01 January 2022

No Mercy: The Story of Margaret of Anjou

By a Talbot Master via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret of Anjou was seething. She had spent years literally fighting her husband's battles for him, while these two men, William Baron Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriell, held him captive for Richard Duke of York. Well, Richard was dead now. His head had been displayed on the walls of the City of York by Margaret's forces. Now, she had led the army that had defeated his forces at the Second Battle of St. Albans and she had recaptured her husband, England's King Henry VI. 

The moment called for justice. It called for strength. This was a lesson she wanted her seven-year-old son Edward Prince of Wales to learn firsthand. He would be a strong and effective king one day, unlike his weak and sickly father. "What death shall these men die?" Queen Margaret asked Prince Edward. "Behead them," the little boy commanded. King Henry shrieked his objection. "I promised them amnesty!" 

But, Margaret was in no mood for amnesty. No mercy. These Yorkist had not just usurped her husband's authority; they had attempted to steal her only child's birthright. Indeed, the newly deceased Duke of York had convinced the feeble King Henry that he could keep his powerless crown as long as he made York his heir. This was a crime that Margaret would not forgive.

Margaret had grown up in Lorraine, where her formidable mother was reigning duchess in her own right, and in Provence, where her father was the count. Her father Rene was also the titular King of Naples as well as Sicily and Jerusalem. But it was her mother, not her father, who fought to make those titles real. Foreshadowing Margaret's own future marriage, Rene was being held captive while his wife Isabel fought for his rights. Powerful women were a tradition in Margaret's family: the family's other territory, Anjou, was ruled over by Rene's mother, Yolanda of Aragon, in his stead.

Margaret's marriage at age 15 to the young King Henry VI was meant to bring peace and stability. He was only nine months old when he inherited the English throne from his father King Henry V. Just a month later, the infant Henry inherited his maternal grandfather King Charles VI's French throne, too. Charles' son opposed Henry's claim to the French throne, which had been wrenched from Charles VI after military defeat. He had declared himself King Charles VII and succeeded in asserting his authority. By marrying his now single-throned nephew to his niece Margaret, the power struggle between France and England should have ended but it didn't. Having long since taken personal control after years of having his lands and armies led by regents, Henry was mucking everything up. Soon, Calais was England's last remaining vestige of the Angevin Empire that had been forged by his ancestors King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. And, all that losing had a negative impact among his lords, too.

Henry was seen as weak and ineffective. His wife seems to have agreed. Despite King Henry's promise of amnesty to the men who had held him captive, Margaret beheaded Bonville and Kyriell. Her victory was short lived. In just a few weeks' time, the Duke of York's son defeated the Lancastrian forces, deposed King Henry and declared himself King Edward IV. 

For Margaret, only her son's future mattered and she would do all that she could to ensure his birthright. She returned to France to seek more support against the new Duke of York, another prince named Edward. She also allied herself with Richard Earl of Warwick, known to history as the Kingmaker. Warwick had been the muscle behind the Yorkist claims, but he had fallen out with Edward IV. He eagerly cast his lot with the Lancastrian Queen Margaret, who even agreed to marry the Prince of Wales to Warwick's daughter, Anne Neville. To ensure the royal match and prove his loyalty, Warwick returned to England and restored King Henry to the throne. Margaret, Edward Prince of Wales and Anne returned to England but the struggle had not ended. Barely six months after Henry's restoration, the Lancastrians were defeated in the Battle of Tewkesbury. Margaret's son, aged just 17, died in the battle (or perhaps in its aftermath). Margaret and Henry were taken into custody separately. Within two weeks, Henry died under suspicious circumstances. As for Margaret, she was left with nothing left to fight for. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London for several years before the French king paid to free her. She survived her last few years on his charity. Even after her death, Margaret could find no peace -- her remains were ransacked by Revolutionaries three centuries later.

More about Margaret of Anjou
A Happy Anniversary to Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
A Letter to Margaret of Anjou on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Margaret of Anjou on English Monarchs
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Margaret of Anjou on The Freelance History Writer
Margaret of Anjou: Queen of England, She-Wolf of France on Richard III: A Virtual Dramaturgical Casebook
Margaret of Anjou's Coronation on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Margaret of Anjou's Last Days: Her Dogs and Her Burial on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Margaret of Anjou's Supposed Lovers on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Margaret of Anjou's Will on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Margaret, the Mother-in-Law from Hell? on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Medieval Royalty -- Margaret of Anjou on Historic Royal Palaces
Queen Margaret of Anjou on National Portrait Gallery
So What Did Margaret of Anjou Look Like? on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
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