victorian engraving of Margaret
victorian engraving of Margaret

Character Information

Margaret is the daughter of Reignier, king of Naples. She appears toward the end of the play as a hostage of Suffolk. Struck with her beauty, Suffolk attempts to woo her for the king. The language used in the wooing scene is some of the best in the play. Margaret shows herself to be a smart woman, willing to verbally spar with the man who holds her hostage. Her strength will be a driving force in the second and third parts of Henry 6.

Historical Information

The following is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by Diana E. S. Dunn

Margaret (Margaret of Anjou) (1430–1482), queen of England, consort of Henry VI, was born on 23 or 24 March 1430, in France, probably at Pont-à-Mousson or Nancy, in Lorraine. She was the fourth surviving child, and second daughter, of René, duke of Anjou (1409–1480), and Isabelle (d. 1453), daughter and heir of Charles II, duke of Lorraine.

Early years and marriage proposals, 1430–1444
Margaret's parental links to a number of important European ruling families destined her from birth to be a pawn in the complexities of European diplomacy. René, second son of Louis II, duke of Anjou and king of Naples, and Yolande, daughter of Juan, king of Aragon, was directly related to the French monarchy by his own parentage and through his sister Marie, wife of Charles VII of France. Although having little by way of patrimony in his own name, in 1419, aged ten, René was adopted by his great-uncle the Cardinal-Duke Louis, ruler of the duchy of Bar, as his heir, and was married to Isabelle, eldest daughter and heir of Charles II, duke of Lorraine. René inherited the duchy of Lorraine on the death of his father-in-law on 25 January 1431 but it was contested by Antoine de Vaudemont, a nephew of the late duke, supported by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. On 2 July 1431 René was defeated at Bulgnéville in Lorraine and taken prisoner by Vaudemont, transferred into the custody of the duke of Burgundy, and held prisoner in Dijon until 1437. During his imprisonment René inherited the title to the duchy of Anjou and the county of Provence on the death of his childless brother Louis in 1434. In the following year he also inherited the thrones of Sicily, Naples, and Aragon from Joanna II, queen of Sicily, but his claim was contested by Alfonso V of Aragon, a dispute that was to preoccupy René and his wife intermittently for the next five years, necessitating long periods in Italy.

Her father's fluctuating political fortunes meant that Margaret spent much of her early life either in the care of her mother or, after 1435, her grandmother, Yolande of Aragon (d. 1442), living first at Nancy, the capital of the duchy of Lorraine, and then at Saumur and Angers in Anjou. These two strong-minded women played an important part in shaping Margaret's personality during her formative years in a society where, within ruling families, women were able to hold more independent power as regents than in England. She was also exposed to the illustrious court culture of Anjou, both her grandmother and her father being leading patrons of literature and art.

In 1442 René abandoned his fight with Alfonso of Aragon for the crown of Naples and returned to France to devote his time to looking after his more immediate territorial interests, and to ensuring the continued influence of his family in European politics by arranging appropriate marriages for his children. Proposed marriage partners for Margaret included a son of the count of St Pol in 1433, the one-year-old Charles, count of Charolais, in 1435, and Charles, count of Nevers, in 1442–3. None came to fruition. The most enduring, and ultimately successful, marriage negotiations with representatives of the English king, Henry VI , were conducted sporadically from 1439, in the hope of bringing the lengthy and expensive war between England and France to an end. In spring 1444 William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, led an embassy to Charles VII to negotiate a truce, resulting in a marriage treaty between René of Anjou and the English, agreed on 22 May. The solemn betrothal of Margaret and King Henry was celebrated in the church of St Martin, Tours, on 24 May, Suffolk standing proxy for the king. On 28 May a twenty-month truce between England and France was sealed, though the English claim to full sovereignty over Normandy and Gascony, and refusal to renounce the title to the French throne, remained obstacles to permanent peace. Historians have speculated on the benefits of the marriage alliance for the two countries. While it represented a prestigious match for René of Anjou, it also brought an important source of influence at the English court to Charles VII, who was to use it to good effect. Though Margaret came with a meagre dowry, consisting only of her mother's empty claims to the kingdom of Majorca and 20,000 francs, and renouncing claims to her father's possessions, she brought links with other strategically important areas of France, such as the duchies of Lorraine and Bar. Lecoy de la Marche, René's nineteenth-century biographer, suggests that the English acceptance of so poor a dowry was motivated by nothing more than a desire for friendship with France.

