Beaufort, LADY MARGARET, Countess of Richmond and Derby, b. 1441; d, 1509, daughter and heiress of John Beaufort, first Duke of Somerset. Her father, the grandson of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and great-grandson of Edward III, having died when she was three years old, she was brought up by her mother with the greatest care and devotion. Married while a mere child to John de la Pole, son of the Duke of Suffolk, whose ward she was, she refused to ratify the union on attaining the years of discretion and was then given in marriage to Edmund ap Meredith ap Tudor, Earl of Richmond and brother of Henry VI, of whom, with his brother Jasper, she became the ward on Suffolk’s attainder. Edmund died (1456) a few months after the marriage, his posthumous son Henry, Earl of Richmond (afterwards Henry VII), being born January 28, 1456. In 1459 Margaret married Lord Henry Stafford, her cousin on both her father’s and mother’s side, who traced his descent from Henry III. He died in 1482. Her third husband was Thomas, Lord Stanley, afterwards created Earl of Derby. She was instrumental in bringing to an end the disastrous Wars of the Roses; her son, the head of the Lancastrian party, who, as a result of the victory of Bosworth (1485) became King Henry VII, took in marriage Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV.
Lady Margaret Beaufort was an exceedingly religious woman—”to God and to the Churche full obedient and tractable sechyng his honor and plesure full besyly” (Mornynge Remembraunce),—and a model of piety and devotion. Blessed John Fisher, who became her chaplain in 1502 and who had singular opportunities of understanding the nobleness of her character both as her spiritual director and as the instrument of her princely benefactions, bears testimony to her virtues and good works in the funeral oration preached at her Month’s Mind. All England, he says, had cause to mourn her death. The poor would miss her bounteous alms: the students of both universities, “to whom she was as a moder”, and the learned her patronage. The virtuous and devout lost in her a loving sister; religious and priests and clerks a powerful defender. Divine service “dayly was kept in her chappel with grate nombre of preests clerckes and children to her grate charge and cost”. She was used to recite the Divine Office, as well as the Office of Our Lady, and to assist at many Masses daily. She made a public vow of chastity before Fisher and was enrolled as a “sister” in many monastic houses, among others in those of the Charterhouse, Croyland, Durham, and Westminster. In her own establishment she provided for the education of numbers of young men at her own cost, for many of whom she used her influence with great wisdom and discernment in the matter of ecclesiastical preferment.
Besides her private works of charity and of benevolence, and her benefactions to religious houses, she was a munificent patron of learning, establishing Reader-ships (now Professorships) in Divinity at Oxford and Cambridge (Royal Licenses, 1496, 1497: Charters, September 8, 1503); and, in 1504, she made provision for a preacher to deliver six yearly sermons “to the praise and honor of the Holy Name of Jesus and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. By her liberality God’s House at Cambridge was refounded as Christ’s College (Royal License, 1505) for a master, twelve fellows, and forty-seven scholars. St. John’s College, Cambridge, was also established, in the place of the ancient foundation of St. John’s Hospital, by provision made in her will, in a codicil to which she states her intention of founding and suitably endowing a college for a master and fifty scholars. She had a tender devotion to the Real Presence and translated into English and caused to be printed the fourth book of the “Imitation of Christ”, which treats of the Blessed Sacrament. The “Mornynge Remembraunce” refers to the burning faith with which she received the Body of the Lord upon her deathbed. She also her-self translated “The Mirroure of Golde for the sinful soule”. Historians agree in extolling her many signal qualities and virtues, criticizing, if anything the “devotion those days afforded”, the “errors of the age she lived in”. The Catholic sees the important part she played in the civil and political history of her time, but perceives in her as well a singularly high example of a Christian life, in which a robust and sturdy faith bore its natural and wholesome fruits in deeds of liberality and benevolence.