An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 35: Marriage of King Henry VI to Margaret d'Anjou
|French and English preparations
In 1443, after the failure of the Armagnac marriage proposal, the Duc d'Orleans suggested that King Henry VI should marry Margaret d'Anjou.[page ] Whether or not King Charles VII, King of France, had previously sanctioned the idea, he rapidly realised that it contained many advantages which he could exploit.
King Charles's efficient Chief Minister, Charles d'Anjou, Compte de Maine, would have kept his Royal master extremely well informed about the English political scene. Charles may have regarded the Duc d'Orleans with mixed feelings, thinking that his lengthy stay in England had made him more English than the English themselves, but the Duke was well versed in English politics, and he would have confirmed everything that Charles d'Anjou had told him. In particular, he would have made his King aware of the Beauforts worries that Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester might succeed to the English Throne, [Chapter ] and that the Beauforts especially were very keen that their King should marry soon and have heirs of his own as quickly as possible. The gathering at Nevers 1442 [page ] may have caused King Charles intense annoyance, but it did have the advantage of exposing the English desire for an early Royal marriage. King Henry VI had even been willing to give his hand to the daughter of a provincial Count, the Compte d'Armagnac. The House of Armagnac may have had considerable influence in the early years of the century, but they were scarcely of the rank to provide queens. [page ] Nothing had come of it, but obviously the English were desperate for a Queen. Charles could oblige them, and drive a hard bargain before he let them have one.
Margaret meant little to Charles. Her father Rene d'Anjou, Duc de Bar and titular King of Sicily, Naples and Jerusalem may have had an illustrious title, but he had no money and counted for little in French politics. He had been severely defeated and taken prisoner by Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy at the battle of Bulgneville 1431, [page ] and this had effectively kept him from any inheritance of Lorraine to which he had laid claim. The ransom which he had to pay Philip had nearly bankrupted him. No money and no Lorraine were matters which could not be lightly overlooked. On the other hand, judging by the enthusiasm in London to the Duc d'Orleans' proposal, Margaret meant a great deal to the English.
In the forthcoming negotiations for Margaret's hand, peace would be discussed, and the English would demand territorial concessions. Charles could see no reason why any should formally be made. It might therefore be impossible to conclude a formal peace settlement, but Charles felt no concern on this score. A formal peace treaty with territorial concessions might prove difficult to unravel should he later wish to do so. A mere truce, which would involve no such concessions, would serve his purposes far better. France was exhausted by war, but poor ravaged France would rapidly recover her strength if only she could have a breathing space, and this a truce would give her. Charles probably saw Normandy, Gascony and Guienne as beyond his reach in 1443, but he saw no reason to abandon them. The recent successes of the French armies, in the South and elsewhere, may not have been decisive, but they were still most encouraging. With some time for rest and recovery, there was every reason to suppose they would win yet further victories. The English may have been invincible at the time of Agincourt 1415, but the French commanders had now got their measure and knew how to defeat them. Besides, the rowdy English soldiery would sooner or later break any truce, and it would lie with the French whether to overlook a breach (extracting some monetary compensation for doing so), or to re-open hostilities.
It was desirable that King Henry VI should be brought to renounce the Crown of France, and at the Congress of Arras 1435 and the Oye Conference 1439, this had proved a real sticking point with the English. But was this so important to France any more? The recent success of French arms in the South and elsewhere had made the English King look steadily more ridiculous in asserting his style 'The King of France', and the further victories in which Charles felt reasonably confident would rob it still further of whatever meaning it still had. If the French were to drive the English from France altogether, and this was Charles's intention in the fullness of time, the style would be totally meaningless.
To our eyes, it is odious in the extreme that Margaret should have been used as a pawn in this way. Her wishes were not consulted, and her choice of a marriage partner was not respected. She was expected to do as she was told, and in this respect she was no different to any other highly-born lady of her time. There is always a danger in transposing contemporary morals onto those of another age, and Margaret, as a lady of the 15th- rather than one of the 20th- or 21st- century, would have seen nothing strange in what was required of her. She would have the consolation of a Crown, even if no Crown was ever lightly worn, least of all that of England. She would have to rely on her force of character, of which she possessed plenty, to see to it that her arranged marriage resulted in a bond of real affection, as so many did, and that she was regarded as a person of consequence, as so may married ladies were. Unmarried, ladies counted for little, but once married, the ladies of the time wielded very considerable influence and power. There was no reason to suppose things would be otherwise in Margaret's case.
