Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond
Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, was buried in the south aisle of Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. She was born on 31st May 1443, daughter of John (Beaufort), Duke of Somerset and his wife Margaret (Beauchamp). She was descended from one of the illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (a son of Edward III) and his mistress Katherine Swynford. They were given the name Beaufort after Gaunt's castle in the Champagne region of France.
Margaret married firstly John de la Pole (marriage dissolved 1453), secondly Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond (eldest son of Owen Tudor and Queen Catherine de Valois, widow of Henry V), thirdly Sir Henry Stafford and lastly Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. She is best known as the Lady Margaret Beaufort. By her second husband she was mother of Henry VII. She was the foundress of two colleges at Cambridge – Christ's and St John's – and of Chairs of Divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge. Margaret was also the patroness of William Caxton, England's first printer and contributed to the endowment of her son Henry's chapel at the Abbey.
She died on 29th June 1509 at the Abbot of Westminster's house a few days after attending the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII. On 3rd July her body was moved from Cheyneygates (lodgings within the Abbot's House) to the Abbey Refectory where it lay surrounded by candles until the burial in the south aisle of Henry VII's chapel on 9th July. Her friend and confessor Bishop Fisher, who preached her funeral sermon at her month's mind, said of her "Every one that knew her loved her, and everything that she said or did became her".
Her fine tomb is by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano (Torrigiani), with a portrait effigy in gilt bronze of the Countess in her old age, wearing a widow's dress with a hood and long mantle. Her head rests on two pillows, with a design of the portcullis and Tudor rose, and the delicate and characteristic wrinkled hands are raised in prayer. The effigy was made using a wax cast technique where a secondary mould is made from a wax cast allowing intricate work to be done. Her face was probably modelled on a death mask. The hands, wimple and trimming of her mantle show traces of colour. At her feet is the yale (a mythical beast with swivel horns, although the horns have been lost), family crest of the Beaufort's. The surviving section of the effigy plate shows the Beaufort portcullis and the knot of the Stafford family. The tomb chest is of black marble with sculpted bronze shields of arms around the base. At the west and east ends are the arms of two of her husbands (Edmund and Thomas), on the south side are the arms of Henry VII and his queen, Henry V and his queen and the Royal Arms with a label and on the north side the arms are those of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Margaret's parents John and Margaret and a lost shield was probably the arms of her grandparents.
The inscription 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].
The Bilbao iron grille around the tomb is by English smith Cornelius Symondson and was finished in 1529. It was once elaborately painted and decorated with coats of arms and other ornaments. The grille, together with several others, was sold by James Wyatt on behalf of the Dean and Chapter in 1823. It was re-discovered and purchased in 1914 by the National Art Collections Fund and presented to the Abbey and replaced around the tomb. An elegy for the funeral rites written by John Skelton, Poet Laureate, was hung near her tomb and the text is recorded in William Camden's guide to the Abbey published in 1600.
Prayer Book and travelling chests
The private illuminated prayer book of Lady Margaret was presented to the Abbey Library by Viscount Dillon in 1923 (MS.39). Two wooden travelling chests, thought to have belonged to her, remain in the Abbey's possession. One was used to house the indentures for the building of Henry VII's chapel.
The prayer book and one of the chests can be seen in the new Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries in the triforium of the Abbey.
Dimensions of tomb in metres: length 2.30, width 1.20, height 1.55
See entry for her half-brother - John Welles
The King's Mother by M.K. Jones and Malcolm Underwood, Cambridge, 1992
Contracts for the tomb of Lady Margaret Beaufort (also the grille) by R.F. Scott, 1915 (originals in the archives of St John's College, Cambridge)
Westminster Abbey. The Lady Chapel of Henry VII by T. Tatton Brown & Richard Mortimer, 2003
Royal Tombs of Medieval England by Mark Duffy, 2003
The Anglo-Florentine Renaissance by C.M. Sicca & L.A. Waldman, 2012
The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham 1394-1521, by Carole Rawcliffe, 1978
Monuments in Westminster Abbey. What has been done to two of them... by Edmund Oldfield [Beaufort and Henry VII], Archaeological Journal 105, 1869
Medieval manuscripts in British libraries by N.R. Ker, 1969 (for prayer book description)
WA Library Langley Collection 876*
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
Image © 2022 Dean and Chapter of Westminster