Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Sunday, 22 July 2012
This edited article about Margaret of Anjou originally appeared
in Look and Learn issue number 754 published on 26 June 1976.
Famous throughout the whole of Europe for her beauty and learning,
Margaret of Anjou seemed assured of a brilliant future. But history
was to shape her life in such a manner as to make her penniless.
Her beauty was a legend even at the age of thirteen. It dazzled and
bewitched all who beheld her wherever she or her portrait went. But
matchless beauty was not all that this remarkable child possessed. Trained
and nurtured with the utmost care, she was famous throughout Europe for
her exceptional learning and majestic grace.
Princes and noblemen all over the continent aspired to her hand, and it
seemed to all who knew the lovely young princess, that hers would be a
life of peace, and untroubled happiness.
Instead her life was to end in tragedy and miserable humiliation. Her name
was Margaret of Anjou.
Born on March 24th, 1430, Margaret was the daughter of the chivalrous,
gentle King Rene of Sicily and Provence, King of Naples, Duke of Anjou and
Maine, and of the headstrong Isabel of Lorraine.
From all her ancestors Margaret inherited abundant energy, a love of hunting,
of horses and warlike tournaments; from her father a love of art and learning,
and from her mother, courage, tenacity and an iron will.
Throughout her life Margaret was to call on the courage within her that
remained undaunted, almost to the very end of her life. The first test of
these qualities came at the age of fifteen when she first set an unsteady
foot on England’s hostile soil. A tempestuous storm across the Channel
had reduced her ship to a mastless, limping hulk. Sweeping across the
mainland, the gale had felled trees, ripped off roofs of houses, and
devastated the countryside. Sick, dishevelled, her clothes in tatters
and on the point of physical collapse, Margaret arrived to find no friendly
welcome from the people of her new home. It was a miracle she had not
She had come to England to be married to the country’s king, the saintly,
politically naive, Henry VI, thus sealing the truce intended to end the
Hundred Years War between England and France.
Henry was at once enslaved by his young bride and Margaret, in her turn,
soon developed an aggressive, protective affection for the king who loved
justice and peace above all things.
England should have adored a queen like Margaret. Even at so young an
age, she showed an aptitude and liking for the hard work of government.
Two years after her coronation as Henry’s Queen, the real reign of Margaret
of Anjou would begin. More and more she had taken on the duties of
government which Henry found so intolerable. Peace-loving, erudite, and
deeply religious, Henry was totally unsuited to his task as ruler of a
troubled nation and Margaret, wanting to relieve him of all the worldly
problems which he found so agonising, resolved to spend her life
protecting and ensuring his peace of mind.
In less troubled times, her policies would have delighted the nation:
lasting peace abroad; at home the restoration of the country’s former
prosperity; and the encouragement of trade and the broadening of
education. Henry had founded Eton and King’s College, Cambridge,
and Margaret founded Queen’s College. She sent to the Low Countries
and Lyons for skilled craftsmen to improve the woollen industry and to
Unhappily, though, for the majority of English, Margaret would always
remain ‘the foreigner’.
She ruled England at a time of tremendous change. For thirty years the
English were to spill each other’s blood in a dynastic struggle so hideous
and appalling that it has gone down in history as one of the most tragic
events in the nation’s past.
The Wars Of The Roses is a deceptively pretty name for the horrors and
atrocities which were carried out in the name of honour and revenge in
that bloody civil war.
Margaret’s role in the struggle was a decisive one. Without her, the
destinies of England, of France and consequently of the whole world
would have been different.
At the age of 20 she was faced with the task of preventing, almost
single-handed, the dismembering of an empire and the total collapse
of a dynasty.
To save the royal House of Lancaster she would have to crush Richard,
Duke of York, the claimant to the throne. She appointed the Lancastrian,
Somerset, Constable of England, to the amazed indignation of the nation,
who blamed him for England’s defeat at the hands of the French at the
end of the Hundred Years War. The most unpopular man in England,
he had been made commander of all the armed forces which, in the
circumstances, made him absolute master of the government. Richard
of York seethed with anger at the sight of his archrival being given
such power. He assembled a small army and marched on London to
claim the Crown.
The Wars Of The Roses had begun. In battle after battle, Margaret
was to fight with indomitable courage. At Wakefield, where she won
a great victory over the Yorkists, her strategy possessed the inspired
brilliance of a Napoleon.
In 1461 at the second battle of St Albans, she won another victory.
But soon the tide was to change. On the battlefield of Towton where
perished the flower of Lancastrian nobility, there took place one of the
worst massacres in the history of war. The day after battle, the rivers
nearby still ran red with the blood of Lancaster’s 28,000 dead.
Richard of York’s son, Edward, Earl of March, was now King of England.
But while she had a breath of life in her body, Margaret would fight to
win the crown back for her husband and for her son.
After seven years exile in France she returned to England to recover from
Edward IV the crown. But the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 was to be
her final battle. Utterly defeated, and mentally broken, the Queen was
thrown into a cart and taken away to prison. She would never reign again.
Henry, the peace-lover, met his violent death at the hands of a murderer
on the orders of Edward IV. Her beloved son was battered to death by
Edward IV and his lords, and Margaret herself, after five years in prison,
was ransomed, at the price of her French estates, to the French king,
Louis XI. When her father died she became a penniless beggar. She had
signed away all claims to her family’s lands and in doing this had united
France with Maine, Anjou and Provence.
Friendless, penniless, and completely alone, she died at the age of fifty-two.