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Margaret of Anjou, the Queen of the Wars by Heather R. Darsie

Royal 15 E VI f. 2v Presentation scene

Crop from the Book of Romances, presented to Marguerite by the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Thank you so much to Heather R. Darsie for writing this bio of Margaret of Anjou for us. Over to Heather...

Marguerite d'Anjou, more commonly known as Margaret of Anjou and wife to Henry VI of England, was born to René, Duke of Anjou, and Isabella, daughter of the Duke of Lorraine, in Pont-à-Mousson, France on 23 March 1429. Pont-à-Mousson lies in modern north-eastern France, close to the countries of Luxembourg and Lichtenstein. The Moselle river flows through Pont-à-Mousson and the skyline boasts the impressive Norbertine abbey, which was built in 1121. Young Marguerite spent her early years in the castle of Capua in Naples, Italy, where her father was titular king, and in the castle of Tarascon on the Rhône River. Marguerite was tutored by her well-educated mother and may have received some lessons from Antoine de la Salle, who tutored Marguerite’s brothers.

"La petite créature", as little Marguerite was affectionately known, grew up in luxurious surroundings boasting of such fine things as silk and Chinese porcelain. In 1443, fourteen-year-old Marguerite was sent to live at the French court with her paternal aunt, Queen Marie of France. It was written of Marguerite by the Burgundian chronicler Berante that, "[t]here was no princess in Christendom more accomplished than my lady... She was already renowned in France for her beauty and wit and her lofty spirit of courage." It was this lofty spirit of courage, recognized in Marguerite at such a young age, that would carry her through her time as Queen of England.

Marguerite was betrothed to Henry VI in 1444 and married him on 23 April 1445, one month after her sixteenth birthday. Marguerite was crowned queen consort on 30 May 1445 at Westminster Abbey. When Marguerite first arrived in England, her future husband was so excited to meet her that he disguised himself as a squire and delivered a letter to Marguerite. The letter was written by him, the King of England. Marguerite was so engrossed in reading the letter from her future husband that she simply did not notice him and kept the king, still dressed as a squire, on his knees. After Henry VI departed, she was informed that the squire was actually Henry VI. Marguerite was upset at not knowing she was in the presence of the king.

The marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou from Vigilles de Charles VII

The marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou from Vigilles de Charles VII

An intellectual who valued education, Marguerite founded Queen's College, Cambridge, in 1448. The heraldic arms of the present-day college are those of Marguerite, with an added green border to symbolize the college. Marguerite was slowly increasing her political position in England, having taken an interest in pecuniary matters after the fall of a noble close to the king, the Duke of Suffolk. However, her reach was rather limited as she had yet to produce an heir.

Marguerite gave birth to Edward of Westminster on 13 October 1453. Sadly, her husband was suffering an indisposition. Henry VI was known to suffer bouts of insanity. After the birth of her son, Marguerite retired from London to Greenwich to raise the infant Edward. At this time, Richard, Duke of York, was appointed to the protectorate until Henry VI recovered his sanity. The Duke of York had been heir to the throne until Edward was born. Marguerite's conflicts with the Duke of York in 1455 culminated in the start of the Wars of the Roses, with the premier battle of St. Albans resulting in the defeat of the Lancastrian faction. Marguerite was to play an important role in the Wars of the Roses, so named for the badges of the houses of Lancaster and York, which were the red rose and white rose, respectively.

In 1459, Marguerite outlawed the Yorkist leaders in an attempt to quell the Yorkist faction's agitation toward the throne. Richard, Duke of York, died in 1460, leaving his son, the future Edward IV, to take up the Yorkist cause. In her attempts to protect the rights and safety of both her husband and son, Marguerite fled to Scotland. She returned with the northern army that successfully defeated the Yorkists during the second Battle of St Albans in 1461.

In 1462, with the Wars still raging, Marguerite returned to France with her son where she was able to muster a force through the help of her father and King Louis XI. In exchange for granting Calais to Louis XI, Marguerite gained a force of 2,000 men, the authority to muster men in Normandy and 20,000 francs to finance her campaign. Louis XI sent ships to harry the English coast, which put the sitting Edward IV on notice of a Lancastrian invasion. In October 1462, Marguerite, Prince Edward and her force of 2,000 men made for the English coast of Northumberland. Unfortunately, Marguerite's ships were scattered during a storm, with some ships being lost.

The battered Lancastrian forced landed near Alnwick, where they caught wind of an approach by the Yorkist faction with a large force. Marguerite's remaining force scattered. Undeterred by this and other initial setbacks in England, Marguerite marched forth and seized or secured several strongholds. These strongholds included Warkworth Castle, Alnwick Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle, and reinforced Bamburgh Castle with some of her remaining French forces. Marguerite was able to recover her husband, as well. Unfortunately, her luck had run out.

