1452 Was a Hell of a Year

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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.

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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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The Murder of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk

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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.

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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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When Anne Neville Was Lancastrian

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Anne Neville is a curious figure in history because she is essentially a blank canvas who happened to be at the epicenter of intrigue during the Wars of the Roses. She was a queen consort of England, but one who wore the crown for less than two years and is understandably overshadowed by her more famous peers: Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York. She is dynastically insignificant – her only son died during childhood. She was not born into royalty, but rather married into a conquering family. And she did not hold power long enough to have any lasting impact on England.

And yet, she is an intriguing figure. For nearly 12 years she was married to one of England’s most famous (and infamous) monarchs: Richard III. She was in the eye of the mysterious storm that surrounded the disappearance of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (aka the Princes in the Tower). And she was the only figure to have married into both royal houses at war: Lancaster and York. Anne was born a Yorkist and died a Yorkist, but from December 1470 until May 1471 she was the Lancastrian Princess of Wales.

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The Fidelity of Marguerite of Anjou

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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.”

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