The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  Worse was to come. York was expecting much-needed reinforcements in Normandy, but he soon learned they had been diverted to Gascony where Somerset’s campaign ended in ignominious failure, although not before he had managed to anger England’s ally, the Duke of Brittany. He was forced to return to England in shame without having accomplished anything.

  In Rouen, York seethed with resentment. He was now in severe financial difficulties, thanks to the government’s failure to forward his £20,000 annuity, which was meant to cover not only his salary but also the wages of his soldiers and administrators. Thus he had to pay them himself or face desertions or mutinies. The Council were under the complacent impression that York was doing very well on the proceeds of Norman taxation, but in fact the Duke hardly received any money from this source because it had all been diverted to other necessary causes.

  Fat was added to the fire when York learned that the government had agreed to pay the ineffectual Somerset an annual pension of £25,000. This spurred the Duke to write to the King asking for his annuity to be paid to him forthwith, as provided for in the terms of service agreed upon at the time he took up his commission. Henry had the audacity to reply that, as so much money had been spent on equipping and provisioning Somerset’s army, he hoped York would ‘take patience and forbear him for a time’. York would not. In vain did he petition again and again for payment, not only of his expenses but of the debts owed him by the Crown. Throughout two terms of office he had subsidised the government of Normandy and military campaigns, and was now so financially embarrassed that he was forced to pawn one of his prized possessions, a heavy gold collar adorned with precious stones and enamelled white roses of York and hung with a huge, spear-pointed diamond. Apart from the crown jewels, this collar was the most priceless item of jewellery in England. York was the wealthiest of Henry’s magnates, but he had beggared himself in his master’s service, and would only have parted with this collar in extreme necessity.

  York’s petitions were ignored. However, when government money did become available – which was not often – Somerset was given priority claim to it, to clear his private loans. York saw clearly that, while the incompetent Somerset enjoyed the favour of the King, he himself was to be left out in the political wilderness, with no redress for his grievances. It was at this point that his anger and frustration crystallised into a deadly enmity against Somerset, whom he rightly perceived to be his chief political rival. In this lay the origins of the long-standing feud between York and the Beauforts, a feud that would not be resolved other than by death.

  By 1441, Henry VI had conceived ‘an earnest desire to live under the holy sacrament of marriage’. Like any young man he was anxious to secure a bride who was personable and attractive, and to this end he insisted on being sent a portrait of any suitable candidate. None of these likenesses, alas, has survived.

  Henry was also convinced that he should conclude a marriage alliance that would cement the hoped-for peace with France, and from 1441 to 1443 was considering a match with the daughter of the Count of Armagnac, Burgundy’s rival. Then in the autumn of 1443 Cardinal Beaufort proposed Margaret of Anjou, Charles VII’s niece by marriage, a suggestion that was enthusiastically supported by Suffolk, who had little difficulty in persuading the Council to agree to the match. Philip of Burgundy had suggested Margaret as far back as 1436, but Charles VII had then vetoed it. Now, apparently, the Duke of Orléans was urging it. Naturally, Gloucester opposed the idea, if only because Beaufort had suggested it, but Gloucester had no influence with the King, who was enthusiastic at the prospect of marrying Margaret.

  While an official approach was made to King Charles through an embassy of bishops, headed by the Cardinal himself, the young King used his own methods of procuring information about his proposed bride. There was on parole in London a French knight of Anjou called Champchevrier, who had been captured by Sir John Fastolf. Henry was acquainted with this knight and, knowing the man had seen Margaret, Beaufort and Suffolk briefed him to sing her praises to the future bridegroom. Soon Henry was enraptured by Champchevrier’s eloquent descriptions of the rare endowments which nature had bestowed on the princess, and which more than compensated for the fact that she had no dowry.

  Henry wanted a miniature of the lady, but this presented a problem, because the English ambassadors had not yet commenced formal negotiations, nor was there any certainty as to how their proposal would be received. The whole matter required careful diplomatic handling, but Henry dispatched Champchevrier to the court of Lorraine, where Margaret and her parents were residing, to obtain a portrait secretly.

