Book Review: Uncrowned Queen. The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Matriarch by Nicola Tallis

By Gabby Storey

The image of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England, is often one of a somewhat dominant, stubborn, and determined royal mother who sought to ensure her son gained the throne and stayed there. Tallis’ biographical study of Margaret offers a compelling insight into this royal matriarch, uncovering her life outside of queenly motherhood and her epitome of ‘Uncrowned Queen’ makes her an interesting study for one who was not formally queen, but arguably held the power of one.

Often known in popular history as a religious fanatic who may have had a hand in the murder of the Princes in the Tower (the young sons of Edward IV) in 1483, Tallis demonstrates through a substantive and detailed analysis of both the sources and historiography that Margaret’s status as an heiress and descendant of Edward III, and the results of her marriage to Edmund Tudor, count of Richmond, determined her life’s journey. Married to Edmund shortly after her twelfth birthday, Margaret son bore her one and only son, Henry. Twice widowed and a mother at the age of thirteen against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses, it is perhaps unsurprising that Margaret grew up quickly and prioritised the welfare and needs of her son.

Tallis’ discussion of the possibilities for Margaret’s further lack of children is novel and interesting: she speculates that it is entirely plausible Margaret chose not to have further children. The potential of damage, both physical and psychological, from Henry’s birth, as well as sex at such a young age, are all considerable factors in why there were no further heirs of Margaret. When motherhood was viewed as the primary and an essential role for medieval women, even more so for those of status, it is worth pondering the reasons behind Margaret’s role and life with regards to maternity.

Dr Tallis brings her wealth of expertise as a medieval historian to this biography: deeply engaging and well researched, readers will come away from this study with not only an original understanding of the life of one of history’s most influential queen mothers, but also with a wider appreciation of the dynasticism and ties of the royal and noble houses that were brought to the centre stage during the wars of fifteenth century England.

Divided into three sections, the first part of this study explores Margaret’s life prior to the birth of Henry, bringing together and centring Margaret’s role as a significant heiress and pawn in the early years of the Wars of the Roses. The second section uncovers Margaret’s life from Henry’s birth until his accession as king, and the third and final section situates Margaret in arguably her most famous era, that of mother of the king.

Tallis’ work ought to be praised for her crucial unpicking of many of the myths that surround Margaret. Applying a thoroughly critical appraisal of the available source material, Tallis weaves an excellent biography of a woman to whom history has often been unkind. Demonstrating Margaret’s activities beyond her piety, Tallis uncovers Margaret’s inspiration of loyalty and her generosity and kindness amongst her household [236]. In this we gain a richer picture of Margaret, one who was not only a queen mother or a devout woman, but a noblewoman who cared for her extensive household.

To come full circle, Margaret was also a politically astute and effective dynast, taking a strong interest in the alliances and allegiances of her son and grandchildren. In addition to this was a woman who was far more complex than is often perceived at an initial glance, and as with her other works, historian Nicola Tallis demonstrates that there is far more to the lives of medieval royal women that at first appears.  

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