Margaret of Anjou was born on March 23, 1430 in Lorraine, France. As the daughter of Duke Rene of Anjou and Isabella of Lorraine, Margaret had royal blood in her veins. During her childhood, France engaged in a prolonged conflict with England, known as the Hundred Years’ War. Although the war had initially begun in 1337, fighting had resumed in 1415 after Henry V of England invaded France. As the fighting dragged on, England eventually sought peace. The agreed-upon truce required the young Margaret, a niece of Charles VII of France, to marry Henry V’s son, Henry VI.
Queen of England
In April 1445, Margaret of Anjou departed France for England. Upon arriving, Margaret sealed the truce by marrying Henry VI. Unfortunately for the new queen, her marriage quickly proved to be unhappy. Henry was a weak-willed man and an indecisive leader. Unlike his famous father, Henry proved to be more of a priest than a warrior. In contrast to her husband, Margaret was strong-willed, decisive, and ambitious.
Since Henry VI was an incompetent ruler, Margaret of Anjou began to rule in his name. By 1450, the queen had aligned herself with the house of Lancaster. The Lancastrians had taken power in 1399 after Henry’s grandfather, Henry IV, overthrew his cousin Richard II. Although they had initially ruled well, the faction had become corrupt by the time Margaret arrived in England. Despite this, the queen became a staunch ally.
Richard, Duke of York
During August 1453, the Lancastrian government experienced a crisis. In France, Charles VII and his army had retaken all French lands from the English, except for the port of Calais. Upon hearing this, a shocked Henry VI went into a catatonic state. Henry had likely inherited the madness of his grandfather, Charles VI of France. With the king unable to rule, the question of who should be his regent arose. In response, the influential Richard, Duke of York, began to make his case to become Protector of the Realm.
Similarly to Henry VI, Richard also had royal blood in his veins. As a member of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard and Henry’s common ancestor was King Edward III. The duke felt disturbed by the growing corruption of the Lancastrian government. To this end, Richard began campaigning for reforms. Those who supported the duke’s efforts became known as Yorkists.
Margaret of Anjou felt threatened by Richard’s growing power. After several years of marriage to Henry VI, the royal couple remained childless. Due to this, the duke would succeed Henry as his closest male relative. To curb the duke’s growing ambition, the queen began to oppose him actively. Despite her efforts though, Richard still became Protector of the Realm.
Conflict with Richard
As protector, Richard imprisoned Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Although an incompetent advisor, Somerset was still Margaret of Anjou’s ally. The queen could only angrily watch as Richard began to sideline her. The duke ultimately hoped to become Henry VI’s official heir. However, matters soon began to favor Margaret.
In October 1453, the queen gave birth to Henry VI’s heir, Prince Edward. Upon Edward’s birth, Richard moved down in the succession. During January 1455, Henry VI finally regained his senses. In turn, Richard lost his position as protector. Shortly after, Somerset returned as an advisor. When Margaret began to exclude him from the government, Richard prepared his Yorkist army for battle.
The War of the Roses
In May 1455, the Yorkists fought against the Lancastrians at the Battle of St. Albans. Richard led the Yorkist army, while Somerset commanded the Lancastrians. After a fierce fight, the Yorkists emerged victoriously. Due to their loss, Somerset was killed, and Richard captured Henry VI.
Emboldened by the birth of her son, Margaret of Anjou became more determined. Richard had killed Somerset, captured her husband, and now attempted to rule. In the queen’s eyes, Richard was a traitor who had ignored her son’s status as heir. As a result, Margaret’s anger towards the duke turned into hatred. Although the Yorkists now controlled the government, the queen began plotting Richard’s downfall.
Margaret of Anjou started by building up her political network. During June 1459, the queen had enough support to continue fighting against Richard. Margaret raised an army and attacked the duke’s Ludlow fortress. This time, the Lancastrians won. After the battle, Richard retreated to Ireland. The duke’s chief supporter, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, fled with York’s son, Edward, to France.
The Yorkists Return
Margaret of Anjou’s victory proved to be short-lived. In July 1460, the Yorkists captured Henry VI in Northampton. Richard demanded that he be made the king’s heir and Henry readily agreed. However, Richard would be killed in battle during December. In February 1461, Henry regained his freedom. Although the Yorkists had lost their leader, the slain duke’s son, Edward, returned from France to lead the Yorkists.
Margaret and the Lancastrians attempted to return to London but were instead turned away. When Edward arrived in March 1461, London opened its gates to the Yorkists. In contrast to Margaret, Edward had immense support from the capital. As a result, the young Yorkist became a rival king on March 4. Following his coronation, the newly crowned Edward IV defeated the queen’s army at the Battle of Yorkshire. In response, Margaret fled with Henry VI and their son to Scotland.
Margaret of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward, eventually made their way to France. While in exile, Edward IV’s closest ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, became estranged from the king. Although a loyal Yorkist, Warwick had grown tired of Edward ignoring his advice. The final breach between the two occurred after the king secretly married an English woman named Elizabeth Woodville. Warwick had been attempting to build diplomatic ties by arranging a marriage to a foreign princess. Once Warwick learned of the king’s marriage, he felt humiliated.
In 1470, a bitter Richard Neville arrived in France. Despite being former enemies, Margaret of Anjou allied herself with Warwick. In return for becoming Henry VI’s advisor, Warwick would lead an invasion of England. During October 1470, Warwick successfully overthrew Edward IV and restored Henry to the throne. On April 14, 1471, Margaret and her son returned to England. Soon after, Edward killed Warwick in battle.
On May 4, 1471, Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrian army engaged Edward IV’s Yorkists. During the Battle of Tewkesbury, Edward’s superior leadership helped the Yorkists prevail over the Lancastrians. As a consequence, Yorkists soldiers killed Prince Edward and Henry VI after the battle. Upon hearing of her son’s death, a devastated Margaret lost her will to fight. In 1475, King Louis XI of France ransomed the imprisoned queen, and she retired to France.
During the last several years of her life, Margaret of Anjou quietly lived in France. After the loss of Prince Edward, the former queen never recovered. Margaret chose to live out her remaining years in Anjou and led a low-key life. On August 25, 1482, the exiled queen died impoverished in Saumur.
Margaret of Anjou was an ambitious queen who fiercely defended her son’s right to the English throne. When Henry VI proved too weak to lead, Margaret took charge of the Lancastrians. The queen remained a determined leader until Prince Edward died in 1471. Although she didn’t live to see it, the Lancastrians ultimately overcame the Yorkists in August 1485. During the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor overthrew the Yorkist King Richard III and ended the Wars of the Roses.
Castor, H. (2011). She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. New York: HarperCollins.
Cheetham, A. (2000). The Wars of the Roses. London: Cassell.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, March 19). Margaret of Anjou. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-of-Anjou-queen-of-England