Mean Royals: The Spanish Princess vs the Tudor Matriarch & Grand-Matriarch – Did Such a Rivalry Exist?

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Was Katharine of Aragon’s relationship with her mother and grandmother-in-law, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort respectively, tense and fraught with discord as shown in The Spanish Princess? The miniseries, a sequel to The White Queen and The White Princess hasn’t aired yet but the latest trailers has given us a taste of what we can expect.

Like its aforementioned predecessors, the miniseries will be using the common trope of other female lead costume dramas: Women vs women.

This is a trope that has been played to dead. And it is not bad, when well done. But that is the problem here. Did it really happen and if it didn’t, how will it play out?

Should we care?
No. If accuracy isn’t what you are looking for. If all you care is about storytelling, this shouldn’t bother you one bit. But if you are a historical purist, then I suggest you turn off the TV and switch to another channel.

As previously stated, the Mean Girls trope has been played to dead. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief though, it wasn’t that common.

Women did fight each other for wealth and position, but these fights didn’t as long as they are depicted in these costume dramas. In fact, more often than not, women who started off as enemies, became allies if not friends in the end.

This was no different for Katharine of Aragon. Forget her rivalry with Anne Boleyn, let’s go further back to the start of the sixteenth century, when she landed on Plymouth, England.

Everyone who saw her was enchanted by her, this includes Elizabeth of York. Little is said about Margaret Beaufort’s opinion of her. Given the written records and what’s known about these figures thus far, there is no reason to think that she disliked her.

If anything, Margaret’s attitude towards Katharine had more to do with prioritizing her son and his dynasty’s interests first above her personal opinions. Unlike Elizabeth of York, Margaret was politically active. Following the death of her eldest grandchild, she would advised Henry VII and gone along with his final decision.

Margaret’s hold over her family is well known and much has been written about it, but Margaret’s actions were no different than other older grand-matriarchs. Elizabeth of York on the other hand, chose to take on a passive role. In this, she excelled tremendously, earning the love and admiration of the English people.

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Lambeth Palace

Elizabeth was intrigued by her future daughter-in-law. There’s no proof of animosity between them. Days before her London entourage, she had stayed at Lambeth Palace. The day when her procession began, the King and Queen had sent their youngest son, Henry, Duke of York to accompany her. They had even offered her a carriage, which she politely reclined, opting for a humble mount instead.

Katharine displayed tremendous gratitude for all the work and effort that had been put into the celebrations, something that wasn’t lost on the royal family and her future subjects. When the ceremonies came to an end, she retired to the Bishop of London’s home at St. Paul’s (where she would be married to Arthur two days later on Sunday, November 14th). In her dual biography on Katharine and her older sister, Juana (I) of Castile, Julia Fox, notes:

“The royal family were delighted with everything and everyone. Queen Elizabeth had caught her first glimpse of Katherine, and the princess was due to visit her the next day.” (Fox)

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Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Arthur’s letters to Katharine had been passionate. This is a key factor that nearly all historians note in their multiple biographies on these notable historical figures. Neither Margaret Beaufort nor Elizabeth of York felt threatened by Katharine’s grace and humility. If anything, these virtues brought them relief.

England had endured a terrible period of dynastic civil war. The repercussions of these royal affairs served as a bitter reminder of what happened when women’s voices rang louder than those of the king’s trusted men. Women played an integral during the wars of the roses. Active or not, they became the object of controversy -real or created- and these controversies were used as weapons against their husbands and sons. After all this chaos, the people expected consorts who took more of a backstage role than a public one. Elizabeth of York had become that and more, to the point of becoming a quasi-religious icon immediately after her death.

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Katharine’s soft and apparent humble demeanor, mirrored those of Elizabeth of York, whom Katharine hoped to emulate in her coming years as Queen of England.

For her part, Elizabeth of York had communicated to Katharine’s mother, that both she and her husband were pleased with her daughter. Elizabeth’s correspondence to Isabella had begun some years before. Knowing that Katharine would have to communicate in something other than English with her son, she advised the Queen of Castile to take advantage of Margaret Habsburg, who’d recently married Katharine’s brother, Prince Juan of Asturias. Margaret like Katharine, was highly educated. One of the languages she had come to master was French. While Katharine and Arthur could continue to write to each other in Latin, Elizabeth felt it better if she started to learn and practice French too, since it was language that was still highly popular among the English upper class.
Isabella took Elizabeth’s advice to heart. When Katharine came to England, she committed herself to learning England and slowly but surely, becoming indistinguishable from any of the English ladies at court.

