The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  It was some time before arrangements were made to escort Margaret to England. There was an exchange of cordial letters between the sovereigns of England and France, and Charles VII prepared a safe-conduct for Margaret to carry on her journey. On 7 November, Suffolk again crossed to France, with an embassy as splendid as the one he had led before, and accompanied by the earls of Shrewsbury and Salisbury, and also by his wife, Alice Chaucer, who was to act as principal lady-in-waiting to the Queen on the journey home. After arriving in France, Suffolk travelled to Nancy, arriving there in January.

  Margaret had probably spent the intervening months at the French court, which in February moved to Nancy for her proxy wedding. In March, Charles VII and King René arrived, fresh from successfully suppressing a Burgundian-inspired revolt by the citizens of Metz, and shortly afterwards the proxy ceremony took place. Again Suffolk represented his sovereign, and Louis de Herancourt, Bishop of Toul, officiated. The bride wore a gown of white satin embroidered with silver and gold marguerites, her emblem, and marguerites appeared everywhere, on clothing, hangings, canopies and banners.

  After the wedding a ceremonial banquet was held, attended by the King and Queen of France, the Dauphin, King René, and a host of French lords. The feasting continued for a week, accompanied by miracle plays and eight days of tournaments, hosted by René and presided over by Charles VII’s mistress, Agnes Sorel, as ‘the Lady of Beauty’. All combatants wore garlands or devices of marguerites in honour of the bride, and her champion Pierre de Brézé broke a lance with Suffolk.

  At the end of the festivities, it was time for Margaret to leave for England. Two miles from Nancy Charles VII formally took leave of her, saying he feared he had done nothing for her by placing her on one of the greatest thrones of Europe for it was scarcely worthy of her. Then he commended her to God, and uncle and niece wept bitterly on parting. At Bar-le-Duc Margaret said farewell to her parents; it was an emotional leave-taking, and René was so overcome that he could not speak.

  On 15 March, Margaret entered Paris where, on the following day, she received a stately welcome at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Later that day her brother, John of Calabria, formally delivered her into the safe-keeping of Suffolk. The Duke of York, who had come with an escort of six hundred archers, came forward to bid her welcome on behalf of King Henry, and presented her with a palfrey caparisoned with crimson and gold velvet sewn with golden roses, a gift from her husband. Cannon saluted and church bells pealed as the Queen’s cavalcade rode through Paris.

  On the 17th the Duke of Orléans rode with the English to Poissy on the Norman border, whence York escorted them by river to Rouen, the English capital in France. The next day, Margaret arrived in Pontoise, and was York’s guest at two state dinners; relations between the thirty-three-year-old Duke and the fifteen-year-old Queen were noticeably cordial, and there was no hint of the deadly enmity that would one day divide them.

  Parliament had voted £5,129.25.5d. (£5,129.12) against the cost of bringing the new queen home to England, and the Council had dispatched an escort of fifty-six ships. Not surprisingly, expenditure exceeded the available funds by about £500. On 3 April, Margaret’s party came to Harfleur, whence they travelled along the coast to Cherbourg, where the English fleet awaited them.

  Prior to their departure, Suffolk did his best to prepare Margaret for her future role and advise what was expected of her. He was concerned, however, about her poverty-stricken state. Henry VI might have been content to take a queen without a dowry, but there had been complaints in England that for all René’s magnificent titles he had ‘too short a purse to send his daughter honourably to the King, her spouse’. Gloucester had openly deplored the lack of dowry and had accused Parliament of having ‘bought a queen not worth ten marks’.

  René had provided his daughter with a trousseau of sorts. A furrier had supplied 120 pelts of white fur edging for robes, and a merchant of Angers had provided eleven ells of violet and crimson cloth of gold at thirty crowns per ell, plus a thousand small pieces of fur. But that was about all. Before she left France, Margaret had been obliged to pawn some silver plate to the Duchess of Somerset so that she could pay her sailors’ wages; she then had to buy cheap, second-hand plate at Rouen with which to replace it. But at least she was well provided with attendants, for her household and escort comprised five barons and baronesses, each paid a daily rate of 4s.6d. (22½p), seventeen knights at 2s.6d. (2½p) each per day, sixty-five squires at 18d. (7½P) and 174 valets at 6d. (2½P) each, as well as 1200 other persons at least, including yeomen and sumptermen.