The English detested the French garrisons and refused to aid Marguerite. Storms thwarted Marguerite's attempt at fleeing with her husband and son. Ultimately, her strongholds fell one by one to the Yorkists and Marguerite eventually fled to Scotland. She did educate her son and attempt an invasion to take back the throne, but, ultimately, the Lancastrian faction was defeated. Marguerite's son died in battle and her husband later died while imprisoned by Edward IV, the Yorkist king.

The end of Marguerite's tale is sad. She was imprisoned in England for several years until a ransom was paid for her. Marguerite was able to return to France, where she lived the rest of her life in poverty. Marguerite finally shuffled off this mortal coil on 25 August 1482. But, Marguerite was an intelligent, capable, stalwart woman. She fought for those she loved and what she believed. This woman led armies while her husband was incapacitated, and even managed to convince the countries of Scotland and France to assist her in her quest to regain the throne for her husband and son. Although Marguerite met with a sad end, she was an exemplary queen for her courageous spirit and dedication to her family.

Sources and Further Reading

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There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. RealTudorLady /

    Margaret was a capable young woman who was fifteen when she was given in marriage to the incapable Henry vi, whose mental illness caused this young woman trouble her whole life. Henry was dependent on Margaret and probably a gentle husband with whom she got on. His inability to get her pregnant was loudly commented on and her sudden success in 1453_led to accusations and rumours that her close if somewhat stupid ally Edmund Beaufort was the father. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Sommerset of course was the great rival to the man who should have ruled England, the only man actually capable of ruling England, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. Somerset refused to accept Richard of York as Protector, while Henry was ill, so Margaret fought tooth and nail to take his side. When her husband recovered on Christmas Day 1453_she presented him with Edward, her miracle child and his so called father accepted him.

    Margaret was a mother, she was a Queen and it was natural to her that she should be the regent while her husband was incapacitated. It was natural that she fought for Edward’s inheritance. York came to an agreement, backed by Parliament that he would succeed Henry to the throne. Margaret would not accept this and led her husband’s army. Things came to a real head first in Saint Albans and then finally during 1460 and 1461. Henry and Margaret joined forces with Owen and Jasper Tudor and marched on York’s strongholds in the Welsh Marchers. The two armies firstly faced off at Ludford Bridge at the endes of Ludlow. It’s now a mobile home camp. No real fighting took place but the York supporters took flight, the town was besieged and then sacked. Three days later York fled to Ireland and Duchess Cecily with her two young sons, Richard and George were captured as the town was sacked for three days. This was how Margaret got her poor reputation.

    Cecily and her children were put in the care of the Duchess of Buckingham. Henry returned them to Middleham a few months later. For Margaret it must have seemed that her triumph was finally close, the Duke she had declared a rebel and forfeited his lands, but he came back stronger. By December 1460 York was at Sandal Castle in Yorkshire, waiting for his son Edward to raise an army. For some reason, possibly to rescue his son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland from an ambush he was drawn out, on December 30th near Wakefield. In the battle and street fighting that followed both Edmund and York were killed, Edmund brutally murdered as he pleaded for his life. Margaret had York’s head put up on the Micklemas Gate in York. His younger sons, Edward iv and Richard, Duke of Gloucester had their father and brother honourable reburied in 1474 in Fotheringhay Church.

    Within ten weeks Margaret was defeated first at Mortimer’s Cross and then on Palm Sunday, 1461 routed at Towton. Edward iv took her place as if to fulfil his father’s crown. Margaret and Henry firstly fled to Scotland and then when her husband was taken prisoner she took her son, Edward to France. It was a fortunate change of sides by York’s great ally and cousin, Richard Neville, the King Maker, Earl of Warwick which gave Margaret new hope of seeing her son on the throne. After several fall outs with Edward iv Warwick and his daughters, Isabella, married to George, Duke of Clarence, the King’s turncoat brother, pregnant with her first child, and younger unmarried daughter, Anne, fled to Calais. However they were refused landing and Isabella sadly gave birth to a baby daughter who died. The ship sailed to France and here Warwick grovelled to Queen Margaret. Eventually she pardoned him and his daughter married her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, once the Pope agreed. Edward iv had also been forced to flee to the Netherlands and he came back with an army. Warwick went ahead and faced Edward at Barnet, but Clarence had joined his brothers and been pardoned. Richard also fought at Barnet. Warwick was defeated and Killed and Henry Vi back in the Tower. Margaret landed a few days later only to learn of the defeat at Barnet. She led her army North and west but was unable to meet up with Jasper Tudor in Wales. The weather was terrible. Margaret crossed the Severn at Bristol and the armies clashed near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. Margaret was defeated, her son killed in battle and her husband murdered or died of depression, depending on the sources on May 22nd,24th or 29th 1471.

