Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) was queen consort of Henry VI, Lancastrian king of England. She was a niece of Charles VII of France and a cousin of Louis XI.

On March 23, 1430, Margaret was born in Lorraine to Isabel of Lorraine and RenéI, then Count of Guise. Margaret's betrothal to Henry VI on May 24, 1444, and marriage in March 1445 were negotiated by the Duke of Suffolk, protected by a Council indemnity, as a truce sanctioned by Henry for want of a better policy. Without his father's military skill and with little artillery and no money, Henry clung to the title of king of France while marrying a penniless niece of his rival for that throne. Charles lent ceremony to the marriage and prepared for the reconquest of western France from the disorganized and bankrupt government of Henry VI.

The "bride of peace" charade thrust upon Margaret was a disadvantageous introduction to English politics. From 1449 to 1453 Henry lost claims to holdings in Anjou, Maine, Normandy, and Guienne, as well as the alliance of Brittany, to Margaret's uncle. These defeats made the Suffolk faction of the Council unpopular, but Margaret regarded this faction and their adherents as her only friends. She treated Humphrey of Gloucester, Richard of York, and the "war party" as enemies on all questions of policy and place. Thus Margaret united her opponents and also lost any prospect of support by the London populace. To the absence of improvement in Henry's muddled finances and policy must be added Margaret's inability to forgo foreign sources of support or to win adherence from more than a faction of feudal favorites. Her language of asperity, reproof, and moral instruction was not well calculated to win English approval for a French queen.

In 1450 defeats in France provoked a clamor against the Duke of Suffolk, whom Henry saved from the action of Parliament but not from murder, and a popular rising called Jack Cade's Rebellion temporarily drove the King and Queen from London. Henry's first attack of insanity, from August of 1453 to December of 1454, spanned the end of the Hundred Years War; the birth of Edward, Margaret's only child, on Oct. 13, 1453; and York's 1454 regency by act of Parliament.

In 1455 York's ambition and Margaret's lack of moderation led to a parliamentary and military conflict later misnamed the War of the Roses. Margaret organized the army that surprised and slew York at Wakefield (Dec. 30, 1460), but York's sons and the Earl of Warwick profited by London's support, and their victory at Towton (March 29, 1461) made the Lancastrian royalty fugitives from the first Yorkist king, Edward IV.

Henry VI was captured, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and lost his sanity, while Margaret and her son, with some help from Louis XI, made picturesque attempts to regain power. The defection of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence from Edward IV in 1469 provided an opportunity for an anti-Yorkist combination, with Warwick's daughter, Anne Neville, betrothed to Prince Edward and Warwick leading a 1470 expedition that swiftly drove Edward IV to refuge in Burgundy. Henry VI was restored to his throne if not to his wits, and Edward IV prepared to return to the struggle with help from Charles the Bold of Burgundy.

Margaret was prudent enough to wait 6 months before bringing her son to England and unlucky enough to land on the day Warwick was defeated and slain at Barnet (April 14, 1471). Prince Edward's defeat and death at Tewkesbury (May 4, 1471) left Margaret a captive and Edward IV with no further motive for keeping Henry VI alive. Margaret's imprisonment in the Tower was coincident with Henry's death (May 21, 1471). In 1475 Louis XI agreed to ransom Margaret and gave her a small pension in return for the surrender of all her inheritance claims. Margaret died on April 25, 1482.

Further Reading on Margaret of Anjou

Margaret's Letters, edited by Cecil Monro (1863), sheds no light on major political issues but illustrates her interference in the local disputes of her favorites. J. J. Bagley, Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England (1948), provides a concise modern account. Mrs. Mary Ann Hookham, Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou (2 vols., 1872), is comprehensive but uncritical of its many sources. Useful background information is in Sir James H. Ramsay, Lancaster and York: A Century of English History (2 vols., 1892), and Ernest Fraser Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961).

Additional Biography Sources

Haswell, Jock, The ardent queen: Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrian heritage, London: Peter Davies, 1976.