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Lady Margaret by E.M.G. Routh (pub. 1924)

 

II

LANCASTER AND YORK

1450-1482


SOON after the tragic death of the Duke of Suffolk, the King appointed his own half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, to be joint guardians of the little Lady Margaret.

Henry VI seems to have been very fond of the two energetic young Welshmen; he had them well educated in their boyhood and when they grew up he knighted them and kept them with him at Court. In January 1553 [ed. note, should be1453] he created Edmund, Earl of Richmond, and Jasper, Earl of Pembroke.

Margaret was still almost a child-certainly no more than fourteen-when she was married to the hero of her very youthful dreams, and became Countess of Richmond in 1454 or 1455.

It must have been a tremendous adventure to the primly brought-up little girl, to ride away with her gallant young bridegroom through the wild Welsh country to her new and unknown home, but her happiness -- if such it was -- ended soon in sorrow. In the summer of 1456, Edmund, with all the ardour of his race, was 'greatly at war' with a fellow country man in Wales, but in the autumn, in the full strength of his manhood, he was struck down by the plague, and in November 'on the morrow of All Souls' he died, at the age of 25. [1]

His brother Jasper at once took the young widow under his chivalrous protection; she stayed for some time at his Castle of Pembroke, which as Leland described it, 'standith hard by the Waul on a hard Rokke and is veri larg and strong' -- and there her son was born in the following January, on the 28th of the month. Many years later she wrote him a letter on his birthday, in which she alluded to 'thys day of Seynt Annes (Agnes) that y dyd bryng ynto thys world my good and gracyous prynce, kynge and only beloved son' and prayed that he might receive 'as herty blessyngs as y can axe of God '.

Had she not possessed a strong character and most steadfast faith, she might have found the difficulty of her position overwhelming. A girl of not quite sixteen, [2] she had the responsibility of bringing up a delicate child, and one who had many possible enemies, in a country ravaged by pestilence and distracted by civil war, which had begun definitely with the first battle of St. Albans in 1455, when Edmund, Duke of Somerset, the most powerful of all her relatives, was killed.

The war shut down like a fog over the lives of peaceable people, and there is no consecutive record of her doings in the years that followed. She never forgot to pray for her first husband, and all through her life she signed her name 'Margaret Richmond' -- but however faithful her memory, it was then practically impossible for a rich young woman to remain a widow, and some time before her eighteenth birthday in 1459 she married Lord Henry Stafford, younger son of the first Duke of Buckingham. He was a third cousin of her own, and probably an old acquaintance, for the duke had been a great friend and 'sworn brother' to her father.

The chief anxiety of her life in those dangerous years must have been to protect her son, while heads were falling on every side. Many of her own connexions were killed; the Duke of Buckingham and his eldest son, her step-father Lord Welles, and her three young Beaufort cousins all fought on King Henry's side and all lost their lives before the wars 'of the Roses' were over.

Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, whom she loved, she said, as a brother by birth, was a valiant and restless fighter, heart and soul in the Lancastrian cause; he went dashing about the country, now raising forces in Wales for the Queen's army, then appearing in Scotland; at one time in France, and back again to England, 'not alwaies at his hartes ease, nor in securitie of life, or suretie of living'. After the Yorkist victories in 1461, when Edward IV assumed the Crown, Jasper had to 'take to the mountains', out lawed and attainted, while his father's head was exposed on the Market Cross at Hereford. His Earldom of Pembroke was given in 1468 to William, Lord Herbert, who had, however, to fight for his new honours until Jasper was forced to leave the country.

Margaret's son Henry, Earl of Richmond, was included in the Act of Attainder passed against the leading Lancastrians, and for some time the boy seems to have been sheltered in one or other of his uncle's Welsh castles; he fell into the hands of Lord Herbert who besieged and captured Harlech Castle in 1468, in spite of a desperate attempt to relieve it on the part of Jasper Tudor.

After the death of Herbert in the following year, his widow was left to take charge of Henry of Rich mond, with instructions (given in her husband's will) to marry him, if possible, to her daughter Maud. She kept Henry 'in manner like a captive but well and honourably educated and in all kind of civility brought up' in the company of her own children, but during the brief restoration of Henry Vl in 1471, Jasper Tudor, who had returned to England with the Earl of Warwick, made one of his sudden descents into Wales 'where he found the Lord Henry' and carried off his nephew to the Court. Here he presented him to the King, who was pleased with the bright-eyed, intelligent boy, and is said to have predicted that he would one day wear a crown. [3]

The hopes of the Lancastrian party were, however, very soon shattered by the disasters of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and the death of Henry VI and his son in 1471, when Margaret, almost the last of the Beauforts, was left, with her son, to represent the Lancastrian line.

She had no ambition to lead an army in the field, like the fierce warrior-queen, Margaret of Anjou. (She would often say, however, that if only the Christian princes would undertake another Crusade, she would gladly go with the troops 'and help to wash their clothes, for the love of Jesu '. Had she lived in later times, one could easily imagine her as successfully managing a Red Cross hospital, or a canteen.) She had no wish to win the crown for herself, and she was much too sensible to suppose that there was as yet any chance of it for her son, a boy of fourteen, who was in great danger as a possible rival to Edward IV.

