As Mother’s Day is coming up and this month is Women’s History Month, we thought we’d shine a light on some of the incredible mothers from history that have shaped the course of life as we know it. From queens to politicians to housewives, here are some of the incredible women we should celebrate alongside our own mums this March.

Margaret Beaufort

Mother, manipulator, King maker, Margaret Beaufort is a fascinating woman. As a descendant from the Lancaster line of the royal family, Margaret Beaufort was born in Bedfordshire the daughter of the Duke of Somerset.

At the age of 3 she was betrothed to John de la Pole, the heir to the dukedom of Suffolk, however, after he was arrested for treason, the betrothal was annulled and Margaret was placed under the wardship of Henry VI’s half brothers, Jasper and Edmund Tudor, with the intention that she would become Edmund’s wife. Once she turned 12, she was married to Edmund Tudor, who was around 24 years old. With the War of the Roses in full force, Margaret was taken under the care of Jasper Tudor and lived at Pembroke Castle, while Edmund was held captive in Carmarthen, he died of plague, leaving a 13 year old Margaret pregnant and widowed.

On 28th January 1457, the teenager gave birth to Henry Tudor, who would be a Lancastrian heir to the throne. Less than a year later, Margaret was married to Sir Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, her cousin. They moved to Woking Palace, while her son remained under the care of his uncle Jasper in Wales. Civil War meant that Jasper and the young Henry had to flee to France, she wouldn’t see her son again for 14 years.

During the Civil War, Margaret used her talent and cunning to create alliances and political advantages, finally marrying again in 1472, this time to Lord Thomas Stanley. This marriage was purely political, as it allowed her to enter the court of King Edward IV. While there she gained a close relationship with his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and became godmother to the princesses.

After Edward IV died, his brother, Richard III, hid the heir to the throne in the Tower of London and took control of the country, however, Margaret conspired to put her own son on the throne. Henry Tudor returned to Britain and supported by the various factions Margaret had manipulated, beat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. He became king and the Tudor dynasty was born.

Margaret went above and beyond her duties of Queen Mother, even pulling rank on her daughter in law, Elizabeth of York, daughter of the late Edward IV. She would go on to outlive her son, dying just a day after her grandson, Henry VIII’s 18th birthday.

To this day, she is remembered as being the instigator of the Tudor dynasty and is regarded as one of the most successful kingmakers.

Emmeline Pankhurst

From kingmakers to law makers, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters are famous for their work in gaining votes for women.

Emmeline was born in Manchester into a wealthy family and as such, received an education that was much more diverse than other women of her time. Her father was a self made man and worked his way from humble beginnings to successful business man and instilling an interest in politics into his daughter.

At the age of 20, she met Richard Pankhurst, a barrister. The pair married and would go on to have five children. Though present in their children’s lives, the pair continued to maintain their work in politics and society.

Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League in 1889 and inspired thousands of women to join in the cause for suffrage. In October 1903, she helped establish the WSPU, or the Women’s Social and Political Union, better known as the Suffragettes, who’s campaign of domestic terrorism drew attention to the issue of women’s suffrage. Two of her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, were also prolific members of the Suffragettes and together with hundreds of other women, would smash windows, bomb postboxes and commit to hunger strikes when imprisoned.

After the outbreak of WWI, the Suffragettes paused their campaign to help with the war effort, something that caused strife among the Pankhursts as Sylvia in particular was a pacificist and did not agree with her mother’s stance on the war.

By 1918, WWI had ended and the government moved to bring in the Representation of the People Act, which allowed women over 30 the vote.

Emmeline continued to fight for women’s rights and equality until her death in 1928. Today she is immortalised with a statue in Victoria Tower Gardens near the Houses of Parliament and a Blue Plaque on the home she lived in at Clarendon Road. Her great granddaughter, Helen Pankhurst continues to fight for women’s rights. 

Princess Diana

Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, was known all over the world for her work campaigning for children’s charities, conservation, raising awareness for AIDs and landmines. She was born at Park House, Sandringham, the fourth child of the Viscount and Viscountess of Althorp. Her family had been connected to the British Royal family for generations. She gained the title of Lady Spencer after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer.

She met her future husband, Charles Prince of Wales (now Charles III) when she was 16. The pair went on to marry four years later and together had two children Prince William and Prince Harry. Diana famously made sure to raise the boys with as much normalcy as possible, taking them on trips to Disneyland, McDonalds and doing the school run. Even after her divorce from Charles, she continued to work for charities and campaigning for cancer treatments, removal of landmines and raising awareness of AIDs, gaining the love and support of the British public.

