In 1457 Margaret Beaufort, shown here in later life, along with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor left Pembroke Castle. They were on their way to arrange a marriage. The groom in question was Henry Stafford. He was the second son of the Duke of Buckingham.
The pair married on the 3rd January 1458 at Maxstowe Castle. The marriage had been agreed by April at the latest the previous year but there was the inevitable dispensation to apply for and besides which Margaret possibly didn’t want to hurry the match because when she started married life as Mrs Stafford she relinquished the care of her infant son, Henry, into the care of Jasper Tudor.
Henry was twenty years or so older than Margaret who was nearly fifteen when she married for the third time. This means that Henry was born in 1425 (ish). He was a second son of Ann Neville (daughter of Joan Beaufort- only daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford for those of you who are interested in these things- and Ralph Neville- earl of Westmorland). We don’t no the exact date or place of his birth, without much in the way of titles or estate but what he did have was a powerful father, the Duke of Buckingham. Margaret’s wealth would keep the couple very comfortably- both of them seem to have liked expensive clothes if the household accounts are anything to go by but it was Stafford’s father who would keep Margaret safe.
Household accounts and personal letters show that the marriage was a happy one. The couple travelled together and appear to have always celebrated their wedding anniversary – which was not standard practise. Margaret began to fast on St Athony Abbott’s day. He was the patron saint of people who suffered from skin complaints and it would seem that Henry Stafford suffered from St Anthony’s Fire. She continued to venerate the saint after Henry’s death, again suggesting that the couple had a loving relationship according to Elizabeth Norton.
Henry fought at the Battle of Towton on the Lancastrian side but was pardoned by Edward IV on 25 June 1461 and then demonstrated loyalty to the house of York. Five years later, although he never became more than a knight suggesting that Edward IV possibly didn’t totally trust the Staffords, given who Margaret Beaufort was this isn’t entirely surprising, gave the couple Woking Old Hall as a hunting lodge. It became one of the Staffords’ favourite homes. In December 1468 Edward IV visited Old Woking Hall to hunt and to dine with Henry and Margaret.
Meanwhile the household accounts reveal that Henry suffered from poor health through out the period. He sent to London for medicines frequently. “St Anthony’s Fire” or erysipelas was believed at the time to be a variety of leprosy but is now understood to be a form of alkaline poisoning sometimes caused by ergot (the stuff in bread that caused folk to hallucinate). In addition to an unpleasant rash Henry would also have suffered from a burning sensation in his hands and feet.
This didn’t stop him from fulfilling his role as a medieval noble. He took part in jousts and battles. In a rather tense family situation he was with Edward IV on 12 March 1470 at the Battle of Losecoat Field. The Lancastrian forces were led by Sir Robert, Lord Wells who just happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s stepbrother. The Lancastrians were defeated and it fell to Henry to break the news to his mother-in-law Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe by that time Lady Welles that her step-son had been executed (bet that was a cheery conversation).
During Henry VI’s re-adaption (1470-71) Margaret Beaufort was reunited with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor and her son Henry Tudor. She travelled to London, met with Henry VI and forwarded her son’s cause. In order words she demonstrated that aside from being a devoted mother that she was Lancastrian to the core. This may have caused some disagreement with Henry Stafford who remained loyal to the Yorkist cause even when he was visited by the Duke of Somerset in a bid to win his cousin-in-law over to the Lancastrian cause.
On 12 April 1471 Henry Stafford was in London, where he’d previously attended parliament, to welcome Edward IV back to his capital. He joined Edward at the Battle of Barnet on the 18 April. The Earl of Warwick was killed but Stafford was so badly wounded that he was sent home. Henry never recovered from his injuries. He lingered another six months before dying on 4 October 1471 having made his will two days earlier.
In his will he bequeathed thirty shillings to the Parish Church at Old Woking, a set of velvet horse trappings to his stepson, Henry Tudor suggesting a fondness for the young earl of Richmond. Stafford had been with Margaret when they visited the Herbert family who held Henry Tudor’s wardship during the first years of Edward IV’s reign (bought for the whopping sum of £1000). The couple had travelled from Bristol where Henry Stafford held land. There was a bay courser to his brother, the Earl of Wiltshire, another “grizzled” horse to his receiver-general, Reginald Bray who would go on to become Margaret Beaufort’s “Mr Fix-it” and general man of business. £160 for a chantry priest- a respectable one- to sing Masses for the repose of his soul. His body was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Pleshey near Chelmsford. The rest of his estate went to “my beloved Margaret”.
Margaret Beaufort must have been devastated. In addition to losing a husband that she appears to have loved, her son, now the only surviving Lancastrian claimant to the throne, had gone into precarious exile in France and Margaret was once again without a protector.
Norton, Elizabeth. (2011) Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty Stroud:Amberley Press.