Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Margaret of Anjou


Born: 23rd March 1429 at Pont-à-Mousson, Lorraine, FranceQueen of England
Died: 25th August 1482 at Château de Dampère, Saumur, France

Margaret, the Queen of Henry VI, was the fifth child of “Le Bon Roi René,” Count of Anjou, and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine, and was born at Nancy. Her father became successively Duke of Bar, Duke of Lorraine, Count of Anjou, Count of Provence and titular King of Naples & Sicily. The young lady was therefore much sought after as a bride and, in 1444, the Earl of Suffolk headed an embassy to ask her hand for his master, King Henry. A marriage by proxy took place in that year and the consent of the King of France to the arrangement was obtained. She brought no dowry to the already impoverished English Crown and it was believed, though without evidence, that Suffolk had agreed, in the marriage contract, to terms surrendering some of the fortresses which England still held in France.

In 1445, Margaret crossed the Channel and was married to Henry at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire. Once in England, though only fifteen years old, she became a violent partisan of Suffolk and Beaufort against the Duke of Gloucester and the war party. When these were gone, two successive Dukes of Somerset became her favourites and the policy of the Court, against the Duke of York, became her cause. Her only child, Prince Edward of Lancaster, was born in 1453, at the very time when her husband was suffering from his first mental and bodily collapse. She would never agree to the compromises and peaces which Henry was, on more than one occasion, ready to conclude with the Yorkists and was incensed by the Duke of York’s appointment as Protector in March 1454. 

After the King’s recovery the following November, Margaret took control of Royal affairs. She persuaded her husband to dissolve Parliament and raised an army with which to crush those she saw as his opponents. When Margaret got the upper hand in the field, she used her victory without mercy and understood how to pack a parliament so they would attaint her enemies wholesale. After the Lancastrian defeat at Northampton, she was found wandering on the borders of Wales and was at least once in danger of her life from robbers. From Wales, she made her way, in 1461, to Scotland and surrendered Berwick to the Scots as the price for their help. She was not present when her army of Northerners won the Battle of Wakefield, but she rejoined her friends after the victory and advanced upon London with a large army which won the Second Battle of St. Albans. There, however, for some reason unknown, she stayed her hand, fell back northwards and saw her forces annihilated and dispersed by the Duke of York's son, now Edward IV, at Towton. She and Henry escaped from that field to Scotland whence, in 1462, she embarked for France to seek foreign help. 

King Louis XI of France was friendly towards the Lancastrians and lent Margaret a small force, with which she returned to Scotland. But it seems to have been of little use, for the Royal couple were soon reduced to the direst straits. It was at this time, while wandering in a Northumbrian forest, that Margaret is said to have met a ferocious robber and threw herself upon his generosity, not in vain, by revealing to him her rank and that of her young son. She was again on the Continent in the Autumn of 1463, and received some rather unwilling charity from the Duke of Burgundy. She remained in Lorraine, a costly burden upon her father's charity, waiting always for a chance to strike again at England, but only occasionally travelling as far as the Channel coast. 

In 1470, the all-powerful Earl of Warwick finally broke with his cousin, Edward IV, and was reconciled to Margaret and her husband by the mediation of King Louis. However, while Warwick sailed in the Lancastrian interest, almost at once to England, Margaret delayed too long and so allowed Edward IV, whom her friends had driven out, to return and reoccupy London. She finally landed at Weymouth in April 1471, the very day on which her new friend, Warwick, was beaten and slain at Barnet. Edward, by a forced march, fell upon her small army at Tewkesbury, annihilated it and slew her son. Margaret remained his captive in various English castles until 1475, when Louis XI stipulated for her release. Thence­ after, she lived in the province of Anjou in extreme poverty until her death in 1482, and was buried in the Cathedral of Angers.

Margaret was learned and fierce, a far truer product of the clever and cruel Angevin house than her gentle and scrupulous father, René; she was devoted to hunting as well as to reading and, even in the days of her comparative prosperity, was an importunate beggar of everything which she desired. Her career in England, whose rights and whose fortunes she was ready to sell to anyone who would help her cause, was accompanied by unvarying misfortune for the Lancastrians and most of all for her gentle and uncomplaining husband.

Edited from Emery Walker's "Historical Portraits" (1909).

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