Thursday, April 3, 2014

Margaret of Anjou-Queen Consort of Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou

How Margaret Came to be Queen Consort of England 

Margaret of Anjou was one of many French princesses to be born into an unstable court. Her father--Renee of Anjou--was well-known for being land rich but cash poor. Despite this, he was often referred to as a great person, and is reputedly the person France has to thank for the rich culture that later influenced its royalty.
Renee was a big supporter of Charles VII of France, who was battling to regain the Valois stronghold on the French throne following Henry V's successes at Agincourt. Like Catherine of Valois before her, Margaret effectively became a bargaining chip for the French court. Her father's close relationship with Charles VII meant Margaret was in a great position for becoming another French queen consort of England.
When it became clear that Henry VI of England could no longer retain his father's successes in France, envoys were sent to France to negotiate a peace deal. As well as giving up land there, Henry obtained Margaret of Anjou, without a dowry.

Margaret of Anjou Marries Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou's Union With Henry VI

By-proxy, Margaret of Anjou married Henry VI in November 1444. The ceremony took place in France, with the Duke of Suffolk standing in Henry's place. On the day of Margaret's wedding, her sister Yolante chose to run away with her long forbidden fiance and marry him in secret. This made the day quite bizarre and eventful, but incredibly romantic.
Following the nuptials, eight days' worth of celebrations continued. Ladies attending the events wore garlands made of daisies, which was Margaret's symbolic flower of choice. Following the big day, Margaret faced the tumultuous journey that would take her across the English channel.
As Margaret's family had provided no dowry, this meant that the English parliament had to fund her travels. At the time, England was experiencing periods of economic turmoil.This meant that the finer details of her arrival in the country were kept secret, as the English people were unlikely to be accepting of a queen consort who had cost them a significant amount of money.
The wedding celebrations for Margaret and Henry were not over yet, but neither were the tribulations for the young queen making her way to France. After a rough journey--a common occurrence for princesses being transported to their English kings--Margaret arrived in England, only to fall ill. The nature of her illness was so grave, a physician was called out to see her. While this hardly seems a dramatic action by modern terms, physicians were reserved for the gravest of occasions in the late medieval period.
When it seemed that all hope was lost for the queen, possibly as a result of smallpox, the queen began to recover. Within a week of falling ill, she made her way to Tichfield Abbey to marry her new husband in the presence of English nobles.
Unfortunately for Margaret, her sickness left its tell-tale signs, which became apparent on her wedding day. Those who attended the Tichfield nuptials commented that she was a beautiful queen, yet she was rather sickly looking. Henry--a man who had previously been noted for his aversion to sexual liaisons--was apparently bowled over by the queen's beauty. As the young Margaret settled into married life, she was undoubtedly unaware of just how hands-on her role as a queen consort would require her to be.

England in Turmoil and Margaret of Anjou's Spending

Source: Margaret of Anjou Sketch

Margaret of Anjou's First Few Years as Queen

In medieval England, queen consorts were required to produce male heirs and keep their heads down. In a time of austerity, Margaret was also expected to take a frugal approach to her role as queen. Unfortunately, she did very little to meet the expectations of England--this was something that ultimately contributed to her downfall.
Arriving in England without a dowry and the surrender of French lands behind her, Margaret was a controversial consort from the off. Several parliamentary records lewdly make reference to her nationality, in a way that would be considered disdainful and racist by today's standards. As the years went by, she showed no signs of producing an heir. There are many ways we can hypothesise about this today. Henry was noted for being a pious and devout king, who had previously rejected the advances of topless women. Maybe their sex life was not consistent enough for an heir. Others may have supposed Margaret was barren, or maybe unwilling to fulfill her conjugal duties.
Regardless of why Margaret was not producing an heir, her empty womb was starting to draw attention from the Lancastrian faction. In the years running up to 1453, she spent lavishly and refurbished palaces in London. While her husband reduced the size of his estate, Margaret's continued to grow.

However, is this something history can blame Margaret for? As a French princess, she had minimal understanding of financial management. Although she was far from stupid, she did arrive in England under the illusion she needed to appear as affluent as possible to be accepted. As a result, England and France both created a bit of a financial monster.
Margaret's intelligence became clear in the way she made attempts to oust the Duke of York. As the leader of the Yorkist faction, he was technically England's heir presumptive. This meant he was next in line to the throne, providing Margaret did not produce a son. For those growing displeased with Henry VI's inability to keep hold of French territories, this was enough to keep them happy. However, in 1453, everything began to change.

Prince Edward

1453: Margaret of Anjou Gives Birth

In 1453, Margaret of Anjou gave birth to Prince Edward. For those hoping that the Duke of York would go from being the heir presumptive to king, this was a disappointment. In addition to this, Henry VI made the bold move of officially legitimising his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. As the sons of Catherine of Valois--his mother--and Owen Tudor, they were the men who would later give rise to the Tudor dynasty. By legitimising them, he provided more heirs for the Lancastrian faction.
However, Henry's plans didn't end there. At the same time, he ensured Margaret Beaufort--mother of Henry VII--was subject to a marriage contract with Edmund Tudor. As she descended from John of Gaunt, she too had a strong royal lineage. Through this, Henry hoped to retain the Lancastrian stronghold on the crown.
Alas, the king descended into madness at the end of 1453. Taking after his grandfather Charles VI of France, he suffered from catatonic schizophrenia. This meant that Margaret was left to fend off the Yorkists alone. Much to her dismay, the Duke of York was made Henry's Lord Protector, leaving him in an extremely powerful position.
Despite this, Margaret did not give in. She ventured across England, drumming up support for the Lancastrian cause. With the new prince by her side, she was keen to demonstrate that Henry was not reaching his end. By December 1454, she found some relief. Henry regained his faculties, and although he was unable to remember the previous seventeen months, he was ready to rule again.

Margaret of Anjou's Coat of Arms

Margaret of Anjou's Coat of Arms
Margaret of Anjou's Coat of Arms

Margaret of Anjou's Fall From Grace

Try as she may, Margaret of Anjou was neither popular or powerful enough to fend of the Yorkists. In 1455, Margaret made the mistake of calling a council that excluded the Yorkists. Although it is hard to tell whether doing otherwise would have pacified them, this seemed to seal the rivalry once and for all.
On the 22nd of May 1455, her husband King Henry VI was taken prisoner by the Duke of York. Margaret continued trying to generate support for the Lancastrian cause, most notably by venturing into Scotland. In 1460, the Battle of Wakefield took place. With the Lancastrians being victorious, the Duke of York was beheaded. Whether or not Margaret ordered this is unclear. Some horrific accounts claim she paraded with the duke's head, while others maintain she was not close enough to the battle to make such an order. Geographically, this does appear to be the case. The beheading took place quite close to the battle, which would not give enough time for Margaret to send a message from Scotland to Wakefield.
In 1461, Margaret successfully re-captured her husband. Despite promising the two knights who held him captive immunity, she had them executed. Later that year, the Lancastrian armies were defeated. Edward IV--the son of the Duke of York--declared himself king, leading to the beginning of Yorkist rule.
Unfortunately for Edward IV, his support was not to last long. His rise to the throne was aided by the powerful Earl of Warwick, also known as "Warwick the Kingmaker." When Edward dared to marry Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick was dejected. He had arranged a more suitable match, causing him to feel affronted by the king's actions. In an act of revenge, he decided to aid Margaret of Anjou, who had since fled to France with her son.
With Louis XI of France and Warwick the Kingmaker aiding her, Margaret was regaining power. Briefly, Margaret restored Henry to the throne in 1470. However, her success was fleeting. In 1471, Edward IV was once again victorious. Within the space of a year, Margaret lost her son, her husband, and her role as Queen Consort of England.

A Burial at Angers Cathedral

Angers Cathedral
Angers Cathedral

Death of a Queen

There was no dignity in death for Margaret of Anjou. After being returned to France in 1475, she lived in abstract poverty. With no further use for her, the French royal family allowed her to live in noble houses, but with a pittance for survival.
On August 25th 1482, Margaret of Anjou died. Years later, the French revolutionaries removed her remains and scattered them in a ceremonial act of defiance against the French monarchy. Despite her ongoing efforts to maintain the Lancastrian cause and aid the French royal family, Margaret received no dignity in death.

Margaret of Anjou on Amazon

The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou
The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou
Amazon Price: $0.98
List Price: $14.99

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