Marriage to Henry VI, 1444–1445

Contemporary Manuscript page depicting the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou
Contemporary Manuscript page depicting the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou

After a delay of six months Suffolk returned to France with a large retinue to escort Margaret back to England. This substantial and expensive expedition, costing £5573 17s. 5d., left London in November 1444 and returned five months later. The exact sequence of events between November 1444 and April 1445 is confused. Some writers record a second proxy marriage performed at Nancy in early March 1445 by Louis de Heraucourt, bishop of Toul. It was afterwards claimed by the French that the marriage was deliberately delayed by the Angevins until Suffolk had given a firm undertaking to surrender Maine to René of Anjou. There is confusion in the sources between the proxy marriage of Margaret and Suffolk in Tours in May 1444, and that of René's eldest daughter, Yolande, to Frédéric, son and heir of Antoine de Vaudemont, at Nancy in February 1445, attended by Margaret and other members of the French royal family. The latter coincided with the arrival of an English delegation led by the Garter king of arms to finalize the terms for the marriage treaty and convey Margaret on the first stage of her journey from her homeland to Rouen via Paris. When Margaret eventually reached Rouen, accompanied by a small number of Angevin servants, she was not well enough to attend the splendid welcoming pageant, and her place in the procession was taken by the duchess of Suffolk.

On her arrival in England on 9 April Margaret was ill again, and remained at Southampton, where, according to the Milanese ambassador, she was visited by the king in disguise, who was anxious to inspect his young bride in person for the first time. By 22 April she had recovered sufficiently for the king's confessor, William Aiscough, bishop of Salisbury, to conduct the marriage ceremony at Titchfield Abbey. The king presented her with jewels appropriate to a queen, including a gold wedding ring set with a ruby made from a ring previously given him by Cardinal Beaufort at his coronation in Paris. She made her state entry into London on 28 May, and was entertained by pageants and tableaux accompanied by verses written by John Lydgate, expressing the high public expectations of the marriage as a symbol of a permanent peace between England and France. The coronation was performed at Westminster Abbey on 30 May by John Stafford, archbishop of Canterbury. Three days of feasting and tournaments followed.

In July 1445 a French embassy arrived in London to conclude peace negotiations in the wake of the royal marriage. The discussions held now and later were indecisive, and were also bedevilled by Henry VI's readiness to enter into independent diplomatic initiatives and to make commitments which conflicted with the views of his advisers. One of these, a personal letter of 25 December 1445 to Charles VII, promising to surrender Maine by the end of the following April, was ultimately to provide the French king with an excuse for the renewal of war in 1448, with disastrous results for the English. The exact role of the queen in all this, and how much responsibility she should bear for the promise offered by her husband to her uncle, is unclear. A letter of 17 December 1445 to Charles VII, signed by Margaret, indicates that she was under instruction from Guillaume Cousinot and Jean Havart, members of the French king's household, to assist the peace process by encouraging her husband to deliver Maine to the French. In his letter of 22 December to Charles VII, Henry categorically acknowledged the influence of his wife in making the decision to surrender Maine, but it is likely that the peace-loving king would have made this decision of his own free will.

Early married life, 1445–1453

Margaret was assigned the customary dower for fifteenth-century queens of England of 10,000 marks per annum by parliamentary grant on 19 March 1446. Estates worth £2000 per annum were settled on her from the duchy of Lancaster, concentrated on the midland honours of Tutbury, Leicester, and Kenilworth, with additional lands in Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Surrey, and London, and the ‘ancient south parts’ of the duchy, comprising lands in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire. The midland estates were to become the heartland of her territorial power base in the later 1450s, and close administrative links between the duchy of Lancaster and her household were quickly established. Key duchy officials such as William Cotton, the receiver-general, John Walsh and Nicholas Sharp, auditors, and William Nanseglos, clerk of the receipt, provided her with financial and legal services. She also received a cash annuity from the duchy of £1000, and, after the death of the duke of Gloucester in 1447, a further annuity of 500 marks. Other substantial sources of income included £1000 from the customs of Southampton, £1009 from the duchy of Cornwall, and £1658 directly from the exchequer. She struggled to receive her revenues in full in the early years of her queenship, because she lacked the power to compete successfully with rival claims on exchequer resources, at a time of increasing financial crisis for the Lancastrian monarchy. On 15 June 1446 Margaret was given custody of Anne, the three-year-old daughter and heir of Henry Beauchamp, duke of Warwick, and was assigned £200 per annum from her estates to maintain Anne in her household. She sold the wardship to Suffolk in November 1446, but Anne died three years later. A further annuity of 500 marks was assigned to her from the duchy of Lancaster in 1447. In June 1448 she acquired the castle and lordship of Berkhamsted, and in July 1448 she was granted a licence to ship wool free of customs from any port in the realm to any destination.

The limited evidence for the early years of Margaret's married life indicates that she fulfilled the role expected of a late medieval queen consort, devoting her energies to the support of her husband, but failing for a long time in one important queenly duty, the production of an heir, thereby provoking both speculation and anxiety from contemporary observers. Her letters, household accounts, and jewel accounts reveal both a determined and effective distributor of patronage, and a woman concerned for the welfare of her household servants. Her letters provide clear evidence that she understood the importance of her position as a patron, and show her desire to exploit it to secure loyalty and support. The king's and the queen's household establishments enjoyed a very close relationship, with shared personnel and some intermarriage. Three of Margaret's French ladies-in-waiting in the escort accompanying her to England in 1445 married members of the king's household. Margaret formed a particularly close relationship with Suffolk and his wife, but there is no contemporary evidence to support the sixteenth-century view, deriving from the chronicler Edward Hall, that the queen and Suffolk were lovers. It is much more likely that, given the age difference (Suffolk was nearly fifty in 1445), Margaret looked upon Suffolk as a surrogate father from the time of the proxy marriage at Tours in 1444. Relations between the queen and the duchess of Suffolk seem to have been close. Alice was the regular recipient of gifts of jewels and other favours from the queen until 1450. A number of the queen's household servants had strong links with Suffolk and rose to positions of prominence through his influence. After his downfall in 1450, their earlier close association was to damage Margaret's reputation and link her with the English defeat in France.

Another strong influence on Margaret in these early years was Andrew Dokett, principal of St Bernard's College, Cambridge, who persuaded her to found what is now Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1448, shortly after Henry's foundation of King's College. There has been considerable speculation as to her motives. In her petition to the king requesting permission for the foundation of a sister college to King's, Margaret refers to her desire to emulate her husband and two earlier founders, Elizabeth de Clare and Mary de St Pol, countess of Pembroke. She does not appear to have taken a close personal interest in the foundation, making no significant grants of property or gifts of money to the college, though some of her closest associates were benefactors, including her chamberlain, Sir John Wenlock, her chief steward, Viscount Beaumont, and Marmaduke Lumley, bishop of Carlisle.

It is difficult to form a clear impression of Margaret's physical appearance or her personality. She was considered good-looking by contemporaries, the French chronicler Thomas Basin describing her in 1445 as ‘filiam specie et formam praestantem, quae tunc maturo viro foret et plenis nubilis annis’ (‘a good-looking and well-developed girl, who was then “mature and ripe for marriage”’; Basin, 1.156, quoting Virgil's Aeneid, book 7, l. 53) . The Milanese ambassador, writing to Bianca Maria Visconti, duchess of Milan, in 1458, reported, with a measure of diplomacy, that she was ‘a most handsome woman, though somewhat dark’ (CSP Milan, 1385–1618, 18–19). Her letters indicate that Margaret enjoyed the conventional aristocratic pursuits of riding and hunting. Sometimes she wrote to her park-keeper in advance of a visit, instructing him to ensure that game stocks were replenished. The Coventry city records indicate that she rode regularly to Coventry from Kenilworth accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting. That it took over eight years for the couple to produce a child has led to speculation that the marriage was not a success, but contemporary evidence indicates that the king and queen spent much of their time together, particularly favouring the royal residences at Windsor, Sheen, Eltham, and Greenwich. In April 1453 Margaret visited the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham to leave a gift of a pax, a thank-offering for the long-awaited baby that she was expecting later that year. Her joy was short-lived for, within a few months, her husband collapsed with a serious physical and mental illness, and he was totally unaware of the birth of their son on 13 October 1453.

York's challenge, 1453–1456

Margaret's personal circumstances changed dramatically in 1453 with the onset of the king's illness and the birth of her son, Edward, created prince of Wales on 15 March 1454. She was forced into the centre of the political arena, as control of her husband and son became the focus of competing groups among the nobility. It is hard to detect Margaret's true feelings and response to her enhanced political importance, because of the shortage of personal records, but it is likely that a strong motivating force behind her actions was the desire to see her son inherit the throne sooner rather than later. As long as Edward was a minor, during the incapacity of the king, Margaret had to accept that government was likely to be in the hands of those noblemen most senior in rank, and that she would be excluded from power. Her bid for the regency, advanced in January 1454, failed, being rejected by the Lords in favour of a protectorate established in March 1454, headed by the premier duke, Richard of York.

The queen's relationship with York is crucial to an understanding of power politics in the mid-1450s. Margaret is likely to have regarded York as a serious threat to her son's inheritance, even though the duke swore allegiance to King Henry on many occasions, and claimed that his opposition was directed against his political rival, the duke of Somerset, not against the king. It should not be assumed that the queen had always regarded York as a dynastic threat. He and the duchess are recorded as regular recipients of gifts in the queen's jewel accounts between 1445 and 1453. An undated letter written by Cecily, duchess of York, to Margaret some time during her pregnancy indicates that the duchess saw the queen as a possible mediator between her husband and the king. The birth of her son could be said to have made the queen's position more secure, and to have solved the burning issue of the succession, but the king's incapacity then raised the problem of authority at the centre of government. The choice of York as protector by the Lords could be interpreted as a sign of aristocratic favour towards the dynastic possibilities of his line, the situation being aggravated by the personal rivalry of York and Somerset, another possible claimant to the throne. The queen had long been connected with Somerset, paying him an annuity of 100 marks from the autumn of 1451, and during the power struggle leading to the first battle of St Albans (22 May 1455) she must have regarded him as her natural ally against York.

Somerset's death at St Albans created a power vacuum at the centre of government in opposition to York and increasingly the new focus of interest became the royal household dominated by the queen. Her authority was wholly dependent upon the king's power, which was seriously diminished after St Albans, especially from November 1455 with the establishment of York's second protectorate. Margaret might have feared that her position would be undermined by York's authority, and she may have been particularly concerned about a possible threat to her financial resources. A renewed inquiry into the size and costs of the royal household had been initiated by the Yorkist regime in the summer of 1454, resulting in the issue of ordinances to limit the size of the household on 13 November 1454. This was followed by a resumption petition presented by the Commons in parliament meeting in July 1455 to provide for financial solvency, and to attempt to establish some control over the royal household. A further petition presented in February 1456 provoked a storm of opposition from the Lords and the queen, anxious to secure exemption from its provisions. The strength of opposition was such that York was forced to resign the protectorship on 25 February 1456, thus providing Margaret with the opportunity to set herself up at the head of an anti-Yorkist power base focused on the royal household.

Champion of Lancaster, 1456–1461

In April 1456 Margaret and her son left London to take up residence in the royal castle of Kenilworth and the nearby city of Coventry, being joined in August by the king. The queen spent the summer on a tour of her estates and the prince's patrimony, visiting Tutbury Castle in May and Chester in June. The choice of the midlands as an alternative seat of power was deliberate, for the region lay at the heart of the queen's dower estates and provided ready access to urgently needed sources of revenue and manpower. Two letters from the Paston collection for 1456 indicate that the queen was regarded by contemporaries as an emerging political force. In a letter dated 9 February 1456 John Bocking, writing to Sir John Fastolf, states ‘The Quene is a grete and strong labourid woman, for she spareth noo peyne to sue hire thinges to an intent and conclusion to hir power’ (Paston Letters, 3.75), and in another letter written on 7 June 1456, Bocking observes ‘My Lord York is at Sendall stille, and waytith on the Quene and she up on hym’ (ibid., 3.92). A number of entries in the Coventry records for 1457 also bear out the impression of the queen as an increasingly powerful figure. Members of the great council meeting in Coventry in 1456–7 were expected to show the queen the same deference as the king. When she departed from Coventry for Coleshill on 16 March 1457 she was accompanied by the mayor and sheriffs with the king's sword carried before her. On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross later that year (14 September) the queen made a triumphal entry into the city, greeted by a pageant of prophets, patron saints, cardinal virtues, and nine conquerors, whereas the king went silent and unnoticed.

Despite appearances, Margaret had no real basis of independent authority and was forced to work within the established framework of royal power to build up a personal following. She did this partly by controlling appointments to the prince of Wales's council, set up in January 1457, linking her supporters with the wider interests of the Lancastrian monarchy. She used appointments to the prince's council to establish her personal control over the principality of Wales, the duchy of Lancaster, the palatinate of Chester, and the duchy of Cornwall. Many of the key personnel of the council had connections with the queen's household—William Booth, archbishop of York, for example, and his younger brother Laurence Booth, keeper of the privy seal and (from September 1457) bishop of Durham, both of whom were her former chancellors. She formed close links with a number of leading magnates who held estates and local offices in the north-west, most importantly Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham, John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, and Thomas, Lord Stanley. The power exercised by the queen is evident from the wording of a number of warrants dating from 1457–9 authorizing appointments and decisions in the name of the prince of Wales, but expressly with the assent of the queen.

The chaotic state of royal finances and uncertainty over payments from the exchequer made the queen heavily reliant on her own resources, especially those derived from her duchy of Lancaster estates, boosted by the revenues assigned to the prince of Wales in his own right from January 1457. Her presence, with the prince of Wales, in the midlands and north-west during this period can only have served to strengthen her control over these important assets. Another method used to bind prominent members of the Lancastrian party was marriage alliances. The queen played a prominent part in the arrangement of a number of key aristocratic marriages between 1456 and 1460, including those of Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond, to Henry Stafford, son of the duke of Buckingham, in 1457, and Katherine Stafford, daughter of the duke of Buckingham, to John Talbot, son and heir of the earl of Shrewsbury, in 1458.

On 28 August 1457 there was a French attack on the port of Sandwich, led by Pierre de Brézé, seneschal of Normandy, and confidant of both René of Anjou and Charles VII. The contemporary French chroniclers d'Escouchy and Chastellain believed that Margaret had encouraged the raid, but this view was rejected by Beaucourt and Basin, and it seems most unlikely that she had anything to do with it. This attack added to the increasing pressure on the court to return to the capital, and the king temporarily asserted himself, instigating the return to Westminster in October and attempting a reconciliation between the Yorkist and Lancastrian lords, by means of a ‘loveday’ procession through the streets of London on 25 March 1458. In the procession the queen walked hand in hand with her enemy, the duke of York, perhaps signifying that the underlying source of conflict lay here, rather than with York and Somerset's heir. The loveday proved to be a sham and served only to demonstrate Henry's tenuous grasp on the complexities of politics. By spring 1459 strained relations between the Lancastrian and Yorkist lords had reached such a pitch that the king and queen again withdrew to Coventry, where, at a meeting of the great council held in late June, in the presence of the queen and her son, the Yorkist lords were indicted for treason, in their absence. Both sides now prepared for confrontation, the queen touring her Cheshire estates with her son, distributing the prince's livery of the swan and ostrich feathers to the gentlemen of the county.

On 23 September 1459 the Lancastrian army, largely consisting of Cheshiremen, described in Gregory's chronicle as the ‘Quenys galentys’ (Gairdner, 204), was defeated by the earl of Salisbury at Bloreheath. An unreliable tradition asserts that Margaret observed the fighting from Mucklestone church tower, and, witnessing the defeat of the Lancastrians, took flight, reversing the shoes on her carriage horses in order to evade pursuit. But the Yorkists were in turn routed at Ludlow on 12–13 October, and their leaders were attainted at the parliament which met at Coventry shortly afterwards. Towards the end of the session, on 11 December, the assembled lords swore a solemn oath of loyalty to the king, and promised to preserve the queen and the honour of Prince Edward, whom they undertook to accept as king in due time. The dynasticism implicit in their oath was soon to be drastically repudiated, when on 31 October 1460, following his capture at the battle of Northampton, King Henry himself was induced to accept Richard of York as the heir to the throne, in place of the prince of Wales.

The movements of Margaret and her son after the battle of Northampton are unclear, but it seems that they fled westwards from Coventry to Wales, embarking from Harlech for Scotland at the end of the year. Margaret took refuge at the court of her fellow queen, Mary of Gueldres, regent for the young king of Scotland, James III. Contrary to sixteenth-century accounts as finally embodied in one of the most dramatic scenes in Shakespeare's play 3 Henry VI, I.iv, Margaret was not present at the battle of Wakefield, fought on 30 December 1460, when both the duke of York and his younger son, Edmund, earl of Rutland, were killed. However, she was quick to take advantage of the Lancastrian victory, and rallied an army of Scottish supporters and northern men bearing the livery of the prince of Wales to march on London. This force clashed with the Yorkists, led by the earl of Warwick, at St Albans on 17 February 1461, winning a resounding victory for the Lancastrians, and enabling the queen to regain control of the king. But she was unable to follow up the victory by gaining entry to the city of London, essential to ensure control of government and to give access to badly needed supplies. Attempts at mediation by the duchesses of Buckingham and Bedford, and Lady Scales, failed to reassure the citizen body of London that the Lancastrian army was under control, and they refused it admission. On the approach of the earl of March, now the Yorkist leader, Margaret was forced to withdraw and retreat northwards, thus losing the initiative. The decisive defeat of the Lancastrians at Towton on 29 March 1461 left the king, queen, and prince vulnerable once again, and they fled to Scotland for safety. The earl of March was crowned king as Edward IV on 28 June.

Campaigns in the north, 1461–1463

From 1461 to 1471 Margaret was involved in increasingly desperate efforts to win foreign support for the recovery of the throne for either her husband or her son. She retained the loyalty of a significant number of noblemen and government officers, including the dukes of Somerset and Exeter and the earl of Pembroke who posed a real threat to Edward IV from across the Scottish borders in the early years of his reign. After 1464, when Lancastrian support was limited to a small group of household servants, effective resistance was severely hampered by shortage of money and of committed political backing. Despite her best efforts to persuade the ruling houses of Scotland and France to provide financial and military aid, neither was prepared to offer anything substantial. The Lancastrian cause was thus caught up in a complex web of European diplomacy.

