Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509)

by Dr Frank Woodman

Educationalist, scholar and philanthropist, Margaret Beaufort was the richest woman in English Medieval history and used her wealth to promote education and religion. For a time she was considered heir to the throne by the unfortunate Henry VI, and even when this threat passed, her son Henry Tudor (her only child from the first of three marriages) was seen as the only alternative to the Yorkist King Richard III.  After the Tudor victory in 1485, Margaret assumed the title of the King’s Mother and set about supporting and financing a variety of educational, charitable and religious projects. The sponsor of Caxton and early printing, she herself translated and published the Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis), while through her confessor, St. John Fisher, she was drawn into the world of Cambridge University . Margaret was the principal patron for the rebuilding of the University Church (Great St. Mary’s) and in 1505, she re-founded Godshouse as Christ’s College, fulfilling the promise of her brother-in-law Henry VI. Margaret Beaufort encouraged her son to promote the successful completion of King’s College Chapel and went on to establish the foundation of St. John’s College , completed after her death in 1509. Despite her ground-breaking role as a woman in education, Margaret remained deeply conservative in her outlook. She would have had little sympathy for the New Learning of the early sixteenth-century, although, ironically, her founding of University Lectureships at both Oxford and Cambridge in 1502 proved but one way in which such new ideas could be spread.

On 27 June 2009, almost to the day the 500th Anniversary of her death, Christ’s College celebrated the extraordinary life and generosity of Lady Margaret Beaufort.  We were delighted to welcome Dr David Starkey, Dr Francis Woodman, Professor Lisa Jardine, Dr Charles Saumarez Smith, Miss Penelope Keith, Professor Quentin Skinner, Professor David Reynolds and Professor Geoffrey Martin, on this day of celebration.

Further information about Lady Margaret Beaufort

Jones, M & Underwood, M. The King’s Mother, CUP 1992