It was therefore in an easy and confident frame of mind that Charles and his Ministers awaited the arrival of the English envoys, well aware that they had a strong hand which only required patience and determination to play it.
It almost goes without saying that in England things were seen differently. Overjoyed with the prospect of a marriage between King Henry VI and a lady of Margaret's standing, the Council saw themselves taking matters up where they had been left off at the end of the Oye Conference 1439. This of course ignored the French military successes since that date. In war, and this applies particularly when peace terms are being considered, it is essential to make an assessment of what your enemy is thinking and how he views the situation. This was not attempted, and if it had been, it must surely have led to the same conclusions as King Charles had reached. In this frame of mind, the Council met in February 1444 to draw up the instructions to the English envoys.
Henry, Cardinal Beaufort, had recently retired from politics to spend his final years in such peace and quiet as was to be allowed to him. [He died in 1447] The driving force on the English Council, surprisingly surpassing even Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Dorset was the King's new favourite, William de La Pole, Earl of Suffolk. There cannot be much doubt that Suffolk saw the need of peace with France. He had fought there in almost every single campaign, and could see the hopelessness of trying to conquer France. It was rapidly agreed that he should lead the English envoys, and that he should be accompanied by Adam Moleyns, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, and Sir Robert Roos. The actual instructions themselves gave much more difficulty. This was due to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Since Eleanor Cobham's disgrace and imprisonment in 1441, [Chapter ] he had carried much less political weight than before, but he was still the King's uncle, and even now had some influence with him.
There was something unreal about the instructions to the English envoys. They were authorised to agree to the renunciation of the Crown of France provided that Normandy and some additions to the province of Guienne were ceded to England. This ignored the recent military successes of the French, and it was military success which dictated whether such cessions should be made. They were also empowered to waive any question of a dowry. This acknowledged the practical point that the bride's father had no money, but it was unheard of that a Royal bride should not bring a dowry with her, and there were other sources of funding it. Such a waiver would confirm what Charles could be assumed to know already; that the English were desperate for a bride for their King. Even worse, the instructions did not touch upon the subject of Maine, which had long ago been promised to Edmund Beaufort. If the instructions ignored Maine, Edmund did not, and much mischief ensued.
The instructions being settled, Suffolk suddenly demanded an absolute indemnity for anything which he might do or agree to do in good faith during the forth-coming negotiations. There is a suggestion that this related to the Treaty of Troyes 1420, which could only be modified with the consent of Parliament, but it would appear that Suffolk had something more sinister in mind. The people of London may have desired peace but, as equivocal as ever, resented the abandonment of any French territory and in particular, the abandonment of the concept of the Conquest of France. There had already been murmurings among the people, and Suffolk had been confronted in an angry fashion in the street. This he attributed, probably correctly, to Gloucester's agency. It was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Gloucester had 'leaked' details of the Council's deliberations to his friends in the City, and they could see the way the Council's mind was moving. Suffolk regarded this as threatening, as indeed it was. Although it was an unheard of demand, the indemnity was given. Suffolk and his co-envoys then departed for France.
The negotiations in France - May 1444
Suffolk and his party landed at Harfleur in March 1444, and moved by easy stages to Rouen and Le Mans. There were some preliminary discussions at Vendome before they moved to Blois to meet the Charles, Duc d'Orleans. From Blois they sailed up the River Loire in the Duke's company to Tours where they were splendidly received by King Charles VII. There was no hurry to get down to business. A betrothal was a solemn affair which was not to be hurried, and time had to be allowed to others to gather. The days past in hunting and feasting and in a number of other pastimes, and Charles proved to be a generous host. The Duc d'Alencon and Brittany, Philip-the-Good and his Duchess, the Constable Arthur of Brittany, a Papal Legate, Pierre de Mont-Dieu, and a host of the French Royal family and other nobles, all had to be present before such business could begin.
In early May 1444, the formal negotiations began. The English were surprised to find that the French would agree to no formal cession of any territory whatever. Not even the prospect of the renunciation of the Crown of France seemed to make any impression upon them. At the Congress of Arras 1435 and the Oye Conference 1439 they had been most insistent upon it. Now they did not seem to care. This dismayed the English, and Suffolk pressed the French ever harder. Without an assessment of how the French were thinking, which should have been made before he even left London, [page ] Suffolk found the French attitude puzzling in the extreme. To every point he made, the French, courteously but firmly, re-iterated that a truce was all they would agree to. Without a truce, there could be no betrothal, and as the French very well knew, Suffolk dared not return to London without it.
Suffolk to his chagrin had to agree. As King Henry VI's proxy, he was betrothed to Margaret d'Anjou in the church of St Martin de Tours on 14th May 1444. The Papal Legate conducted a ceremony of great splendour in the presence of King Charles VII and all his nobles. It was followed by a banquet of similar magnificence. Having won the first round, Charles could now afford to be even more generous. After-wards, a general truce was signed to last until 24th April 1446. [There is some doubt about the date of the truce's expiry. Some writers put it at 1st April 1446]
Suffolk may have had some apprehensions about his reception in London when he returned with a betrothal and a truce, but none of the other things which were included in his instructions. In Rouen, he had been ecstatically welcomed by the populace who were glad of peace whatever name it bore, but England was likely to be a different matter. To his surprise and relief, he was welcomed by the King and the Council and congratulated on the success of his diplomacy. He was created Marquis of Suffolk as a reward for his services. Apart from the betrothal, nothing much had been achieved, and the English had again been outwitted by the nimble minded French who had done their preparation with care. The ugly, and unresolved, question of Maine still hung in the air like a menacing thunder cloud.
Margaret's arrival in England
The next thing to be done was to bring Margaret to England, and on 28th October 1444, Suffolk was sent to France for this purpose. A large and magnificent retinue was assembled to accompany the future Queen of England to the land whose King she was to marry, and it included a number of noble ladies, Alice, Marchioness of Suffolk, [This was Alice Chaucer, the grand-daughter of the poet. She had some connection with the Beauforts, and was a woman of outstanding beauty] Alice, Countess of Salisbury, and Beatrice, Countess of Shrewsbury. Crossing the Channel in November 1444, Suffolk made his way to Nancy where the French Court was now established.
Much had changed in France since Suffolk's visit to Tours in May 1444. Freed by the truce from their pre-occupation with the English, the French were now trying to reduce the City of Metz, which claimed that it owed allegiance to the Emperor and not to King Charles VII. The siege had been entrusted to Margaret's father Rene. Louis the Dauphin was engaged in dealing with some disaffected Swiss in Alsace, and Richard, Duke of York had sent Matthew Gough and an English contingent to help him. Richard himself was engaged in negotiating a marriage treaty with a French princess for his eldest son Edward, the future King Edward IV. [Nothing came of this, and it appears the Council, at Suffolk's bidding, later forbade Richard from continuing with this proposal] Most surprisingly of all, Margaret was not at Nancy. She was far away at Angers.
The atmosphere at Nancy was not conducive to quiet diplomacy with a big siege in progress at nearby Metz, and the French took full advantage of this. Edmund Beaufort, finding that his claims to Maine were not addressed by the original English instructions and were ignored by Suffolk in Tours in May 1444, had resorted to a form of self-help which was unlikely to be effective, but which had caused the French much annoyance. The French had decided this matter must be resolved, and to put pressure on the English to do so.
It was gently but firmly explained to Suffolk, presumably by his old friend Charles, Duc d'Orleans that this had to stop. No cessions of French territory had been made at Tours, and none would be made now. It was quite unacceptable that Edmund Beaufort should be trying by underhand means to gain Maine for himself when this was not provided for by a solemn treaty made between England and France as recently as May 1444. Besides, Maine already had a perfectly good Compte of her own, and this was none other than Charles d'Anjou, King Charles VII's Chief Minister. It was quite impossible to deprive him of his title so that Edmund could enjoy it. If the claims to Maine were not formally dropped now, and the existing English garrisons were not withdrawn from Maine as soon as possible, then the marriage could not go ahead. Perhaps a betrothal had taken place, but the marriage treaty still had to be signed, and it would not be signed unless Suffolk agreed to do what was demanded in respect to Maine. Until he did agree, Margaret would remain at Angers.