Katharine did succeed, but her success did not come until much later when she was Henry VIII’s queen. During these trying years of battling for dominance, standing her ground against Tudor legal forces and foreign interests that underestimated her intellectual capacity and perseverance, Katharine remained the Spanish Princess. The unfortunate widow whose virginity was often debated and contested, which also placed into doubt her eligibility as the next King of England’s future bride. The future seemed bleak for Katharine. Rather than being discouraged by these seemingly impossible odds, Katharine remained adamant. Her first motto as Princess of Wales had been “not for my crown.” She continued to push, finding other outlets to survive and remain in England, until she got what she wanted.

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Elizabeth of York had promised she’d look over her daughter-in-law and be there to guide her through the difficult adjustment into her new country. Following her son’s funeral, Elizabeth did what she could to provide the widowed Spanish Princess with moral support. It is not known what was her opinion of Katharine’s resolute affirmation of her virginity and her parents, especially her mother, pushing for a renewal of the Anglo-Spanish alliance by marrying her to the remaining crown prince, Henry (now) Prince of Wales. Elizabeth’s choice to take on a more conciliatory role as Queen Consort would have made her opinion -if she voiced it- irrelevant. Henry VII had the final say in this matter. Margaret Beaufort’s involvement in this matter seems to have been very minimal. Whatever Henry VII decided, it was for the good of the realm and she, like all his subjects, would follow his lead.

Coming back to the novels this miniseries is based on, from the moment Katharine of Aragon meets Margaret Pole, the two hit it off. This is historically accurate. The two women became best friends, with Margaret reaping the benefits of this friendship right after Katharine weds Henry VIII and is jointly crowned with him. The earldom of Salisbury that had been in her family was restored to her, becoming one of the few female title holders (femme sole) up until that point. But there is a dark history to Katharine and Arthur’s union, a condition which the miniseries will undoubtedly touch upon.

After Katharine and Margaret Pole become fast friends in The Constant Princess, she asks Margaret if she doesn’t blame her for her brother’s execution. Margaret brushes it off as one of many tragic moments in her life, and a reality that royals have to live with.

Is the miniseries going to have Elizabeth of York blame Katharine for what happened to her brother and cousin? The White Queen and The White Princess (based on the novels of the same name) follow the school of thought that Perkin Warbeck was who he claimed he was, the youngest of the lost princes in the tower, Richard of Shrewsbury, better known as Richard, Duke of York. “The White Princess” takes a lot of historical liberties (more so than its predecessor, also deviating from its source material), having Elizabeth of York being one of the plotters behind her brother and cousin’s downfall. Yet, to excuse her actions, she might reason that she was forced into these drastic measures because of Katharine of Aragon’s parents, the Catholic Kings who in real life DID pressure Elizabeth’s husband to secure his throne or else, their alliance was off.

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Notable biographer Sarah Gristwood, takes on a different approach from past historians, inferring in her multiple biography on the women of the wars of the roses, “Blood Sisters”, that Margaret never got along with Katharine and held back a gleeful smile when her granddaughter-in-law’s longed for triumph, was nearly ruined by pouring rain. Katharine had come to substitute her as her remaining grandson, Henry VIII, now an adult and the new King of England, trusted adviser.
The Spanish Princess, based off Philippa Gregory’s two novels The Constant Princess & The King’s Curse which protagonists are Katharine of Aragon and Margaret Pole respectively. Judging solely by the miniseries’ trailers, it looks like The Spanish Princess is taking this perspective. In the last chapters of “The Constant Princess”, Margaret Beaufort nearly explodes when Henry VIII begins to listen less and less to her and more to his charming new bride. The miniseries will no doubt recreate this season with Margaret realizing -as Sir Thomas More, Lord Mountjoy and countless others during her joint coronation with Henry VIII- that Katharine of Aragon is not just any Princess, but a woman who was born to be Queen.