She was constantly hounded by the press and when she embarked on a relationship with Dodi Fayed, the son of Harrod’s owner Mohammed Al Fayed, became an almost daily fixture in the news. Her death in a car accident in 1997 has been blamed on the car being chased by paparazzi.

Dido Elizabeth Belle

A British heiress, Dido was born into slavery in the British West Indies. Her mother was enslaved and her father was a British naval officer, Sir John Lindsay, who was later knighted and promoted to admiral. In 1765, when she was just four years old, she travelled with her father to England, where she was raised by his uncle the Earl of Mansfield.

Dido was raised as a free gentlewoman and lived with the Earl for 30 years, who provided an annuity to her, making her an heiress.

At the time, it was virtually unheard of for a mixed race child to be raised as part of the aristocracy, let alone be educated, however Dido was both. As she grew up she took on the responsibility of managing much of the land at the Earl’s home of Kenwood House, something usually done by a male clerk.

After Lord Mansfield’s death, Dido married Jean Davinier, a Frenchman from Ducey, who was working as a valet. The pair went on to have three sons, a pair of twins, Charles and John and then a younger child, William.

Two of her children would go on to be employed by the East India Trading Company and another joined the British army, all three received a private education, much like their mother.

Her legacy is popularised at the home of the Earl of Mansfield, Kenwood House.

Isabella Beeton

Author of the most famous cookery book ever published, Mrs Beeton became a household name in 1861. In just 7 years, her book had sold nearly two million copies and her publications continue to be popular to this day. She even featured in the Oxford English Dictionary after the term Mrs Beeton became a generic name for domestic authority.

Isabella was born in London to merchant parents, however at the age of four, her father died and her mother, unable to cope, sent her children to live with various relatives for several years. Isabella would return home and live with her mother and new stepfather, the clerk of Epsom Races and would help bring up her younger siblings.

She attended boarding school in both Islington and Germany before becoming a baker in Surrey. She married publisher Samuel Beeton and he soon convinced her to write for one of his publications, the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, which was aimed at young middle class women and worked helping translate French fiction for periodicals.

Around this time, the pair welcomed their first child, who sadly died a few months later. Isabella worked through this loss by writing cookery columns and testing recipes for the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.

The Beetons would go on to have another three sons, with only two surviving to adulthood.

While working on the cookery columns, Isabella had the idea of collating recipes into one book and so Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was born. The complete version was published in 1861 and became one of the biggest publishing events of the 19th century. The book contained over 900 recipes, as well as advice on fashion, child rearing, first aid and other practical advice. In 1864, the Beetons began working on a follow up, an abridged version of the successful Household Management entitled the Dictionary of Every Day Cookery. During the proofing process, Isabella went into labour with her final child, however the following day she began to feel unwell and died a few days later. She was just 28.

Mary Seacole

We can’t leave out someone known as Mother Seacole can we? Mary Seacole was considered a mother by the many that she nursed back to health.

Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica; her Scottish father was a lieutenant in the British Army and her mother was known locally as a healer.

In 1836, she married Edwin Seacole, however he died just a few years later, shortly followed by Mary’s mother. This led her to absorb herself in work and would open her home to European visitors to Jamaica, where she treated and nursed patients suffering with cholera.

It is widely believed that Mary was the first British practicing nurse with advanced medical skills. After moving to Britain, she tried to be included in the nursing contingent for the Crimean War but was refused. Undeterred, she travelled to the war zone independently and set up her own hotel, where she tended to the wounded. She became popular among service personnel, who worked to fundraise for her after the war.

During this time, Mary adopted a fourteen year old, Sally, who was often described as being her daughter.

At the end of the war, Mary moved to England destitute and in poor health, opening a short lived canteen. Many of the soldiers that she treated during the Crimean War, hearing of her plight, campaigned to raise money to help her regain her footing. Once settled, she became acquainted with the royal family, becoming the personal masseuse to the Princess of Wales, who was suffering with rheumatism.

She passed away at the age of 75 in Paddington and a blue plaque commemorating her work can be found in London’s Soho Square.

Of course, these are just a handful of the amazing mothers from history. To find out more about incredible women throughout British history, click here.




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