  The crossing to England was terrible: the sea was turbulent and the rolling of the ship made Margaret ill. On 9 September her ship, the Cock John, was beached at Porchester, Hampshire, but no reception awaited the Queen’s arrival because she had not been expected. The mayor and other local worthies, apprised of her coming, hastened to lay carpets on the beach, while large crowds gathered to greet her, but Margaret was too sick to walk, and Suffolk was obliged to carry her ashore. Her clothes, according to the assembled dignitaries, looked like rags. The Duke carried her to a nearby cottage, where she fainted, and she was later taken to a convent to recuperate. The next day, however, she was sufficiently restored to be rowed in state to Southampton, where she was saluted by seven Genoese trumpeters from the decks of two galleys. Suffolk was now so concerned at the Queen’s lack of decent apparel that he immediately summoned a London dressmaker, Margaret Chamberlayne, to attend her.

  Henry could not wait to see his bride. The Milanese ambassador records that he dressed as a squire,

  and took her a letter which he said the King of England had written. When the Queen read the letter the King took stock of her, saying that a woman may be seen over well when she reads a letter, and the Queen never found out that it was the King because she was so engrossed in reading the letter and she never looked at the King in his squire’s dress, who remained on his knees all the time. After the King had gone, Suffolk said, ‘Most serene Queen, what do you think of the squire who brought the letter?’ The Queen replied, ‘I did not notice him.’ Suffolk remarked, ‘Most serene Queen, the person dressed as a squire was the most serene King of England.’ And the Queen was vexed at not having known it, because she had kept him on his knees. Afterwards the King wrote to her, and they made great triumphs.

  Their meeting was destined to be further delayed, however, because soon after arriving at Southampton Margaret fell ill again and was taken to another convent to be nursed. Henry wrote to the Lord Chancellor: ‘Our dear and best beloved wife the Queen is yet sick of the labour and indisposition of the sea, by occasion of which the pox been broken out upon her, for which cause we may not in our own person hold the feast of St George in our castle of Windsor.’ Fortunately, Margaret recovered within a few days, and spent her convalescence planning her trousseau with the dressmaker. The King, meanwhile, rewarded the master of the Cock John with an annuity of twenty-one marks for life for having ‘conveyed his beloved consort safely to England’.

  8

  The Daisy Flower

  Despite his efforts, Henry had raised very little money to pay for his wedding. He had pawned the crown jewels, but then realised he needed them for the ceremony, and was forced instead to pawn some of his personal jewellery and plate to retrieve them.

  On 23 April 1445 Henry VI married ‘the most noble Lady Margaret’ in a quiet ceremony at the abbey of the Premonstratensian monks at Titchfield in Hampshire. The ‘venerable Master William Ayscough, Bishop of Salisbury’ and confessor to the King, officiated and gave the young couple his blessing. Henry placed on Margaret’s finger a ring set with an enormous ruby which had been given to him at the time of his coronation by Bishop Beaufort. Margaret also received an original wedding gift from an unknown admirer – a lion, which was brought to her at the abbey and then promptly dispatched at considerable expense to the royal menagerie at the Tower of London.

  After the wedding the King and Queen spent several nights
at Titchfield Abbey, and the Charter Rolls record that the abbot and convent were well rewarded for their hospitality. The chronicler John Capgrave, for whom Henry VI could do no wrong, predicted that ‘this marriage will be pleasing to God and the realm, because that peace and abundant crops came to us through it’. The marriage itself looked not to be so fruitful. Henry was twenty-three, Margaret sixteen; their wedding night is not likely to have seen the flowering of any grand passion, since the King’s confessor, Bishop Ayscough, had warned him against self-indulgence and having his ‘sport’ with his bride, advising him not to ‘come nigh her’ any more than was necessary for the procreation of heirs. As Margaret did not produce an heir for eight years, we may conclude that Henry took his confessor’s advice to heart.

