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




1485 - 1486

HENRY'S accession to the throne was the turning point in his mother's life, and divided it into two sharply contrasting periods. For her, more than any one, it was the beginning of a new era, a change from storm to sunshine, from the anxiety of war to the calm of peace. Her own personal position in stantly changed, and she lived no longer in obscurity; Henry, grateful for her devotion, promptly assured to her all her former rights and more.

His first Parliament, which settled the Crown on him and his heirs (without saying whether he held it by heredity, conquest, law or prospective marriage), repealed the late Acts of Attainder and enacted that the King's mother, by the name of Margaret, Countess of Richmond, might plead or be impleaded and have all the rights and privileges of a 'sole persone, not wyfe ne covert of any husband', and she was to have the sole administration and disposition of all her own property, 'in as large a fourme as anie woman now may doe within this roialme' [1]

The King also granted her for life by Letters Patent in the following year a long list of 'castles demesnes manors and lordships, lands tenements rents and services' in Devon, Somerset, and several other counties;[2] she possessed also, for her life, the Manor and Castle of Corfe and the profitable town of Poole, including mills, tolls, customs, and a wool-house. Some of these estates had been her father's, and had passed from him to his brother and nephews, and after their death and attainder had been vested in the Crown. She had also inherited the property of her mother, the Duchess of Somerset, and she shared with the King the Honour of Richmond.

Her London house was Cold-Harbour, in Thames Street, in the parish of All-Hallows-the-Less. Besides all her own property, she had custody of the lands, with wardship, of the little Duke of Buckingham and his brother, whose father, the second duke, had lost his life in the rising of 1483. (It was Lady Margaret's ward, who, in the reign of Henry VIII, spilled water into Wolsey's shoes as a hint that the cardinal was over-presumptuous when he tried to wash his hands in a basin which Buckingham was holding for the King.)

Lady Margaret had some trouble over her duties as guardian, as may be seen in the following letter, written by her to the Bishop of Exeter, Keeper of the Privy Seal, on the 2lst March 1488. [3]

'Right-reverend Father in God and our right well beloved. In our hearty wise we commend us unto you, and for as much as John Dalkyn, receiver of our Lordship of Holderness belonging unto our Cousin of Bucks hath not comen up and made his account as he ought to do by reason of his said office, but hath suddenly departed from house otherwise than according to the trust that was put in him: We therefore desire and hearty pray you to send us by this bringer a Privy Seal for the said John after the tenure of this bill which we send you herein closed, as our special trust is in you, and as we may do for you at your desires hereafter, whereunto we shall be always ready by God's grace, Who send you right good life and long.

'Given under our signet at our place of Cold Harborowe the 21st day of March. My lord, I pray you I may hear of your news of Flanders.

M. Rychemound.'


As soon as Henry VII was on the throne, he gave rewards to the chief of his own and his mother's supporters.

Jasper Tudor became Duke of Bedford, and married Catherine, widow of the second Duke of Buckingham, and sister of the queen-dowager. Thomas Lord Stanley was created Earl of Derby, and appointed High Constable of England; in this capacity he officiated at the coronation and at subsequent Court functions; his brother Sir William was made the King's Chamberlain; Reginald Bray was knighted, and became Treasurer and one of the King's most trusted Privy Councillors; Bishop Morton was sent for from Flanders and was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor. Christopher Urswyck was made Dean of York and received various preferments; he was sent abroad on several diplomatic missions; he became Dean of Windsor in 1495 and refused the Bishopric of Norwich in 1498.

It was probably due at least indirectly to his mother's influence that Henry VII adopted a policy of moderation in place of the merciless executions hitherto so common, and issued a general pardon to those who had been in arms against him. She, who was 'not vengeful nor cruel', must have been in favour of clemency, and Henry was willing at least to substitute fines for executions, except in a few instances.

Although the King owed the support of the Yorkists to his proposed union with the daughter of Edward IV, which they expected to take place as soon as he reached London, he put off the marriage until people became impatient, and Parliament in December begged him to 'deign' to marry the Lady Elizabeth, which at length he did, on the 18th January 1486.

The fact was that Henry at first was inclined to be jealous of Elizabeth's superior right to the throne; he did not like to admit that he owed his crown either to his mother or his wife -- he would be crowned alone and would govern alone. The Queen's coronation was put off for one reason or another for nearly two years, but as time went on Elizabeth proved to be good-tempered, docile, and affectionate, and not at all anxious to claim her share of political power, and the match turned out more happily than most royal marriages did in the fifteenth century.

'My Lady the King's Mother' was now considered the most important person in England after the King and Queen, and one of the most influential. She was very often at Court, where she took the position of queen-dowager in all but name. Henry perhaps disliked his mother-in-law personally; he could not trust her, and discouraged her visits, and possibly Lady Margaret did so too; certainly the two ladies were extremely different in character and temperament, and can have had nothing in common except their grandchildren.

Bacon, in his biography of Henry VII, said that though the King reverenced his mother much, he heard her little; the Spanish Ambassador in London, on the other hand, observed that the King was much influenced by his mother in affairs of personal interest and others, and that 'the Queen did not like it'. Another Spaniard went so far as to say that the Queen, who was much beloved, was kept in subjection by the mother of the King, but there does not appear to be much, if any, truth in this report. [4]

Though Margaret, who had the stronger character and more active intellect of the two, was naturally apt to take the lead, she had too genuine a spirit of charity and humility to be really overbearing, and there are many indications that she and the Queen were fond of each other. Even the most affectionate of relatives may have an occasional difference of opinion, and on the whole the Court set an example of a very harmonious family life, at a time when domestic affection was not conspicuous.

If Lady Margaret often got her own way, it was by using the tactful methods of diplomacy. There is in one of her letters to the King an unexpected and amusing trace of guile, when, wishing to act in a way she thinks Lord Derby will disapprove, she asks her son to send her a Royal Command to carry out her own wishes, because, she explains ingenuously, 'it shall be a good excuse for me to my lord and husband'. [5]

Although so great an authority as Bishop Stubbs has remarked that we have no temptation to follow the humdrum movements of the Court in this reign, Lady Margaret herself followed them with great interest, and they filled so large a part of her life for several years that they cannot quite be left out of her story, trivial though they may be.

She did not concern herself actively in questions of government nor of foreign policy -- those were the affairs of the King and his Council: her own interests were chiefly religious, intellectual, social and domestic; her great faculty for organization and her grasp of detail were used in making regulations for the domestic side of Court life.

Every possible kind of ceremony at the Court of Henry VII was provided with a full set of ordinances. [6] The King's mother was asked to prepare the rules for Court mourning, and she was specially responsible for the arrangements made when the Queen 'took her chamber' and for the elaborate ceremonies connected with a royal christening.

It must surely have been her maternal care that inspired the minute regulations given for making the King's bed, in the course of which, by way of testing the mattresses, one of the newly established Yeomen of the Crown was surprisingly directed to 'lepp upon the bedd and roll hym upe and downe'. (This is one of the earliest instances known of 'doing Yeoman's service'; it seems a curiously unpromising method of arranging a comfortable bed!) Later in the proceedings the Yeomen were to 'take the pillo,wes and bette them wele wt yr honnds and cast them up to the Squyeres for the Body, and let them ley them on the bedd as it plessithe the King's Grace'. At the end of many more directions, it was considerately provided that after their exertions all the bed-makers should go outside the traverse and 'drinke all togedure goodly'. The Queen's bed was to be made 'with gentillwomen as the King's bedd is mad wt men' -- so it is to be hoped that Elizabeth's ladies were young and active enough to enjoy the fun.

All the arrangements in the royal nurseries were the special care of Lady Margaret, who settled down very happily to the role of grandmother. She directed that the nursery attendants were to be chosen with the greatest care, and sworn in by the Chamberlain. 'It must be seene that othes be ministred to every of them in most straitest maner', she wrote; and at every meal a physician was to supervise the nurse to see that she fed the child properly.

She ordered that the royal infant should have for use a 'little Cradell of tree, in a Frame faire set forth by Painter's Craft', and also, for show, a great cradle of state, covered with crimson cloth of gold and 'garnished with Frenges of Silke and golde and a paine of Skarlette furred with Ermyns, bordered with blewe Velute upon Velute'-- and a great deal more magnificence besides.

Prince Arthur, Henry VII's eldest son, was born at Winchester on the 20th September 1486, and was christened in the Cathedral Church according to his grandmother's ordinances, wrapped in a rich mantle of crimson cloth of gold lined throughout with ermine. The dowager-queen Elizabeth, for once taking the first place, was godmother, and the Earl of Derby one of the godfathers; his gift, 'a riche Salte of golde coverede', was carried by Sir Reginald Bray. The Court, including Lady Margaret and her husband, spent that Christmas at Greenwich and afterwards went to Sheen.