As was intended, this put Suffolk in a very difficult position. The French knew perfectly well that he could not return to London without Margaret, and Suffolk knew equally well that Edmund Beaufort would be much offended if his claims to Maine were abandoned. He had already had a most disagreeable intimation of what the English people thought of the surrender of any French territory, and he had no doubt that his enemy Gloucester, who had retained his personal popularity with the man and woman in the street, would exploit the situation to the full.
There is no indication that he sought further instructions from London, or if he did, that they were of much help in rescuing him from the horns of a dilemma. The English may have been very good at the point of lance or sword (although recent events had shown they were not now so good as they had once been), but they were no match for the French when it came to diplomacy. A long series of failures,
Arras 1435, Oye 1439, and Tours May 1444 had taught them nothing. The French understood, and the English never realised, that prior preparation was everything; it was essential to know what your opponent was thinking, what he wanted, what means he would use to obtain his objective, and how these means could be countered. They were regularly outwitted by the French, because the French thought things out beforehand, and this the English seemed incapable of doing.
Suffolk hedged and argued, but in the end he had to agree to the abandonment of the claims to Maine. Once he had done so, Margaret was brought to Nancy. Amidst great pomp, the marriage treaty was signed on Christmas Day 1444. Margaret brought no dowry with her, but as a face-saving gesture to both sides, her impecunious father, as the titular King of Sicily, made over to King Henry VI some meaningless claims he had to Aragon, Majorca and Minorca. Suffolk, no doubt anxious to put off the evil day when he must explain his actions to Edmund Beaufort, waited until a composition was reached with the City of Metz at the end of February 1445, and attended the festivities which accompanied such an event.
Margaret was much affected by parting from her home and her family for the uncertainties of a foreign and hostile land, and in any case, there was the desire to spare her the rigours of a Channel crossing during January and February. She fell ill during the slow progress through Paris, Pontoise and Rouen, accompanied as they were by many solemn ceremonies which would have taxed an older person.
She was still only 16, and if she was ready for marriage, she was prepared for nothing else. Suffolk and his Countess Alice were most solicitous, and she came to regard them as her friends. There was no difficulty in regarding their friends as her friends, and she formed an early attachment to the Beauforts, even before she landed in England in March 1445.
The voyage itself was a hideous experience. If the desire was to spare her the rigours of a voyage during January and February, those of a passage in March proved to be no less exacting. She was embarked on the Cock Johan of Cherbourg whose Master was Thomas Adam. As they approached the English coast, a storm arose which turned into a veritable tempest. The sky became as dark as night, lit only by flashes of lightening, and monstrous rolls of thunder added to the terrifying howl of the wind. The ship, a substantial vessel for her time, soon began to wallow in mountainous seas, with the prow pointing at the heavens one moment, and the next burying itself in the trough between the waves. The Sea constantly swept the decks, and Margaret suffered the agonies of sea-sickness. All on board gave themselves up for lost. The sails shredded, making the ship almost unmanageable. It was probably blowing from the south-west in a storm which even today is quite common at that time of year even if it is rarely so ferocious. If so, Thomas Adam, with great skill, managed to manoeuvre his ship through the Needles Channel between the Isle of Wight and the Shingles Bank so that she could run before the wind towards Portsmouth. She did not quite make it. The ship was dismasted within sight of safety, and all that Adam could do was to beach her near Porcester.
Wet, bedraggled and wretched, Margaret crawled ashore with her ladies. Such was her arrival in the land of which she was to be Queen. The Mayor of Porchester, once he was aware with whom he was dealing, did all that he could to provide for the needs of her and her party, but before his arrangements could take effect, Margaret was obliged to seek shelter in a wretched hovel. This was her first meeting with her future subjects. The storm continued to rage for days afterwards, uprooting trees, killing cattle in the fields, causing rivers to overflow and flood low lying land, destroying the roofs of houses and causing the deaths of many people. This was an inauspicious start, and many were to see a fearful omen.
Margaret's marriage and Coronation
After Margaret had been allowed some time to recover from the ordeal of her journey, she was quietly married by William Aiscough, Bishop of Salisbury, to King Henry VI at Titchfield Abbey on 23rd April 1445. The next ordeal she would have to face was her coronation. If the marriage service was simple, the magnificence of the State entry into London and the Coronation itself were to be spectacular.
Henry was captivated by his bride, and the couple enjoyed a happy honeymoon before the State entry into London on 28th May 1445 for the Coronation which was due to take place on 30th May. London had to prepare itself to receive its new Queen, the tempest which had so nearly drowned Margaret had to blow itself out, and Parliament, which was proving very niggardly, had to be persuaded to pay for it.