In the trailer, Elizabeth reminds Henry VII of the importance of this alliance. “Spain and England unite against our enemies so our son is protected on his throne.”
It’s unknown whether she says this BEFORE or AFTER Arthur dies, and whether or not she is talking about Arthur or Harry. Judging solely from her tone of voice, this conversation could take place after Arthur’s death, when she starts to view Katharine more as a threat and a bitter reminder of the sacrifice they had to make to ensure this alliance. The next line is spoken by her husband in what can only be assumed is an earlier moment in the series, where he warns his Queen that until “that girl arrives, we are lost.”

“Elizabeth of York was glad that after so many delays, the Princess from Spain had finally reached England. In a month’s time, she and Arthur would be wed, and within a year –God willing- she would be a mother. But the Queen’s happiness had come at a price. Before his daughter could come to England, King Ferdinand had demanded the death of the hapless Earl of Warwick. The Young man, though he was a prisoner, was a continuing threat to the security of England, he believed. Until he was properly dealt with, Ferdinand declared, he would not allow his precious daughter to leave Spain. Henry VII complied. To secure the alliance, Warwick and Perkin Warbeck were put to death in 1499.” (Hui)

Taking all of this into account, it’s not far-fetched to say, that part of Elizabeth’s anger towards Katharine will stem from the the losses she and Henry had to endure and the heavy toll they had to pay for the sake of the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Elizabeth’s response to her cousin, Margaret Pole, when Margaret asks what will happen to the widowed Spanish Princess, may be confirmation of this.

Regardless of the historical liberties and deviation from the source material, this miniseries is set to have many historical buffs talking. Hopefully, it will make more people interested in finding out about the real people behind this costume drama, especially Katharine of Aragon, whose beginnings are often overshadowed by her tragic end.

Sources:

  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine. 2011.
  • Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
  • Hui, Roland. The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens. MadeGlobal. 2017.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper. Collins. 2013.
  • Licence, Amy. Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife. Amberley. 2017.
  • –. The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII. Amberley. 2014.
  • –. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • –. Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort. History Press. 2016.
  • Gregory, Philippa. The Constant Princess. Harper Collins. 2005.
  • –. The King’s Curse. Simon & Schuster. 2014.
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Book Review: The Beaufort Bride by Judith Arnopp

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A beautiful tale woven by a talented writer with a clear passion for the late medieval and early renaissance period. I have always maintained that a good novel and history book is a like a trip back through time. Margaret Beaufort has become everyone’s go-to-bogeyman as of late. She is either the villain who should be pitied but still condemned or just condemned. Judith Arnopp decides to depart from this narrative and instead give us a woman who was much a victim of circumstance as a product of her times. Her faith, pride, loyalty to her house, and love of her son are what keep her going.

This is not to say that the novel takes the other route and turns her into a martyr. Far from it. She is a woman who is hardened by loss and grief but never loses sight of what matters. Her loyalty for her house remains, but she sheds her idealism in favor of survival, believing that something of the Lancaster pride can remain through her and her offspring.

The story of Margaret Beaufort has not been told enough. It has been popularized as a dark fairy tale -and to some extent it was- but more than a tale of tragedy, it is a tale of endurance and perseverance.

There were some parts where I thought that Margaret was portrayed a little too cold but given what she has lived through, I could see how she could have taken on those aspects.

An entertaining and refreshing read about a young heroine in a place and time that seems almost too surreal to us.

Book Review: The House of Beaufort, the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin

House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin
This is a book every history buff needs to read if they are interested in finding out about the roots of one of the most infamous dynasties in world history, who will continue to fascinate us in decades to come.
I absolutely loved how descriptive this book was. From start to finish, I was hooked. And this is one of those books that I just had to re-read again because being a huge history buff, I wanted to see what important things I hadn’t highlighted. Turns out that with a book like this, everything is a highlight so you might as well be stuck taking notes and going back to the original source when you want to check something you might have missed.
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Writing a biography is not easy, especially one that takes on the challenge of chronicling the life of a family that has been largely obscured by their most infamous and famous contemporaries. Nathen Amin begins with Henry Tudor’s ascension to the throne of England following Richard III’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth. It is a tale that takes you back through time, to an era of deceit, love, loss, shifting loyalties and above all, survival.
When Margaret Beaufort watched her son being crowned, her confessor, later Bishop Fisher, said that they weren’t tears of joy but of fear. She was the only surviving member of the eldest son of John of Gaunt and his mistress (later wife) Kathryn Swynford. The fact that she had seen her family nearly fade into oblivion and lived through many reigns, was more than enough to worry about her son’s future.
But through it all, she like most of the first Beauforts persevered.
This is a tale of one’s family unlikely rise to power and whose descendants still sit on the throne of England. Those who are new to this era will learn a great deal about it from this book, and those who are already familiar with it won’t be disappointed either because unlike pop historians, the author was fairly objective, drawing his conclusions from reliable sources and forensic evidence.

