Marguerite d’Anjou, more commonly known as Margaret of Anjou and wife to Henry VI of England, was born to René, Duke of Anjou and Isabella, daughter of the Duke of Lorraine in Pont-à-Mousson, France on 23 March 1429. Pont-à-Mousson lies in modern north-eastern France, close to the countries of Luxembourg and Lichtenstein. The Moselle river flows through Pont-à-Mousson and the skyline boasts the impressive Norbertine abbey, which was built in 1121. Young Marguerite spent her early years in the castle of Capua in Naples, Italy, where her father was titular king, and in the castle of Tarascon on the Rhône River. Marguerite was tutored by her well-educated mother and may have received some lessons from Antoine de la Salle, who tutored Marguerite’s brothers.
“La petite créature,” as little Marguerite was affectionately known, grew up in luxurious surroundings boasting of such fine things as silk and Chinese porcelain. In 1443, the approximately fourteen-year-old Marguerite was sent to live at the French court with her paternal aunt, Queen Marie of France. It was written of Marguerite by the Burgundian chronicler Berante that, “[t]here was no princess in Christendom more accomplished than my lady…She was already renowned in France for her beauty and wit and her lofty spirit of courage.” It was this lofty spirit of courage, recognized in Marguerite at such a young age that would carry her through her time as Queen of England.
Marguerite was betrothed to Henry VI in 1444 and married him on 23 April 1445, one month after Marguerite’s sixteenth birthday. Marguerite was crowned queen consort on 30 May 1445 at Westminster Abbey. When Marguerite first arrived in England, her future husband was so excited to meet her, he disguised himself as a squire and delivered a letter to Marguerite. The letter was written by him, the King of England. Marguerite was so engrossed in reading the letter from her future husband that she simply did not notice him and kept the king, still dressed as a squire, on his knees. After Henry VI departed, she was informed that the squire was actually Henry VI. Marguerite was upset at not knowing she was in the presence of the king.
An intellectual who valued education, Marguerite founded Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1448. The heraldic arms of the present-day college are those of Marguerite, with an added green border to symbolize the college. Marguerite was slowly increasing her political position in England, having taken an interest in pecuniary matters after the fall of a noble close to the king, the Duke of Suffolk. However, her reach was rather limited as she had yet to produce an heir.
Marguerite gave birth to Edward of Westminster on 13 October 1543. Sadly, her husband was suffering an indisposition. Henry VI was known to suffer bouts of insanity. After the birth of her son, Marguerite retired from London to Greenwich to raise the infant Edward. At this time, Richard, Duke of York, was appointed to the protectorate until Henry VI recovered his sanity. The Duke of York had been heir to the throne until Edward was born. Marguerite’s conflicts with the Duke of York in 1455 culminated in the start of the Wars of the Roses, with the premier battle of St. Albans resulting in the defeat of the Lancastrian faction. Marguerite was to play an important role in the Wars of the Roses, so named for the badges of the houses of Lancaster and York; which were the red rose and white rose, respectively.
In 1459, Marguerite outlawed the Yorkist leaders in an attempt to quell the Yorkist faction’s agitation toward the throne. Richard, Duke of York died in 1460, leaving his son, the future Edward IV, to take up the Yorkist cause. In her attempts to protect the rights and safety of both her husband and son, Marguerite fled to Scotland. She returned with the northern army that successfully defeated the Yorkists during the second Battle of St Albans in 1461.
In 1462, with the Wars still raging, Marguerite returned to France with her son where she was able to muster a force through the help of her father and King Louis XI. In exchange for granting Calais to Louis XI, Marguerite gained a force of 2,000 men, the authority to muster men in Normandy and 20,000 francs to finance her campaign. Louis XI sent ships to harry the English coast, which put the sitting Edward IV on notice of a Lancastrian invasion. In October 1462, Marguerite, Prince Edward and her force of 2,000 men made for the English coast of Northumberland. Unfortunately, Marguerite’s ships were scattered during a storm, with some ships being lost.
The battered Lancastrian forced landed near Alnwick, where they caught wind of an approach by the Yorkist faction with a large force. Marguerite’s remaining force scattered. Undeterred by this and other initial setbacks in England, Marguerite marched forth and seized or secured several strongholds. These strongholds included Warkworth Castle, Alnwick Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle, and reinforced Bamburgh Castle with some of her remaining French forces. Marguerite was able to recover her husband, as well. Unfortunately, her luck had run out.
The English detested the French garrisons and refused to aid Marguerite. Storms thwarted Marguerite’s attempt at fleeing with her husband and son. Ultimately, her strongholds fell one by one to the Yorkists and Marguerite eventually fled to Scotland. She did educate her son and attempt an invasion to take back the throne, but ultimately, the Lancastrian faction was defeated. Marguerite’s son died in battle and her husband later died while imprisoned by Edward IV, the Yorkist king.
The end of Marguerite’s tale is sad; she was imprisoned in England for several years until a ransom was paid for her. Marguerite was able to return to France, where she lived the rest of her life in poverty. Marguerite finally shuffled off her mortal coil on 25 August 1482. But, Marguerite was an intelligent, capable, stalwart woman. She fought for those she loved and what she believed. This women lead armies while her husband was incapacitated, and even managed to convince the countries of Scotland and France to assist her in her quest to regain the throne for her husband and son. Although Marguerite met with a sad end, she was an exemplary queen for her courageous spirit and dedication to her family.
Sources and Further Reading
- Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses. (New York: Ballantine Books 1995).
- Maurer, Helen E. Margaret of Anjou : Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2004).
- “Abbaye des Preémontrés.” Retrieved 22 August 2015. http://www.ville-pont-a-mousson.fr/fr/information/63607/abbaye-premontres
- “Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England.” Retrieved 22 August 2015. http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/margaretanjou.htm
- “Marguerite d’Anjou (1429-1482), reine d’Angleterre.” Retrieved 19 August 2015. http://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/marguerite-d-anjou/
- “Queens College, Cambridge: the Heraldic Arms.” Retrieved 23 August 2015. http://www.queens.cam.ac.uk/life-at-queens/about-the-college/college-facts/the-heraldic-arms