By Judith Arnopp
Popular history has not been kind to Margaret Beaufort. It’s hard to get past that pinched face beneath her horrid steeple-shaped headdress. And stories about Henry VII abound with the overbearing mother who just won’t disappear. It can be difficult to remember that Margaret started out as a helpless young girl who gave birth at age thirteen with nearly fatal consequences. She was lucky to live, but her childbearing years were over. Judith Arnopp has given us a sympathetic introduction to a child bride, bartered for her wealth and pedigree. After all, her father was John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and her grandfather was the great John of Gaunt himself. Margaret was the sole heiress, which made her quite a catch.
Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor won the prize, though already he was her second husband (the first was annulled). Off to Wales she went, away from family and everything she knew. Margaret was only twelve and expected her new husband to wait before bedding her, but he had other ideas:
He laughs at my tight lips, and sits up to lean toward me, his forearms resting on his knees, but he does not look at me direct. He swirls the wine in the bottom of his cup and when he speaks, his voice is earnest.
“I am not a brute, my lady. I would things were different, but I cannot change fate. I cannot make you older, and neither can I wait for you to grow up. I must get myself a son.”
My face burns. He should not speak of these things. I duck my head, chin to my chest, and wonder what Mother would have me say.
Margaret did her best and submitted to her husband, and of course the inevitable pregnancy occurred. All might have gone well except for the confusion surrounding events in London. No one knew whose side they were supposed to be on, and while Edmund did his duty in Wales, the Duke of York proved the aggressor. Margaret and all of Wales was caught in the middle. What a time to give birth! This is a very well-rounded story with no obvious villain (I like that) and a protagonist who is appealing but flawed, as a good heroine should be. Thanks to Judith Arnopp, I will be much more open-minded as I follow Margaret into womanhood.