I’m proud to say, this is a great addition to my collection of favorite books and I am guessing you will feel the same way after you finish it. This is a reminder that the impossible often became possible and that there were no shortages of twists and turns, often due to kings and aristocrats’ excesses and their miscalculation and plain sheer luck, that led to these least likely outcomes.

 

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The story of the Beauforts is also the story of a family being torn apart by dynastic warfare which was initiated by one of their own’s spouses when his enmity to the queen forced him to take a route that would change the course of English history, and propel one of their own’s unlikely candidate to become King of England. Through it all, this family produced some of the most notable members who worked alongside their Lancastrian half-brother and cousins, and most of them remained loyal but others, such as the women, were forced to make difficult choices in order to survive.
Kathryn Swynford and John of  Gaunt’s only daughter, Joan was the mother of the formidable Duchess of York, Cecily Neville aka “Proud Cis”. Never fully able to shake the stain of bastardry despite Richard II legitmizing in 1399 but his successor,  Henry IV, instating a clause that took them from the line of succession, became a pious woman and that piety was passed on to her daughter who in turn pass it on to her daughters and granddaughters (most notably, Princesses Elizabeth and Bridget of York). Then there is also the story of another Joan Beaufort, who had to go through unimaginable tribulations to protect her son’s throne and her ambitions. Another married into the up and coming Neville clan, producing one of the most formidable women of the age, Cecily Neville, aka ‘Proud Cis’, who married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, a man who’d become the founder of a separate branch of the Plantagenet dynasty and whose ambitions and enmity with the queen, led to the dynastic civil war that lasted over three decades.

 

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Through it all, a family whose last name died when its last male heir was beheaded after the battle of Tewkesbury, their legacy survived through one of its last descendants, Henry Tudor who besides creating a new device that embodied his dynasty, also included reminders of the House that passed his claim unto him.

The Coronation of Elizabeth of York

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On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.

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Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:

“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long association with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the ‘Mystical Rose of Heaven.’ But although the King’s grandfather, Henry IV, had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”

Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.

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Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.

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 The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”

Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.

The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.

“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)

With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”

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Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.

“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)

Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.

As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.

Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.

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Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
  • Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

The Queen is delivered of a ‘fair young lady’

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On the 7th of October 1515 Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Countess of Angus ‘was delivered and brought in bed of a fair young lady’ she called Margaret after herself and her grandmother. Lady Margaret Douglas was christened on the following day ‘with such convenient provisions as either could or might be had in this barren and wild country’. This referred to Margaret’s hasty departure, running away from her son’s Regent, the Duke of Albany whom she and her husband were at bad terms. She had left Linlithgow where she was supposed to start confinement for Tantallon Castle which was the Douglas stronghold. She didn’t stay there for long and ended up in England where she gave birth at Harbottle Castle. Lord Dacre gave the news to Henry.

Margaret Douglas would become a vital figure in Tudor politics, from being a best friend to her cousin, Queen Mary I, and being considered at one point her heir, and then conspiring during her second cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to marry her eldest son (Darnley) to their distant cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots; to working arduously to ensure the safety of her grandson James VI of Scotland and future I of England.

The Lennox jewel as it is known shows her dedication to her family, as well as her dynastic ambitions. Out of all the Tudor girls, it was Lady Margaret Douglas, future Countess of Lennox through her marriage to Matthew Stewart, who took the most after her namesake Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort SOT and HVII

Margaret Beaufort tried very hard to ensure her son’s lands and title would be restored, and when that failed and the princes disappeared, she began conspiring to crown her son King. After the battle of Bosworth, she became one of the most powerful women in England and suo juror becoming Countess of Richmond in her own right. She sponsored scholars, founded colleges and after her death, her chaplain (John Fisher) gave a beautiful eulogy where he commended her courage and determination, and also her scholarship.

