Margaret of Anjou (1429–1482)
Margaret of Anjou (1429–1482)
Queen of England who was a principal player in the Wars of the Roses . Name variations: Margaret d'Anjou; Marguerite d'Anjou. Born on March 23, 1429 (some sources cite 1430), at Château Keure in Lorraine (France); died on August 25, 1482, at Château de Dampierre in Anjou (France); daughter of René I the Good, duke of Anjou and titular king of Sicily, Hungary, and Naples, and Isabelle of Lorraine (1410–1453); sister of Yolande of Vaudemont (1428–1483); married Henry VI, king of England (r. 1422–1461, 1470–1471), on April 22, 1445, in Titchfield, England; children: Edward, prince of Wales (October 13, 1453–1471).
Crowned queen of England (May 1445); founded Queen's College at Cambridge University (1448); led Lancastrian party against Yorkists in civil war (1456–71); fled to Scotland after Yorkist seizure of throne (1461); met final defeat in Battle of Tewkesbury (1471); returned to Anjou (1476).
Margaret of Anjou is one of the most well known of English queens, primarily due to her long involvement as a principal figure in the Wars of the Roses, the English civil war which lasted through most of the 15th century. She was the leader of the party of Lancaster, and fought for many years, though in the end unsuccessfully, to restore to her husband and her son their right to rule England.
Margaret was the fourth child born to René I the Good, duke of Anjou, and Isabelle of Lorraine . René had inherited from his father a claim to many crowns, including Hungary, Sicily, Naples, and Jerusalem. In reality, however, he possessed only the duchies of Anjou, from his father, and Lorraine and Provence, which were his wife's dowry. His many claims had led René to engage in constant warfare with his French feudal neighbors and foreign powers; when he was taken prisoner by the powerful duke of Burgundy, Isabelle took over the struggle. Because of the dangers inherent in warfare, in 1434 Isabelle sent her young daughters, Margaret and Yolande of Vaudemont , to be raised by her mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon , who was acting regent of Sicily but resided at Saumur in Anjou. Yolande's court was a sophisticated cultural and artistic center, and there Margaret remained until 1442. She was highly educated in both academics and the accomplishments necessary to noblewomen, such as dancing, playing music, and embroidery. Yet, endowed as she was with a keen intelligence, she was also a student of politics and intrigue, skills she learned by the example of her grandmother and mother. Thus Margaret's emergence in later years as a political leader can be traced back to her upbringing by two women actively involved in the political and military events of their time. In 1442, Margaret of Anjou returned to her parents' home after her father was released from prison.
The years of Margaret's youth saw the winding down of the skirmishes between France and England collectively known as the Hundred Years' War. In 1444, King Henry VI of England offered to marry a daughter of the French nobility as part of a peace treaty between the countries. By this time, Duke René, having had enough of battles, had proven himself disinclined to further warfare and to any further claims to kingship. Margaret was unmarried and unbetrothed, despite the fact that she was already 15 years old, past the age when most women of her rank were married. Many negotiations for her marriage had taken place before 1444 but with no success, due to the constant feuding and shifting loyalties of the feudal houses. The king of France, Charles VII, felt it safe to offer the duke's daughter Margaret of Anjou to the English king, since he did not fear that René would try to use the alliance with England for his personal aggrandizement as more self-interested nobles would. Thus a treaty for a two-year truce was sealed by a marriage contract between Margaret and the king of England.
Margaret's own feelings toward this change in her fortunes can easily be guessed. Not only
was she French, raised to think of England as the traditional enemy of France, but her own grandmother and uncle, Duke Louis III, had been forced to defend Anjou some years earlier when Henry VI's army invaded the duchy. Thus she had no reason to think of King Henry as anything but an enemy. The king himself was somewhat disappointed that his bride-to-be would come to England with no tangible dowry—René being too impoverished by years of warfare to provide any—but Henry and his ministers believed the political benefits of this French-English marriage outweighed the financial loss.
