The Tudors would have remained a family of ordinary nobles were it not for the indomitable Margaret Beaufort. As the mother of Henry Tudor (Henry VII), an upstart king, with a tenuous claim to the throne, who won his crown on the battlefield, she understood the importance of establishing the Tudor dynasty as a force to be reckoned with.
A mother and widow by the age of twelve, Margaret Beaufort managed to place herself, through marriage, into a position from which she could pull the strings to eventually see her son crowned. The English throne had been contested for decades, passing between the houses of York and Lancaster in an endless bloody struggle and it was Margaret who managed to broker a marriage between the Lancastrian Henry and Elizabeth of York, thereby uniting the warring houses.
Once Henry VII was on the throne she ran the royal household with a rod of iron, setting down codes of behaviour and helping negotiate illustrious and powerful marriages for her royal grandchildren to create alliances across Europe: the eldest Arthur to Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon; Margaret to James IV of Scotland; Mary to Louis XII of France and we all know what became of younger brother Henry.
The eldest daughter of Henry VIII with his first wife Catherine of Aragon (so the granddaughter of Margaret Beaufort) is remembered as Bloody Mary. This is somewhat unfair as, though it is true 280 people were burned for heresy in her four-year reign, many other monarchs of the period were responsible for equally brutal punishment regimes, indeed her younger sister Elizabeth ordered the execution of no less than 600 in the aftermath of a Catholic uprising in the north of England alone.
Mary’s route to the throne was not straightforward and she was compelled to raise an army to overthrow her young cousin Lady Jane Grey, who had been named as her brother Edward VI’s successor. Staunchly papist, Mary dragged England back to Catholicism kicking and screaming, re-establishing papal power and marrying her cousin Philip of Spain. Unfortunately this marriage was the source of much anxiety as the English worried about becoming an annex of Spain. An uprising ensued but Mary stood her ground and quelled the rebels gaining the respect of her people.
But Mary’s Spanish marriage caused England to join in Spain’s European war, which ultimately led to the loss of Calais (the last English territory on the continent) and her lack of an heir meant that when she died she had no choice but to pass the crown to her popular Protestant sister, thwarting her hopes of a Catholic England.
Mary Tudor and her reign are explored in my novel Sisters of Treason.