Margaret of Anjou: A Tenacious Queen and Political Strategist

Margaret of Anjou, born on 23 March 1430 in the Duchy of Lorraine, played a significant role in the dynastic civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. Through her marriage to King Henry VI, she became the Queen of England and, by extension, the Queen of France.

Margaret of Anjou, known for her valiant courage and undaunted spirit, was a formidable leader who personally led the Lancastrian faction against their Yorkist rivals. Despite her husband’s bouts of insanity, Margaret of Anjou ruled the kingdom on his behalf, making pivotal decisions that ultimately sparked a prolonged civil conflict. This article delves into Margaret of Anjou‘s life, early years, marriage, political influence, and her eventual downfall.

Early Life and Marriage

Margaret of Anjou was the second eldest daughter of René, King of Naples, and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine. Born into the House of Valois-Anjou, she spent her early years in the castle at Tarascon on the River Rhône and the royal palace at Capua, near Naples. Under the care of her mother, Margaret of Anjou received a comprehensive education, which included lessons from renowned scholar Antoine de la Sale. With an affinity for French romances and hunting, Margaret grew up with a keen interest in the world around her.

In 1444, Margaret of Anjou met with English envoys to discuss her marriage to King Henry VI of England. The marriage, arranged as part of peace efforts between France and England, took place on 23 April 1445 at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire. The wedding festivities were grand, but the marriage settlement included a small dowry and the unrealized claim to territories in Mallorca and Menorca. Despite mixed opinions about the union, it was widely seen as a genuine attempt at fostering peace.

Concession of Maine and Subsequent Rule

Following her marriage, Margaret’s father, René of Anjou, negotiated an alliance with England that included a truce with France and the concession of the English-held territory of Maine. However, the agreement fell through, resulting in the loss of Maine and growing public resentment towards Margaret of Anjou. Blame was attributed to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, who was involved in the negotiations. Although Margaret was not directly blamed, her marriage suffered a blow to its reputation.

In the early years of their marriage, Margaret and Henry shared a mutual interest in education and culture. Margaret obtained a license to found Queens’ College, Cambridge, demonstrating her commitment to learning. During this period, she engaged in acts of intercession, mediation, and intervention, fulfilling her noblewoman’s role. While some of her endeavours were successful, others were seen as high-handed or ill-conceived. Margaret’s influence and power continued to grow, and her involvement in politics became more pronounced as time passed.

Birth of a Son and the Beginnings of Dynastic Civil Wars

In October 1453, Margaret gave birth to her only son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. However, King Henry’s mental instability posed a challenge to effective governance. Richard of York, the Duke of York, capitalized on the situation and assumed the role of Lord Protector. Margaret, fearing her husband’s deposition, became politically active and rallied support against York. The enmity between Margaret and York intensified, leading to armed conflict and the outbreak of the dynastic civil wars.

The Wars of the Roses and Margaret’s Leadership

Margaret’s role as a leader came to the forefront during the Wars of the Roses. In 1455, she called for a Great Council that excluded the Yorkist faction, ultimately igniting a full-scale civil conflict. Margaret personally commanded the Lancastrian forces and led them into battle, including the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 and the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461. Her victory at Wakefield in 1460, where the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury were killed, bolstered her position.

However, the tides turned against Margaret following the Battle of Towton in 1461, resulting in the deposal of King Henry and the ascension of Edward IV. Margaret determined to reclaim her son’s inheritance, fled to Wales and later sought refuge in France. With the support of her cousin, King Louis XI of France, she formed an alliance with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who sought revenge against Edward IV. The marriage of Margaret’s son, Edward, to Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville, solidified the alliance.

Final Defeat and Imprisonment

Margaret’s hopes were dashed when Warwick was defeated and killed by Edward IV in the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Subsequently, she faced the Lancastrian forces’ final defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury, where her son Edward of Westminster was killed. Taken captive by William Stanley, Margaret was imprisoned on the orders of King Edward IV. She was initially held at Wallingford Castle and later transferred to the Tower of London. Her husband, King Henry VI, died in captivity shortly after the battle.

Final Years and Legacy

Margaret of Anjou: A Tenacious Queen and Political Strategist
Image: Talbot Master (fl. in Rouen, c. 1430–60), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret spent seven years in France as a poor relative of the king, living a life of poverty and obscurity. She died on 25 August 1482, at the age of 52, in Dampierre-sur-Loire, near Anjou. Her remains were initially entombed in Angers Cathedral but were later scattered during the French Revolution. Margaret of Anjou left behind a complex legacy, remembered for her unwavering determination, political astuteness, and significant role in the Wars of the Roses.

Conclusion

Margaret of Anjou’s reign as Queen of England and her leadership during the Wars of the Roses cemented her position as a formidable historical figure. Despite facing numerous challenges, including her husband’s mental instability and the Yorkist opposition, Margaret fought fiercely to protect her family’s interests and the Lancastrian cause. Her influence, political strategies, and resilience have left a lasting imprint on the history of England. Margaret’s story serves as a testament to the remarkable women who wielded power and shaped the destiny of nations.

*Feature Image: Talbot Master (fl. in Rouen, c. 1430–60), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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