Margaret Beaufort – the pictures

BeaufortLadyM_CU_SJ_170smI tend to think of Lady Margaret Beaufort looking rather austere in a wimple and black gown as pictured left.   Melanie Taylor, art historian ( very kindly told me about the image of Margaret at prayer which hangs in St John’s College, Cambridge.  It was painted by Rowland Lockey who was Nicholas Hilliard’s apprentice.    He was born in 1565 and his best known picture is probably that of Sir Thomas More and his family.  The image of Lady Margaret was presented to St John’s in 1598 by Julius Clippersby – Roy Strong says it was Juliana Clippersby who gave it to the college, making it less of a primary source than you might have imagined on first looking at it.  It certainly accounts for the abundance of Tudor royal images and coats of arms.


margaret-beaufort hever.jpgA quick check on the National Portrait Gallery website revealed eighteen images associated with Henry Tudor’s mother in their collection.  They all picture her dressed as a widow. There are other portraits dotted around the countryside including the one at Hever Castle pictured left which features an expensive cloth of state, trademark widow’s wimple, black frock and prayer book.  We tend to think that the black dress she is most commonly associated with is akin to a monastic habit but in actual fact the fabrics and dyes made her clothing some of the most expensive available.  The robes she wore were the same quality as those worn by Henry VII’s queen and during one Christmas celebration they wore identical garments.

Let’s make no mistake here.  There was a degree of nunliness (is that even a word?) about the king’s mother especially during her last decade. Despite the fact that her last husband Lord Thomas Stanley was very much alive Margaret had taken a public vow of chastity in 1499 and thereafter the pair lived separate lives. Margaret was enrolled in the lists five religious houses- Charterhouse, Croyland, Durham and Westminster are listed by the Catholic Encyclopaedia.  Essentially she took vows under canon law that enabled her to continue living in the public sphere rather than the secluded world of a nunnery.

Her friend and confessor John Fisher developed this image of her in his sermon about Margaret entitled A Mornygne Remembrance.  He compared her to Martha, a woman of action, but who combined her capabilities with prayer, fasting and abstinence.  Records of her gifts and patronage also develop the theme of piety.  She helped found the Cult of the Holy Name of Jesus in England during this period – the letters IHS which are so common in churches today were little used before this period (Unfortunately her patronage of the cult meant that it was very markedly Catholic which proved somewhat of a problem during her grandson’s reign.)  In her later years she attended several masses daily that caused her back problems. Please, no one comment on the possibility of a guilty conscience – draw your own conclusions – pious woman or maniac murderer of princes wishing to atone – take your pick. Since Fisher didn’t break the confessional its all circumstantial!

Tomb-of-Lady-Margaret-Beaufort-Countess-of-Richmond-and-Derby-at-Westminster-Abbey.jpgIt turns out that there is only one original known likeness of the redoubtable matriarch of the Tudor family – her funeral effigy cast by Italian Master Pietro Torrigiano. He also  created the wonderful sculpture of Henry VIII as a little boy and the bust of Henry VII. The face was probably taken from her death mask – so not one of her better days. Interestingly as well as the Beaufort arms the Stafford knot features in the imagery around her effigy.

All the rest of the images of Margaret were created during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at a time when all those new manor houses with their brand new long galleries required populating with portraits demonstrating loyalty to the monarchy.  The images may have been created from an original now lost or perhaps from the effigy in Westminster.


Unknown-woman-formerly-known-as-Lady-Margaret-Beaufort-Countess-of-Richmond-and-Derby.jpgThe portrait that I’m particularly fond of is purported to be Margaret Beaufort in her youth but unfortunately the headdress doesn’t match to the correct period but to a time closer to the beginning of the sixteenth century.  The National Portrait Gallery identifies it as an Unknown Lady. Despite that you can see how the folded hands, the rings on her fingers, and headdress would lead to the idea that it was Margaret Beaufort. The portrait has been in the National Portrait Gallery since 1908.


Davis, David J.  (2013) Seeing Faith, Printing Pictures: Religious Identity during the English Reformation. 