After the battle of Towton, Margaret took refuge initially at Linlithgow Palace, at the invitation of the bishop of St Andrews, and later in the Dominican convent at Edinburgh. Despite the friendly reception given to Margaret in Scotland, the Scottish court was divided over offering aid to the Lancastrians. Following the death of James II on 3 August 1460, leaving an eight-year-old heir, Scotland was governed by a regency council headed by James's widow, Mary of Gueldres, but split into two factions. Margaret was keen to form a firm alliance with the Scots, offering her son in marriage to the baby sister of James III, but Mary of Gueldres was advised against this by her cousin the duke of Burgundy. Despite this opposition, Margaret offered the fortified strongholds of Berwick and Carlisle to the Scottish council in return for their assistance, handing over Berwick on 25 April 1461. French support for the Lancastrian cause was kept alive by the seneschal of Normandy, Pierre de Brézé, who led a French attack on the Channel Islands in May, setting the south coast of England on the alert. In July Margaret dispatched Somerset, Sir Robert Whittingham, and Lord Hungerford to France to seek out allies at the French court, but the death of Charles VII on 22 July 1461 changed the political climate in France, and the new king, Louis XI, proved unwilling to commit himself to a strong anti-Yorkist stance.

In April 1462 Margaret sailed for France with her son, determined to meet Louis XI in person. She was received cordially by François II, duke of Brittany, who presented her with gifts worth 12,000 gold crowns. She travelled to Angers to visit her father and de Brézé, now out of favour at the French court, and to await a meeting with Louis XI. This she eventually succeeded in obtaining, with the result that a secret agreement was reached at Chinon on 23 June, whereby Margaret agreed to surrender to Louis the English stronghold of Calais in return for a loan of 20,000 francs. More open negotiations were conducted at Tours leading to a treaty of mutual friendship concluded on 28 June, by which Louis agreed to finance an expedition to England led by de Brézé, in return for Calais. When Margaret and de Brézé at last set sail for Scotland in late October it was with only forty-two ships and some 800 men, paid for not by Louis but by de Brézé himself. After taking Henry VI and Somerset on board in Scotland, the force landed on the Northumberland coast at Bamburgh and captured Alnwick for the Lancastrians. But on hearing of the approach of a Yorkist army, Margaret took flight with Henry and de Brézé, leaving behind a small garrison. Their fleet was wrecked by a storm and they took refuge in Berwick Castle. By Christmas the castles of Bamburgh, Alnwick, and Dunstanburgh were back in Yorkist hands, only to be recaptured by a Franco-Scottish force in March 1463. In July the young James III, king of Scots, led a large Scottish army over the border to lay siege to Norham Castle, with Margaret, Henry, and Mary of Gueldres in attendance. The expedition was a fiasco and they were forced back having achieved nothing. Margaret left Scotland for France in August, taking her son with her but leaving her husband behind; they were never to meet again. Accompanying her was a small group of loyal supporters including the duke of Exeter, Sir John Fortescue, Sir Edmund Mountfort, Sir Robert Whittingham, John Morton, bishop of Ely, Ralph Mackerell, and seven women attendants.

Diplomatic endeavours, 1463–1470

Margaret's hopes of enlisting the aid of the French were dashed by the uncompromising attitude of Louis XI, who wanted a settlement with the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany. Edward IV agreed a truce at Hesdin on 8 October 1463, by which Louis specifically renounced all aid to the Lancastrians. Though Margaret was left in a very unfavourable position, she persisted in her efforts to obtain a meeting with her old enemy Philip, duke of Burgundy, eventually succeeding at the beginning of September. She was treated with dignity and respect by the duke, but he was not prepared to commit himself to her cause. He sent her back to St Pol, accompanied by the duchess of Bourbon and her daughter, to whom, according to Chastellain, Margaret recounted her earlier adventures in Scotland, which included an attack by a brigand while she was hiding in woods with her son. Margaret was also received at Bruges by the heir to Burgundy, Charles, count of Charolais, and his brother Antoine, count of La Roche, the Bastard of Burgundy, and was presented with generous gifts. During the winter of 1463–4 she stayed with her father in Nancy, continuing to negotiate with Charolais and Brittany. She kept in touch with her husband, now residing at Bamburgh, via Guillaume Cousinot who reported, in the spring of 1464, that there was still support for Henry VI in England and Wales, and that it would not be difficult to recover the kingdom for the Lancastrians with a little foreign assistance. This was not forthcoming, and a further attempt to recover the country for Henry VI instigated by Somerset in April–May 1464 failed, forcing the remaining prominent Lancastrian supporters to flee overseas.