Margaret of Anjou sailed to England in April 1445, having already been married to Henry VI by proxy. The actual ceremony was held April 22 at the Abbey of St. Mary in Titchfield. On May 30, Margaret was crowned queen of England in another elaborate ritual. She found the English people initially very receptive to their new French queen, for they saw her as the instrument of a new, lasting peace between England and France. However, the popularity enjoyed by the beautiful young queen was not to last. Margaret immediately involved herself in the political debate over the terms of peace with France, promoting the surrender of English-held territories in France, to which the English people, despite their longing for peace, were unwilling to agree.
Margaret of Anjou is described as being impetuous and extravagant, freely spending the crown's money for her own entertainment. She loved hunting, costly clothing, dancing, and other amusements, but her husband did not. Henry VI was a solemn and pious man who strongly disapproved of the sorts of entertainments Margaret loved. Yet despite the differences in their characters and in their ages—he was eight years her senior—and the traditional enmity between their countries, the couple seem to have grown quite intimate and been happy together.
Margaret continued to earn the distrust of her subjects when she became a companion and friend of Alice Chaucer and her husband William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk. The duke was strongly in favor of peace with France at any cost and subsequently became regarded as a traitor to England. Margaret was his most ardent supporter, leading to accusations of treason against her as well as other stories, including that she was Isabelle's illegitimate daughter and that she was having an affair with Suffolk. After several years, Margaret began speaking openly against Richard, the powerful duke of York, Suffolk's enemy, whom she accused of wanting to depose her husband so that he could rule. Yet again she chose a political position contrary to the will of the English people. They supported York and believed that he could help England end the hardships it suffered, including high taxes, low international prestige, and a corrupt government bureaucracy. There was truth in her accusations of York's wish for the crown, however, for in 1450, York used his royal lineage to claim the right to succeed Henry, as the king and queen were still childless after four years of marriage and thus had no heir. York's popular support made his claim a serious threat to Margaret and Henry, for even if Henry accepted York as his heir, York might depose Henry before his death. Instead of York, Margaret supported Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, another leading noble who claimed the right to succeed Henry VI but one whom she trusted far more. For a time between 1450 and 1453, Margaret's influence led Parliament to support Somerset as Henry's heir-apparent.
But Margaret was fated to suffer from the vagaries of the English political scene and from her husband's weakening mental condition. In August 1453, Henry VI suffered a mental breakdown. Panicked, Margaret and her advisors tried to keep his condition a secret, but the truth became public when, three months later, Margaret gave birth to a son. Although the birth of an heir under earlier conditions would have been a blessing and likely eliminated the duke of York's threat to the throne, with Henry incapacitated York remained as much a threat as ever. When Parliament became aware of Henry's collapse, it appointed Duke Richard of York as "protector and defender of the realm" until the infant Prince Edward came of age. Margaret tried to win parliamentary support for a regency she would head, but her sex combined with her French heritage prevented Parliament from agreeing. What began then was a power struggle between York and the queen for control of the government. The queen is described at this time as passionate, single-minded, and unwilling to compromise. She took on many of the duties reserved for advisors and other functionaries and tried to prevent York from exercising his authority. In 1455, she recalled the exiled Somerset to England; the duke of York, recognizing that Margaret was now in a position of strength, withdrew to the north of England to mobilize his forces. Conflict between those supporting the rights of King Henry and Queen Margaret, called the Lancastrians, and those supporting the claims of Richard of York, called the Yorkists, began to divide the kingdom as each side recruited troops for the inevitable fight ahead.
Chaucer, Alice (fl. 1400s)
Duchess of Suffolk . Flourished in the 1400s; daughter of Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme (son of Geoffrey Chaucer, the writer) and Maud Burghersh ; married Thomas Montacute, 4th earl of Salisbury; married William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk; children: (second marriage) John de la Pole, 1st duke of Suffolk.
