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.

lambeth palace exterior
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.

Meg Beaufort

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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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

Margaret Beaufort: The Real Countess of Richmond

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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

Winds of confusion: The Battle of Barnet

The Battle of Barnet
The Battle of Barnet

On the 14th of April 1471, the Battle of Barnet was fought between the Lancastrian army commanded by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and the Yorkist commanded by the three sons of York -Edward IV, Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the recent traitor turned ally, George, Duke of Clarence.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence was Edward IV's younger brother and he allied himself with Warwick, marrying his eldest daughter, and then went back to Edward's side after his father-in-law allied himself with Marguerite of Anjou.
George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence was Edward IV’s younger brother and he allied himself with Warwick, marrying his eldest daughter, and then went back to Edward’s side after his father-in-law allied himself with Marguerite of Anjou.

George, Duke of Clarence had been Warwick’s ally since he married his eldest daughter, Isabel Neville in July of 1469. The Duchess Dowager of York, Cecily Neville “Queen by Rights” likely gave them her blessing before she returned to her residence. Her latest biographer, Amy Licence, believes it is possible that she also tried to warn them not to go because they would anger Edward and his wife. Obviously [if this was her intention] it didn’t work because George and Isabel married right away, had a lavish wedding reception unlike his eldest brother and his Lancastrian wife; and afterwards returned with a small army to depose him. The rebellions failed miserably. The upper class was angry at Edward but they didn’t want to launch England into another civil war –especially when there was another King locked in the Tower, and his Queen and their son vying for support across the Narrow Sea. Edward returned to his seat of power and pardoned his cousin and brother; but Elizabeth Woodville never trusted them again. There are no records as to how she felt in regards of the Earl of Warwick or her brothers-in-law. But after they had rebelled against her husband, captured him, killed her brother and father, and then released him so he would pardon them; it is likely she didn’t see them too well.

In late October of the following year when Warwick had switched bands yet again, Elizabeth escaped to sanctuary while her husband and youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, escaped to Burgundy to take refuge in their brother-in-law, Charles “the Bold” Duke of Burgundy’s court. Elizabeth was very far along; and contrary to what is shown on fiction where Warwick is a complete ogre and pretty much says Elizabeth and her poor mother and daughters taken refuge in Westminster Abbey, living in relative poverty and fed by the mercy of the bakers nearby, could go to hell; he showed them mercy. Warwick was not one to enjoy the killing of women and children, and much less a pregnant woman so he allowed Elizabeth and her family to stay in sanctuary and paid for a midwife to assist her in the birth of her firstborn royal son. During this time, Marguerite of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales, were growing anxious to have the papal dispensation that would allow him to marry the Earl’s youngest daughter, Anne Neville. With the realm torn between two kings and time running short, it was vital that the pope grant the Lancastrians that dispensation. After all, Anne and Edward were distant cousins and if they married without it, their marriage would seem unlawful and heavily criticized as Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s was. When the dispensation was finally granted, the couple didn’t waste time and married. Marguerite planned to set sail that November to England but there were two problems: she didn’t want to risk her son and daughter-in-law and wanted the two to get to know each other better *and* the weather. When she finally set sail on March of next year, 1471, the country was in more chaos than she had expected. Just as she had amassed a great army of Lancastrian loyalists and French-men; Edward had also amassed an army that consisted of loyal Yorksits and Burgundians.

Max Irons (center) and Aneurin Barnard as Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester in the White Queen (2013).
Max Irons (center) and Aneurin Barnard as Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester in the White Queen (2013).

Edward IV’s forces captured London and took the King, Henry VI, prisoner, “to the universal acclamation of the citizens” who looked kinder on him (because of his wife). While she had been criticized for being of low birth [despite the fact that her mother had noble and royal blood]; she had behaved differently than her predecessor. Her retinue and ladies-in-waiting numbered less than Marguerite’s and her spending was also less. When she went to take refuge, she refused to raise up in arms as her Lancastrian counterpart would have done, and instead stayed put, patiently and obediently waiting for her husband to rescue her. Such virtues of passivity and acceptance of her gender role, were well seen among the populace. After Edward went to St. Paul to give thanks for his victory, he went to visit his wife who presented him with his namesake “to the King’s greatest joy, a fair son, a prince.”