Similarly, Margaret Douglas, held strong ambitions for her family. She was very learned as many high-born ladies at the time, and she wanted the best for her family, especially her eldest son and jewel, Henry Stewart. While Elizabeth I made no plans to leave an heir, she told Mary’s ambassadors that she would consider her naming her, her heir, if she married someone she would approve. Mary, Queen of Scots waited but eventually she got impatient and took the first offer that came to her. Lord Darnely was a distant cousin, both descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter and he was English and reputedly Protestant, which would endear her to her detractors. Unfortunately for both, the marriage went downhill pretty fast and after his murder (for which Mary always claimed she had no part of), his mother turned against her and focused her attentions on their son, James who became King shortly after his mother was forced to abdicate.

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After his first regent died, Margaret’s husband became his protector and when he was killed, Margaret became depressed but no less determined to ensure his safety. The Lennox Jewel shows her grandson being crowned and blessed by the heavens, much like Margaret Beaufort wanted the Tudor dynasty to be portrayed: as a dynasty blessed by God.

In the end, after she had made her peace with everyone and became convinced that Mary had nothing to do with her son’s murder, she ingratiated herself to Elizabeth’s councilors, primarily Lord Burghley and after falling ill in 1578 after a dinner she had with Robert Dudley, she made her last arrangements for her funeral. Like her namesake, she was buried with full honors, and the funeral was not one of a noble but as a princess and her efforts also paid off when nearly three decades later, after her cousin died, James VI became the I of England.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

Red and White it flows: The Birth of Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor rose

On the 20th of September 1486, Queen Elizabeth of York gave birth to the first prince of the Tudor dynasty, a baby boy named Arthur at St. Swithun’s Priory next to Winchester Cathedral. This was no coincidence as Henry wanted his crown heir to be born in the place where it was believed Camelot once stood.

Henry was proud of his Welsh roots and he wanted to exalt them, by naming his crown heir, Arthur after the legendary king who unified all Britain. From the start, Henry VII, was doing his best to solidify his place in English history and the rest of Europe. When he married Elizabeth of York that same year, their union was widely celebrated. A new emblem was a created.

“Henry had been born at Pembroke Castle in Wales and spent his early years at Raglan in Monmouthsire. His paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor claimed descent from Arthur and he had marched under the banner of a red dragon, the Pen Draig, or Pendragon, at Bosworth. Breton minstrels and early Welsh texts had been drawing on the legend long before the Tudors …The present round table in Winchester’s Great Hall has been carbon dated to 1250-90 … Even Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, had been drawn to Arthurian ideals and produced genealogies to justify his wresting the throne from Henry VI.” (Licence)

Tudor banner

Not surprisingly then, Henry VII felt even more drawn because of his Welsh roots. On the road to Bosworth, he chose for his main standard the dragon of Cadwalldr and thanks to his uncle Jasper’s popularity in that area, the bards sang songs about him being their prophesized savior.

Arthur was the embodiment of these myths, being born at the place where many believed Arthur’s fabled city of Camelot once stood, and where a replica of the round table was held at the ceiling of Winchester Cathedral, and of his father’s ambitions. He was a prince of both Lancaster and York.

For her part, Elizabeth had been preparing for the birth since Easter with the help of her mother-in-law, the indomitable Margaret Beaufort [Countess of Richmond]. Besides her, Elizabeth had the company of her mother and other female relatives. Birth in this period was exclusively a female thing and although doctors were present, they were not normally involved in childbirth. They were just there to act as consultants. It was up to Elizabeth’s women and the midwives to assist her during the birth.
When her labor began on the 19th, natural creams would be applied on her abdomen. These would mostly consist of a mixture of distilled marjoram and saffron and brandy to “aid the contractions and help lessen the intensity” of these.

Although medical knowledge was limited, Alison Weir writes that the “practices employed by midwives” were fairly modern.

“Documentary evidence suggests that women were encouraged to give birth in a sitting or squatting position. They were encouraged to do breathing exercises for labor, much as they are today, but there was no pain relief beyond opiates and herbs.”

Weir adds that it is possible that Elizabeth of York might have had the protection of the Virgin Mary via her girdle which was held at Westminster Abbey and it “was sometimes lent to queens and high-ranking women, so that they could tie it around themselves in labor.”

Tudor Rose Prince Arthur of Wales

When his birth was announced, the country rejoiced and many poems such as the following, illustrate this:
“I love the red rose
but red and white it flows
is that your pure appetite?
To hear talk of them
is my delight
loved may we be
our prince to see
and roses three.”