Very grudgingly, it agreed to meet part of the cost, and Henry had to pay the rest from his own pocket.
Parliament's attitude was due in part to the general reluctance of the people to accept Margaret at all. To have a French Queen, it had been necessary to give up a claim to French territory, and this seemed a betrayal of the hero King Henry V. Whilst people could understand the need for peace and welcome it when it came, the abandonment of a French province was most irksome. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, had lost no time in playing upon these sentiments, and found a ready response from the populace as he rode through the City at the head of the rowdy and disorderly band which accompanied him wherever he went. Margaret did not have a penny to her name. Even her robes had to be supplied at the public expense, and not even the shipwreck when she had lost all her wardrobe aroused the sympathy which could have been expected. There was a very definite bias against Margaret from the start before she even landed in England. As early as February 1445, Agnes Paston, the widow of a puisne judge, had written to her barrister son in Cliffords Inn for:-
"tydynggs from be yond see, for here thei arn aferd
[they are afraid] to telle soch as be reportid"
Agnes was writing from Norwich, and Suffolk's influence was so strong in East Anglia that it was not wise to grumble too openly, but her concern for the turn of events was clear from her letter. The price of a penniless foreign princess, and a French one at that, was far too high.
Although Margaret herself understood the antagonism to her, and realised she would have to strive for the hearts and minds of her new people, she was only briefly successful.
She was very beautiful, and beauty commands its own respect, even when allied to the basest of natures. She knew she would have to project herself so that she was every inch a princess and a queen. She had been brought up in France, and there a queen was an autocrat. It was difficult for her to grasp that England did not like autocrats. Having a liking and a real talent for public business, she was later able to bring about some very real reforms, and whilst these were no more than good administration, they should have raised her standing in the public esteem. Soon however events, and the very need for survival, obliged her to become involved in other matters in a way which had scant appeal to her subjects. Try as she might, the dice were too heavily loaded against her, and starting from a bad position, she soon became deeply unpopular. Men began to wonder if she was, in modern parlance, a French agent, more concerned with the interests of France rather than those of England. There was also a damaging rumour, which is given full rein by Shakespeare in King Henry VI, that Suffolk was her lover. There is, naturally enough, no evidence that this was so, but her many enemies gleefully repeated this calumny to make true, by constant repetition, that which in all probability was totally false.
Suffolk had taken pains to prepare her for the ordeal of the State entry into London, aware that the very sight of the City would overwhelm this French girl whose only previous experience of cities was of cities damaged by war and consequently, to some greater or lesser extent, in a state of ruin or dilapidation. London was one of the greatest cities of Christendom, stretching from Temple Bar in the West to the Tower of London in the East. It was proud of its public buildings, with its towering St Pauls Cathedral, its newly completed Guildhall, Baynards Castle, the Tower itself, [Then, as now, the Tower stood outside the legal boundaries of the City] and the imposing bridge over the river. Even the private buildings were impressive to the eye, and the many splendid mansions of the wealthy merchants were a source of wonder and pride. London was a semi-autonomous region of its own, and was very jealous of its many charters, its privileges, its guilds, and its own government of aldermen. This was presided over by the annually elected Lord Mayor, a splendid official who ranked second only to the King's Chief Minister in importance. Margaret should not expect the compliant and docile people who lived in continental cities. London's population was fiercely independent of mind, rough and rude in manner even though it still possessed the capacity for sympathy when it felt that sympathy was due, patriotic to a fault, and given to violent displays of joy or of anger. Its pleasures were rough, rowdy and bawdy, and they usually took the form of drinking far too much of the heady ale, and seducing the honour (if that is the right expression) of any female within reach. A keen interest was taken in public affairs, and when people did not like what was happening, they said so in unmistakable terms. Every man and every woman had their own opinions, which they were wont to shout out at the tops of their voices. This did not always please those who heard them, and brawls, sometimes lethal, were a frequent occurrence. When many held to one opinion and many to another, riots often resulted. These were only suppressed with difficulty, and often not before some dead or wounded were stretched out on the ground. The apprentices, who might have been expected to be docile and biddable, were some of the noisiest and most unruly. Above all, London was never still or silent unless it was afflicted by one of its periodic visitations of The Plague. It hummed with a vibrant activity which was aimed at making wealth, and its wealth was immense.