The war was far from over, as Dan Jones and Chris Skidmore write in their respective biographies of this conflict. The King was their prisoner, but there were many Lancastrians loyalists and anxious to see him back on the throne. Out of these, Warwick was the first one that Edward encountered after he took London, on the town of Barnet. The Battle was fought from nightfall Saturday April 13 to Easter Sunday, April 14. The weather was foggy and it caused a lot of confusion, together with the canon fire that Warwick ordered as night fell –hoping to surprise his enemies. According to some accounts, Warwick’s army greatly outnumbered Edward’s but because of the “damp, cold night air” and the scattered men from both armies; people began to wonder who were fighting who and some of Warwick’s men “mistook Oxford’s livery badges of a star with streams that the Earl’s men displayed on their coats for Edward’s badge of the Yorkist sun in splendor.” Gloucester’s flank managed to penetrate Exeter’s while “Hastings was hobbled in his fight against Oxford” whose numbers had been decimated because of Warwick’s forces’ foolishness. Battle raged on “cruel and mortal”. Edward IV could barely see because of the fog, but still charged against his enemies, managing (barely) to distinguish them. When Richard’s brother, Lord Montague, realized all was lost he “harangued his brother … insisting that he should demonstrate the Neville family’s courage by fighting on foot and sending his horses away” to confuse his enemies. If they did this, he promised his older brother, they might still had a chance. But this, as historian Jones points out, turned out to be Warwick’s gravest mistake.

James Frain as Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in the White Queen (2013).
James Frain as Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in the White Queen (2013).

The battle lasted three hours. One thousand Lancastrians were killed, and five hundred Yorkists. The “Kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his younger brother, Lord Montague were killed. The few Lancastrian noblemen who survived, fled to Scotland Edward lost a few of his noblemen too, among them were Lord Cromwell, Lord Saye and Sir William Blount. His brother-in-law and younger brother, Anthony Woodville and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, were severely injured.

Marguerite of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward. They arrived two days after the battle of Barnet on April 16. They received news of the Earl's death but still decided to move on. Edward died nearly a month later on May 4, and his father -the last Lancastrian King two weeks later under mysterious circumstances. Marguerite was ransomed back to France four years later in 1475.
Marguerite of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward. They arrived two days after the battle of Barnet on April 16. They received news of the Earl’s death but still decided to move on. Edward died nearly a month later on May 4, and his father -the last Lancastrian King two weeks later under mysterious circumstances. Marguerite was ransomed back to France four years later in 1475.

This was not the end of the war however. “Just one enemy remained” Jones says, and that was Queen Marguerite and her son Prince Edward and his wife, Anne Neville, who had just landed on the south coast at Weymouth two days after the battle of Barnet. Imagine their surprise when they found out what had happened. Skidmore believes that Marguerite might not have been too angry, and actually glad since this left her completely in charge but it is hard to imagine this since Warwick’s forces were a lot and if the two met, it would have made a difference in the  end.

Margaret Beaufort, Lady Tudor, Lady Stafford, her second husband was Stafford and although the two had previously entertained Edward IV at their house; the Lancastrian Readeption returned her to her old family roots and she tried to convince him to fight for them, but Stafford decided to aid Edward IV instead. Perhaps he foresaw the outcome, He was grievously injured, Margaret nursed him but he died months later. Margaret grew very scared as she started to hear the news of defeat and all Lancastrians being rooted out, imprisoned and killed. She would not see her son, Henry Tudor, considered the last Lancastrian scion, in fourteen years. In the White Queen she is portrayed by Amanda Hale (left).
Margaret Beaufort, Lady Tudor, Lady Stafford, her second husband was Stafford and although the two had previously entertained Edward IV at their house; the Lancastrian Readeption returned her to her old family roots and she tried to convince him to fight for them, but Stafford decided to aid Edward IV instead. Perhaps he foresaw the outcome, He was grievously injured, Margaret nursed him but he died months later. Margaret grew very scared as she started to hear the news of defeat and all Lancastrians being rooted out, imprisoned and killed. She would not see her son, Henry Tudor, considered the last Lancastrian scion, in fourteen years. In the White Queen she is portrayed by Amanda Hale (left).

Margaret Beaufort who had courted the Lancastrian king and her cousin, Edmund, Duke of Somerset for their favor after the Readeption, suddenly found herself on the losing side again. Her husband had refused to help her family and instead remained loyal to Edward; but fighting for Edward had cost him his life and then there was Margaret’s most precious jewel: Henry. What would happen with the young Earl of Richmond? They were killing Lancastrians. Edward IV didn’t want to see any more Lancastrian threats. As Cersei from the popular fantasy series based on history, game of thrones, says “if you want to win, this is how you do battle. You lie in a bed of weeds and you start ripping them out one by one before they strangle you in your sleep.” Well, Edward was not far behind; he was rooting out all his Lancastrian enemies one by one, caring very little about violating sanctuary. Margaret’s cousin and his allies who had taken refuge after the defeat at Tewkesbury, were dragged out of the church and beheaded right in front of Edward. She was not going to risk her son face the same fate. We do not know if she corresponded with her fourteen year old son’s uncle, Jasper Tudor; but immediately after news of Barnet and Tewkesbury and Henry VI’s death circulated England; he and her son escaped, intending to sail to France but a heavy wind made them deviate from course and they landed in Brittany where they would be the Duke’s “guests” for the next thirteen years.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Cecily Neville by Amy Licence
  • Jasper Tudor: The Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty by Terry Beverton
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir