1452 Was a Hell of a Year

Edmond_Beaufort_et_envoyés_de_Rouen

Two weeks ago we took a look at the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, noting that his unpopularity was wrapped up in the humiliating losses in Normandy under the command of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. His death in March 1450 was swiftly followed by the first serious rebellion in Henry VI’s reign – that of a man under the moniker “Jack Cade,” who led an uprising that swept the countryside that summer. It was suppressed and its participants put to death, but an uneasy pallor settled over Henry’s court.

Continue reading “1452 Was a Hell of a Year”

The Murder of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk

800px-A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_396_-_Murder_of_the_Duke_of_Suffolk

The Wars of the Roses is traditionally recorded as beginning in 1455 with the First Battle of St Albans and ending in 1485 with the victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. But as with most civil wars, there are grey areas on either side that show the rise and fall of violence and political tension. With this particular war, the domino effect of events can take you back decades – Joan of Arc, the Treaty of Arras in 1435, the death of John, Duke of Bedford or the arrival of Marguerite of Anjou. None of these, in a vacuum, caused a civil war, but they were pivotal moments that drew the lines between our main opponents more firmly.

Today we’re going to look at once such moment: the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.

Continue reading “The Murder of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk”

When Marguerite of Anjou Arrived in England

Vigiles_du_roi_Charles_VII_15

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.

Continue reading “When Marguerite of Anjou Arrived in England”

The Dynastic Dispute

Payne, Henry Arthur, 1868-1940; Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens

Two days ago, we covered the usurpation of 1399 and the events leading up to it. Today, we’re going to examine the issue raised at its end, which dealt with the supposed dynastic crime against nature that the accession of Henry IV rendered. This, of course, links the beginning of the royal House of Lancaster with its end, when Henry IV’s grandson, Henry VI, was deposed in favor of his cousin, Edward IV.

Continue reading “The Dynastic Dispute”

The Fidelity of Marguerite of Anjou

Presentation_scene_-_British_Library_Royal_MS_15_E_vi_f2v_(detail)

Henry VI’s wife, Marguerite of Anjou’s legacy has been tinged with the question mark of infidelity since her own time. Assessing “why” or attempting to suss out the veracity of those accusations is more complicated than simply picking apart her relationships with the various men put forth as contenders, because the charges – whether true or not – are politically motivated. But dismissing them as scurrilous claims by her enemies is also not so easy given the nature of her marriage – or rather, the nature of her husband. Today, most of us look back at the hand of cards Marguerite was dealt and think something along the lines of, “Well, if she did, I don’t blame her.”

Continue reading “The Fidelity of Marguerite of Anjou”

Did John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset Commit Suicide?

800px-GarterPlateJohnBeaufort.jpg

On May 27, 1444 an Englishman named John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset died at the age of 40. Ever since then, the question has been raised whether or not his death was a suicide. While it’s impossible to answer the question in complete confidence, it’s significant that the notion was initially floated by contemporaries and the events leading up to it played a considerable role in the political ecosystem moving towards the Wars of the Roses.

Continue reading “Did John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset Commit Suicide?”

Before Woodville: John, Duke of Bedford & Jacquetta of Luxembourg

800px-John,_Duke_of_Bedford_-_British_Library_Add_MS_18850_f256v.jpg
John of Bedford, kneeling

The pairing of John, Duke of Bedford and Jacquetta of Luxembourg is one which never fails to jar me in hindsight. What are the odds that the Duke’s second wife would go on to become the mother of a queen of England via her own second marriage, particularly given the outrageousness of each match? Well, they’re nil. Much like how it can still be difficult to fathom that the marriage of Katherine of Valois’s that became most dynastically significant was hers to Owen Tudor and not Henry V.

Continue reading “Before Woodville: John, Duke of Bedford & Jacquetta of Luxembourg”

Lancaster’s Decision to Stay in England After the Battle of Barnet

Battle_of_Barnet_retouched

Today in 1471 the Battle of Barnet was fought in England between the House of York’s Edward IV and the House of Lancaster’s Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The battle resulted in Lancaster’s defeat and Warwick, the “Kingmaker,” was killed while attempting to escape the field. At the time of the battle, Edward IV had recently been deposed thanks to Warwick’s betrayal when he defected to the Lancastrian cause, turning his back on the House and family on which he had built his career.

Continue reading “Lancaster’s Decision to Stay in England After the Battle of Barnet”

The Lost Childhood of Marguerite of Anjou

margaret_of_anjou_-_detail_jesus_college_oxford_ms_124_srgb

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.

Continue reading “The Lost Childhood of Marguerite of Anjou”

The Madness of Henry VI & His Son

c12262-10.jpg

In the long list of things that made Marguerite of Anjou’s life tragic is the fact that after waiting eight years for any sign of a much-needed heir, her husband, Henry VI, would go “mad” when she was seven months pregnant, turning what should have been a time of genuine celebration into a period of incredible stress and political uncertainty.

By 1453 Henry desperately needed a son. He was a weak king, controlled by a coterie of unpopular men with varying degrees of skill, and married to a Frenchwoman who many saw as a tangible symbol of England giving up its right in France. That the marriage was fruitless certainly didn’t help matters, particularly when Henry’s closest heirs were his half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, born from his mother’s second marriage to a Welshman in her household, or his cousin, Richard, Duke of York, who was older than him by a decade and politically opposed to nearly all of his government’s policies.

But Marguerite was no traditional queen consort and it would be this period of time which mobilized her into a woman who made no pretense about actively politicking on behalf of her family’s interests.

Continue reading “The Madness of Henry VI & His Son”