  Others were not so immune to his wife’s charm, for all contemporary sources agree that Margaret was beautiful. Chastellain called her the exemplification of ‘all that is majestic’ in woman, and one of the most beautiful women in the world. ‘She was indeed a very fair lady, altogether well worth the looking at, and of high bearing withal.’ She had, he added, excellent manners. A Milanese envoy described Margaret as ‘a most handsome woman, though somewhat dark’. Whether he meant her hair – which was very long – or her skin is not clear, but the surviving manuscript illustrations of Margaret portray her as blonde or auburn-haired; the ambassador, however, had seen her, the illustrators had probably not.

  The best surviving representation of Margaret of Anjou is a head and shoulders profile relief on a medal struck in 1463 by Pietro di Milano and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A copy is in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Both show Margaret with upswept hair wearing a crown. This sitter bears more than a passing resemblance to a noble lady painted by René of Anjou in a tournament scene in his manuscript Le Livre de Tournois, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale. This lady is evidently of high rank, for she is attended by a bevy of well-dressed ladies, and is shown standing at the right of the page, inspecting the helms of jousters. Did René here depict his own daughter? It is tempting to think so.

  Margaret appears in several authenticated manuscript illustrations. The most famous is one in which she and Henry VI are being presented with an illuminated copy of John Talbot’s Poems and Romances; it dates from c. 1450–3 and is now among the King’s MSS in the British Library. There is a fanciful portrayal of Margaret’s wedding in the Royal MSS in the British Library, and a beautiful picture of her and Henry kneeling before the altar in Eton College chapel in the manuscript of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, now in Eton College Library. Margaret appears as an older woman, hooded and at prayer, in a manuscript owned by the Worshipful Company of Skinners of the City of London, of whose guild – then the Fraternity of Our Lady’s Assumption – she was patron.

  There are fifteenth-century carvings of Henry and Margaret at Lambeth Palace in London. A corbel head said to portray Margaret is in the porch of the parish church of Henley-in-Arden, while her head and Henry’s are shown in relief on a five-hundred-year-old bell that once hung in Valle Crucis Abbey in North Wales and is now at Great Ness Church, Shropshire. In nearby Wrockwardine Church is an ancient chair carved with an illustration of Queen Margaret confronting a robber, a famous episode from the Wars of the Roses. Finally, there is a stained glass window in the church of the Cordeliers at Angers, showing Margaret kneeling in prayer, but this is an eighteenth-century copy of a fifteenth-century original.

  Margaret’s mother and grandmother were strong, capable women, and she took after them in many respects. She was intelligent and courageous and had great strength of character, which was apparent even in her youth. Charles, Duke of Orléans was of the opinion that ‘this woman excelled all others, as well in beauty as in wit, and was of stomach and courage more like to a man than to a woman.’ She was talented and valiant, but she had also inherited the hauteur and pride of her royal forebears, and could be domineering, ruthless, autocratic, hot-blooded and impulsive. She had a quick temper, and her changeable moods often irritated her male contemporaries, who complained that she would often change her mind ‘like a weathercock’. She could be vindictive, quick to repay the smallest slight or insult, and was therefore not a person to be trifled with.

  Margaret’s native tongue was French, but she quickly learned to speak English well, applying herself with her usual energy to the task of learning the language of her adopted land. She was highly literate and particularly loved the works of Boccaccio, which were in light-hearted contrast to the pious tomes that made up her husband’s reading matter.

  Margaret quickly became the dominant partner in the marriage. She had energy and drive enough for two, and Henry accepted her tutelage without protest; he had, after all, been dominated since infancy by a succession of strong characters, and Margaret was another such. Blacman says that Henry ‘kept his marriage vow wholly and sincerely, even in the absences of the lady’, which in later years ‘were sometimes very long’, through force of circumstances. Nor, ‘when they lived together, did he use his wife unseemly, but with all honesty and gravity’. He was a generous husband, anxious to ensure that Margaret lacked for nothing. She seems to have conceived a genuine affection for Henry, referring to him in her letters as ‘my most redoubted lord’.

