On 3 May 1446, Margaret of York, younger sister of the future Edward IV, was born. The fifth of seven children and the youngest daughter of Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, and his wife, Cecily Neville, Margaret of York began her life at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire. Her youngest sibling and the youngest of the seven children, the future Richard III of England, was born at the same castle in 1452. Margaret lived an uneventful life until she was about nineteen years old, when the opportunity to become Duchess of Burgundy presented itself.
Duchess Isabella of Burgundy was in favour of an English marriage for her son, Charles the Bold. Isabella was herself a granddaughter of John of Gaunt. Charles himself seemed to favour a marriage with an English noblewoman, as he had hoped to marry Margaret’s elder sister Anne. But, that marriage never came to pass because Charles’s father insisted that Charles adhere to the 1435 Treaty of Arras, requiring Charles to marry a French woman. Part of the aim of the 1435 Treaty of Arras was to isolate England from the rest of Europe, to break Burgundy’s ties to England, and to repudiate Henry VI of England’s claim to the French throne.
Charles the Bold married Isabella of Bourbon on 30 October 1440. A widower from the age of 12, having been married at the age of 6 to Catherine of France who died roughly six years after their marriage, Isabella was Charles’s first age-appropriate wife. The marriage of Isabella and Charles produced Charles’s only child, Mary of Burgundy. Isabella of Bourbon died in September 1465. With her death, Charles again had the opportunity to pursue an English marriage.
Margaret’s oldest sister Anne, born in 1439, had already married her first husband when Anne was at the tender age of 8 in 1447. Margaret’s older sister Elizabeth, born in 1444, was married by 1458. Both women were still married in September 1465, leaving Margaret as the only available daughter for Charles the Bold.
On 23 June 1468, twenty-two-year-old Margaret of York left England to wed Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The marriage between Margaret and Charles was agreed to in October 1467, the contract completed in February 1468, and the papal dispensation arrived in 1468. Her brother Edward IV had been King of England for over seven years at this point. After her marriage, Margaret became Duchess of Burgundy, of Lotharingia, of Brabant, of Limbourg, of Luxembourg, and of Guelders; Countess of Flanders, of Artois, of Hainault, of Holland, of Zeeland, of Namur, of Zutphen, and of Franche Comté; and the Lady of Friesland, of Salins, and of Malines. She never had children with her husband, but faithfully served as a stepmother to Mary of Burgundy. Of interesting historical note, Margaret of York’s crown as the Duchess of Burgundy is the only medieval crown of the English still in existence. The crown is kept at Aachen Cathedral.
Despite living in Burgundy, Margaret played an active role in the lives of her brothers. In 1469, Edward IV and the future Richard III fled England for France because of their brother George. Margaret tried her best to reconcile the brothers, but was unsuccessful. Furthermore, George was in favour an alliance with France instead of Burgundy. Eventually, Edward managed to regain control of England and the good relationship with Burgundy continued.
Margaret was also able to cultivate a good relationship with her part-Lancastrian mother-in-law. Margaret outlived both her husband and her stepdaughter. Charles the Bold died in battle in 1477, and Mary of Burgundy, wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, died due to complications from a riding accident in 1482. Margaret of York and her stepson-in-law, Maximilian I, sought to care for Mary’s children, Philip and Maria, but the Estates General of Flanders refused to assist Margaret. The Duchy of Burgundy was more-or-less under the control of France and never quite recovered.
The Estates signed the 1482 Treaty of Arras with King Louis XI of France, with one part of the Treaty committing the infant Margaret of Austria to Louis XI’s court. Margaret was unable to gain custody of Mary’s son Philip until 1484, and from then on, she raised Philip at her court. Throughout the remainder of Philip’s minority, Margaret enjoyed a good relationship with his father and her former son-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.
Both Margaret of York’s charges went on to become very important on the global stage. Margaret of Austria eventually became Regent of the Netherlands, a post she held first from the age of about twenty-seven to about thirty-five (1507 to 1515) and once more from the age of about thirty-nine to her death at the age of fifty (1519-1530). Philip the Handsome went on to marry Juana of Castile; one of their children was the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Margaret of York, herself, is remembered as an intelligent and politically shrewd woman. She died on 23 November 1503, at the age of fifty-seven.**
** The writer would note that this brief biography certainly does not do the woman justice, and may seek to write more about Margaret of York in the future.
Heather R. Darsie lives in the United States with her family and three parrots. She works in the legal field, with a focus on children. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in German Languages and Literature, then a Juris Doctorate in American jurisprudence, and studied abroad in Costa Rica and France. Heather has always loved history. She first became acquainted with Elizabeth I when she was in middle school and chose to write a book report about her. Since then, she has always held an interest in the Renaissance and its numerous enigmatic citizens, with particular focus on the history of England and Italy. She is currently working on a book on the heraldry of Tudor women and is also researching Anne of Cleves.
Sources & Suggested Reading
- Gairdner, James. “Margaret (1466-1503).” Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 36, 1885-1900. London: Smith & Elder Co.
- Calmette, Joseph (2001) The Golden Age of Burgundy: The Magnificent Dukes and Their Courts, Phoenix, New Edition.
- The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Wars of the Roses.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Published 3 February 2016. https://www.britannica.com/event/Wars-of-the-Roses Retrieved 27 April 2017.
- Wiesflecker, Hermann and Skjelver, Danielle Mead. “Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Published 18 July 2014. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maximilian-I-Holy-Roman-emperor Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Burgundy: Region, France.” Encyclopedia Britannia, Inc. Published 26 May 2011. https://www.britannica.com/place/Burgundy Retrieved 29 April 2017.