In Defense of Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou was born on March 23, 1430 and she was married to King Henry VI when she was fifteen years old.

Henry VI marrying Margaret of Anjou

She was crowned queen of England in the spring of 1445 and she did her best to be a good one. She seems to have loved her husband in spite of his mental illness, been loyal to her retainers, and fiercely devoted to her son Edward. Her efforts to prevent Richard of York, the 3rd Duke of York and father of King Edward IV and Richard III, from taking the crown away from her husband and son were heroic, and the reason she was unfairly dubbed a “she-wolf”.

Richard of York served as regent whenever Henry IV was mentally unable to perform his duties as king, and the king’s years of childlessness led York to expect that either himself or his eldest son would become king once Henry died. Imagine York’s unhappiness when Margaret had a healthy little boy on October 13, 1453. Henry became completely unable to rule shortly thereafter, which left York in charge. York liked the crown, and decided he should keep it.

York and the Yorkist faction immediately began questioning Edward’s legitimacy, declaring that Henry couldn’t have possibly fathered the boy.  Margaret, getting wind that York was wooing powerful nobles to back him as king even though Henry was still alive and had an heir, literally went on the warpath to protect her husband and son. Some historians have criticized her for her decision to defend the rights of her spouse and legacy of their child.

The Duke of York was powerful; Henry’s advisers corrupt; Henry himself trusting, pliable, and increasingly unstable; Margaret defiantly unpopular, grimly and gallantly determined to maintain the English crown for her progeny. Yet at least one scholar [Paul Murray Kendall] identifies the source of the eventual Lancastrian downfall not as York’s ambitions nearly so much as Margaret’s ill-judged enmity toward York and her over-indulgence in unpopular allies.

Seriously, according to Paul Murray Kendall (who wrote the very well researched yet very, VERY pro-Yorkist book Richard the Third) the whole War of the Roses was because that bitch Margaret of Anjou wouldn’t lie down and let Richard of York cake-walk into a monarchy that was her son’s by rights.

Huh.

It’s almost as if women are denigrated and are implied to be ‘sluts’ because they stand up for themselves or something.

Although Richard of York was slain in battle, the Yorkists eventually won, killing Margaret and Henry’s seventeen year old son at the Battle of Teweksbury.   Henry VI died suddenly and conveniently after the Battle of Tewkesbury, and and Richard of York’s eldest son took the throne as Edward IV. Once in power, the Yorkists got to write most of the “official” historical record and It is a bit biased in their favor. They certainly demonized Margaret of Anjou, and those myths about her show up repeatedly in historical fiction.

The Yorkists were, in the end, unable to hold on to the crown they had stolen from Henry VI and his heir.  Edward VI died young, and in a fit of historical irony (or karma), his young sons would also be killed so that an alternate claimant – Edward’s brother, who became Richard III – could take the throne. Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, then conspired with Margaret Beaufort to overthrow Richard and to place Margaret’s son, Henry Tudor, on the throne.

If Margaret of Anjou had been alive at the time, would she have laughed at the downfall of the Yorks? Or would the pain of her losses be too great for any justice to soothe?

 

7 thoughts on “In Defense of Margaret of Anjou


  1. .Imagine York’s unhappiness when Margaret had a healthy little boy on October 13, 1553.

    I think you made a typo..


  2. I agree with much of what you have said but I think you rather oversimplify York’s motives and also don’t refer to his shabby treatment earlier which helped to frame his attitude to the the crown and the queen. Kendall distorted the history but you risk doing so too by glossing over Margaret’s mistakes and overemphasising York’s ambition. I think it helps an understanding of this period to avoid using the York and Lancaster labels in the early stages because it is important to remember that very few of those who fought against the king, even in 1459, intended to depose him.


    1. I agree, but since this was a short blog post and the deeper factionalism wasn’t my focus (the focus was obviously the way the queen has been depicted as “bad” for fighting for her rights and the rights of her child; clearly her gender is the issue), I didn’t get the more involved aspects of the struggle. Also, I heartily dislike the Duke of York’s power grab and murder of the rightful heir — although the argument could be made against “rightful” since Richard II’s murder — and don’t think he was treated “shabbily” in CONTEXT. Ah … complexity.


      1. Yes, it’s always difficult to fit all the aspects in. I was thinking of his shabby treatment after France which coloured his agenda thereafter. Which rightful heir did York kill?


        1. Well, he was dead when it happened but his sons killed Edward of Westminster to get that crown.


          1. What else was York going to do with Ed of Westminster in the long run?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *