OF VIRTUE RARE: Margaret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor by Linda Simon

OF VIRTUE RARE: Margaret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor

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Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, is remembered in her own tight as a patron of religious scholarship--which might make her an interesting biographical subject, were there more known about her life. Simon's prissy, mildly feminist little ""biography"" is roughly one-third supposition, one-third background detail, one-third Yorkist/Lancastrian and early Tudor politics. Margaret's vita can be briefly put: a claimant to the throne through her grandfather, John of Gaunt, she was wed in 1455 to Edmund Tudor and in 1457 gave birth (after Edmund's death) to her only child, Henry, an instant Lancastrian hope; separated from him by the Wars of Roses (when he was only five), she plotted his seizure of the throne from Yorkist Richard III--meanwhile marrying first Henry Stafford and later (""to benefit. . . her son"") the influential Thomas Stanley; upon Henry's victory at Bosworth and assumption of the throne, she became the assiduous manager of his households (as well as her several), an exemplar of religious devotion (she is known to have worn hair shirts; ""at confession. . . she wept copiously""; at 53, she took a vow of chastity), and, as the ally of John Fisher, a factor in the anti-Wycliffite revival of religious teaching commonly known--though not to Simon--as the New Learning (she herself underwrote Christ's College and St. John's College, Cambridge). Given those facts, it would be reasonable to see Margaret as--if nothing else--a zealot; on no evident ground but flowery tributes, Simon simply presents her as a paragon: gentle, pious, kind--albeit intellectual and ascetic. On her occasional appearances, we are constantly being told what was in her mind (""the opulence of the feast did not impress Margaret""--who, thanks to a little more mind-reading, was not ""missed. . . when she departed early""). The overall absence of source-notes (only direct quotes are footnoted) makes incomprehensible Simon's dating of Margaret's birth two years earlier (1441) than usual. The general slackness of scholarship gives us a Richard III in the evil image of his worst detractors. The naive use of information (and need to fill out the text) presents us with explanations of how teeth were cleaned, feet were washed, etc. The writing is feeble (""a deep, untenable sorrow"") and prefabricated: ""No longer did she feel she could not control her fate. . . ."" Insubstantial and insipid.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin