutenant of France for five years and in 1448 inherited his brother’s dukedom of Somerset. By 1451 Edmund Beaufort was arguably the most powerful man in England, entirely created by his cousin Henry VI. After the king’s gradual ceasing of rule following various catatonic breakdowns, a rival powerbase began to be developed by Richard of York, a mortal enemy of Beaufort. In May 1455 hostilities erupted into war and the Duke of York, together with his kinsmen and allies the Neville earls of Warwick and Salisbury permanently removed Beaufort from power by targeting and killing him in St Albans.
Father of the Tudors?
The Tudor ‘myth’ is a recent phenomenon that has caught the imagination of a group of revisionists of late who are eager to destroy the reputation of the Tudor dynasty in a misguided attempt to ‘redeem’ the maligned Richard III. The paternity of the Tudors is a key tactic in this cause and it centres on the paternity of Edmund Tudor, thought to have been born around 1430.
There are a few circumstantial reasons which have led rise to this theory, which I will attempt to refute below. As always with the fifteenth century, and particularly around ‘hot topics’ like Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, we cannot know the answers for certain, we can only deliberate and discuss based on the small amount of information present.
Coat of Arms
A major part of the theory that Edmund Beaufort fathered Edmund Tudor centres on the coats of arms that both men bore; they are allegedly of such similarity that one must have derived from the other, that is, the son’s from the father’s.
The coat of arms of Owen Tudor have never been uncovered but he is often credited with those of his ancestors of North Wales, a red background with three helmets and a Hermine chevron. Quite frankly this looks nothing like the coats of arms which were accorded to his sons, Edmund and Jasper.
Edmund Tudor was made an Earl of Richmond by King Henry VI in 1452 and together with his brother Jasper, the new Earl of Pembroke, was granted the right to bear arms. The centre of Edmund’s shield featured the coat of arms of the King of England whilst the bordure was blue and gold littered with the Fleur de Lis of France (and Katherine de Valois) and martlets. Comparatively the coat of arms of Edmund Beaufort also featured the coat of arms of England, bordered by the Beaufort livery colours of blue and white. The allegation is that the bordure of Tudor is clearly designed to reflect his descent from Beaufort. This doesn’t seem to be the case.
It seems more likely the reason Edmund Tudor received a coat of arms that included the insignia of the Kings of England, to which he had no ancestral right to unless he was the son of say, a Beaufort, is that he was granted the right to do so by his half-brother, King Henry VI. We must put this into the context of the time – Henry VI had little to no close family members and the House of Lancaster had been severely depleted through the deaths of Henry’s uncles and the lack of any heirs. Henry had adopted his young half-brothers and was determined to integrate them into his family unit. The granting to them of coat of arms that featured his own royal insignia is undoubtedly a public indicator of this desire. The Tudor boys are no longer merely the sons of Owen Tudor and Katherine de Valois…they are the brothers of the King of England. There was a precedent for this – Richard II issued his older Holland half-brothers coats of arms that had his own royal arms as the centrepiece with differentiated borders. It is clear to anybody who casts their eye upon the coats of arms of Edmunds Tudor and Beaufort that the borders share no similarity and it is disingenuous to suggest they are connected.
The Act of Parliament in 1452 which announced Edmund’s ascension to the earldom was effusive in its praise of his qualities, both of character and of kinship to the king as his ‘uterine brother’ through Katherine de Valois. It also accords Edmund with the right to bear ‘emblems of illustrious dignity’. Part of the text is as follows;
“…our sincerely beloved Edmund de Hadham, our uterine brother, to be distinguished, and among other things [considering] the nobility of birth and proximity in blood by which he is related to us as someone who is descended by right line from the illustrious royal house; and, moved by his foregoing merits, honouring him with singular grace, favour and benevolence, and thinking it right that, as he every day produces better examples of virtue and probity, our affection towards him should at the same time expand and grow according to the increase of his virtues, and that we also should adorn him, whom the nature of virtue and the royal blood have ennobled, with a title of civil nobility, the sign of a special honour, and the emblems of illustrious dignity”
Tombs and the Dissolution
The Dissolution of the Monasteries in the late 1530s was an upheaval in English society arguably unseen since the Norman Conquest 500 years earlier. Initiated at the command of Henry VIII, the grandson of Edmund Tudor, it was a wide-scale destruction of church property and reallocation of lands and wealth. A natural if wretched by-product of such a movement was the ruin or discarding of a hundreds of years’ worth of tombs and memorials that had been interned in the abbeys and monasteries. Some were salvaged and relocated; many were lost.
A further allegation aimed at the paternity of Edmund Tudor can be connected with events that would happen over eighty years after his death. Of Henry VIII’s paternal ancestors, it appears only one tomb was salvaged from destruction – that of Edmund Tudor. The tomb had been placed in the Grey Friars Monastery of Carmarthen after his death in 1456 but after the dissolution was moved to St David’s Cathedral, where it still stands next to the altar. The tomb of Owen Tudor, also interned in a Grey Friars in Hereford, was not saved and was lost. This must therefore suggest that Henry accepted Edmund as his grandfather but not Owen as his great-grandfather? Not really.
