Thursday, May 20, 2021

Book 285: Margaret Beaufort


"Edward IV's death ushered in a new period of uncertainty in England. With an underage king, it was clear that some kind of regency would have to be declared. Edward IV had brought a stability to the English crown that it had not known since the 1440s, but his dynasty survived him by a period of only just over two years. As one historian has commented, Margaret played a major role in presenting her son, for the first time, as a credible candidate for the throne. She can be considered the second great kingmaker of the Wars of the Roses..."

Dates read: December 28, 2018- January 1, 2019

Rating: 7/10

As we all know, history is written by the victors. But it's broader than that: history is written by the powerful. Which helps explain why we have so many stories by and/or about wealthy, usually white, men. Those were the people with status, who had the means to have their lives and thoughts recorded and taken seriously by the kinds of people who would preserve them. It can be easy to conflate the fact that these stories exist with the idea that they're therefore the most important ones.

It was her connection to a powerful man that gave Margaret Beaufort's life the weight it needed to be documented at all. And what a life it was! In her book, Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty, Elizabeth Norton chronicles the times of the woman who gave birth to Henry Tudor, later to become King Henry VII of England. At age 12, she was married to Edmund Tudor, the son of former Queen Catherine of Valois with her second husband, who was literally twice her age. Despite this gap, she became pregnant before Edmund was slain when fighting for Lancaster against the Yorkists in the Wars of the Roses, leaving her a 13 year-old pregnant widow. The birth was apparently traumatic...despite two subsequent marriages during her potential childbearing years, there's no reason to believe she ever again became pregnant.

As was not uncommon at the time, Henry's life diverged from his mother's. Only about a year after she had him, she was married to Henry Stafford, while Henry remained with his father's family. Her marriage to Stafford lasted longer than her first one, but he too perished in the Wars of the Roses (fighting for York) and Margaret became a widow again in her late 20s. This time, she married Thomas Stanley, whose military support would prove crucial to Henry's eventual reign. While the conflict was ongoing, though, she almost certainly plotted with her former rival, Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, against King Richard III. After Henry became king, Margaret exercised a significant amount of control over his court, almost equal to his queen. She outlived not only her third husband but ultimately, her son.

What I found remarkable about this book was how little Norton had to go on until after Henry's reign began. Margaret Beaufort was a significant heiress, close to the royal family, and a political player in the power games of the day. This, however, was not enough to create much of a record about her life...Norton does an excellent job of walking the line between a very dry recitation of the bare facts Margaret's life and extrapolating too heavily to make things more exciting but less accurate. When she does draw conclusions about subjective reality from the objective record, she explains how she got there, such as when she concludes that Margaret's second marriage was likely a fairly happy one because there's evidence that the couple renewed their vows.

Margaret's life had some quality high drama, and I appreciated the way Norton told her story. As fun as it can be to read something embellished like Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen, getting a sense of the actual person that existed, who is plenty interesting on her own, was something I thought Norton did well. The readership for this book is honestly probably pretty niche: unless you're particularly interested in the history of the English monarchy, particularly the Wars of the Roses, you're not likely to find this especially engaging. If you are interested in historical royal women, though, this is a very solid read and I'd recommend it!
One year ago, I was reading: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
Two years ago, I was reading: Midnight's Children
Three years ago, I was reading: The Heart of Everything That Is
Four years ago, I was reading: Migraine
Five years ago, I was reading: Devil in the White City

No comments:

Post a Comment