Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England
Born: March23, 1430
Died: August 25, 1482
Anjou, France (Age 52)
Though a mere political tool of her father's for the first fifteen years or so of her life, Margaret of Anjou (daughter of Duke Rene of the same region) was able to use this factor to her own advantage. By 1444, it was agreed that Margaret should marry King Henry VI of England as part of a peace settlement between England and France, two countries that had been long at war with one another. The marriage was settled upon and a ceremony was performed in France that saw Henry VI's adviser the Duke of Suffolk stand in for the king himself. Margaret and Suffolk returned to England the following year (with an extremely small dowry) and Henry VI met his new queen for the first time. The first several years that Margaret was Queen of England seem to have been relatively inactive. She maitained close relations with Suffolk and his wife (although rumors of a love affair between the queen and duke are, most likely, without warrant) and was given a number of territories in the midlands, courtesy of the Duchy of Lancaster. The queen would build up her influence in these areas and they would indeed become her power base in the following years. It is not until 1453 that things began to become truly interesting for Queen Margaret. In this year, the queen finally had produced a child, Prince Edward, to continue the Lancastrian line of succession. Unfortunately, the king was suffering from a severe mental disorder at the time (undoubtedly inherited from his maternal grandfather, King Charles VI of France) and was unaware that his child had even been born. With the king incapacitated and the new prince a minor, it was decided that a protector should be appointed to watch over the realm until the king's recovery. It is at this point that historians can trace Margaret's hunger for power to. The queen felt that she should be appointed protector in her husband's place but was voted down by the council. In turn, the position was given to the Duke of York, a man who had a significant claim to the throne through his mother's line, who was descended through Edward III's second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp (Henry VI and the Lancastrians based their claim from John of Gaunt, the third of Edward III's surviving sons). Despite the fact that York swore loyalty to Henry VI and his heirs (and the fact that he did a more than competent job of ruling the kingdom during his protectorate), this scene can be looked at as the beginning of the rivalry between to rival houses of Lancaster and York known as the Wars of the Roses.
Margaret aligned herself with York's bitter enemy, the Duke of Somerset, a Lancastrian commander who, since the death of Suffolk, had been Henry VI's most powerful adviser. Somerset was briefly imprisoned under York's orders but was released once Henry VI regained his wits. Tensions between the two men flared and York aligned himself with the powerful Neville family of the north (headed by the Earl of Salisbury and his son the Earl of Warwick) to do battle against the Lancastrians. At St Albans, the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians decisively. Somerset was killed and Henry VI captured. Though the Lancastrians were down, Margaret made sure they were far from out and built up significant power bases in her lands over the next five years to ultimately rid herself of the Yorkists. In 1459, the Yorkists were attainted of treason and a full scale war broke out between the two houses. The Lancastrians were defeated at the Battle of Northampton and Henry VI was once again captured. This time, he was forced to make York (who by this point had publicly announced his claim to the throne) his heir. Fortunately, the Lancastrians were able to isolate York's forces at Wakefield and defeat them. York himself was killed and the Earl of Salisbury was taken and executed. Queen Margaret now saw her chance to strike and marched with her army towards London. Along the way, they defeated the Earl of Warwick at St Albans and recaptured the king. Once the Lancastrian army had made to London, however, they were denied access into the city and were forced to flee the country upon the approach of the Earl of March, York's eldest son and now the leading member of the Yorkist cause. March was free to have himself crowned as King Edward IV. Over the following ten years, Margaret and her son searched for help in any place that they could find it. She had already approached the King of Scotland for help before going to Louis XI of France. At first, Louis was hesitant to help the rebel queen and thought, on several occasions to join forces with Edward IV, rather than risk himself aiding a house that had been deposed. Meanwhile, there were sporadic Lancastrian uprisings back in England, but nothing amounted to anything and Henry VI was eventually captured and imprisoned by the Yorkists. It was not until 1468 that the Lancastrians would gain any real ground in their efforts to win back power.
