Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, was born on 31 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 29 June 1509 at the Abbot of Westminster’s house a few days after attending the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII. On 3 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 9 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, 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 Tudor badges and the delicate and characteristic wrinkled hands are raised in prayer. At her feet is the yale (a mythical beast with swivel horns), family crest of the Beaufort’s. The tomb chest is of black marble with sculpted bronze shields of arms around the base. 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.
The private prayer book of Lady Margaret was presented to the Abbey Library by Viscount Dillon in 1923. Two wooden chests, thought to have belonged to her, remain in the Abbey’s possession.
Photos of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
M.K.Jones and Malcolm Underwood: “The King’s Mother”, Cambridge, 1992.
R.F.Scott: “Contracts for the tomb of Lady Margaret Beaufort”, (Archaeologia, 1915)
T.Tatton-Brown and Richard Mortimer: “Westminster Abbey. The Lady Chapel of Henry VII”, 2003.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, for Margaret, her father and grandfather.