Margaret was now living at the château of Koeur at St Mihiel in the duchy of Bar assigned to her by her father, with a pension of 6000 crowns. She remained there until 1468, apart from a short pilgrimage to St Nicholas-de-Port at the end of 1464 to offer thanks for the safe recovery of her son from a serious illness, and a visit to her parents at Angers in 1466. The royal household in exile is estimated to have numbered between 50 and 200 people. According to Fortescue, they lived in some poverty, and were very much dependent upon Margaret's father for any extra comforts—he sent his personal physician Pierre Robin to attend Margaret and her son several times. They were also visited regularly by her brother Jean, duke of Calabria, who came to play an increasingly important part in the negotiations with Louis XI. Margaret continued to woo the kings of Portugal and Castile as well as Charles, count of Charolais (all kinsmen of the house of Lancaster). By 1466 it had become clear that the duke of Burgundy and Edward IV intended to seal their alliance with a marriage settlement (between Edward's sister Margaret and the count of Charolais), thus pushing Louis further towards a Lancastrian alliance. An indication of the continued efforts of the Lancastrians to keep the cause of Henry VI alive in England and Wales is given by the arrest of a messenger sent by Margaret to rebels in Harlech Castle in 1467, and in the following year a servant of Sir Robert Whittingham was caught with letters from Lancastrian exiles to friends in England. He was tortured and accused of treasonable intercourse with Queen Margaret. In June 1468 Louis was prepared to lend support to an expedition led by Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, to Wales, but this too failed. In October 1468 a rumour circulated that Margaret and her son were at Harfleur with an army about to invade England, and Edward ordered the English fleet to scour the channel to look for Margaret's ships.

The restoration and defeat of the Lancastrian monarchy, 1470–1471

The marriage of Margaret of York to Charles of Burgundy in June 1468 probably convinced Louis XI of the wisdom of falling in with Margaret of Anjou and her brother, who were pressing for an alliance with Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, as a means of restoring Henry VI to the throne. He was backed by Fortescue, whose memoranda to Louis XI in 1468–70 indicate his persistent attempts to bring the two parties together by arranging the marriage of Prince Edward to Warwick's daughter Anne, despite the difficulties caused by past allegiances. Louis was reluctant to offer asylum to Warwick and Clarence following their rebellion against Edward IV in 1469–70, but they landed at Honfleur on 1 May 1470, and came to Amboise a month later to arrange a meeting with Margaret. She was eventually persuaded to meet Warwick at Angers, although, according to the tract known as ‘The maner and guiding of the earl of Warwick’, Margaret was initially ‘right dificyle’ and said that she could never pardon Warwick ‘which had been the greatest cause of the fall of Henry VI, of her and their son’ (Ellis, 1.132). After fifteen days of pressure from the king of France and her father's counsellors, Margaret reluctantly agreed to the marriage of her son to Warwick's daughter, but insisted that it should not be ‘perfyted’ until Warwick had recovered England for Henry VI, and established Prince Edward as regent and governor. The betrothal of Prince Edward and Anne Neville took place in Angers Cathedral on 25 July, and Warwick returned to England in September with a fleet of sixty ships paid for by Louis, under the command of the admiral of France.

Margaret and her advisers were well aware of the delicacy of their position, and of the need to present Prince Edward as a viable alternative to his Yorkist rival, and he does indeed appear to have been an energetic and warlike youth. Margaret must have believed that any future hope lay with her son rather than her husband, despite the fact that Warwick had entered the city of London unopposed on 6 October and immediately released Henry from the Tower, declaring him king once more. On 14 October Louis publicly proclaimed a treaty of alliance with Henry VI and ordered three days of thanksgiving for his restoration. Margaret and her son came to Paris to take part in the celebrations, but she was still not prepared to risk returning to England until convinced that conditions were right for the safety of her son. It was not until after Christmas that she made her way towards the Normandy coast via Rouen. On 7 December, an exchequer warrant authorized the payment of £2000 for a military escort to accompany Margaret and her son across the channel, but there were further delays as Warwick struggled to establish effective control of the country through the aged Henry VI.

French ambassadors arrived in London in January 1471 to remind Warwick of the conditions of Louis's support—an alliance against Burgundy—and Warwick did his best to convince them that it was safe for Margaret to return to England with her son. Warwick had hoped to be able to travel to France to escort them himself, but in February he dispatched the prior of St John's and others to Honfleur to meet the royal party. Bad weather further delayed the expedition which finally set sail on 24 March. Margaret's ship landed at Weymouth on 14 April only to be greeted by the news of the Lancastrian defeat at the battle of Barnet and the death of the earl of Warwick. According to the Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England, the news made her ‘right hevy and sory’ (Historie of the Arrivall, 23), but she was encouraged by the duke of Somerset and the earl of Devon to make her way towards Wales in order to join up with the forces of Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke. The Lancastrian army camped outside Tewkesbury on 3 May as the Yorkists approached from the east. The following morning Margaret took shelter in a neighbouring religious house (its exact identity is unknown) with her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville, the countess of Devon, and her faithful lady-in-waiting, Lady Katherine Vaux. Here she learned of the death of her son at the hands of the Yorkists, and of the final humiliating defeat of the Lancastrian army. She was found three days later with her fellow widowed companions and handed over to Edward IV. According to the anonymous continuator of the Crowland chronicle, Margaret was borne in a carriage as a prisoner before the king at his triumphal entry into the city of London on 21 May. The death of Henry VI in the Tower that very night meant that Margaret no longer had any political importance as either the wife or mother of a rival king. As a childless widow her status was completely altered, and she became only an embarrassing encumbrance upon the victorious Edward IV.