By that year, Edward IV had formed an alliance with the Duke of Burgundy, a mortal enemy of Louis XI. In addition, Edward had alienated the Earl of Warwick (a man who was crucial to his ascension to the throne) by marrying a common woman instead of Louis XI's sister-in-law, whom Warwick had chosen for the king. Warwick rebelled against the king had him imprisoned at one point, even convincing George, Duke of Clarence, one of the king's younger brothers, to desert Edward. After releasing the king, Warwick realized that his best chance of success lye with the Lancastrians. Therefore, he formed an alliance with Queen Margaret and Louis XI against Edward IV, which saw the betrothal of Prince Edward to Warwick's daughter Anne. The forces of Warwick and Louis landed in England, forcing the unprepared Edward IV to flee. Warwick freed Henry VI from prison and placed him back on the throne, although he would be nothing but Warwick's puppet for the next six months. The queen longed to return to England and her newly reinstated husband (although most historians will say it was likely Prince Edward would have been placed on the throne instead) but was continuously delayed. By the time she finally did return, she had learned that Edward IV had returned, Warwick had been defeated and killed at Barnet and Clarence had defected back to his brother. The Lancastrians made one last effort to uphold their cause but were brutally defeated by the Yorkists at Tewksbury. Prince Edward was killed in battle and the queen was captured. Henry VI was soon after executed, officially eliminating the house of Lancaster in the male line. Margaret had gone from being Queen of England to being a childless widow. She remained in royal custody for the next four years until she was finally ransomed by Louis XI and returned to France. While in France, she was practically disowned by her elderly father and was forced by the king to renounce any claim to her inheritance as a way of paying for her large ransom. Margaret died quietly, and with little to call her own, in 1482 at the age of fifty-two. This was indeed a tragic end for a woman who had once been so powerful in an age dominated by men.
Margaret in Shakespeare
Appears in: Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III
Margaret of Anjou first appears in the closing scenes of 1 Henry VI. The Duke of Suffolk had chosen her to marry Henry VI, despite being advised against it due to the fact that her father Rene cannot supply an adequate dowry. When Suffolk and Margaret first meet, they immediately fall in love and engage in an adulterous relationship in secret. By 2 Henry VI, it is clear that Margaret is by far the more dominating personality over her weak husband. She plots with the lords to murder Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, a task that is ultimately accomplished. When Suffolk is exiled for his part in the murder the two share a touching farewell and the queen is genuinely devastated when she learns of the duke's death, even going so far as to carry his severed head around at court. She vows revenge against the Yorkists and supports the Duke of Somerset, angering York and causing the Battle of St Albans. At the beginning of 3 Henry VI, after the Lancastrians have been defeated, Henry VI agrees to make York his heir, disinheriting his own son. This greatly angers the queen who, despite the peace between the two sides, attacks York anyway. The Yorkists are defeated at Wakefield and York captured. Margaret torments him by placing a paper crown on his head and rubbing his face with a cloth soaked in the blood of his youngest son, before stabbing him to death. The Lancastrians are chased from England by York's son Edward, who, in turn, becomes king. Margaret and Prince Edward desperately seek help from King Louis XI in France but are rejected. Only when Warwick arrives, followed by news that Edward IV has married Elizabeth Woodville instead of Louis XI's sister-in-law, does the French king agree to aid the fallen queen. Margaret joins forces with Warwick and a marriage is agreed upon between Prince Edward and Warwick's daughter Anne. The Lancastrians return and take back the throne, but only temporarily. Edward IV returns and Warwick is defeated and killed at Barnet. Margaret is then defeated at Tewksbury and Prince Edward is murdered by the king and his brothers. Henry VI is soon after murdered by Richard and, in the play's final scene, Edward IV announces that Margaret will be ransomed back to France.
Nonetheless, she is present in England in Richard III and acts as a prophetess of sorts. She rebukes the Yorkists for there actions that resulted in the deaths of her husband and son and warns them that terrible things will happen to them (ie. in the form of Richard III and his murderous ways). In reality, Margaret was not only not present in England during these events, but was most certainly dead by the time Richard III ascended the throne. Overall, Shakespeare portrays Margaret in a fairly negative light as a woman who is unfaithful to her husband as is commanding to the point of intolerance. Many of the views of modern historians come from Shakespeare's portrayal of the queen. In the end, though, it is difficult not sympathize with someone who went from having so much, to having so little.
Dunn, Diana E. S. ‘Margaret (1430–1482)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18049, accessed 18 Jan 2010]