The first armed conflict between the two groups occurred in May 1455, when a Lancastrian army was soundly defeated at the Battle of St. Albans. Queen Margaret was acknowledged by all as the de facto leader of the Lancastrians due to her high rank and close connection to King Henry VI and Prince Edward, both of whom were, of course, unable to lead for themselves. After St. Albans, Margaret, never dispirited, wrote to her allies in France to urge them to attack England, thereby hoping to show York's weakness as the realm's protector. She displayed early on one of the political blind spots which would appear during her struggles over the next 16 years: she would always consider herself French and would ignore the opinions of the English people when it came to seeking foreign aid for her cause. Thus she failed time and again to give due respect to one of the most important factors in civil warfare, the will of the people.
In late 1455, Henry recovered from his illness only to suffer another breakdown a short time later, a pattern which would continue for the rest of his life. During his recovery in 1455 and the long period of sanity he experienced in 1456, it became clear that Henry VI, who had always been a man of peace, wanted compromise and conciliation rather than civil war. To this end, he retained York as his chief minister over Margaret's protests. The queen, whose popularity had been waning steadily for many years, continued to lose support at the court and among the English by her steadfast refusal to compromise over the sharing of power and her insistence on being informed of and involved in every detail of the administration. Her reputation suffered further when, in 1457, King Charles VII of France answered her requests for French intervention by sending his ships to raid the English coast.
Despite peace negotiations in 1458, Yorkists and Lancastrians continued to prepare for war throughout that year and the year following, seizing treasure, recruiting troops, and seeking foreign support for their causes. At all times both sides claimed to represent good government and to be acting as loyal supporters of the crown. In November 1459, Margaret and Henry advanced on the town of Ludlow, where York's forces were waiting. The Lancastrian army was larger than York had expected and he ordered a retreat; he himself fled to Ireland while other Yorkists fled to Calais, the English-controlled port town on the French coast. Margaret rejoiced in the victory but knew that this was not the end of the Yorkist threat, and she and Henry continued to prepare for war. To this end, they began a program of heavy taxation and forced loans from the nobility and the towns of England which increased the discontent of their subjects and decreased their popularity.
The two armies met again in July 1460 at Northampton; the Yorkists were victorious this time, taking King Henry VI prisoner and slaying many of his staunchest supporters on the field. Upon hearing of Henry's defeat, Margaret fled to the northern counties which were loyal to Henry. She realized how important it was for her to remain at large with her son; if she and Edward were taken prisoner as well, York would be allowed to reign unchallenged. She sought military and financial aid from Scotland's Queen Mary of Guelders (1433–1463) and France's King Charles VII; both monarchs wished to support the winning side but, being uncertain of which side this would be, only made vague promises of support with little tangible evidence.
Meanwhile, Parliament, faced with Richard of York's new claim to be the rightful king, agreed to a compromise by which York would succeed King Henry VI. But a few months later, in December 1460, another battle at Wakefield ended with the death of Duke Richard of York and a surprising victory for the Lancastrian cause. In a vengeful act not uncommon for her time, Margaret ordered the duke's corpse beheaded along with those of several other Yorkist leaders, and had the heads mounted on pikes outside the city of York. The Yorkist cause had lost its leader but not its core of supporters, however, and Margaret was still far from claiming a final victory. In February 1461, another victory led to the return of King Henry to his wife. Nonetheless, Margaret continued to prepare to defend the rights of her husband and child unwisely, seeking aid from foreign leaders by offering English territory in exchange for assistance and thus further antagonizing her subjects.
William Shakespeare, Henry VI">
Otiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide!
—William Shakespeare, Henry VI
In March 1461, the duke of York's son and heir, Edward of March, proclaimed himself King Edward IV. Edward, a young man with his father's determination but far more military skill, was to prove a more formidable enemy than his father had been. Margaret realized how much popular support she had lost when the English readily accepted Edward IV as their new rightful king. On March 29, the Yorkist and still-strong Lancastrian armies met again on the battlefield at Towton. It was a decisive victory for Edward IV. Pursued by the usurper king's forces, Margaret fled to Scotland with Henry and her son. Demonstrating her indomitable spirit, she began once again to seek help from foreign lands.
