Anjou: The Last Years of Henry VI’s Queen

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Marguerite of Anjou, consort of Henry VI, dominates England’s history through the first half of the Wars of the Roses and ends abruptly in May 1471. The Battle of Tewkesbury that took place that month brought about the death of some of her greatest supporters, not least of whom was her beloved son, Prince Edward. The House of Lancaster was effectively destroyed – Henry VI was quietly put to death, loyalists fled abroad or pledged allegiance to the House of York and Edward IV reigned safely for the next 12 years.

Her husband and son dead, Marguerite had no further connection to England. Last mentions of her often note that she was held in the Tower of the London and then eventually returned to France, where she died 11 years later. And yet, while her utility to a nation’s history might have evaporated, she did in fact keep living. The last decade plus of her life is made of vaguer stuff than what we have been left from her years in power, but it is still illuminating.

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When Marguerite of Anjou Arrived in England

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Marguerite of Anjou is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting queen consorts in England’s history. Her marriage, however, started as a glorified insurance policy for her uncle, Charles VII, and resulted in one of the most controversial and dramatic public careers a woman in 15th century Europe ever held. We’ve covered Marguerite on this site a few times, from rumors of her infidelity to her political maneuvers when her husband “went mad” to her mysterious childhood prior to joining French court as a teenager, to name but a few. Today we’re going to get into how it was that she became Henry VI’s wife and the very direct way in which that led to the later civil war that toppled them from their thrones.

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The Lost Childhood of Marguerite of Anjou

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This past Wednesday (March 23rd) marked the anniversary of Marguerite of Anjou’s birthday. Wife of Henry VI and pivotal figure in the so-called Wars of the Roses, Marguerite enjoyed a fair amount of notoriety in life, and has seen her reputation molded to reflect the ethos of the time. Today, when there is greater room, and perhaps almost a demand for stronger women, one version of Marguerite has been allowed to emerge: the politico, the matriarch, the leader asserting herself in the masculine world of a Medieval court.

We know more about Marguerite than we do about many of her peers, including her predecessor and successor, Katherine of Valois and Elizabeth Woodville, respectively. Her activity was well-documented and she was active enough that there was enough to record. You can glean a great deal from those actions – what she chose to do speaks to her thought process, but it doesn’t tell the complete story. And, indeed, what’s missing from the story of Marguerite is that we have no idea how much she wanted to take on the role that she did. We know only that when push came to shove, she chose to protect her son’s birthright, and before that she chose to stand up for her husband in the best way she knew how.

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