Queen Margaret of Anjou is a controversial queen in English History. Depending who wrote the account and which politics were preferred, she was either depicted as an awful woman or a noble character. It’s safe to say she was determined.
Here are ten things you’ll want to know about this queen who rallied armies to the battlefields to fight for the crown and who serves as a reminder that life doesn’t always turn out the way we’d like:
Born in 1429
March 23, 1429, was Margaret of Anjou’s birthday. Her parents, Rene the Duke of Anjou and Isabella the Duchess of Lorraine, held royal titles in Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem.
Margaret spent her early youth in at a castle in the Rhone Valley and at a palace in Naples. She received a good education, probably tutored by Antoine de la Salle, a famous writer and tournament judge of the era.
2. From Anjou
Technically speaking, Margaret was a member of the House of Valois-Anjou, a noble French family with connections to French royalty. The House of Valois-Anjou ruled lands in France and Italy. The lands of Anjou itself sit in the north western area of France, but completely inland and without coastal borders.
3. An unpopular bride
Margaret’s marriage to Henry VI of England had an interesting requirement. The bride would not bring a dowry, but would receive the English-held lands of Anjou and Maine which had been held and disputed during The Hundred Years’ War which was still technically going on. According to some accounts, this details of the marriage agreement was kept secret from the English people.
On April 23, 1445, young Margaret married King Henry VI, and her coronation took place at the end of May that same year. The royal couple had one child – a son, born in 1453. Her control of the court and forceful character made her unpopular and gained her a life-long enemy: the Duke of York.
4. She took control of the government, the king, and the kingdom
With a strong personality, Margaret understood the importance of protecting and strengthening the English crown. She also realized that France’s interests were still closely tied to England, and her own homeland was “part of the deal” – to use an oversimplified phrase. Aside from her role in warfare, Queen Margaret is remembered for her love of learning; she helped to establish Queen’s College at Cambridge.
Unfortunately, King Henry VI had some mental health challenges; at times, he would become frightened and fall into a trance (coma?), unable to recognize family or friends, and certainly unable to rule. At first, Margaret tried to claim kingdom regency, but she was denied, probably because she was pregnant and seen as unable to carry on at that time. However, when the king regained his senses, he sent away the Duke of York – who had pushed Margaret out – and the queen was back in control at court. With King Henry continuing to have struggles, Margaret took a more forceful part in ruling, trying to guard the interests of her husband, son, and crown.
5. Fought for the king, herself, and her son
In 1455, what started as a council of English nobles, turned into a feud, and battle, and ultimately civil war (War of the Roses). At the first battle, King Henry got captured by the Duke of York who had been irritated with the royal family for quite some time. The Duke of York became the “Protector of England,” but Queen Margaret wasn’t going to let that takeover happen peaceful.
She raised an army, insisting if King Henry wasn’t on the throne, his son was the rightful ruler. She drove back the rebels, but eventually the Yorkists captured London, took Henry VI to the capital, and threw him in prison. The Duke of York returned from brief exile and formally claimed the throne of the captured king. An agreement proposed that Henry could keep the throne for the duration of his life, but – when he died – the Duke of York would be the new successor, effectively ignoring Queen Margaret and young Prince Edward.
Margaret wasn’t going to see her son disinherited and went to war. Literally. She sieged the Duke of York’s castle and was present when he died in battle. The Battle of Towton in 1461 marked the end of Queen Margaret’s early successes; there, she and her Lancastrian army were defeated. The queen and prince fled to France while King Henry languished in the Tower of London.
6. Lived in exile
For years, Margaret plotted in exile, but was unable to raise an army. She made allies with the King of France, Louis XI.
Some accounts say Louis XI encouraged the queen to seek a powerful ally who was willing to change sides in England’s Civil War.
7. Made the “right” ally?
Then, the hero (or traitor, depending on who’s telling the story) emerged. Richard, Earl of Warwick, had fought for the House of York and gained the nickname “king maker,” but he got irritated with the Yorks and decided to visit Queen Margaret in France. There, they made a treaty and in 1470, Warwick invaded England in Margaret’s name. He briefly freed King Henry and then proceeded to control the throne and the kingdom while Margaret and Prince Edward remained in France.
8. Tried to reclaim the throne
In 1471, Margaret sailed for England, planning to take control of the kingdom and make sure her son got the throne. Unfortunately for her, the Battle of Barnet unfolded as she landed after a storm-delayed voyage, and Warwick and the queen’s forces got defeated.
Queen Margaret and the prince took the remainder of the army and went to battle. On May 4, 1471, at the Battle at Tewkesbury, Prince Edward was killed. King Henry VI died later that month, still in prison. Margaret’s hopes to rule England shattered.
9. Captured & Imprisoned
Queen Margaret was captured at the end of the Battle of Tewkesbury and sent to several different prisons. Eventually, she too spent time in the Tower of London.
Though she appealed to her father, the Duke of Anjou, for assistance, no help arrived for the abandoned, imprisoned queen until 1475. That year the King of France secured Margaret’s release as part of the conditions in the Treaty of Picquigny.
10. A Bitter End
Margaret of Anjou returned to France, living the remainder of her life in Anjou and dependent on the French king for a pension. She died in August 1482, never reclaiming her power in England and living to see her husband and son’s throne in the hands of rebels because of the outcome of the War of the Roses.
Margaret’s history reminds us that not all queens were successful or kept their ruling power. She tried valiantly and rallied armies to the field, but ultimately failed to keep her family on the throne. Perhaps her more lasting legacy came from the peaceful years, her aid to establish another college at Cambridge.
P.S. Which queen was your favorite in this month’s series?