The final years, 1471–1482

Little is known about the last ten years of Margaret's life. She remained in captivity in England until 1475, being moved from Windsor to Wallingford at the end of 1471, into the custody of Alice de la Pole, dowager duchess of Suffolk. Edward was anxious to see her return to her homeland provided a satisfactory arrangement could be made because, although she no longer posed a political threat, she had to be provided for financially. In his negotiations with Louis XI following his abortive expedition to France in the summer of 1475, Edward ensured that one of the conditions of the treaty of Picquigny, signed on 29 August 1475, was the return of Margaret to France. Edward was to surrender all rights over her, and transfer them to Louis in return for a ransom of 50,000 crowns (£10,000), of which the first instalment of 10,000 crowns should be paid when Margaret was handed over. Margaret had to renounce formally all title to the crown of England, to her dower lands in England, and any other claims she might have against Edward. On 13 November 1475 she was committed to the care of Thomas Thwaytes, who in turn handed her over to Sir Thomas Montgomery for her journey to France. Her formal transfer from English into French hands took place at Rouen on 22 January 1476, where two French commissioners made the first payment of her ransom.

Though technically a free woman, Margaret was still dependent upon others for her livelihood. Her father, now married to his former mistress, Jeanne de Laval, and living in Provence, appeared uninterested in his daughter's fate, and she was left to the mercy of the king of France. Louis forced her to give up all claims to the Angevin inheritance of Anjou, Bar, and Provence from her father, and to Lorraine from her mother, arguing that this was an adequate compensation for the heavy expenses he had repeatedly incurred upon her behalf since 1462. He agreed to provide her with a pension of 6000 crowns and she retired to the château of Reculée near Angers. Following her father's death in 1480, when the Angevin inheritance passed into the hands of the French crown, Margaret went to live at the château of Dampierre, near Saumur, in Anjou. Here she wrote her short will on 2 August 1482, just three weeks before her death on 25 August. She was buried in Angers Cathedral. Margaret had little to leave to either friends or relations, but the witnesses to her will include Lady Katherine Vaux, widow of Sir William Vaux, killed at Tewkesbury in 1471, who no doubt had stayed loyally with her throughout the ten years of shared widowhood, the loneliest of times for a former queen and mother of the heir to the throne.

Historical reputation

Of all medieval queens consort, Margaret has received some of the harshest criticism from both contemporary commentators and later historians. Concern about her inability to bear a child was expressed as early as 1447, and from the late 1450s she faced slanders against her good character. In 1456 it was first rumoured that Prince Edward was not her son, and soon after, that she was going to force King Henry to abdicate in favour of his son. These rumours were eagerly picked up by foreign observers, such as the duke of Milan's ambassador, who reported in 1461 that it was believed that she had poisoned her husband. The new Yorkist king Edward IV, keen to establish the legitimacy of his dynasty, sought to blacken the names of his Lancastrian predecessors by any means he could. Inevitably Margaret's reputation suffered as she was blamed for leading the country into civil war, and she was presented as the domineering queen in contrast to her mild-mannered, passive husband. Thus the prevalent image of Margaret as a hard-headed, ruthless, cruel, vengeful power-seeker was born, an image perpetuated so effectively by Shakespeare, drawing upon earlier sixteenth-century writers such as Vergil, Hall, and Holinshed. Like Isabella of France, wife of Edward II, Margaret has suffered from an almost universally hostile press, as much because of her nationality as on account of the unfavourable political circumstances of her time.

Shakespeare's view of Margaret persisted unchallenged into the twentieth century, influencing biographies of the queen by T. F. Tout and J. J. Bagley. Historians have demonstrated a distinct reluctance to seek out independent contemporary evidence, untainted by either political, xenophobic, or misogynist prejudice. Admittedly such evidence is hard to find, but there are some useful sources such as her letters and household accounts for the period before 1453, which indicate that, at first, Margaret conformed to the conventional role of a queen consort. It could be argued that she was subsequently forced, by political circumstance and the weakness of her husband, to take on a much more active role in politics in order to protect both her own position and that of her son. She never exercised independent power, and was always reliant on others for effective action, ultimately failing to achieve her ends. Another view of Margaret, expressed by many French writers, is that of a tragic heroine, the victim of unfavourable political circumstance. This view is epitomized by her contemporary sympathizer Chastellain, who composed a special treatise for her, entitled Le temple de Bocace, remonstrances, par manière de consolation a une désolée reyne d'Angleterre, on the subject of the misfortunes of ruling families related to the house of Anjou, among which Margaret's sufferings occupied ‘le première place dans le livre des nobles femmes malheureuses’ (Chastellain, 7.vii).

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