  Meanwhile, Sir John Fastolf had learned that his prisoner had apparently broken parole and escaped back to France without waiting to be ransomed, a most dishonourable act on the part of a knight. Because a ransom was due, Fastolf was entitled to ask Charles VII if his prisoner might be returned to him; such were the laws of chivalry. Fastolf did just this, and Champchevrier, with a portrait already in his possession, was arrested by French soldiers on his way back to England. Granted his request to see King Charles, he confessed to him the reason for his visit to France. Charles was secretly pleased to learn it, for he too could see the advantages of an alliance between England and France. Champchevrier was released and allowed to return with all speed to England, Charles having urged him to impress upon Henry VI the benefits of a marriage with Margaret of Anjou.

  Henry duly received her portrait, a miniature by a renowned but anonymous French artist in the pay of Suffolk, and instantly fell in love with it. By October 1443 he was writing to Suffolk and describing the sitter as ‘the excellent, magnificent and very bright Margaret’.

  Margaret of Anjou was born in March 1429 at Pont-à-Mousson, Lorraine. She was the daughter of René, Duke of Anjou and titular King of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, by Isabella, daughter of Charles the Bold, Duke of Lorraine. Baptised at Toul, she was reared in infancy by her father’s old nurse, Théophanie la Magine, and spent her early years moving between the castle of Tarascon on the River Rhône and the old royal palace at Capua in Naples. Her mother, herself a gifted woman, saw that she was well-educated, tutoring her herself and perhaps arranging for her to have lessons with the scholar Antoine de la Salle, who taught her brothers. In childhood Margaret was known as ‘la petite créature’.

  René of Anjou has been described as a man of many crowns but no kingdoms. Born in 1408, his early political career had been chequered. He inherited the duchy of Anjou in 1434, but it was then occupied by the English. In 1435 he had claimed the kingdom of Naples, but had to cede his title to Alfonso of Aragon. René nevertheless continued to call himself King of Naples and Sicily, though it was as empty a pretence as were his claims to be King of Jerusalem and Hungary.

  In 1441 René returned to France where, thanks to the marriage of his sister Marie to Charles VII, he built up a sphere of influence at the French court. The friendship between Charles and René dated back to their childhood, when both had been as brothers at the court of René’s father at Angers. Now he found himself a member of the King’s council and an honoured courtier, who was constantly at Charles’s side at tournaments, courtly ceremonies and banquets. He also campaigned on the French king’s behalf in Normandy and Lorraine. By 1444 René, despite his landless status, was a considerable power at the French court, and the Milanese ambassador observed that he was ‘the one who governs this entire realm’.

  René lived in some style, surrounded by luxuries such as silks and porcelain imported from as far away as China. He was a highly cultivated and talented man, a gifted artist and poet, whose illuminated manuscripts are arguably the best-executed of the period. He was also a musician of some renown. His small but brilliant court attracted all kinds of talented people seeking patronage. Most of all it was famed for its tournaments, which René raised to an art form, and for its artificial creation of a pastoral idyll inspired by the new humanism sweeping across Europe from Italy.

  René had five children, includin
g his heir, John of Calabria, Yolande, who was married to a Burgundian nobleman, and Margaret, whom the Burgundian chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet describes as one of the younger daughters. During her childhood her father had considered several possible husbands for her, including the Emperor Frederick III. In 1443 he sent her to live with her aunt, Queen Marie, at the French court, and early in 1444 was considering a match for her with Burgundy’s son, Charles, Count of Charolais. But René’s ancestral territories of Maine and Anjou were still in the hands of the English, and when he learned of Henry VI’s interest in his daughter he saw a means of getting them back.

