Though Margaret Beaufort lived through the Wars of the Roses, one of England’s most violent and turbulent eras, she has been given little credit for triumphing in a time when life was unkind to women in terms of rights and power.
Many of you are wondering, Who the heck is Margaret Beaufort? The easy answer is King Henry VII’s mother and King Henry VIII’s grandmother. Isn’t it sad she has to be remembered in terms of the men she gave life to? Isn’t it unfair? It’s far more common than you think.
The more rich and fulfilling answer is Margaret Beaufort was a woman who successfully navigated the instabilities of the power-struggles in her lifetime, working hard for the survival of her family. Margaret’s life is actually an incredible testament to what a woman could achieve in the late 1400s.
She was a major landowner, a behind-the-scenes diplomat before her son became king, she was the first woman to be given the power to settle disputes in court, she was a negotiator, she was briefly regent for Henry VIII, she was a founder of colleges at Cambridge and Oxford, she commissioned books, and she even declared a la femme sole—she had complete control over her own estates—and thus was completely independent in terms managing of her lands and income.
It’s difficult to imagine it now, but this was a momentous step for women in the middle ages. In a time when women had no say in the major decisions of their lives (she had been married three times by the time she was fifteen), Margaret must have been incredibly resourceful and smart not only to get by but also to thrive.
I was disturbed by Margaret’s portrayal in the fictionalized accounts of her I came across—reduced to the role of villain—she wasn’t a well-rounded character, instead depicted as a conniving and ruthless woman.
Although I believe there’s some truth behind every rumor, Tallis’s well-researched biography (read the notes, they’re incredible!) fills in major gaps and brings Margaret and her life into sharper focus. She’s more than a villain and also more than a religious woman in a wimple. I wonder if she was seen as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of her time—why are there no medieval women action figures?
I read a lot, not just for my work as an editor but for fun and to learn, and yes, for a little escapism!