Whatever Suffolk had done to prepare her for her State entry into London, it was not enough to still her sense of awe at the sight of the City in a festive mood. In spite of their reservations, the Londoners had been induced, by one means or another, to spend their money and give their new Queen a show of medieval splendour which rivalled the welcome which they gave King Henry V on his return from Agincourt.
Ceremonial arches of flowers bedecked the streets, which were so narrow that the houses almost met above her head. Passion plays depicting stories from the Bible graced many of the fine squares. Ladies had decked themselves out in fanciful costumes representing Peace, Grace, the Cardinal Virtues, St Margaret surrounded by the wise and foolish Virgins, and they formally curtsied as she passed. Butts of ale and malmsey stood at the street corners, and soon many were very drunk.
Anxiously and curiously the Londoners peered into the litter in which their new Queen rode, wondering what they would see. A pair of fine eyes beneath a firm and well proportioned brow met and held their own. A beautifully shaped nose lead to a firm yet sensual mouth and a determined and well rounded chin. Her long and beautiful auburn hair was piled high on her head, and was only partly hidden by her coif. A well cut and gorgeous robe revealed her lovely figure. Margaret's dash of Spanish blood had given her a skin of glowing and dazzling radiance. Awe-struck, they peered at her. With confidence and self-possession which contained only a hint of arrogance, she looked back at them, her eyes flickering from one to another, but never being outstared. She was a beauty indeed, and their King had done very well for himself. Soon the cheers, which had been all for Henry, were now for her as well. For the moment, the all too brief moment, they loved her, and cheered themselves hoarse for her. With the ribaldry which was never far from their lips, they regaled each other with accounts of the many happy days (and nights) their lucky King would spend in the company of such a beautiful Queen.
Her regal, dignified and graceful bearing at the Coronation itself greatly impressed those who saw it, and reinforced the impression she had already made on the Londoners. Margaret, seated on the Throne of Edward the Confessor, took the sceptre and the orb in her hands, and felt the heavy weight of the Crown placed on her head. Then the Great Lords knelt in turn before her to swear their allegiance. Anxiously, she peered into their eyes trying to distinguish friend from foe, all too aware that whilst there were some of the former, there would be all too many of the latter. But Suffolk was always on hand to give her a smile and an approving nod to reassure her that she was doing well. Her husband Henry looked on with dog-like devotion.
Margaret, in spite of herself, began to feel happy.
Margaret meets the Great of the Land
Suffolk would have briefed her, probably not impartially where some were concerned, on the characters of the English nobility and the English system of government, and would have done so in the knowledge that she was interested in such matters. However thorough his briefing, he cannot have prepared her for the full reality.
In France, the King and his Ministers decided which taxes were to be raised, and the taxpayer paid them with good- or ill-grace as he himself chose. In England, taxes could only be raised with the consent of Parliament. Who were all these uncouth knights of the shires and burgesses of the towns, who came from the remotest parts of the Kingdom, bringing with them their bucolic, crude and disagreeable manners, and who spoke in such disrespectful terms to the face of the Monarch himself? At home, they would have known their place, or would have been taught it in a manner they would be unlikely to forget. This did not seem to be the case here, and Margaret was shocked and perturbed.
For that matter, the nobility, from whom she could have expected some refinement, was hardly any better. In France, some beginnings of civilised behaviour between individuals had begun to make itself apparent, and even table manners had taken a step towards what we would now regard as proper. Dishes were cooked for the discerning palate, and great pride was taken in pleasing it. It was true that in her new land, on great state occasions, swans were first cooked and then presented with every feather restored to its proper place, but the more normal fare was great hunks of meat, usually beef, torn apart and wolfed down before the company, with many appreciative belches, turned to the business of getting drunk.
