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All the English queens after 1348 seem to have given gifts to St Stephen's and its canons, as did many more humble women. To trace the influence of women on St Stephen's, we can focus on the stories of three Margarets.

The first is someone whom almost no-one has heard of. Margaret Swift was the widow of a London merchant in the early fifteenth century who inherited lands and property when he died. Even after she remarried, she wanted to make sure that her first husband, Peter Swift, and her parents were properly remembered with yearly church services. Margaret gave cash and a house with gardens in Lambeth, just across the river from Westminster, to pay for those prayers.  We don't know why she wanted services at St Stephen's, but she was prepared to spend a substantial amount of money on them.

Margaret of Anjou was the queen of Henry VI in the mid fifteenth century. She didn't have an easy life, especially during the Wars of the Roses, but according to some historians she ran the country for part of the 1440s and 1450s. Queen Margaret regularly attended services at St Stephen's when she was at Westminster.  Even more importantly, she commissioned a new stained glass window for the chapel of St Mary le Pew within the college in 1452.  According to her accounts, the window was to show Margaret and Henry VI kneeling in prayer before the Virgin Mary, but it was very much her own gift to the college.

Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond was the power behind the throne of her son, Henry VII. ‘My Lady the King's Mother', as she was known, was a formidable political presence at Henry's court and executor of his will in 1509. Her piety and interest in education meant that she took a close interest in St Stephen's, ensuring that her protégés- such Hugh Oldham and Christopher Urswick- were made canons of the college. She also founded a college herself, Christ's College in Cambridge and took a keen interest in Tattershall College, near to her home of Collyweston in Northamptonshire. 

 

Find out more about St Mary le Pew.

 

 

Last updated April 2017

Biography

You can access biographies of

Margaret of Anjou

Henry VI

Margaret Beaufort

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Also within Living Heritage

Discover more about the history of Women and Parliament