This is a thorough, straightforward biography of Margaret Beaufort (1443 – 1509), the mother of King Henry VII, by historian Nicola Tallis. I had to read it carefully because it’s densely populated with facts and is not particularly easy to understand. It’s different from my usual non-fiction read because it lacks an engaging narrative voice. It’s a serious history book. I quite enjoyed it, in a studious sort of way. I certainly learned a lot and I understand Tudor history better now. It was interesting to read this after the historical novel Cecily by Annie Garthwaite, as we follow the other side – Lancaster, not York.
The book follows the triumphs and tragedies of Margaret’s life, from her childhood (or lack of – she was a mother and a widow by the age of 13) until her later years, when she took a vow of chastity and founded two Cambridge Colleges. She comes across as strong, yet kind, very pious but also fond of entertainment and jewels. The book is really a defence of her character, whom the author obviously admires. Margaret is not on every page of the book – basically it’s a history of the Wars of the Roses and the founding of the Tudor monarchy but from Margaret’s perspective. Very often, we don’t know what she was doing at any one time. A common phrase in the biography is ‘it is not recorded…’ but the author does her best to piece evidence together using contemporary sources to conjecture how Margaret may have responded to events.
If you are well-versed in this era of history, it may not be worth reading this book, as it’ll tell you what you already know. However, if your grasp of this era is a bit vague and you’re interested to find out more about Margaret Beaufort, it’s worth reading. The book is beautifully produced, with two colour plate sections, plus family trees, dramatis personae, timeline, places to visit, notes, bibliography and index.
First published in 2019 by Michael O’Mara Books.