The battles fought on the field during this phase of the Wars of the Roses were mirrored in the diplomatic maneuvers in which both Yorkist and Lancastrian leaders engaged to either win the support of foreign allies or negate the alliances secured by the opposing party. Margaret constantly sought the aid of France, Scotland, and Burgundy, and also appealed for help from the king of Aragon. As before, no foreign power supported her cause with any enthusiasm; all could see that it would take more than a few discontented Lancastrians to bring down the strong, popular Edward IV. Yet none would provide wholehearted support to Edward, either, fearing that at some point the Lancastrian cause could gain the upper hand and Henry VI be restored to the throne. Margaret of Anjou hoped to exploit the constant tension between the French and English monarchs to her own advantage, by forming a French-Lancastrian alliance united against Edward. For a time the French king, now Louis XI, Charles VII's son, supported Margaret and her cause in an effort to keep England too busy with its civil war to act against France.
In 1462, Margaret sailed to France at Louis XI's invitation, where she and Louis signed a secret agreement of French aid for the Lancastrian struggle. She did receive some aid, but Louis backed out of the pact fearing a Yorkist-Burgundian alliance united against France. A failed invasion of England in late 1462 by the Lancastrians forced Margaret, Henry, and their army to flee once again to Scotland for refuge. Yet again, she refused to give up hope, and in August she went to Burgundy to entreat Duke Philip of Burgundy, leaving Henry in Scotland. As time would prove, this was their final parting.
Margaret's efforts to win a substantive promise of aid from Duke Philip were fruitless. With no strong allies—Scotland wanted peace with England, while France and Burgundy were too concerned with their own affairs to be counted upon—Margaret retired for the time being to her father's estates to rest and plan her next move. She and her small band of loyal followers lived in relative poverty, mostly surviving off loans from Duke René. A brief partnership in the spring of 1464 with the duke of Somerset, the exiled former Yorkist, led to an abortive invasion of England headed by Somerset; he and many Lancastrians were executed on King Edward's orders after their defeat in battle. Henry VI, however, who had accompanied Somerset, escaped and remained a fugitive for over a year, until in July 1465 he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Between 1464 and 1465, Margaret remained in exile with her son in France, always considering her next move and waiting for news from England of her husband's whereabouts. After learning that he had been captured, she was forced to waste another year in exile, for the Lancastrians did not have the strength to challenge King Edward IV without foreign aid, especially without Henry around which to rally support. In 1467, King Louis XI of France had Margaret and her small court brought to his castle at Chartres, thus giving Margaret hope for a French alliance, even though at this time he was also negotiating peace terms with King Edward. A treaty between Burgundy and England in 1468 ended French-English negotiations and led Louis to decide to aid the Lancastrians. To this end, he mediated an agreement between Margaret and Richard Neville, earl of Warwick—once King Edward's chief supporter but now estranged from him—to invade England. Margaret reluctantly agreed to accept Warwick's help, despite the fact that he had been a primary player in her husband's downfall, and even agreed to allow her son to marry Warwick's daughter, Lady Anne Neville (Anne of Warwick ), to seal their alliance.
In September 1470, a surprisingly effective invasion was launched by the exiled queen and led by the earl of Warwick, although Margaret did not dare risk her son's safety or her own by leaving France. Because Edward was ill prepared to resist, Warwick won an easy victory, forcing Edward to seek refuge in the Netherlands. Henry VI, weak, sickly, and mentally unstable, was freed from the Tower of London and nominally restored to the throne, after eight years as either a prisoner or an exile; Lancastrian loyalists replaced Yorkists in the administration of the kingdom.
After establishing himself in control, Warwick wrote to insist that Margaret return to England with her son to take possession of the government. However, at this point Margaret made a crucial mistake—she refused to bring the prince to England, fearing capture by the ships of Edward IV's ally, the duke of Burgundy. Yet it is likely that had she and the prince landed in England soon after Warwick's victory they could have rallied support among the war-weary English for the reign of the young prince. However, it was not until after the exiled King Edward had returned with an army to England in March 1471 that Margaret decided she needed to get to England quickly.