Arthur was christened four days later at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his grandmother the Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, and his step-grandfather, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. After the ceremonies were over, the Queen’s sister, lady Cecily returned the baby to his mother. Less than a year later, Elizabeth would be crowned.
Margaret Beaufort was not present at this event, but she was very present in the child’s life.

“She had ordered, for example, that a physician supervise the nurse breastfeeding Elizabeth’s baby, and a yeoman test the king’s mattress daily … She was furthermore always there, her tiny frame an almost inescapable presence.” (Lisle)

While the proud parents would boast of more children, only three would survive them. Margaret, Mary and Henry Tudor would go on to become Queens and King, while their crown heir would die before his time.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen & her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • In bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

Margaret Beaufort: The Real Countess of Richmond

Margaret Beaufort Portcullis 21

On the 31st of May 1443 Margaret Beaufort was born at Bletsoe Castle, Bedforshire to Margaret Beauchamp and John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. John Beaufort suffered from a terrible reputation and lacked leadership skills which, according to some of his contemporaries, led him to commit suicide when Margaret was only one.  Margaret grew very close to her maternal family, her half-siblings and her step-family when her mother married for a third and last time. Margaret Beauchamp was firstly married to Sir Oliver St. John. On his death in 1437, she remarried to John Beaufort four years later. The two only had one child (Margaret). Following his death and possible suicide, she acquired a new license to remarry four years later. It is a myth that Margaret was resentful of her family. The White Queen plays feeds on negative rumors and propaganda written against Margaret during her lifetime and centuries after her death. One of her many critics was none other than Bacon who wrote during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. You might ask why would a man writing for two direct descendants of Henry VII would write against the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. The answer is religion. The religious landscape of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had changed. England had been largely Catholic for over a thousand years. Suddenly one day, Henry VIII decides to change everything, claiming that his conscience would not let him rest until he did what was right –and from his view this meant getting himself an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Henry believed his first marriage was tainted because he had married his brother’s wife and according to Leviticus this was a sin. Never mind that in another book, it said it was okay. Henry was a man who was going to get what he wanted and in the end that is what happened. As a result, Margaret turned from devoted mother of the Tudor Dynasty’s first monarch, scholar, and religious matron to wicked stepmother. Suddenly she was being accused of using witchcraft against her enemies and the last Plantagenet King who had previously been demonized by the Tudors, was now idolized with Margaret being the main culprit behind the Princes in the Tower’s disappearance. (We will never know what happened to the Princes. Even if we find the bodies –as some historians are pressing the public to rise up in their defense, to call for the urn that was uncovered under the steps in the Tower in the seventeenth century to be examined to see once and for all if that is them- it won’t give us any answers).

The real Margaret Beaufort was human and as all humans, a very complex figure. For those that see her as a tyrannical being, I should point out that when her son became King, she commended some of her servants who had served the previous King –Richard III- for their loyalty to him. Furthermore, she continued with her religious devotion and did as so many others of her predecessors (Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, royal mothers themselves too) had done, endowing universities and adding new ones.

But before Margaret’s rise to fame, her road ahead was filled with many obstacles.

King Henry VI.
King Henry VI.


After her father died, Henry VI decreed that her mother couldn’t take care of her (despite that she had other children she had taken care of before Margaret was born) and gave her custody to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Some have accused Suffolk of coveting her wardship so he could get closer to the throne by marrying the young heiress (and also the King’s cousin) to his son John. But people forget that this was an ambitious and ruthless era. Wards were a profitable business. If the boys or girls were wealthy heiress their guardians would benefit by marrying them off to their heirs, thus making themselves richer. After Suffolk’s death in 1450, Margaret was brought before the King and his councilors to swear against her marriage. She was only nine. With tensions brewing between the King and the Duke of York, it became imperative that she married someone loyal to the King. She was promised to the Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor who also obtained her wardship. Edmund didn’t wait to consummate his marriage to the young heiress. The age of consent for girls was twelve, but that didn’t mean that everyone would approve of their marriage. Sometimes girls married older men or boys their age, and they waited years to consummate their marriage for fear it would hurt them and they would be unable to have more children. Edmund however was eager to get Margaret pregnant to get ahold of her fortunes, preventing any Yorkist from taking them. Edmund was a realist as everyone was during this time. After the first battle of St. Albans, it became clear that everyone’s lives and fortunes were at stake. Edmund could die or be captured, and if his marriage was unconsummated, it could be annulled and then she would be free to remarry, possible a Yorkist if the latter got the upper hand. Edmund was no staunch Lancastrian. He was a pragmatist as his brother Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke. Both had supported the Duke of York many times when he fought Margaret of Anjou for the regency. They knew he was more experienced and had the loyalty of his men, and despite their disagreements, he would make a good Regent. But when it came to taking sides between their King and half-brother and the Duke, they would obviously stay with the former.

