Post-classical history




On 2 October 1471 the parson of Old Woking, Walter Baker, walked up from the priest’s house to the Old Hall. One may still trace his route. No doubt ‘Sir Walter’ (as he would have been known in the village, after the custom of the time) was in a hurry. Henry Stafford, whose new will he had been summoned to witness, was clearly very ill indeed. Presumably the parson gave him the last sacraments, anointing him with the oil of extreme unction and administering the viaticum.

Sir Henry’s premonition before Barnet had proved to be only too well justified. During the battle he was so badly wounded that there was no further need for him to prove his loyalty to York by riding with King Edward on the Tewkesbury campaign. Margaret had hurried up to London three days after the ‘field’ at Barnet, sending a mounted servant to search for him on the battlefield. Two days after the parson’s visit, Henry died from the wounds he had received that spring.

In his will Henry Stafford did not forget the parish church of Old Woking, bequeathing ten shillings to make up for any tithes that might have been overlooked, together with another twenty shillings for repairs to the church’s fabric. He left a set of velvet horse-trappings to his stepson, the Earl of Richmond, a bay courser to his brother, the Earl of Wiltshire, another horse (‘grizzled’) to his receiver-general, Reginald Bray, and £160 for a chantry priest to sing Masses for the repose of his soul. The rest of his estate went to ‘my beloved wife, Margaret, countess of Richmond’.

Certainly, judging from the ‘morning remembrance’ preached after her own death by her admiring friend, the saintly Bishop Fisher, Margaret had many likeable qualities.

She was also of singular easiness to be spoken unto, and full courteous answer she would make to all that came unto her. Of marvellous gentleness she was unto all folks but especially unto her own, whom she trusted and loved right tenderly. Unkind she would not be unto no creature, nor forgetful of any kindness or service done to her . . .

In addition, Fisher says that she was highly intelligent. ‘A ready wit she had also to conceive all things, albeit they were right dark.’

Her husband was lucky to die in his bed. Because of his family’s friendship with poor Henry VI – and that of his wife’s family – he might well have fought for the Lancastrians at Barnet or Tewkesbury, to be killed or attainted. Fortunately for him and for Margaret, he had made the right choice.

As it was, Margaret had lost yet more kindred during the recent upheavals. Besides her Beaufort cousins, she mourned too for Edward of Lancaster and for the murdered King Henry. Historians of the Wars of the Roses cannot take into account the anguish of the bereaved women who waited for news from the battlefields, since no one thought it worthwhile to record their feelings.

By staying in Wales, Jasper Tudor had escaped both Barnet and Tewkesbury. If he wished to remain alive, his only chance was to flee overseas. Margaret shared his opinion, sending a warning to her son Henry that he must on no account trust King Edward and accept a pardon but should leave Britain at once – Edward had beheaded the Duke of Somerset after promising him a pardon.

On 2 June 1471, taking Henry Tudor with him, Jasper sailed from Tenby in Pembrokeshire on board a merchantman. Bound for France, their ship was blown off course and they landed in Brittany instead. The Duchy was almost an independent country, Duke Francis II being often at odds with King Louis. One can see with hindsight that the Tudors were lucky to have arrived in Brittany; the French would probably have sold them to Edward IV, who was eager to lay hands on Henry Tudor – ‘the only imp now left of Henry VI’s brood’. Even so, Duke Francis promised the English King that he would keep them under safe guard; they were separated, their servants being replaced by Bretons. Lady Margaret had little hope of ever seeing her son again.

It may be thought surprising that, after what had apparently been a happy marriage, Margaret should take a fourth husband within less than a year of Henry Stafford’s death. Her most recent (1992) biographers find something unseemly about her remarrying in such haste. They point out that in fifteenth-century England mourning was supposed to last for at least a year. However, so great a landowner as the Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, was a special case; the King might well force someone uncongenial on her since she would never be allowed to stay single – if she wanted to choose her new partner, she had to move quickly.1

Accordingly, in June 1472 – still under 30 – she married Thomas, Lord Stanley, probably at his family seat of Knowsley in Lancashire. (One of the trustees of the complicated marriage settlement was Dr John Morton, the newly appointed Master of the Rolls.) Born in about 1435, a widower whose late wife had been yet another sister of the Earl of Warwick, he was the head of a recently established but very powerful family with vast estates and a large affinity in Cheshire and Lancashire. Subtle and ambitious, he was one of the Wars’ most determined survivors, a champion trimmer who would one day become known as the ‘wily fox’. For all his wiliness, he was nonetheless deeply respected by successive monarchs.

He had played an ambiguous, even a treacherous role in 1459–61 and again in 1470–71. The Pastons noted how, when Warwick and Clarence fled from King Edward, ‘hoping to have had help and succour from the Lord Stanley . . . they had little favour’. Yet during the Readeption he had rallied with apparent enthusiasm to King Henry VI, vigorously besieging the Yorkist stronghold of Hornby. However, he had then been conspicuously absent from the battles at Barnet and Tewkesbury, although he controlled an affinity just as large as that of Lord Hastings – in 1481 he would bring 3,000 men to fight against the Scots.

Stanley’s brother, Sir William, was still more slippery. He had been canny enough to join Edward at Nottingham in March 1471. William was always more of a gambler than brother Thomas. One day this tendency would prove his ruin.

Ignoring the family’s somewhat tarnished reputation, Edward IV appointed Thomas Stanley to be the Lord Steward of his household, the august dignitary who was theoretically in charge of the dining hall, the kitchen and the pantry. These departments must be distinguished from those of the Lord Chamberlain, William Hastings, whose own jealously guarded responsibilities were the sleeping quarters. It was an office of very great prestige, and clearly much prized by a man quite so ambitious. In consequence Thomas Stanley was frequently at court and Margaret had to accompany him. As the Lord Steward’s wife, she enjoyed the privilege of carrying Queen Elizabeth’s train on state occasions. Since Thomas’s son had married the Queen’s niece, he was on excellent terms with the Woodvilles. In 1480 Lady Margaret was asked to carry King Edward’s seventh daughter, Bridget, at her christening at Eltham Palace, which was a sure sign of the royal favour.

Although she spent some time at her new husband’s houses – especially Knowsley, where her officials were given their own rooms – she kept Woking. She continued to visit the West Country, notably Sampford Peverell near Tiverton in Devon. Her residence here was the old Peverell Castle. Nothing is left of it, though she would recognize the church whose south aisle she rebuilt.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!