Margaret of Anjou is best remembered as a vengeful and ambitious woman who brought war and misery to England. She also participated in one of the bloodiest civil wars.
Margaret of Anjou was born 23 March 1430 at Pont-a-Mousson, Lorraine. She was the second daughter born to René of Anjou and Isabelle of Lorraine. René was King of Naples for four years in 1438 until he was ousted by Alfonso of Aragon four years later. They returned exhausted and penniless to their impoverished French estates.
Margaret remained in France in her paternal grandmother Yolande of Aragon’s care. Her mother and grandmother provided role models as strong influential women who bought hard for their husbands’ rights.
The Hundred Years’ War
France and England were embroiled in the Hundred Years’ War so Margaret was suggested as a bride for Henry VI to bring peace.
Margaret was married by proxy on 23 May 1444, with the Earl of Suffolk standing in for the absent bridegroom.
She was given a warm welcome upon her arrival at Porchester on 9 April after a stormy trip across the Channel. The new Queen fainted after she staggered to a nearby cottage.
Margaret met her husband for the first time at Southampton on 14 April 1445. They were married a week later in a private ceremony at Titchfield by William Aicough, the Bishop of Salisbury.
Margaret and Henry were ill-suited. She was married to a man never going to grow up with his ineffectual other-worldly nature. Margaret became a powerful force in the political world as she was loyal to Henry’s chief ministers Suffolk, whom she regarded as a father-figure, and Somerset who was accused of being her lover.
England’s finances were depleted as a result of political and administrative incompetence. Margaret was outraged when her expenditure was reduced to 10,000 marks but Margaret refused to economise, and fought for her rights. She quickly earned a reputation for avarice and extravagance.
Charles VII declared war on England again in July 1449, ending the truce brought by Margaret’s marriage.
Rumours circulated the Bishop was responsible for discoursing Henry having marital relations with his wife, despite his primary duty to produce a male heir.
Henry’s health deteriorated after the French soundly defeated the English at the Battle of Castillon on 16 July 1453.
He became ill as he lost his wits and memory for a time. Most of his body was uncoordinated and out of control. He could not walk, hold his head upright or easily move from where he sat. He had inherited the disease from his grandfather, the mad Charles VI of France.
Margaret finally gave birth to a son, Edward of Lancaster at Westminster, after eight barren years, on 13 October 1453. She focused on his future and presented a bill of five articles of parliament, the following February, claiming the regency for herself.
Parliament rejected her claims and appointed Richard Duke of York as Protector on 27 March 1454.
The King recovered temporarily in February 1455 so York was dismissed.
However, the King suffered further bouts of insanity which recurred regularly so York was again appointed Protector on 17 November 1455.
The Wars of the Roses
Attempts at reconciliation failed fell apart in after an assassination attempt was made on the Duchess of York’s nephew, the Earl of Warwick, in October 1458. He fled to Calais to raise troops whilst his father and uncle recruited men in the north and in Wales.
In 1459, Margaret raised a large army in October and defeated the Yorkists in the Welsh marches.
Henry was taken prisoner after Yorkist forces defeated the Lancastrians at Northampton in June 1460.
Margaret continued fighting for her son’s inheritance so she raised an army and defeated the Yorkists at Wakefield on 31 December 1460. York was among the casualties.
The Duke of York’s son arrived in London and formally claimed the crown as Edward IV on 4 March 1461.
Margaret, Henry and their son fled to Scotland where she waged guerrilla warfare in northern England for two years.
Henry was temporarily restored as King during the Readeption, but remained a puppet serving Warwick’s interests.
Edward IV regained his throne after the Battle at Tewkesbury where Margaret’s son was killed. Margaret was captured and taken to London as a prisoner. Henry VI was murdered on 21 May 1471 to discourage further Lancastrian uprisings.
She remained in the Tower until Louis XI paid a ransom of 50,000 crowns. Margaret sailed for France in January 1476. She was forced to renounce her claims to Anjou and Maine as compensation for the ransom.
Margaret lived at her father’s castle at Reculee and as he granted her modest pension. René of Anjou died in July 1480 so she was again dependent on Louis XI. She died in misery and poverty on 25 August 1482 at Dampierre Castle.
Cheetham, Anthony, A Royal History of England: The Wars of the Roses, Cassell & Co, London, 2000
Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003
Griffiths, R A, The Reign of Henry VI, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 2004 [First published in 1981]
Hilton, Lisa, Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2008
Norton, Elizabeth, She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England, The History Press Ltd, Stroud, 2008
Weir, Alison, Lancaster & York: The Wars of the Roses, Pimlico, London, 1998
Williamson, David, Debrett’s Kings and Queens of Britain, Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited, London, 1986
© 2010 Carolyn Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 2 March 2010.