Glorious Gables


Written by Caroline Leibowitz 

Art by Sophie Cassidy 

Coming from the United States, I have to admit going to a school that looks like a castle for a month was pretty damn cool. Last summer I was fortunate enough to get to study abroad at Christ’s College, which is a part of the greater Cambridge University. Before my arrival, I conducted research about the college to prepare for my trip, which is when I learned that Lady Margaret Beaufort endowed the college. Clicking on her Wikipedia page, my interest was piqued when I read that she was the mother of the Tudor line. As a child, the grotesqueness of Henry VIII was morbidly intriguing, so I had some basic knowledge regarding the history of the Tudors, but not much outside of the create-a-new-sect-of-Christianity-to-use-more-women Henry. I also was impressed by the posthumous portrait that adorns her page: she sits looking off to the distance, book in hand, with a serious look on her face, the Christ’s College crest in the top right corner and modest dress. The hood she is wearing comes to a point at the top and frames her face in a triangle, resembling a really cool fashionable tent.

The faculty at Christ’s College care deeply for their founder, who wouldn’t have even been able to step foot on the college she essentially created. Beaufort felt strongly about education, and especially religious education. It was said she put her dedication to the church at the forefront of her priorities, only slightly ahead of her obsession with ensuring the political success of her son, Henry VII, who would go on to be the first Tudor monarch. Sounds about right for the Middle Ages: go to church and secure kinghood for someone by potentially unjust means. Margaret endured an excruciating childhood because she was married away by her father when she was between the ages of one and three. Beaufort would go her entire life belonging to a man, which, although this is a concept we have normalized for the period, is abnormal. Women would marry young, but in Beaufort’s case, being married potentially before she could walk was not the norm. This first marriage was annulled due to concerns over spouses being too closely related – yikes…Infants can get married but at least an incest line was drawn (occasionally).

Beaufort’s second marriage at age 12 was to Edmund Tudor; thus, the Tudor line was to begin. Edmund died during the Wars of the Roses after catching the plague while in captivity, leaving his 13-year-old wife pregnant and widowed. Too young to birth a child, the delivery of her first and only child, Henry Tudor, left a young Margaret traumatized. To reiterate, while we tend to accept this sort of situation as “a part of that time,” it was not. Beaufort birthed a child far earlier than her body could handle and the fact that she lived was miraculous.

After this point, despite her continual marriages, the only thing that seemed to be on Beaufort’s mind was getting her son to the top. Who could blame her? She was afforded no power of her own and had been the wife of someone else for her entire life. The only way she could seek any kind of satisfaction in obtaining power (outside of the satisfaction that came with being a devout Catholic of course) would be through her son – and she was going to get it. 

Ye Olde Medieval Rumor Mill was spinning often on the topic of Lady Beaufort. 

She was characterized as conniving, domineering, and even murderous, while at the same time (as described by her confessor John Fisher) “gentyle,” and “of syngular Easyness to be spoken unto.” Accounts of Beaufort vary greatly, and while it would be impossible to know every concrete detail about Margaret Beaufort, we do know some things for sure. She had so much to overcome, but dedicated much of her time and resources to help others secure an education, and arguably my favorite Beaufort bit, she is always depicted in the most fashionable style of her time: wearing a gable hood. The gable hood was a popular headdress of the early to-mid-1500s, given its name from the pointed shape reminiscent of a house. Another style common for the Tudors at the time was the French hood, introduced to the English by Mary Tudor Queen of France (a Tudor woman forced to marry a husband more than 30 years older than her), and would become associated with the infamous Anne Boleyn. This would never have been seen on Margaret, though, as it showed more hair making it less modest, and the style would be negatively and sexistly associated with immoral women. It is interesting to note that Margaret wore the simplest gable hood, with just the pointed hood, lappets, and veil, with an undercap to cover all her hair (likely due to her image as a devout Catholic), but many women adorned their hoods with more complex designs and jewels attached.

For a woman who was said to be focused on worshipping God and stepping over whoever she needed to to get her son on the throne, she was privy to the trends of the time. With all that I learned about Beaufort, this detail grounded her and gave her more personality I could begin to understand. At the end of the day, Beaufort was forced into marriage while she was a baby, against all odds delivered an infant of her own at the age of 13, did what she could to support higher learning, and had very particular tastes when it came to fashion (obviously keeping it modest though, keeping to her strong Catholic beliefs). At a time when women had almost no autonomy, Beaufort was steadfast and of course rocking a sick hood while funding a college that would go on to produce the founder of the theory of evolution (slightly ironic), Charles Darwin, author of Paradise Lost, John Milton, and randomly enough Sacha Baron Cohen among others.

When examining the lives of figures of the past, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine them as real people because the times in which they lived contrast so vastly from our own. Small details such as how Beaufort styled herself to stay current, however, can provide a personal connection to an otherwise faraway character and give a voice to the stereotyped evil queen caricature when she was likely just a woman trying to regain some amount of control over her tumultuous life.

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