  Margaret spent a year at the French court, where she won golden opinions for her beauty and character. The Burgundian chronicler Barante wrote: ‘There was no princess in Christendom more accomplished than my lady Margaret of Anjou. She was already renowned in France for her beauty and wit and her lofty spirit of courage.’ Already she had an admirer in the courtly tradition: Pierre de Brézé, Seneschal of Anjou, had conceived an entirely proper and chivalrous passion for her, and carried her colours at jousts, calling himself her ‘Chevalier Servant’.

  In January 1444 it seemed that peace with France was within England’s grasp, for in that month an agreement was reached between Henry VI, Charles VII and Philip of Burgundy that their commissioners should meet shortly at Tours to discuss peace terms and a possible marriage alliance between England and France. Also present would be René of Anjou, father of the prospective bride.

  In February an English embassy headed by Suffolk travelled to the French court at Tours. Suffolk appears to have been unenthusiastic about his mission, almost certainly because he had belatedly realised that peace with France would not be popular with the English people, and as a result he did not wish to be too closely associated with it. In vain he had pleaded with the King to send someone else, but Henry, for once, was obstinate. He had great confidence in Suffolk’s ability to succeed in his task, and Suffolk therefore had no choice in the matter. Even Gloucester now realised that prolonging the war was hopeless, although he was urging the King to negotiate an advantageous peace while he was still in a position to dictate terms. He would have been horrified to learn that Henry believed by this time that peace could only be achieved by making concessions to the French, even secretly if need be.

  Suffolk and his entourage landed at Harfleur in March 1444, magnificently equipped at great cost to the Exchequer. In April he was courteously received by René and Charles, and given all the trappings of a state welcome. Peace talks then commenced. Suffolk made a formal request for the hand of Margaret of Anjou, to which René readily agreed, but he warned the Duke that he was penniless and could not provide his daughter with the customary dowry. He then had the temerity to demand that England return to him the counties of Maine and Anjou as part of the terms of the marriage treaty, and this demand was backed by King Charles. Suffolk referred the matter back to the Council in England, knowing full well that the cession of Maine and Anjou in return for a queen who brought no financial advantage whatsoever would be bitterly unpopular in England. Unfortunately Henry VI had just learned that the Count of Nevers was on the point of offering for Margaret, and knew he had to act quickly.

  Suffolk later claimed that Bishop Moleyns urged Henry to agree to the French demands, but the Bishop declared on his deathbed that Suffolk himself had been the one to persuade the King. The extent of Suffolk’s involvement in the matter is now never likely to be established, but ultimately, of course, the responsibility for the decision was Henry’s. There is no doubt that he and his Council were conscious of just how aghast the people of England would be when they learned that their king had blithely ceded the hard-won counties of Maine and Anjou back to the French. And it was because of this awareness that, in conveying their acceptance of the terms, Henry and his councillors insisted that the agreement be kept a secret until the matter was a fait accompli, which would not be for some time to come. It was hoped that by then the English would be able to see the benefits of an alliance with France. Above all, Gloucester must not know of the agreement.

  Suffolk was thus empowered to agree to the cession of Maine and Anjou in return for the English being allowed to retain Aquitaine, Normandy and all the other territories conquered by Henry V. At the same time Henry VI agreed to waive Margaret’s dowry and undertook to pay for the wedding out of his own privy purse. Already, anticipating a happy outcome to negotiations, he was making strenuous efforts to raise money for this purpose. Meanwhile, at Tours, Suffolk was arranging a two-year truce; the demands of King Charles were such that a peace treaty was not possible at this stage. The marriage, however, was to be a steppingstone to such a treaty, or so it was hoped.

  Throughout the negotiations, Margaret was at the castle of Angers with her mother. In early May both ladies travelled to Tours where they were lodged with King René in the abbey of Beaumont-les-Tours. Here on 4 May, Suffolk visited them to pay his respects to his future queen, and apparently he was much impressed with her beauty and her bearing. On the 22nd the Treaty of Tours was signed, providing for the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou and including a secret clause committing the English to the surrender of Maine and Anjou. René had at the last minute appealed to the clergy of Anjou, who granted a tenth and a half of their revenues to provide the bride with a trousseau and pay for the betrothal celebrations.