She confided Henry to the care of Jasper Tudor, and he, having 'credibly asserteyned that Queen Margaret had lost the battayle at Tewkesbury, and that there was no more trust of any comfort or relieve to be had for the parte of poore Kyng Henry', fled into Wales, where, after narrow escapes from Yorkist spies, he was besieged with his nephew in his own Castle of Pembroke, but again succeeded in escaping.

Margaret now took the only prudent course, and, though it was a great grief to her, advised Jasper to take Henry out of the country. He accepted her advice, addressing her as 'most wise lady, and dearest sister', and promised to take care of the boy as though he were his own son; a promise which he faithfully kept.

They sailed from Tenby in the summer of 1471; their ship was driven by a storm on to the coast of Brittany, where they were courteously received by the reigning duke, Francis II, and Margaret did not see them again for fourteen years.

After the departure of her son, the Countess of Richmond and her husband gave Edward IV no reason to complain of any disloyalty, and the King allowed her to keep possession of all the lands held by her of endowment of Edmund, Earl of Richmond, or by the assignation of King Henry VI, or by in heritance from John, Duke of Somerset.

Very little is known about her second marriage, but some light is thrown upon it by her 'household books' -- as yet unpublished -- in the Muniments of Westminster Abbey. It appears from these books that she was not in Wales, as has been supposed, when her son lived at Pembroke Castle with the Herbert family.

She and Lord Henry Stafford lived for some years principally at Woking, but they paid considerable visits to London and they made long journeys to inspect their property in different places, in spite of the disturbed state of the country. [4] It was easier and safer for landowners to take their household and retainers to consume the produce of their estates on the spot, than it would have been to have supplies sent to them by road, for highway robbers made it dangerous to travel or to convey goods from place to place without a considerable escort.

There must also have been matters of business connected with the collection of rents and revenues, about which they would have to interview the stewards and bailiffs in charge of their numerous estates. Lady Margaret had property as far north as York and as far west as Devon: in the latter county, with characteristic kindness, she gave her manor-house and lands at Torrington to the priest of the parish, to save him the long walk to church from his own house.

During the years she spent at Woking she must have cultivated the literary interests which she retained all through her life. 'Right studious she was in books', said Bishop Fisher, 'which she had in great number, both in English and in French.' She had a 'holding memory' and a ready wit, and the useful faculty of passing over 'tryfelous thynges that were Iytell to be regarded', while those 'of weight and substance wherein she might profit, she would not let for any pain or labour to take upon hand'.

Her charming manners and gentle, affectionate disposition won her many friends, and the sincere regard of her husband's family.

She was small and dignified, with a very gracious manner. One of her early portraits [5] shows a thoughtful face of considerable charm; the complexion is pale, but clear; the eyes grey, the eyebrows dark and arched; the mouth is rather full, grave, but ready to smile; she wears a red dress, trimmed with fur; her hair is hidden by a beautifully jewelled and embroidered head-dress.

Fisher said in his Mourning Remembrance that she 'had in manner all that was praisable in a woman, either in soul or body', which perhaps is as far towards personal description as a bishop could be expected to go in an obituary sermon. Besides, he did not know her till she was fifty-four. Most of her portraits were painted in later life, and the nun-like habit which she then wore seems to lend its own severe character to her face; she cannot ever have been quite such an austere and rigid person as they would represent. At any rate she is known to have made one small joke! She was, said Fisher, 'of singular easiness to be spoken unto, and full courteous answer she would make to all that came unto her. Of marvellous gentleness she was unto all folks, but specially unto her own, whom she loved and trusted right tenderly.' She never forgot any kindness or service done to her, 'which is no little part of very nobleness', and she was always ready to forgive and forget an injury.

The Duchess of Buckingham, whose mother had been a Beaufort, and also one of literary tastes, died in l480, and as a token of affection bequeathed in her will 'to my daughter of Richmond a book of English called Legenda Sanctorum, a book of French called Lucun [6] another book of French of the Epistles and Gospels, and a primer with clasps of silver-gilt, covered with purple velvet.

The Duke of Buckingham had also left a token of remembrance in a legacy of 400 marks to his son Henry, and his daughter Margaret, Countess of Richmond, his wife.

Lord Henry Stafford appears to have died at Woking in 1482, leaving his 'beloved wife Margaret, Countess of Richmond' his executrix and residuary legatee. He left a new blue-velvet trapping of four horse harness to his step-son, Henry of Richmond (a singularly inappropriate gift for a proscribed fugitive), £I60 for a priest to sing for his soul, his bay courser to his brother and his grizzled horse to his Receiver, Reginald Bray. The latter was a lifelong friend to Margaret and her son, and distinguished himself both as statesman and architect in the next reign. He was a generous benefactor to churches, monasteries and colleges, and spent over twenty years in rebuilding the Chapel Royal of St. George at Windsor, where 'the roof of the nave is his best monument' [7].