Unlike how she has been portrayed in popular dramas and documentaries like “The White Queen” and “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” , the real Margaret Beaufort was renown and even praised by her piety –which was not unconventional at the time and many women of her rank practiced the same religious practices she did (i.e. Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York, etc).
Unlike how she has been portrayed in popular dramas and documentaries like “The White Queen” and “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” , the real Margaret Beaufort was renown and even praised by her piety –which was not unconventional at the time and many women of her rank practiced the same religious practices she did (i.e. Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York, etc).

Margaret gave birth to Henry Tudor under strenuous circumstances. After she had learned of her husband’s death (possibly as a result of disease and wounds inflicted on him during his captivity) –fearing for her life- she escaped to Wales, to Pembrokeshire where she gave birth to her only offspring, Henry Tudor in January 1456. During the Lancastrian Readeption her son’s lands and titles were restored and they and his uncle Jasper Tudor were back in favor again. But when Henry VI’s only son was killed in battle, and her cousin was dragged from the Abbey –along his other companions- to be beheaded, and the Lancastrian King himself was murdered; Henry and Jasper had no choice but to flee the country. They would not see each other for fourteen years. During that time Margaret lost her second husband, Henry Stafford and remarried to one of England’s up-and-coming courtiers, Thomas Stanley. And took care of securing for herself a position where she could gain Edward IV’s confidence and respect so she could convince him of allowing her son to come back home unharmed.
But Edward IV had no intention of returning the youth to his mother. He (rightly) saw Henry as a threat following the destruction of the legitimate line of the Lancastrian House and began to set his eyes on Henry. His father Edmund Tudor had been the son of Katherine of Valois and her first husband’s Welsh squire –Owen ap Meredith ap Tudor. By a mistranslation of his name, he became Owen Tudor. (Imagine if they had translated his name right. We would have a dynasty of Merediths instead). The couple’s torrid love affair became public after Katherine’s death in 1438, after which Edmund was probably eight years old. The two had probably married a year before that. Owen was one of the more adventurous Tudors. Like his grandson Henry Tudor, he lived a life of dangerous escapades but like so many others in the wars of the roses, his life was cut short when he was beheaded in 1461, shortly after the battle of Mortimer cross.
Though the Tudors had no Lancastrian blood running through their veins, the Beauforts did and Margaret had passed on her distant claim to her son. When John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster married his mistress, Kathryn Swynford, the Beauforts were legitimized by an act of parliament under Richard II. But his successor –John’s eldest son- altered the act, adding that they could be legitimate but not inherit. This was a huge blow to the Beauforts, but it didn’t stop them from being fiercely loyal to their house. In fact the Yorkist King and his siblings were descendant of John of Gaunt through their mother Cecily Neville who was the daughter of John and Kathryn’s only daughter –Joan Beaufort. But being descendants of Gaunt’s line through the female line hardly mattered. Henry Tudor was the descendant of this house through the eldest male line. This made him very dangerous. Henry IV had usurped the throne under the pretext that Richard II was bad king, and that he descended from the third eldest son of Edward III and other royals with greater claims than his other cousins. It didn’t matter if they believed his claims, as long as he had a powerful army and discontent nobles backing him.

Young Henry VII
Young Henry VII


All Henry Tudor needed was discontent nobles and foreign allies, and Edward IV could look to another invasion from another Lancastrian. Luckily for Henry, he evaded captured by feigning sickness when Edward’s men were about to board him on a ship to take him to England. Hiding in a church, he was able to send a message to the Duke of Brittany –Francis II- of his suspicions of Edward’s intentions and he was brought back to safety. Edward did not have to worry about Henry becoming a danger when the real danger was closer to home. His younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence was accusing the Queen’s family of poisoning his wife and baby and captured one of the servants that allegedly were on the Woodville’s payroll and administered cruel punishment. When Edward found out about this he imprisoned his brother and executing him, drowning him in a butt of malmsey wine. This was 1478, by this time Edward IV was becoming obese and consumed by what Mancini later described as his “vices” that were encouraged by his in-laws. As his health deteriorated, his worries over Henry Tudor waned. He agreed with Margaret to bring her son back and was about to sign up an agreement, that guaranteed he would stay true to his word –and marry him to Elizabeth of York- when he died.