If the nobles had confined their barbaric behaviour to table manners, Margaret might have found this bearable, but this was not the case. They were a martial race who had not forgotten, and indeed had improved upon, the soldierly qualities of their remote Norman and Angevin ancestors. Many of them had some saving graces when they cared to show them, but the preferred method of settling differences was still the sword. To some extent, this was still true of France, but the French nobles had already turned to some less violent methods of settling their disputes, and the failure of the English nobles to follow suit made all the difference. Even their sports and pastimes were not thought worthy if they did not involve danger to life and limb. In France, jousting was regarded as a sport for the enjoyment of all, and injury was if possible avoided. The English set out from the start to kill or injure each other, and Margaret found this repulsive. At home, people took pleasure in their fine chateau and the art of gracious living. There had been a welcome move in the same direction in England, where many of the more eminent people now lived in comfortable manor houses even if there were rushes on the floor rather than the carpets which the Crusaders had brought home from the East. Too many still preferred their cold and draughty castles where comfort and gracious living had perforce to give place to military considerations. Margaret had no detailed knowledge of the Tartars, except in legend where their deeds were spoken of in awe and with bated breath, but she could see that the English were comparable barbarians. Their gatherings were more reminiscent of a military camp on campaign rather than a company which delighted in its conversation and its erudition. The talk rarely ventured beyond the bounds of battles, sieges, hunting, mayhem and death. Even English splendour had an element of the wild and the barbaric about it. At her Coronation feast, vast pastries were opened to reveal armoured champions begging to be allowed to do battle for her. Margaret thought this was excessive and even vulgar.
Just before her Coronation, Margaret had been introduced to the English nobles. Suffolk and his Countess she knew already, and she regarded them as friends. The Beauforts seemed pleased to see her, even if she did detect a note of reservation in the greetings of some of them. She did take to Cardinal Henry Beaufort, who was now very old, and he to her. In him she saw a father figure who would advise and guide her, and this he did, drawing upon his vast experience of English and other affairs. [For all too short a time. The Cardinal died in 1447] In general, she found resentment at "that French woman" in the reserved nature of their greetings. There were exceptions. Richard, Duke of York, she found to have a pleasing personality and an agreeable and relaxed way of talking to her, but how much did he resent the fact that it was her husband and not he himself who sat on the English Throne? She did not know, and behind his urbane manner she could not tell. The rough and boorish John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who had a reputation for rowdy and riotous behaviour and was obviously more at home with his soldiers in a camp, was quite captivated by her youth and beauty and made no secret of it, even though she regarded his Countess Beatice, whom she had met in France, as the better of the two halves. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, she treated with an icy contempt. She would have known of the rumours he had spread about her among the London mob, in whose debauched company he was wont to revel and on occasions brawl, and this could have accounted for the Londoner's initial reservation towards her. Humphrey, who was hoping to find in her an ally for his declining influence with the King, was much disconcerted, but he would have been the last to see that, if he had wanted her friendship, then he had sought to obtain it in a very odd way.
And Henry, poor witless, helpless King Henry? How could he with his gentle and compassionate ways and his love of books and of learning ever hope to contend with this gang of ruffians, much less to control it. Suffolk had told her that the King must be defended and now she began to see what he had meant. Like all strong minded women, she had a motherly and protective instinct, and she resolved that she had to protect Henry from these greedy, murderous and thoroughly unscrupulous ruffians, and sometimes she would even have to protect him from himself. If he could not readily carry out the duties of the King, then she must be readily at hand to stiffen his resolve, and if necessary do what had to be done herself.
History has not been kind to Margaret, and in some ways she has deserved its strictures. It is still essential to appreciate how she was placed by some unforgiving events which, at the start of her time as Queen of England, were none of her making. Enough has already been said of her natural beauty to require repetition here. To that she added a strong and determined will which could see what had to be done, and this was coupled with the resolution to do it. This was strongest of all when her survival was threatened, as in the years to come, it often was. Her natural intelligence had been very well trained by a thorough education, and from her own experience she had gained an understanding of, and liking for, public affairs. During her father's long imprisonment by Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, and before the ransom which ruined him was paid, her formidable mother had pursued his interests. This had involved, amongst other things, campaigning in Naples and Southern Italy. If it was necessary, then she would live up to her mother's heroic example, and if she had to be ruthless, then let ruthlessness be her friend. She would fight like a wounded tigress for herself and hers.
In the long tragedy of Henry's and Margaret's lives, which are one of the saddest stories of English history, one of the most touching features is the love and loyalty they bore for one another. This endured even when Henry had lapsed into permanent feebleness and was nothing more than a burden to her. They were often parted by the exigencies of the Wars of the Roses, and were finally parted when he became a permanent prisoner of King Edward IV. Yet even after he was murdered in 1471, she never abandoned his memory.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|