There is no evidence to suggest that it was Henry VIII himself who commanded the tomb of Edmund Tudor to be salvaged. It could be just as likely it was removed and saved by local Welsh gentry, who paid great reverence to the Tudors who had risen from amongst their stock.
If Henry VIII did not command the tomb of his grandfather Edmund Tudor to be saved, then why would he salvage the tomb of his great-grandfather Owen Tudor? If he did save Edmund’s tomb, perhaps there were logistical reasons for not saving Owen’s. Perhaps it was merely a generation too far back for him to care? Is it prudent to salvage all ancestors’ tombs? Where does one draw the line?
It should be noted that one tomb not saved, which perhaps had cause more than most to be safely guarded, was that of Jasper Tudor. He died in 1495 and his tomb and body was interned at Keynsham Abbey near Bath. Jasper was arguably the single foremost reason the Tudor dynasty came to the throne and he died during Henry VIII’s childhood. This great-uncle of the king must have been a figure of some considerable standing in Henry’s mind yet he was not saved. Astonishingly, considering Henry’s apparent closeness to his illegitimate son, Henry himself it seems did not actually intervene to save the tomb of Henry Fitzroy. This was left to the Dukes of Norfolk who handled the movement from Thetford Priory. Nevertheless, the remains of Edmund Beaufort, deposited in St Albans Abbey after his death at the Battle of St Albans in 1455, never received preferential treatment from either Henry VII or Henry VIII therefore no credence can be given to this theory.
No Contemporary Recognition of Edmund Beaufort
There was no contemporary recognition of Edmund Beaufort as the father of Edmund Tudor. This is a modern invention, or discovery based on your viewpoint, not based on any sourced material. Arguably the best source to counter any claim of Beaufort parentage of Edmund Tudor comes from an unlikely source – Richard III.
During the preparation for invasion in 1484, both Richard and Henry Tudor engaged in a war of propaganda designed to secure support and influence from England’s population. There were elements of mistruths from both parties, eager to stain the reputation of the other. That being said, at no point did Richard, who had lambasted Henry’s maternal Beaufort line as bastards, level the same accusation at his paternal line. Richard used the Beaufort connection that Henry Tudor had through his mother Margaret to belittle his enemy but surely if he had any suspicion or information that Edmund Tudor’s father was possibly Edmund Beaufort, surely this would have increased Richard’s attack ten-fold.
Richard himself referred to the Tudor lineage as ‘one Henry Tydder, son of Edmund Tydder, son of Owen Tydder’. The thought of even lying about his Beaufort ancestry, in the interests of propaganda, did not cross the mind of Richard III. To castigate Henry Tudor’s parents as close cousins who married without any dispensation could have been a crippling blow to Henry’s cause. Furthermore Richard referred to Henry’s ancestry as ‘bastard blood both of father and of mother side, for the said Owen the grandfather was bastard born, and his mother was daughter unto John, Duke of Somerset, son unto John, Earl of Somerset, son unto Dame Katherine Swynford’. There is no evidence Owen Tudor was bastard born, but nonetheless no reference to Edmund Beaufort. The fact is Richard III had no doubts over the father of Edmund Tudor – it was Owen.
The name Edmund for Katherine de Valois’ son has always been a curious one and ostensibly helps confirm the theory that he was named for his true father, Edmund Beaufort. This overlooks another possibility – that Edmund, although son of Owen Tudor, was named for Edmund Beaufort as he was his godfather. Perhaps Katherine truly did love Edmund Beaufort and although the son was Owen’s, she named him in honour of her previous love. A difficult pill to swallow for Owen perhaps, but a possibility. Perhaps the child was named for Edmund the Martyr or St Edmund; we do not have Edmund Tudor’s date of birth but if he was born on a date related to a saint, then it is not unheard of for the child to be named in honour of that saint. Edmund Tudor was born in Much Hadham Palace, in the ownership of the Bishop of London, and possibly his birth had a high level of clerical involvement. St Edmund was also considered a Patron Saint of England during the Middle Ages, based around Bury St Edmunds where the saint’s remains were sited. This was under 50miles away from Much Hadham. Personally it does likely that there is some connection between Edmund Beaufort and the naming of Katherine’s son, but this does not automatically extend to parentage.
As explained elsewhere, based on the limited information we have, very little of it informal or personal, it is difficult to make any concrete claims on historical persons. Consider yourself – if we take the facts about your life as we know them, dates of birth, marriage dates, where you have lived and your shopping receipts, we could build up a basic picture of you and what you purchase but nonetheless that will only be a percentage of who you are as a person. The same principle needs to be remembered when considering historical figures.
We do not know when Edmund Tudor was born for exact, and we also do not know who his father was for definite. We do not know why he was named Edmund. To put forward a definitive theory based on a coat of arms, a name or the salvaging of tombs and claiming it as fact is unfair and does not necessarily mean the answer has been discovered. I have refuted each point of this theory with plausible explanations even though I must also acknowledge they are not definitive answers as we quite simply do not possess the full picture of a bygone era. I can confidently state however I have yet to be presented with an acceptable case that they Tudor Dynasty are not the Tudors. It suggests to me that this is modern propaganda designed to inflict damage on a family who ruled 500 years ago.
Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Waleswas released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2017. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.