Renaissance and Reformation Margaret Beaufort
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0409


Courtesy of her father and husbands, the subject of this article was known by a succession of titles during her lifetime. Born in 1443, she was the only child of John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, making her Lady Margaret Beaufort. The duke died in 1444, leaving her as an extremely valuable commodity in the aristocratic marriage market. In 1450 she was hastily contracted to another child, John de la Pole, a “de futuro” arrangement that was easily annulled three years later. At nine she was married to Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, and at thirteen she was widowed before giving birth to her only child, Henry, who was therefore earl of Richmond from birth. In 1458 she was married again, to Sir Henry Stafford. Though her birth and kinship made Margaret a natural Lancastrian, Stafford fought on the Yorkist side at the battle of Barnet in 1471 and died of his wounds. Margaret’s final marriage (1472) was to the northern magnate Thomas Stanley, Baron Stanley and king of Mann. In 1483 she schemed for the overthrow of the Yorkist Richard III and in 1485 her son Henry returned from exile in Brittany and France, defeated Richard in battle, and became King Henry VII, the implication being that Margaret had renounced her own claim to the throne in order to secure his. The new king’s stepfather became earl of Derby, making Margaret a countess twice over, though the status she assumed was that of queen dowager. For convenience, she was known as “the king’s mother.” She died in 1509, having survived her son by ten weeks. This bibliography surveys Reference Works, Overviews, Primary Sources, Journals, and Collections of Papers, before Margaret Beaufort’s life and times are explored in the next two sections. Dynasties and Dynasticism approaches her by means of the families into which she was born or married. Biographies and Studies are of Margaret herself. Personal piety was the thread that tied together her dealings with her social inferiors, whom she clothed and fed, instructed in the faith by means of the printed word, and for whose benefit she endowed preachers and lecturers to teach the Christian message, together with colleges for the training of future priests. Those various activities are dealt with in the sections devoted to Domestic and Regional Patronage, Books, and Universities, though it is true that her small wimpled figure has tended to loom larger in the published histories of Cambridge than in those of Oxford.

Reference Works

Reference works on “late medieval” or “Tudor” England have been something of a staple for publishers, so there is no lack of choice, and none of them would be complete without a potted biography of Margaret Beaufort. If one chooses to rely on the best authorities, then there is no option but to consult the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which should be regarded as the reference work par excellence for Margaret Beaufort (Jones and Underwood 2004) and many of her English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh contemporaries. On the other hand, her patronage of the two English universities brought her into contact with scholars who have not received full-scale biographical treatment, but who can be traced in Emden 1963 and in the same author’s parallel work on members of the University of Oxford. With regard to bibliography, the standard work is the Bibliography of British and Irish History, which is not only comprehensive, but also has the merit of providing links to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and other online resources.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History.

    This was formerly a print publication, but is now maintained exclusively online, being updated three times a year. It is a vitally important resource for any aspect or period of British and Irish history. Access is via the website of Brepols, the publisher. Searches can be done bibliographically or by subject, including places and persons. Alternatively, the subject tree allows users to search for specific areas using progressively more detailed categories.

  • Emden, Alfred Brotherston. A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

    Before 1500 many more individuals studied at Oxford than at the newer university of Cambridge, accounting for the three-volume biographical register of Oxford men compiled by Emden before he turned his attention to Cambridge. In view of the fact that Cambridge men predominated among Margaret Beaufort’s university contacts, Emden’s Cambridge volume is the more relevant work for tracing their academic profiles, benefices (in the case of clerics), and secular office-holding.

  • Jones, Michael K., and Malcolm G. Underwood. “Beaufort, Margaret.”In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) is an authoritative reference work for all significant figures in British history. The entry on Margaret Beaufort is by her biographers Michael K. Jones and Malcolm G. Underwood, so represents in miniature the contents of Jones and Underwood 1992 (cited under Biographies and Studies). Available in print and online editions, the latter includes links to other individuals on whom there are ODNB entries, as well as to external resources.

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