    Margaret, of course was held captive as above by the victorious Edward iv but it was a few years before her impoverished family paid her ransom. As a royal prisoner she was treated with courtesy, but her last years in France were modest and obscure. She had shown herself determined to rule and uphold her only child’s birthright, her quarrel with York was born out of stubbornness and short sighted, she took the reigns in place of her sick husband and she raised and led armies. She has been called She Wolf but she was trying to find a solution that would have meant the wars to follow could be avoided. Her articles were rejected out of hand because she was a woman. Her failure to control her troops from sacking towns made her unpopular. However, her fight for her son should be admired. With York she could have ruled effectively, had both sides not been boneheaded. Like most women in power during the middle ages, she was maligned for displaying attributes men would be praised for.

    Anne Neville, Edward Prince of Wales teenage widow was under the ward of her sister and brother in law, Clarence for six months before marriage to Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard iii. Anne of course became his Queen.

    Isabel, her sister had three more children, one of whom died and she herself died, feared poisoned. Her husband, George would be tried and privately executed for treason on Edward iv orders in February 1478. Their children were Edward, Earl of Warwick, imprisoned and executed in 1499 by Henry Tudor and Margaret, later known as Margaret Pole, Countess (in her own right) of Salisbury. She is the famous Margaret Pole who was governess to Princess Mary and whose family served Henry Viii for many years. Margaret and her son and grandson were imprisoned on trumped up charges of treason in 1539. Her son Henry was executed, her son Geoffrey went mad, her grandson Henry also vanished, believed poisoned and another son became Cardinal Reginald Pole. Margaret herself was summarily executed after almost two years in the Tower in 1541, by a clumsy executioner. As a straunh Catholic lady, held in great reverence and a member of the Plantagenet royal family, Margaret was remembered for a holy martyr. She was beautified in the 19th century.

    Margaret of Anjou has been maligned for centuries. However, we should remember her as a mother, woman and Queen who did everything she could do and was possible to fight for the life and rights of her child. For that at least she deserved more respect.

  2. Paul W /

    One issue with Richard of York being presented as the man who “should have” ruled is that Richard’s claim to be the rightful heir to the throne was a Yorkist attempt to legitimise his rebellion against Henry VI that was only really seriously pushed after the wars had started.

    In the 1440s and early 1450s no one seriously saw Richard as having a stronger claim to the throne than Henry (not even Richard himself was suggesting it at that stage). As Henry had no son until 1453, Richard was seen as the obvious successor should Henry die but that was about as far it went.

    Strictly speaking the issue of whether Richard or Henry had the stronger legitimate claim to the throne had been settled by Edward III – who, following the death of the Black Prince, established the rights of succession for his various offspring. Edward III made it quite clear that in the event of Richard II’s death the throne should then pass first to the House of Lancaster, not to Richard of York’s ancestor Philippa. This royal decree on the order of succession was never revoked by any subsequent King.

    That said I don’t think there can be much doubt that Richard would have made a better King in practice than Henry – given Henry’s poor mental health and inability to deal with state affairs. However, I also think the Yorkist Chroniclers very greatly exaggerate Richard’s abilities and achievements which were rather more patchy than they present. Richard showed several grave errors of judgement (both political and military) – his ill judged uprising in 1452 miscalculated the mood of his peers completely; his bid for the throne in 1460 shocked and angered even his closest supporters and his actions at Wakefield exposed him as a poor field commander. In addition his criticisms of the Lancastrian regime (leaving aside any personal grievances) were a) it was in debt and over spending and b) it was failing to do enough to adequately protect royal lands in France. Both had merit, but it clearly would never have been practically possible to adequately address both of these problems simultaneously. You cannot fight a war and cut spending at the same time.

    So whilst Richard may have made a better job of things than Henry he would still have faced the problems of severe debt (largely a product of economic recession and a fiscal system that was antiquated and not fit for purpose) and he would still have been heavily defeated by Charles VII in the hundred years war. Richard may have been a better man for the job than Henry but he was no way any kind of match for the experienced and calculating Charles VII. The English view of “why we lost” the 100 years war from the chroniclers and commentators of the time actually show that they had no clue as to the real reasons why the English lost. The English did not lose so much as Charles VII won. Charles by the 1440s was a formidable politician, administrator and military thinker. He introduced a number of game changing long term strategies that made French victory inevitable. Charles was also fortunate to have men like the brilliant Jean Bureau in his service – who did the English have? People like Somerset and Richard of York – both of who were to prove themselves dire field commanders. The best field commander the English actually had at the time was probably Edward IV but it would have been very unlikely he would have been given a senior field command in preference to his father in the early 1450s.

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Margaret of Anjou, the Queen of the Wars by Heather R. Darsie

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