As it turned out, she was too late to salvage the victory which Warwick had gained for her. The English had become disillusioned with Warwick's governing and welcomed the return of Edward IV eagerly. On April 13, Margaret and Prince Edward landed in England, the same day that Edward IV's forces demolished Warwick's army and killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet, again capturing Henry VI. Following a brief bout of depression, Margaret recovered her fighting spirit and, after recruiting new troops, spent the rest of April at the head of her forces, alternately pursuing and being pursued by Edward's army.
On May 4, 1471, both armies met for the final time at the Battle of Tewkesbury. For the first time, Margaret allowed her son Edward, now a young man of 17 and untried in warfare, to lead their army into combat. Each side was confident of victory, and each army was large and heavily armed with archers and mounted soldiers. The battle was engaged while Margaret waited anxiously some miles away. At first the forces were evenly matched, but a surprise attack by a hidden troop of Yorkists tilted the battle in the Yorkists' favor. The Lancastrians retreated, but the victorious Yorkists pursued them, managing to capture or kill every Lancastrian leader (the captured were later executed). Among the dead on the field was Prince Edward himself. When she heard the tragic news, Margaret, heartbroken, fled to the north, but she was captured and brought a prisoner to London on May 21.
The death of Prince Edward shattered Margaret's determination; preserving his right to inherit the throne by restoring Henry VI had been the only purpose of her many years of intrigue, warfare, and political machinations. She no longer had any reason to continue to fight, and her captor recognized this. King Edward shrewdly realized that this woman, who had been his and his father's constant enemy for 17 years, no longer posed a threat to him and was no longer a player on the political stage of Western Europe. Because of this, he refused to exact any vengeance on her. She was to remain a captive, but she was treated with dignity and respect. Edward did not, however, extend this clemency to her husband, still held in the Tower of London. On May 21, the same day Margaret was imprisoned in the Tower, Henry was secretly murdered on Edward's orders, to prevent any future rebellions in Henry's name by discontented English subjects. Although the official word was that he had died of natural causes, many suspected that the peaceful, simple-minded king had been put to death, and sympathy for his tragic life led some to consider him saintly.
At the end of 1471, Margaret of Anjou was put in the custody of her old friend Alice Chaucer, duchess of Suffolk. She remained with the duchess until 1475, when an unexpected treaty between King Louis XI of France and Edward IV included a stipulation that Louis would ransom Margaret for 50,000 crowns, an enormous sum. In return, Margaret agreed to renounce any holdings she had in England to Edward; after she returned to France in 1476, she agreed to pay Louis back by renouncing all her rights of inheritance to her father's territories and estates—even though their value was far higher than the total amount Louis XI had given her over the years for her support and for her ransom. Thus Margaret gained her freedom, but at the cost of giving up all her worldly possessions. Louis did, however, grant her a small pension to support herself.
She remained at her elderly father's court until his death in 1480; dispossessed, she retired to Château de Dampierre, the home of René's personal servant, in the same region of Anjou in which she had grown up. She remained in the quiet château until her death at age 53, on August 25, 1482. Margaret of Anjou was buried, at her own request, at the Cathedral of St. Maurice at Angers, where her mother and father were also buried.
Bagley, J.J. Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England. London: Herbert Jenkins, 1948.
Crawford, Anne. "Margaret of Anjou" in Europa Biographical Dictionary of British Women. London: Europa Publications, 1983.
Abbott, Jacob. History of Margaret of Anjou, Queen of Henry VI of England. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1861.
Ross, Charles Derek. Wars of the Roses: A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
Strickland, Agnes. "Margaret of Anjou" in Lives of the Queens of England. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1850.
Dame Peggy Ashcroft played Margaret of Anjou in the trilogy The Wars of the Roses which opened in Stratford, England, in 1963, and was reprised in London, 1963–64.
The Plantagenets, three of Shakespeare's plays performed together (earlier presented as The Wars of the Roses), starring Penny Downie as Margaret of Anjou and Ralph Fiennes as Henry VI, opened at the RSC in Stratford, England, in October 1988.
William Shakespeare's Henry VI.
Laura York , freelance writer in medieval history and women's history, Riverside, California