10 Facts About Margaret of Anjou

Emma Irving

4 mins

22 May 2019

Margaret of Anjou was a fierce, powerful and indomitable queen who ruled England in her frail husband’s stead, before unsuccessfully battling to secure the English crown for her son.

She made alliances, raised armies and won and lost battles in the struggle that became known as the Wars of the Roses, and might have secured power for her descendants had it not been for a fateful storm that impeded her journey from exile to England.

Here are 10 facts about this extraordinary woman:

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1. Her marriage to Henry VI had an unusual requirement

Born in the French Duchy of Lorraine, Margaret of Anjou grew up in France before her marriage to Henry VI in 1445. The marriage was somewhat controversial, in that there was no dowry given to the English Crown for Margaret by the French.

Instead it was agreed that Charles VII of France, who was at war with Henry in The Hundred Years’ War in France, would be given the lands of Maine and Anjou from the English. When this decision became public, it tore up already fractured relationships amongst the king’s council.

The marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou is depicted in this miniature from an illustrated manuscript of ‘Vigilles de Charles VII’ by Martial d’Auvergne

2. She was fierce, passionate and strong-willed

Margaret was fifteen years old when she was crowned queen consort at Westminster Abbey. She was described as beautiful, passionate, proud and strong-willed.

Indomitability ran in the blood of the women in her family. Her father, King Rene, passed his time as a prisoner of the Duke of Burgundy writing poetry and staining glass, but her mother struggled to establish his claim to Naples and her grandmother governed Anjou with an iron fist.

3. She was a great lover of learning

Margaret spent her early youth in at a castle in the Rhone Valley and at a palace in Naples. She received a good education and was probably tutored by Antoine de la Salle, a famous writer and tournament judge of the era.

When she came to England, she furthered her love of learning by helping to establish Queen’s College, Cambridge.

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4. Her husband’s rule was unpopular

A breakdown in law and order, corruption, the distribution of royal land to the king’s court favourites and the continued loss of land in France meant Henry and his French queen’s rule became unpopular.

Returning troops, who had often not been paid, added to the lawlessness and prompted a rebellion by Jack Cade. Henry lost Normandy in 1450 and other French territory followed. Soon only Calais remained. This loss weakened Henry and is thought to have started the breakdown of his mental health.

5. So she took control of the government, the king and the kingdom

When Henry VI fell into a catatonic state for 18 months and was unable to be brought to his senses, Margaret came to the fore. She was the one who called for a Great Council in May 1455 that excluded Richard Duke of York, sparking the series of battles between York and Lancaster that would last more than thirty years.

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6. When the Duke of York became ‘Protector of England’, she raised an army

When the Duke of York became ‘Protector of England’, Margaret 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.

Edward of Westminster, son of King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.

7. Margaret wasn’t going to see her son disinherited

So she went to war. She besieged the Duke of York’s castle and was present when he died in battle. But when the Yorks won at Towton in 1461 – led by the duke’s son Edward, who deposed King Henry and proclaimed himself Edward IV – Margaret took her son Edward, fled to exile and plotted their return.

8. She made some powerful alliances

For years, Margaret plotted in exile but was unable to raise an army. She made allies with the King of France, Louis XI.

Then when Warwick fell out with Edward over his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret and he formed an alliance; together they restored Henry to the throne.

To cement their deal, Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville, was married to Margaret’s son Edward.

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9. Their success was brief

But Margaret was taken prisoner by the victorious Yorkists after the Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury, where her son Edward was killed.

In 1475, she was ransomed by her cousin, King Louis XI of France. She went to live in France as a poor relation of the French king, and she died there at the age of 52.

The death of Prince Edward, Margaret’s only son, following the Battle of Tewkesbury.

10.  For Shakespeare, she was a ‘she-wolf’

This queen who fought so courageously for her son, her husband, and her House, would become not even a man but described by Shakespeare as a beast:

‘She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France… / Women are soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible; / Thou stern, obdurate, flinty, rough, remorseless’

Shakespeare, W. Henry VI: Part III, 1.4.111, 141-142