Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England

   Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of HENRY VI, was the effective leader of the house of LANCASTER from the mid-1450s to 1471. The daughter of René, duke of Anjou, a French nobleman with unrealized claims to various European Crowns, Margaret was betrothed to Henry VI in 1444. Her marriage sealed an Anglo-French truce negotiated with her uncle, CHARLESVII, by Henry’s ambassador, William de la POLE, earl of Suffolk. Married to the king on 23 April 1445, Margaret was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 30 May. Intelligent and energetic, the young queen at first took little part in politics, although she soon associated herself with Suffolk and the COURT faction, which held paramount influence with Henry in the late 1440s. She also became a strong advocate for the peace policy that had made her queen, and she helped ensure the implementation of Henry’s promise to surrender the county of Maine to the French in 1448.
   In 1450, the loss of Normandy swept Suffolk from power. Embarrassed by financial weakness and shackled by a king who was unfit to rule, Suffolk’s unpopular government collapsed amid charges of treason leveled by such opponents as Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, the childless king’s probable heir. As an increasingly bitter rivalry developed between York and Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, Suffolk’s successor as chief minister, the queen, who viewed York as a threat to the throne, identified herself closely with Somerset. In August 1453, Henry VI fell into an uncommunicative state that rendered him incapable of ruling (see Henry VI, Illness of); in October, Margaret gave birth to a son, Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER, who displaced York as heir. To safeguard the rights of her child, Margaret sought the regency, but her claim was rejected in favor of York, who was named protector by PARLIAMENT in March 1454.
   Henry’s recovery ended the FIRST PROTECTORATE in 1455, but the continuing efforts of Margaret and Somerset to destroy York led the duke and his new allies, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and his son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, to take up arms. At the Battle of ST. ALBANS in May 1455, the Yorkists killed Somerset and seized the still ailing king, thereby instituting the SECOND PROTECTORATE. In 1456, Henry recovered sufficiently to dismiss York as protector but remained too weak-minded to govern effectively.Over the next three years, Margaret assumed leadership of the anti-York faction. Although she participated in Henry’s LOVEDAY reconciliation of 1458, the queen largely withdrew her husband from LONDON and kept him under her influence in the Midlands. With the outbreak of war in 1459, Margaret outmaneuvered her enemies at the Battle of LUDFORD BRIDGE in October, and York and the Nevilles fled the country. In November, the queen used the COVENTRY PARLIAMENT to strip her opponents of their lands and offices through the passage of bills of ATTAINDER. However, in the summer of 1460, Warwick captured the king at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON, allowing York to return from IRELAND to lay formal claim to the Crown. When Parliament passed the compromise Act of ACCORD, which left Henry king but made York his heir, Margaret, who was in WALES with her son, rejected the disinheritance of the prince and gathered forces to oppose the Yorkist regime. These armies slew York and Salisbury at the Battle of WAKEFIELD in December 1460 and then defeated Warwick and recovered the king at the Battle of ST.ALBANS in February 1461. Because her unruly northern army had caused much destruction on its march south (see March on London), London was wary of admitting the queen’s men, and Margaret eventually retreated, allowing Edward, earl of March,York’s son, to enter the capital and be proclaimed king as EDWARD IV. On 29 March, Edward defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of TOWTON, forcing Margaret to flee into SCOTLAND with her son, husband, and chief supporters.
   The regency government of JAMES III gave the Lancastrians refuge in return for the surrender of BERWICK. In 1462, Margaret traveled to FRANCE and convinced LOUIS XI to give her a small force, with which she invaded Northumberland and captured the castles of BAMBURGH, DUNSTANBURGH, and ALNWICK. In the next year, the three fortresses were lost, recaptured, and lost again; Margaret and her son were reduced to poverty and several times forced to wander lost and alone along the northern coasts. In August 1463, Margaret and the prince crossed to France, where they remained until 1471. Although the queen engaged in continuous plotting against the Yorkist regime, the Lancastrian cause was dead until revived in 1470 by Warwick, who, having lost influence with Edward IV, sought to reclaim his political dominance by restoring Henry VI. Having formerly accused the queen of many vile things, and having questioned the legitimacy of the prince, Warwick was cordially hated by Margaret, who only consented to talk with him after he made humble submission on his knees. Encouraged by Louis XI, Margaret finally accepted Warwick as an ally and agreed to marry her son to his daughter, Anne NEVILLE (see Angers Agreement). In October 1470,Warwick restored Henry VI, who had been a prisoner in the TOWER OF LONDON since 1465. Margaret and her son landed in England on 14 April 1471, the day of Warwick’s death at the Battle of BARNET. Persuaded by supporters to continue the fight, Margaret was defeated and her son was killed at the Battle of TEWKESBURY in May. Captured three days later, she was carried to London, where her husband was murdered on 21 May, ending the house of LANCASTER. Margaret remained in captivity until 1475, when Louis XI ransomed her as part of the Treaty of Picquigny. Forced by the treaty to renounce all claims to the English throne, she was required by Louis to surrender all rights to her French possessions in return for a pension. Margaret died in poverty in August 1482.
   Further Reading: Dunn, Diana,“Margaret of Anjou, Queen Consort of Henry VI:A Reassessment of Her Role, 1445–53,” in Rowena E. Archer, ed., Crown, Government and People in the Fifteenth Century (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), pp. 107–144; Erlanger, Philippe, Margaret of Anjou: Queen of England (London: Elek Books, 1970); Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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