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The Death of Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richard and Derby died on 29 June 1509 at the age of 66.

Like many women in 15th Century England, Margaret Beaufort had a very difficult life. Her father had died when Margaret was just an infant, leaving her as one of the most desired heiresses of her time, a playball in other man’s hands. She was betrothed as a little girl to the Duke of Suffolk’s son and an annulment was issued when she was around 9 years old, with the reason to marry her off to the King’s half-brother. She became a widow and mother at around 13 and was forced to give up her infant son’s custody before she was actually an adult herself. She would marry and be widowed twice more. She was a plotter and a prisoner in her last husband’s custody and pre-deceased her only son with just two months.


Margaret had made her last will the year before, on 6 June, suggesting she may have been in poor health for some time. According to Margaret’s confessor John Fisher, who held her funeral sermon, Margaret did continue to fast until the end of her life but her only concession was that she wore a hairshirt merely during the times she was feeling well enough. But in the weeks after her beloved son’s death, Margaret’s own health started to drastically deteriorate. Nevertheless, she was even present during the coronation festivities of her grandson and his wife Katherine of Aragon on 23 June. It was said that Margaret was seen weeping as she had also done at her son’s coronation - happy tears but also full of fear. Margaret attended the coronation banquette at Westminster Hall but fell ill after eating swan and retired to a place nearby. Knowing she had done all she possibly could for the future dynasty and that she didn’t have much longer to live, Margaret chose to stay within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, as the place she had chosen to be buried was her son’s Lady Chapel .

It was just two months before that Margaret’s only son, King Henry VII had died. As his most trusted councilor, Henry had appointed his mother as chief executor of his will, to make sure it was carried out the way he wanted. Although immediately proclaimed king, at 17 years old, the future Henry VIII, was still a minor at the time of his father’s death. Margaret had remained strong for the sake of her son and to ensure a smooth transition with the succession of her grandson. It was the day after Henry VIII’s 18th birthday and he officially became an adult that Margaret passed away. In a way, it was a fitting end to this remarkable lady. From the first until the last day, she had been beside her son along the way of his kingship and now that the next generation seemed ready enough to rule, Margaret was also ready to trust and let go.

Margaret was one of the last of her generation to survive the Wars of the Roses. She can be remembered as the mother of the Tudor Dynasty or as she styled herself from 1485: ‘My Lady the King's Mother’.

Margaret's fine tomb was made by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano (Torrigiani), who also made henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb effigies. The tomb has a portrait effigy in gilt bronze and shows Margaret in her old age.

Her epitaph in Latin was composed by Erasmus. It can be translated:

Margaret of Richmond, mother of Henry VII, grandmother of Henry VIII, who gave a salary to three monks of this convent and founded a grammar school at Wimborne, and to a preacher throughout England, and to two interpreters of Scripture, one at Oxford, the other at Cambridge, where she likewise founded two colleges, one to Christ, and the other to St John, his disciple. Died A.D.1509, III Kalends of July [29 June].


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