  Two days later Margaret and Henry VI were formally betrothed at Tours. The occasion was celebrated with magnificent festivities at court, with King Charles and King René leading the nobility of France in procession through the city. The papal legate, Piero da Monte, Bishop of Brescia, officiated at the ceremony and Suffolk stood proxy for King Henry. Afterwards a banquet was held at which Margaret was accorded all the honours due to a queen of England.

  Back in England, on the 27th, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, died unexpectedly at Wimborne in Dorset, and was buried in the nearby Minster. There were rumours that, unable to come to terms with his humiliating failure in France, the Duke had taken his own life. He left no son, but an infant daughter, Margaret Beaufort, born on 31 May 1443, through whom the Tudor sovereigns would ultimately inherit their claim to the throne of England. Margaret became a ward of Suffolk, who later brought her to court and made plans to marry her to his son, John de la Pole.

  Somerset was succeeded, not as duke but as earl, by his brother Edmund Beaufort. Now aged about thirty-seven, Edmund had been created Earl of Dorset in 1442 and Marquess in 1443. His meteoric rise was due in no small part to the efforts of his uncle, Cardinal Beaufort, who meant to ensure that his policies and family ambitions would survive his own death. As with his brother, Edmund was deferred to as a prince of the blood royal, and as such he rapidly became very influential at court, where he stood in high favour with the King. In the years to come, the new Earl of Somerset would play a central role that reflected the dynastic and political importance of the Beauforts in the history of the fifteenth century.

  The death of Somerset also brought his ally Suffolk to greater prominence. Suffolk had enjoyed the confidence of Henry VI for more than a decade, and during those years he had grown rich and powerful, having created a widespread network of support within the royal household and the country at large by ensuring that his supporters were preferred to influential positions, both in local and central government. His influence over the royal household was so great that in 1445 he was able to exert it in favour of the appointment of his ally, Adam Moleyns, to the see of Chichester. Moleyns was not the only bishop who owed his mitre to Suffolk.

  The main beneficiary of Suffolk’s influence with King and Council was Suffolk himself. By 1444 he was the King’s chief political adviser. He genuinely supported the peace policy, but this, and his obvious self-interest and political inconsistencies, had made the commons loathe him and refer to him as ‘Jackanapes’. The Burgundian chronicler Georges Chastellain describes Suffolk as a second king. Certainly he was in control of the King’s prerogative of
patronage. He was jealous of his power and suspicious of his fellow magnates, and was prone to make accusations against his political rivals without first obtaining proof of their alleged misdeeds. He may well have supported Beaufort in poisoning the King’s mind against Gloucester by insinuating that Gloucester’s ambitions were dangerous.

  Suffolk’s had not been the only star to rise. By the mid-1440s certain noble families such as the Nevilles and their rivals the Percies had expanded their influence and grown powerful, as had those families who were related to the King – the Beauforts, the Staffords and the Hollands. Henry VI, whose immediate family consisted of his uncles Gloucester and the Cardinal and his Tudor half-brothers, relied on the extended Lancastrian family to bolster his throne, and to its members he assigned the chief posts at court and in his household.

  In the 1440s Henry showed his favour to his kinsmen by creating dukedoms for them: the Beauforts became dukes of Somerset, the Staffords dukes of Buckingham, and the Hollands dukes of Exeter. With only a very few exceptions dukedoms had hitherto been reserved for immediate members of the royal house, but there was ample and worrying evidence that these new dukes now regarded themselves as royal princes.

  On 27 June 1444 Suffolk returned to London, where he was received with great rejoicing. The Treaty of Tours and the truce were laid before Parliament for ratification; Gloucester’s party made loud protests about both, but Duke Humphrey himself voiced no criticism, and even made a speech in Parliament thanking Suffolk for arranging them, in the belief that both truce and marriage had been negotiated on terms advantageous to England and without making any substantial concessions. Henry VI rewarded Suffolk by raising him to the rank of marquess.

 
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