Born in the French Duchy of Lorraine, Margaret of Anjou
grew up in France before her marriage to Henry VI in 1445.
The marriage was somewhat controversial, in that there was
no dowry given to the English Crown for Margaret by the French.
Instead it was agreed that Charles VII of France, who was at
war with Henry in The Hundred Years War in France would
be given the lands of Maine and Anjou from the English.
When this decision became public, it tore up already fractured r
elationships amongst the King’s council.
She was fifteen years old when she was crowned queen
consort at Westminster Abbey. She was described as beautiful,
and furthermore "already a woman: passionate and proud and
A breakdown in law and order, corruption, the distribution of
royal land to the king's court favourites, and the continued loss
of land in France meant Henry and his French Queen’s rule
became unpopular. Returning troops, who had often not been
paid, added to the lawlessness and prompted a rebellion by
Henry lost Normandy in 1450 and other French territory followed.
Soon only Calais remained. This loss weakened Henry and is
thought to have started the breakdown of his mental health.
Margaret gave birth to their only son, Edward of Lancaster, 1453.
It was rumoured that the King was incapable of fathering a child
and that the baby was the result of an affair between Margaret a
nd on of her favourites, Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset,
and James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire were both named as possible
fathers. But there’s no evidence to confirm this and Henry certainly
accepted the boy as his own.
Unable to rouse Henry from his catatonic state, Margaret ruled the
kingdom in his place. It was she who called for a Great Council in
May 1455 that excluded Henry’s uncle, Richard, Duke of York,
sparking the series of battles between York and Lancaster that
would last more than thirty years.
Margaret attempted to raise support for the Lancastrian cause. Lancaster
won at the Battle of Wakefield where the Duke of York was beheaded,
and followed up with a victory at the Second Battle of St Albans (at
which she was present) against Warwick, recapturing her husband. But
the Yorks won at Towton in 1461, led by the Duke’s son Edward, who
deposed of King Henry and proclaimed himself Edward IV.
Margaret took Edward and fled to Scotland and plotted their return. When
Warwick fell out with Edward over his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville,
Margaret and he formed an alliance; together they restored Henry to the
throne. To cement their deal, Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville, was
married to Margaret's son Edward.
Their success was brief, Margaret was taken prisoner by the victorious
Yorkists after the Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury, where her son
Edward was killed. In 1475, she was ransomed by her cousin, King
Louis XI of France. She went to live in France as a poor relation of
the French king, and she died there at the age of 52.
Margaret’s energy, ambitions and commitment to her cause is s struggle
for some make historians, in her case, she is considered to be a
pseudo-man. Polydore Vergil described her as ‘A woman of sufficient forecast, very desirous of renown, full of policy, council, comely behaviour, and all manly qualities …’. This is the start of the interrogation of Queen
Margaret of Anjou’s femininity that has gone on until our own times. In a
very little while this queen who fought so courageously for her son, her
husband, and her house, would become not even a man but described by
Shakespeare as a beast: a ‘she-wolf”.
She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France...
Women are soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible;
Thou stern, obdurate, flinty, rough, remorseless
SOURCE: Shakespeare, W. Henry VI: Part III, 1.4.111, 141-142
Behind their train comes Margaret of Anjou seated on a litter drawn by mules, white faced and grim. They don't exactly bind her hands and feet and put a silver chain around her throat, but I think everyone understands well enough that this woman is defeated and will not rise from her defeat. I take Elizabeth with me when I greet Edward at the gate of the Tower because I want my little daughter to see this woman, who has been a terror to her for all her five years, to see her defeated and to know that we are all safe from the woman she calls the Bad Queen.
Image: Margaret of Anjou receiving the Book of Romances. From an illuminated manuscript by the Talbot Master (circa 1445, British Library)