Monday, January 10th, 2011 | Guest Posts, Susan Higginbotham
Susan Higginbotham, author of the wonderful novel THE QUEEN OF LAST HOPES, has been kind enough to join us today for a guest post about her new novel. Specifically, about the woman who gives the novel its title. This post is about Margaret of Anjou, and her courage.
“In August 1482, a queen of England died in a borrowed house in France. Margaret of Anjou, the widow of Henry VI, had ceased to be of much importance to anyone. She had long since ceded what the French king, her kinsman Louis XI, wanted—her interest in her father’s lands. In the days before her death, all that she owned of any interest to him were her dogs.
Across the English Channel, if anyone took note of Margaret’s death, it must have seemed to be of little moment. Edward IV, who had triumphed over Margaret in 1471, was securely on the throne. Most of the men who had fought for Henry VI and Margaret had reconciled themselves to Edward IV’s reign; some, like John Morton, now Bishop of Ely, had flourished in it. John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, one of the few men who had remained a steadfast Lancastrian, was locked up in Hammes Castle and seemed likely to remain there as a prisoner for the rest of his life. Jasper Tudor, Henry VI’s half brother, was an exile in Brittany, along with his nephew, Henry Tudor. Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, Henry Tudor’s mother, had even entered into negotiations with Edward IV to allow her son Henry to return to England. When Margaret breathed her last, the cause of the House of Lancaster already seemed dead.
Then things fell apart. Just eight months after Margaret of Anjou died, Edward IV followed her to the grave. His sons were declared bastards by the brother he had trusted above all others, who took the throne as Richard III. Suddenly Henry Tudor, known to hardly anyone in England, found himself in a position to claim the throne, and he did. On August 22, 1485, just three years after Margaret of Anjou had died in exile, Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth, and a Lancastrian king was on the throne of England.
Margaret of Anjou has not always found sympathy with modern audiences. The cause she fought for—the divine right of Henry VI to reign as king, and of his son, Edward of Lancaster, to inherit his throne—is not one that resonates with us. She did not champion the rights of women or of an oppressed minority. Her cause had no charismatic figure to gather round, only a young boy and an ineffectual king who was blundering at the best of times and mentally ill at the worst. Most damning in our eyes, perhaps, is the fact that her intransigence cost the lives of tens of thousands of men. Yet Margaret lived in a time when people were expected to fight for their rights, and it is hard to see how she could have reconciled her conscience to passively sitting back and allowing her son to be disinherited. She—and others—believed passionately in her cause, sacrificed all for it, and never wavered from it. Whatever else can be said about Margaret of Anjou, she had the courage of her convictions.
Henry Tudor on the throne was not the outcome Margaret had sought, of course: it had been the rights of her husband, Henry VI, and her son, Edward of Lancaster, for which she had struggled. Her own fight ended in 1471, when Edward of Lancaster died on the field of Tewkesbury and Henry VI met a mysterious death in the Tower of London. It is unlikely that she had any hopes that Henry Tudor, a mere boy in 1471, would continue her cause. Perhaps, having lost the men she had struggled so bravely for, she did not even care. Yet some of the men who supported Henry Tudor in 1485, notably Jasper Tudor and the Earl of Oxford, had been Margaret’s loyal supporters, and in a sense, their eventual triumph was hers. I wish she had lived to see it.”