  In many ways they were unsuited: Margaret was in most respects the complete antithesis of Henry, and probably viewed his willingness to forgive his enemies and opponents as a weakness. Instinctively, she began to shoulder his burdens and responsibilities, and he let her, being content to allow someone else to take the initiative. Nevertheless, from the first they were deeply loyal to each other, spending as much time as possible together.

  The physical side of marriage was of no great importance to Henry at least, and here again he was failing in his duty as king, for it was a king’s responsibility to provide for the succession. This failure rebounded on Margaret in time, for in that age infertility in a marriage was regarded as a dereliction of duty on the part of the wife. In a queen such a lack was a national disaster, for the provision of an heir was crucial to the well-being and stability of the realm.

  The royal marriage represented a triumph for Beaufort and Suffolk, but the English people in general did not want peace with France: they wanted glorious victories and conquests against their old enemy. The young Margaret represented a peace they regarded as ignominious, and they disliked her for it. Later, when it brought England only defeat and humiliation, she was held responsible, however unjustly. In addition her belief in the peace policy strengthened Henry’s resolve to pursue it in the face of public opposition.

  And there was much of that. Later it would be said that, from the time of his marriage, King Henry never profited. Gloucester seized every opportunity to voice his disapproval and, although he was not, to begin with, personally hostile to Margaret, he did his best to engender distrust of her in the minds of the people. As a result of this, and the inbred Francophobia of the English, the marriage was never popular. Gloucester, and many others, felt that the truce constituted a threat to England, in that it gave the French time in which to re-arm and plan a decisive assault on England’s remaining territories in France. Nor would this have been difficult, for during the years of truce the English forces in France were in some disorder, lacking consistent or effective leadership and undermined by lawlessness and lack of discipline.

  The royal marriage also led to increasing bitterness between court factions. From the first Margaret identified herself vigorously with Beaufort’s party, in the belief that she was helping her husband. By her willingness to support a particular faction she did much to exacerbate the divisions in court and household. Automatically placing herself in opposition to Gloucester and York, she thus, probably in youthful ignorance, made enemies of both of them.

  In the opinion of the Duke of Orléans, ‘England had never seen a queen more worthy of a throne than Margaret of Anjou. It seemed as if she had been formed by Heaven to supply to her royal husband the qualities which he re
quired in order to become a great king.’ The Milanese ambassador wrote in awe-inspired tones of ‘the magnificence of the Queen of England’. From the first, Margaret was every inch a queen, having a commanding presence and a haughty manner. Etiquette at her court was rigorously formal. Duchesses, and even princes of the blood, were obliged to approach the Queen on their knees, and on one occasion the mayor of Coventry found that when he was escorting Margaret from his city he was expected to carry his mace of office, which he had only hitherto done for the King.

  Margaret’s motto was ‘Humble and loyal’, but she was also ambitious and loved power for its own sake. She used her rank and influence to secure the advancement of her favourites, and thereby ensured that the court party remained dominant. Headstrong and inexperienced, she was unable to assess the damage she was doing to her reputation. In France and Italy, where she had spent her formative years, rule by factions was accepted as a necessary evil, but in England it was bitterly resented. Unfortunately, Margaret never learned to understand the prejudices and fears of her husband’s subjects, and would not have paid much heed to them even if she had, believing that it was not their place to question the decisions made by their betters.

  Not since the time of Isabella, the ‘She-Wolf of France’, wife of Edward II, in the early fourteenth century, had a queen of England ventured to involve herself to any degree in politics. Margaret made it clear from the first that she was to be no passive consort, content to remain in her husband’s shadow. She had a fine brain and meant to use it, even though the business of government was then considered to be a male preserve. By thrusting herself forward and taking the initiative on the King’s behalf, Margaret confirmed the suspicions of those who suspected that she would have preferred the ineffectual Henry to concentrate his energies exclusively on his prayers and his foundations, so that she could get on with the serious business of ruling England in his name.

 
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