Margaret of Anjou was Queen Consort to King Henry VI. Born into an important French family, Margaret was politically important from birth. Her relationship with her French relations and allies, along with her role in the Royal Court of England, have been been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny. To many, Margaret was largely responsible for the political tensions that ultimately led to the outbreak of the War of the Roses.
Margaret of Anjou: Queen Consort
Margaret was betrothed to the King of England in 1444 after a protracted period of negotiations. The negotiations, begun in 1439, centred around the claims and counter-claims of each party to lands in France. Marriage between Margaret and Henry was mutually beneficial. For the French, they gained influence in the English court. For the English, they gained links with not only Anjou but Lorraine and Bar. Both sides would benefit from the cessation of fighting that was to accompany the marriage. This, a truce, was short term in design. The English did not renounce their claims to Normandy or the French crown.
Margaret was granted an annuity, as customary for Queen Consorts and lands around the country that would provide her household with an income. Margaret’s lands were prominently in the South West and the Midlands, though she benefitted too from lands in the Duchy of Lancaster. The location of these lands is of some significance. As Margaret establishes herself within the English system, her management of these manors would inevitably lead to interaction with other local landowners. On a local level, these lead to alliances based on regional economics. They feed into the higher social strata through the affiliation of these landowners to more powerful lords and into the court itself: so Margaret’s lands would lead to her influence on thoughts from the top down to the lower reaches of the nobility and landed classes.
Margaret had a close relationship with the duke of Suffolk. It was he who had acted as proxy in the marriage treaty ceremonies and he who had introduced the English court to Margaret. This associates Margaret with one faction within the court. Suffolk’s demise in 1450 tarnished Margaret’s reputation as a consequence of this closeness.
Sources suggest that Margaret was aware of the traditional role of Queen Consort as a patron. This is most evident in relation to the establishing of Queens College, Cambridge. Though she herself was not a major financial contributor to the college, she followed in henry’s footsteps by petitioning for it to be established (Henry having founded Kings College) and many of her close allies were patrons of the college.
Henry’s Incapacity: Margaret’s increasing political role and importance
Margaret’s importance, particularly in relation to the later War of the Roses, increases significantly with the onset of Henry VI’s incapacity in 1453. With the Prince of Wales a newborn baby, the crown was placed in a position of much weakness. Henry’s illness thrust Margaret into the centre of the political world. Gone were the days of patronage and being a bystander in court affairs.
1453 saw the need for a Regent. Any Regent could be perceived as a threat to the succession of Edward, Prince of Wales. Margaret was in a position in which both her husband and sons rights were challenged. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes that prior to the incapacity of Henry, that relationships between Margaret and the Duke and Duchess of York were convivial. Margaret’s accounts showing gifts sent to the York household upto 1453.
Margaret sought, in 1453/54 to become Protector of England in her own right. The Council appointed Richard, Duke of York. This meant that the Government of the country was, for the duration of Henry’s incapacity, under the control of the Duke of York who had a strong claim to the throne in his own right and whom was on poor terms with the Duke of Somerset, one of Margaret’s closest allies.
Richard, Duke of York as Protector
The period of York’s role as protector was one in which Margaret became isolated within Court. Richard launched inquiries into the expenditure of the Royal Household and Government in general. It identified areas where cost savings could be made. This was quite prudent, England had financial difficulties as a result of the Hundred Years War. It was also a major blow for those who would lose out the most: Margaret and her followers.
It was the issue of these inquiries and ongoing fiscal reform that led to Richard being forced to resign the protectorship. His motives for changes may have been honorable or a ploy to weaken those closest to the King. Whichever is true, they led to divisions within the Kings Council becoming more apparent. The Council’s reluctance to back further inquiries and reforms left Richard, duke of York unable to govern. It also presented Margaret of Anjou with an opportunity to strengthen her position; to consolidate the rights of her son and to protect her husbands throne.
Margaret of Anjou, her political role and the views of historians
Margaret’s actions in this period of the mid 1450’s to 1460 are ones that have seen claims, revisions and revisiting of revisions. The initial populist view of the way in which Margaret acts in this period comes from Shakespeare’s History Plays. In these, Margaret of Anjou is portrayed as a manipulative, warmongering Queen who is blamed for the onset of war. In the twentieth century the view of Margaret amongst historians began to alter. A 1948 publication by JJ Bagley notes her,
“officious and interfering personality”
and describes her as
“courageous but impetuous, intelligent but inexperienced, susceptible to flattery and incapable of being passive”
A 2004 publication by Helen E. Maurer has reassessed this view. Maurer looks at both the nature of Medieval Queenship, such as patronage, role at court etc and also the context within which Margaret of Anjou was operating in the period 1453-1460. Maurer’s assessment is quite different. A review of her book summarises her findings as being:
Contrary to the traditional view of Margaret of Anjou, Maurer believes that she adhered to contemporary notions of queenship for as long as possible, ultimately being forced by circumstance to involve herself in politics. Richard III Society, 2004, Volume 14. Book Review.
What were Margaret’s actions in this period? Richard’s resignation and the return to court of Henry VI both precede Margaret taking a leading role in Court. The Council and workings of the Court are quite chaotic as a result of the breakdown of relationships between different groups within the Court. Sources are quite limited on the working of Government, the exact role of any individual and the way in which decisions at that level are made. What we do know is that following Richard, duke of York’s resignation as Protector, the Queen Consort became more active politically.
1456-1460: Kenilworth and the development of the Lancastrian Faction
In 1456 Margaret moved herself, Edward the Prince of Wales and the recovered King Henry VI to Kenilworth. Kenilworth lay at the heart of the lands in her control. It was an area from which her own wealth was derived and bordered the lands of many of her supporters. In choosing to base the court here, she was providing herself with as strong a position as possible.
During the Royal Families time at Kenilworth, Margaret begins to take a more visible and obvious role in the working of the court. Appointments to the Prince of Wales’ council were made through the Queen. She chose to fill all vacancies with her own supporters.
John Watts in his 1996 book on Henry’s kingship, notes that the Queen,
sought to establish a regional power-base in the name of her son, promoting those noblemen closest to her to positions of authority, including William Booth, Archbishop of York, his half-brother Laurence Booth, Bishop of Durham, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire
With links to the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall also developed, Margaret begins to move the power base from Westminster to Kenilworth/ Coventry. Marriages, which are thought to have been influenced if not arranged by Margaret, also established stronger ties from the Lancastrian faction with the dukes of Buckingham and Shrewsbury.
As the 1450’s progressed, Margaret seems to have influenced several key decisions. Warwick had been appointed as Captain of Calais as a reward for his support of Richard, duke of York, in the Battle of St Albans. Some sources suggest that once Henry had recovered, Margaret sought to weaken Warwick through limiting funds he received. Warwick was also summoned to Westminster to explain his attack of Spanish and German shipping. Whilst in London, Warwick became concerned for his life and fled back to Calais for his safety. This followed fighting between his men and those of the Royal household.
Margaret was also involved in the Loveday procession and the agreements made that Henry VI hoped would see an end to fighting between rival factions. The Loveday procession and agreement was a failure but can be seen as an attempt, perhaps influenced by Margaret, at arbitration, reconciliation and peace.
Armed conflict had been seen in 1455 at the Battle of St Albans. The rival factions had been brought back to court for the Loveday procession and agreements. The lull was relatively short though. In 1459 warfare broke out again. A Lancastrian force of men from Margaret’s lands was routed by the Earl of Salisbury at the Battle of Bloreheath in September. The tide was turned at Ludlow in October 1459. Yorkists accepted Henry as King and recognised Edward, the Prince of Wales as heir. It was short lived, a year later the Yorkists attacked and Captured Henry VI at Northampton in late October. Now, Richard of York was named heir.
Here we see Margaret of Anjou as a strategist for the Lancastrian cause. Following Northampton, Margaret removed herself to Scotland. Following the victory at Ludlow she gathered a Lancastrian force from supporters in Scotland and the north. After a victory for the Lancastrians at Wakefield, at which she was not present, Margaret seized the initiative. Richard of York had died in battle, there was an opportunity for a final victory. Margaret led her forces to London where she intended to finish the conflict once and for all. However, the gates of London were closed to her. The City did not trust the Lancastrians to keep the peace. Faced with the advance of a Yorkist army led by the Earl of March, Margaret had to withdraw.
29 March 1461: Towton and Margaret in exile
The Battle of Towton was a disaster for the Lancastrians. Thousands died including many of the nobles who Margaret had developed strong ties with. The victory saw Richard’s son claim the throne that his father had claimed. Many of those Lancastrians who had survived the battle now saw themselves in enforced exile.
Margaret took the lead in attempting to restore the house of Lancaster to the throne. From Scotland she sought assistance from nobles there and sent envoys to France. In England there remained some nobles who were loyal to Henry and the Lancastrian cause. However circumstances in Scotland and France meant that there was no immediate offer of substantial aid to the Lancastrian cause. Both Scotland and France had new monarch. In Scotland there was a Regency. In France the new king was not willing to commit to anything.
Margaret took it upon herself to visit France to seek aid. Envoys had been unsuccessful so she set out to see the duke of Brittany and the French King, Louis XI. Margaret’s efforts proved reasonably successful. Funds were gained to maintain an expedition to England. Some support could be gained from Scotland. The expedition set out in 1463. It proved to be a failure and forced Margaret and her son to flee to France whilst Henry was left in Scotland.
There followed several years in which Margaret and the young Prince of Wales lived in Margaret’s ancestral lands, reliant upon her fathers estates for the upkeep of their household.
1468: Allegiances Change
The situation for Margaret and her hopes of restoring Henry or her son to the throne looked bleak at the beginning of 1468. Circumstance soon opened up new opportunities. The Earl of Warwick, the thorn in the side of the Lancastrian cause and the reason why York held the throne, was disaffected with Edward IV’s rule.
Letters from Fortesque to Louis XI and envoys sent to Margaret’s father pressed for an alliance to be made between the Lancastrians and Warwick. It was a highly unlikely alliance. Margaret opposed the idea for some time. Eventually her father persuaded her to accept that a political alliance with Warwick was the only way in which she could recover the throne for Henry.
Negotiations led to an agreement for Warwick’s daughter, Anne, to be married to Prince Edward. Funds were secured from Louis XI who was now willing to support a venture.
In 1470 a force was ready to invade England. Warwick set sail with a fleet of 60 ships. On 6th October 1470, Henry VI was released from the Tower of London. Warwick had entered the city unopposed. Henry was proclaimed king.
Margaret was due to sail to England to rejoin her husband in the spring of 1471. This would have given time for the kingdom to be secured and for diplomacy on the continent to have been finalised. In March, 1471, she landed in Weymouth. Here she learnt that Warwick had been killed in the Battle of Barnet.
Margaret joined with the forces of Jasper Tudor in the west country. She was in the vicinity of forces who engaged the Yorkists at Tewksbury. This battle saw her son, Edward Prince of Wales, die. SMargaret herself was found by Yorkist forces several days after the battle. Taken to Edward, she was held in captivity and then sent back to France as part of an agreement between Edward IV and Louis XI. Margaret lived out the remainder of her days in her fathers lands. She died in 1482 and is buried in Angers Cathedral.
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