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Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of AnjouBorn: 23-Mar-1430
Birthplace: Pont-à-Mousson, Lorraine, France
Died: 25-Aug-1482
Location of death: Saumur, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Cathedrale Saint-Maurice d'Angers, Angers, France

Gender: Female
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Royalty

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Consort of English King Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, daughter of René of Anjou, titular king of Naples and Jerusalem, was born on the 23rd of March 1430. When just fourteen she was betrothed to King Henry VI of England, and in the following year was brought to England and married at Titchfield Abbey, near Southampton, on the 23rd of April 1445. On the 28th of May she was welcomed at London with a great pageant, and two days later crowned at Westminster. Margaret's marriage had been negotiated by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and when she came to England, Suffolk and his wife were her only friends. Naturally she fell under Suffolk's influence, and supported his policy. This, added to her French origin and sympathies, made her from the start unpopular. Though clever and good looking, she was self-willed and imperious, and without the conciliatory manners which her difficult position required. In almost everything she was the opposite of her gentle husband, but entered into his educational schemes, and gave her patronage to the foundation of Queen's College, Cambridge. Margaret's really active share in politics began after Suffolk's fall in 1450. She not only supported Edmond Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, in his opposition to Richard of York, but concerned herself also in the details of government, seeking not over-wisely pecuniary benefits for herself and her friends. But as a childless queen her influence was limited; and when at last her only son, Edward, was born on the 13th of October 1453, her husband was stricken with insanity. From this time she was the ardent champion of her husband's and son's rights; to her energy the cause of Lancaster owed its endurance, but her implacable spirit contributed to its failure. When York's protectorate was ended by Henry's recovery in January 1455, Margaret, not content with the restoration of Somerset and her other friends to liberty and office, pushed her politics to extremes. The result was the defeat of the Lancastrians at St. Albans, and for a year Margaret had to acquiesce in York's power. Yet at this time one wrote of her: "The queen is a great and strong labored woman, for she spareth no pain to sue her things to an intent and conclusion to her power" (Paston Letters, 1378). All the while she was organizing her party; and ultimately, in October 1456 at Coventry, procured some change in the government. Though formally reconciled to York in March 1458, she continued to intrigue with her partisans in England, and even with friends in France, like Pierre de Brezé, the seneschal of Normandy. After the Yorkist failure at Ludlow in 1459, it was Margaret's vindictiveness that embittered the struggle by a wholesale proscription of her opponents in the parliament at Coventry. She was not present with her husband at Northampton on the 10th of July 1460. After romantic adventures, in which she owed her safety to the loyalty of a boy of fourteen, her only companion, she escaped with her little son to Harlech. Thence after a while she made her way to Scotland. From Mary of Gelderland, the queen regent, she purchased the promise of help at the price of surrendering Berwick. Margaret was still in Scotland at the date of Wakefield, so was not, as alleged by hostile writers, responsible for the barbarous treatment of York's body. But she at once joined her friends, and was with the northern army which defeated Warwick at St. Albans on the 17th of February 1461; for the executions which followed she must bear the blame. After Towton Margaret with her husband and son once more took refuge in Scotland.

A year later she went to France, and with help from her father and Louis XI equipped an expedition under Pierre de Brezé. She landed in Northumberland in October, and achieved some slight success; but when on the way to seek further help from Scotland the fleet was overwhelmed in a storm, and Margaret herself barely escaped in an open boat to Berwick. In the spring she was again trying to raid Northumberland, meeting with many hardships and adventures. Once she owed her escape from capture to the generosity of a Yorkist squire, who carried her off on his own horse; finally she and her son were brought to Bamburgh through the compassionate help of a robber, whom they had encountered in the forest. From there in August 1463 she crossed to Sluys in Flanders. She was almost destitute, but was courteously treated by Charles the Bold, then count of Charolais, and so made her way to her father in France. For seven years she lived at Saint-Michel-en-Barrois, educating her son with the help of Sir John Fortescue, who wrote at this time: "We be all in great poverty, but yet the queen sustaineth us in meat and drink. Her highness may do no more than she doth." Margaret never lost her hopes of her son's restoration. But when at last the quarrel between Warwick and King Edward IV brought her the opportunity, it was with difficulty that she could consent to be reconciled to so old and bitter an enemy. After Warwick's success and Henry's restoration Margaret still remained in France. When at last she was ready to sail she was delayed by contrary winds. So it was only on the very day of Warwick's defeat at Barnet (14th of April) that Margaret and Edward landed at Weymouth. Three weeks later the Lancastrians were defeated at Tewkesbury, and Edward was killed. Margaret was not at the battle; she was captured a few days after, and brought to London on the 21st of May. For five years she remained a prisoner, but was treated honorably and for part at least of the time was in charge of her old friend the Duchess of Suffolk. Finally Louis XI ransomed her under the Treaty of Pecquigny, and she returned to France on the 29th of January 1476. Margaret lived for six years at different places in Bar and Anjou, in poverty and dependent for a pension on Louis, who made her surrender in return her claims to her father's inheritance. She died on the 25th of April 1482 and was buried at Angers Cathedral. René, whom she probably never saw after 1470 had died in the previous year. During her last years Chastellain wrote for her consolation his Temple de Bocace dealing with the misfortunes of contemporary princes.

As the courageous champion of the rights of her son and her husband, Margaret must command a certain sympathy, but she was politically unwise, and injured their cause by her readiness to purchase foreign help at the price of English interests. Comines wrote well of her that she would have done more prudently if she had endeavored to adjust the disputes of the rival factions instead of saying "I am of this party, and will maintain it" (Mémoires vi. ch. 13). Her fierce partisanship embittered her enemies, and the Yorkists did not hesitate to allege that her son was a bastard. This, like the scandal concerning Margaret and Suffolk, is baseless; the tradition, however, continued and found expression in the Mirror for Magistrates and in Drayton's Heroical Epistles, as well as in William Shakespeare's Henry VI.

Father: René of Anjou
Husband: King Henry VI (King of England, m. 23-Apr-1445)

    Inmate: Tower of London (1471-75)
    Ransomed (1475)


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