Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou (Marguerite d'Anjou, 23 March 143025 August 1482) was the Queen consort of Henry VI of England from 1445 to 1471 and led the Lancastrian contingent in the Wars of the Roses.

Marriage to Henry VI

Margaret was born on 23 March 1430, in Pont-à-Mousson in the Duchy of Lorraine, an Imperial fief east of France that was ruled by the cadet branch of the French kings, the House of Anjou. Margaret was the second eldest daughter of René I of Naples, Duke of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine in her own right. Margaret married King Henry VI, who was eight years her senior, on 23 April 1445, at Titchfield in Hampshire. She was fifteen years old but already a woman, beautiful, passionate and proud, and knew her duty which was to zealously guard the interests of the Crown. This indomitability, she inherited from her mother who actually governed Anjou "with a man's hand", putting the province in order and keeping out the English. Thus by family example and her own strong-willed personality, she was fully capable of becoming the champion of the Crown.

Henry, who had more interest in religion and learning than in military matters, was not a successful king. He had reigned since he was a few months old and his actions had been controlled by regents. When he married Margaret, his mental condition was already unstable and by the time their only son, Edward of Lancaster, was born on 13 October 1453, he had suffered a complete mental breakdown. Rumours were rife that he was incapable of fathering a child and that the new Prince of Wales was the result of an adulterous liaison on Margaret's part. Many have speculated that either Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset or James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire, both staunch allies of Margaret, was the young prince's actual father .

Although Margaret was aggressively partisan, feudal and in possession of a volatile temperament, by dint of the cultured upbringing she received at her father's court, she shared her husband's love of learning and gave her patronage to the founding of Queens' College at Cambridge University. Elizabeth Woodville served as her Maid of Honour.

Beginnings of The Wars of the Roses

After retiring from London to live in lavish state at the palace of Greenwich, Margaret was occupied with the care of her young son and did not display any signs of overt belligerence until she believed her husband was threatened with deposition by the ambitious Richard, Duke of York who to her consternation had been appointed regent during the king's descent into mental incapacity from 1453 to 1454. The duke was a credible claimant to the English throne and by the end of York's regency there were many powerful nobles and relatives who were prepared to back his claim. There are perhaps few episodes in English history that give so much room for speculation and debate, however, as the origins and the proper place of blame, if any, in The Wars of the Roses. Richard of York was powerful; Henry's advisors corrupt; Henry himself trusting, pliable, and increasingly unstable; Margaret defiantly unpopular, grimly and gallantly determined to maintain the English crown for her progeny. Yet at least one scholar identifies the source of the eventual Lancastrian downfall not as York's ambitions nearly so much as Margaret's ill-judging enmity toward York and her over-indugence in unpopular allies. Nevertheless, Queen Margaret was a powerful force in the world of politics. King Henry was putty in her hands when she wanted something done.

Margaret's allies, Somerset and William de la Pole, then Earl of Suffolk, had no difficulty in persuading the new queen that York, until then one of Henry VI's most trusted advisors, was responsible for her unpopularity and was already too powerful to be trusted. Margaret not only convinced Henry to recall York from his post as governor in France and banish him instead to Ireland, she repeatedly attempted to have him assassinated during his travels to and from Ireland, once in 1449 and again in 1450. Somerset's and Suffolk's joint responsibility for the secret surrender of Maine in 1448, and then the subsequent disastrous loss of the rest of Normandy in 1449 embroiled Margaret and Henry's court in riots, and uprisings by the magnates, and calls for the impeachment and execution of Margaret's two strongest allies to that point. It also may have made an ultimate battle to the death between Margaret and the House of York inevitable, by making manifest Richard's dangerous popularity with the Commons. Richard of York, safely returned from Ireland in 1450, confronted Henry and was readmitted as a trusted advisor. Soon thereafter, Henry agreed to convene Parliament to address the calls for reform. When Parliament met, the demands could not have been less acceptable to Margaret: not only were both Somerset and Suffolk impeached for criminal mismanagement of French affairs and subverting justice, but it was charged as a crime against Suffolk (now a duke) that he had antagonized the King against the Duke of York. Further, the demands for reform put forward included that the Duke of York be acknowledged as the first councillor to the king, and the Speaker of Commons, perhaps with more fervor than wisdom, even proposed that Richard, Duke of York, be recognized as heir apparent to the throne. Within a few months, however, Margaret had regained control of Henry, Parliament was dissolved, the incautious Speaker thrown in prison for his troubles, and Richard of York retired to Wales for the time being.

In 1457 the kingdom was again outraged, when it was discovered that Pierre de Brézé, a powerful French general and an adherent of Margaret, had landed on the English coast and burnt Sandwich. Margaret became the object of scurrilous rumours and vulgar ballads. Public indignation was so high that Margaret, with great reluctance, was forced to give the Duke of York's kinsman Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick a commission to keep the sea for three years. He already held the post of Captain of Calais.

Hostilities between the rival Yorkist and Lancastrian factions soon flared into armed conflict. In May of 1455, just over five months after Henry VI recovered substantially from his bout of mental illness at the end of 1454 and Richard of York's regency had duly ended, Margaret called for a Great Council from which the Yorkists were excluded. The Council called for an assemblage of the peers at Leicester to protect the king "against his enemies." York apparently was not unprepared for conflict, and soon was marching south to meet the Lancastrian army marching north. The Lancastrians suffered a crushing defeat at the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455. Somerset was killed, Wiltshire fled the battlefield and King Henry was taken prisoner by the victorious Duke of York.

Although the king was captured, Margaret managed to escape and immediately began raising an army in Wales and the north of England, where she was assisted by Henry's half-brother, Jasper Tudor. In 1459, hostilities resumed at the Battle of Blore Heath, where Margaret is said to have witnessed her commander, James Touchet, Lord Audley defeated by a Yorkist army under Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury.


While she was attempting to raise further support for the Lancastrian cause in Scotland , her principal commander, Henry Beaufort, Third Duke of Somerset , gained a major victory for her at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460, by defeating the combined armies of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and the Earl of Salisbury. Margaret had both beheaded, and ordered their heads displayed on the gates of the city of York. She followed up with a victory at St Albans on 17 February 1461, at which she defeated the Yorkist forces of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, and recaptured her husband.

On 29 March 1461, the Lancastrian army was beaten at the Battle of Towton by the son of the late Duke of York, Edward IV of England, who deposed King Henry and proclaimed himself king. Margaret was determined to win back her son's inheritance, and fled with him into Wales and later Scotland. Finding her way to France, she made an ally of her cousin, King Louis XI of France, and at his instigation she allowed an approach from Edward's former supporter, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had fallen out with his former friend, as a result of Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and was now seeking revenge for the loss of his political influence. Warwick's daughter, Anne Neville, was married to Margaret's son, Edward, Prince of Wales, in order to cement the alliance, and Margaret insisted that Warwick return to England to prove himself, before she followed. He did so, restoring Henry VI briefly to the throne on 3 October 1470.

By the time Margaret, her son and daughter-in-law were ready to follow Warwick back to England, however, he had been defeated and killed by the returning King Edward IV in the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471, and Margaret was forced to lead her own army at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471, at which they were defeated and her seventeen-year old son was killed. Over the previous ten years, she had gained a reputation for aggression and ruthlessness, but now she was a broken spirit, imprisoned at both Wallingford Castle and in the Tower of London until ransomed by the French king in 1475. She lived in France for the next seven years as a poor relation of the king. She died on 25 August 1482, at the age of fifty-two, in Anjou. She was entombed in Anjou Cathedral but her remains were removed and scattered by revolutionaries who ransacked the cathedral during the French Revolution.


Margaret's ancestors in three generations
Margaret of Anjou Father:
René I of Naples
(René of Anjou)
Paternal Grandfather:
Louis II of Naples
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Louis I of Naples
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Marie of Blois
Paternal Grandmother:
Yolande of Aragon
Paternal Great-grandfather:
John I of Aragon
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Yolande of Bar
Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine
Maternal Grandfather:
Charles II, Duke of Lorraine
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John I, Duke of Lorraine
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Sophie of Württemberg
Maternal Grandmother:
Margaret of the Palatinate
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Rupert of Germany
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Elisabeth of Nuremberg

List of siblings

  1. John II, Duke of Lorraine (1425- 1470). Married Marie de Bourbon, a daughter of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon. They had four children.
  2. Rene of Anjou (born 1426)
  3. Nicholas of Anjou (born 1427). Died young.
  4. Yolande de Bar (2 November1428- 23 March 1483). Married Frederick, Count de Vaudémont. They had six children including René II, Duke of Lorraine from whom descended Mary, Queen of Scots.
  5. Charles, Count of Guise (1431- 1432)
  6. Isabelle of Anjou. Died young.
  7. Louise of Anjou (born 1436). Died young.
  8. Anne of Anjou (born 1437). Died young.

Margaret had the following illegitimate half-siblings:

  1. John, Bastard of Anjou, Marquis of Pont-à-Mousson (died 1536). Married Marguerite de Glandeves-Faucon.
  2. Jeanne Blanche of Anjou, Lady of Mirebeau (died 1470). Married Bertrand de Beauvau.
  3. Madeleine of Anjou, Countess of Montferrand (died after 1515). Married Louis Jean, Seigneur de Bellenave.

Depictions in fiction

Margaret is a major character in William Shakespeare's three-part play Henry VI, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. She also appears as an old woman in Richard III.

Sharon Kay Penman's novel The Sunne in Splendour features her as an important character in the early parts of the book, up until the Battle of Tewkesbury.


  1. . Kendall, Paul Murray "Richard The Third", George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1955, ISBN 0 04 942048 8

Further reading

  • Maurer, Helen E. Margaret of Anjou: Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England. Boydell Press, 2003.


  • Abott, Jacob. History of Margaret of Anjou, Queen of Henry VI of England. Reproduction of 1871 text by Kessinger Press, 2004.
  • Bagley, J.J. Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England. Herbert Jenkins, London, 1948.
  • Powlett-Jones, David. The Royal Tigress (as cited in R. F. Delderfield, To Serve Them All My Days. A Novel, pp. 404-05).

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