13 thoughts on “Margaret Beaufort – the pictures

  1. She had fully accomplished her own task to power.Taking the cloth only shows how her mind worked. Having done that utterly unthinkable with a face that butter would not melt in her mouth she believes her only salvation may be in begging forgiveness of God. This was the repentance from a serial killer in her old age .In this sacrifice from a world of power she begged for the salvation she now came to see she needed as her get out of hell card. i studied her face her need for change her stop at nothing cruelty to help her son rise above all to rule her England. In those features so soft so lady like i came to see her needs her power her love of life and all it held was hers. The richest the most powerful lady in Europe perhaps she was now begged to be powerful in heaven.

      • Yes being related perhaps i have the right to see her anyway I want. My view is there is evidence but no one takes it the hell did Morton know the exact burial place and what they wore in velvet and how they lay in that box. no more proof is needed as Morton did not kill the two princes but he was there when his mistress and her new husband did the deed or else can you say how he knew it all. More could not have lied when he repeated Mortons words as he was not born at that time of murder so he could not have just pointed to that grave. Richard was a child lover and kind to his nephews at his castle at Middleham so was he that cruel an uncle to kill what he had no need to do as he was anointed King already.
        From a Lawyers view I could not give judgement on this said man. Enough to go on on Mortons statement. Over heard it was but another Relation in More tells me it was more likely the mother of the incoming King that helped the deal along in Mortons company. Morton may have been a churchman but he was no stranger to rich pickings or to power as he hated Richard for sending him out of the country as evil man. This he went along with as it destroyed Ricard in the planning. I share the blood of many who lived then so perhaps I can think as they too. To go to war for anothers land and say god fought for us as in Henry V is perhaps the way all thought that God will be on the side of victor and so death will not harm the soul who sliced cut killed all enemy in war for gain only. Sorry but the God i adore is love in total depth not a being to play with or to forecast what he will think.
        He will not interfere on any side but give us all as promised free will. Then judgement no doubt. Life is test and in that moment Margaret Beaufort suddenly saw the need to repent. She was a cleaver woman so I come to see her as that repenting soul that knew her own faults. Or did the spirits of those boys haunt her .Or did Stanley kill them whilst she helped and so she left his bed to recant to God her sorrow. No smothering is womans work mans to knife in the heart. We always return to Beaufort as the murderer. No other way it could have been so. Motive so strong while the other name in the frame had none. Power is like Tolkien book the ring. To someone used to power and seeing her chance to rule slipping away made her change to aiding her son and that ring made her do what ever was need no matter how evil to set her bastard son on our English Throne as King. She had her way in life all the time this was necessary more than any other deed. She did it and with no worry until later her mortal soul was infected with sin.
        I rest my case but you must see it now as right. i worked on may cases in my lawlife before retiring and none more guilty than this sad women now judged by God no doubt. Margaret was a easy laid back sure footed Im it none other matter sort of girl. Dangerous and clever a combination that would lead her straight to evil as the ring affects the holder she wore it well

  2. I was always told that the last portrait is Lady Joan Beaufort, Queen Consort of Scotland, wife of both King James I of Scotland & James Stewart, “the Black Knight of Lorn.” Now I am confused.

  3. I have been doing my family tree over the past couple of years here & there with extensive links back beyond the Tudors to the Normans, Indeed in a couple of cases I have romans and 2nd century vikings.. I have Kings & Queens and all manner of royalty scattered all over Europe.

    However this idea of the religious orders did strike me as very strange because in amongst my lot I have about seven Saints, three or four Bishops from the Frankish republics and a number of Abbess’. Now I thought to myself “How can I be descended from nuns and bishops? (and a pope no less!) since they are supposed to be celibate? One Bishop, Arnoul of Metz, was a Saint having several acknowledged miracles to his name, then his two daughters were also canonised too even though they were both Wives and Mothers. It seems the Rules were different back then in that celibacy was introduced for the clergy much later.

    • It certainly is puzzling – there’s a couple of saints in my husband’s family tree much to everyone’s amusement. In the past people used to “retire” from worldly life to live in monastic houses – Eleanor of Aquitaine, Matilda all spring to mind. And yes – celibacy was a movable feast initially plus there were lots of different degrees of religious orders – sounds like something to go on my list of things to blog about quite frankly. Thank you for the comment as its fascinating to discover who people find in their family trees.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.