Richard III
Richard III


The reign of Richard III changed everything. Never mind the mystery of the uncrowned Prince and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, known forever as the “Princes in the Tower”. There were many discontent nobles that believed they should have received more favor for supporting Richard’s usurpation. In the North he was beloved. He had adopted the white boar –also known as Ebocarum- as his sigil and to further show his appreciation for the region, he had held the ceremony of his son’s investiture as Prince of Wales there. People in the South were not happy. The common law courts that Richard had created to help the poor and those who were unable to get a good defense, were not helping his cause. Richard as those before him, had proven he could be both ruthless and merciful. While he was remembered fondly in the North and by the people he helped, he was also greatly disliked by the families of the people he executed and the many people he went after.

Margaret worked very hard to appease the new King and Queen. She played an important part on their joint coronation, holding Anne Neville’s train and her husband formed a part of the King’s government, though not of his inner circle. After the Princes’ disappearances, she began meeting with the Duke of Buckingham who was her nephew by marriage. Many have taken this as a sign that she conspired with Stafford to create havoc on England, or kill the Princes for good,  so her son would take the crown. But there are many problems with this theory. First is that Margaret’s husband did not have direct access to the Tower. Richard Brackenbury did, and only he would have the power to open the boys’ chambers and do any harm. Secondly, given Margaret’s past ambitions, it is more probable she was looking to Buckingham who was probably dissatisfied with Richard, to convince him to support her son’s claim. She might have reasoned that if the Princes were indeed dead as many foreign ambassadors believed they were, than that left only one option for her son to come back home: As a King rather than a captive.

Whatever Margaret’s aim was, it failed. Buckingham’s rebellion was crushed and her son’s first attempt to invade England also failed. Richard released a public statement next year, swearing that he would do no harm to his late brother’s remaining children, his nieces. Bess Woodville came out of sanctuary and her two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Cecily, were brought to court to serve the Queen.

Despite Richard’s best attempts to put the rumors of kin-slaying to rest, people began to whisper once more. This time they were saying that he intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. Some historians do lend credibility to these rumors and I don’t doubt he might have had as these types of marriages were common back then. But he would have needed a special dispensation from the pope since they were in a closer degree of affinity, not to mention that her maternal family’s reputation amongst the high nobility. His son also died that year and his wife began to grow ill. What Anne Neville must have thought when she heard these rumors is something we will never know. But like her husband, the pressure got to her and shortly before her death, her husband was already looking for a new wife to secure the future of his kingdom and to neutralize the Tudor threat. Publicly forced to swear that he never had any intention of marrying his niece, he began making plans for her. He got to arrange to double marriage for him and his niece to the Infanta of Portugal and the Duke of Beja -both of whom had Lancastrian blood running through their veins. It was his own way of symbolically uniting both Houses and keeping Henry Tudor away from Elizabeth of York.

Margaret Beaufort Portcullis (left) at Cambridge next to the Tudor rose and the red dragon and greyhound.
Margaret Beaufort Portcullis (left) at Cambridge next to the Tudor rose and the red dragon and greyhound.

Following the victory of Bosworth Field (which was won with the support of Stanley’s armies when he and his brother switched over to Henry’s side) she became one of the most powerful women in English history and began styling herself “My Lady the King’s Mother” and signed her documents “Margaret R”. The “R” likely stood for Richmond as it was her title now as suo jure.

Margaret outlived her son, eldest grandson and daughter-in-law, dying a few days after her youngest grandson -Henry VIII’s- coronation on June 29, 1509. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey at the south aisle of the beautiful Lady Chapel Henry VII had constructed for him and his descendants.

Margaret is credited with being one of the greatest learned women of her age and this is not mere flattery. Margaret was in fact very learned and she is known to have founded many colleges –among these John’s College in Cambridge and the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and refounding God’s House in Cambridge and turning it into Christ’s College and establishing the Lady Margaret’s Professorship of Divinity. And in addition, she translated many French works into English.

Sources

  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton
  • Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence