March 23 – Remembering Margaret of Anjou

Posted on March 23, 2018

Margaret was well educated,
for her time (especially for a
woman of her time!).

She became patron of the founding
of Queen's College in Cambridge.
When you are born a woman in 1400s Europe, you probably don't imagine that you'll get to wield political power. Nor that you will appear as a character in four - count 'em! four! - plays by a master playwright.

Margaret of Anjou was born on this date in 1430 in a region that was then the Duchy of Lorraine but is now the nation of France.

Her dad was René, King of Naples, and her mom was the Duchess of Lorraine. So she was born into royalty.

But royalty does not guarantee power, nor wealth.

Margaret's father was also Duke of Anjou, and his titles included King of Sicily and King of Jerusalem!?? He was sometimes described as a "man of many crowns but no kingdoms." 

Margaret married King Henry VI of England. The marriage was part of a peace negotiation between England and France, who were constantly fighting in what is now known as the Hundred Years' War. The truce created by the negotiation - which also involved some territory trading hands - was just temporary, unfortunately.

Margaret and Henry VI had a son, Edward, who was heir to the throne. Henry VI suffered from illnesses that are generally described as insanity, so Margaret had a chance to step in and provide some leadership that would usually have been done by a man. 

Except, of course, there was an ambitious man who wanted to be doing that leading, himself. Richard of York, the 3rd Duke of York, had been appointed regent (sort of a substitute king) when Henry had a bout with insanity. Margaret decided that Richard was a threat to both Henry and to her son - and because of that she called for a Great Council that excluded people from the House of York.

And she supported the people from the House of Lancaster.

And these actions and other people's reactions caused a civil war that lasted more than 30 years! - the famous Wars of the Roses.

The results: 

The old nobility of England was devastated.

Thousands of men died in battle...including the Duke of York.

During the last battle, the leader of the Lancastrian side was killed and Margaret had to lead her own army into battle.

The House of Lancaster lost; even though the Duke of York died in battle, and he thus never became king, he DID become the ancestor of all the Kings and Queens of England since then, so far.

Margaret's own son, 17-year-old Edward, died (probably in battle).

Her husband, Henry, also died (probably murdered).

Margaret was imprisoned for five years.

Finally, the French king ransomed Margaret out of prison; she lived in poverty in France for the rest of her life.

All of that drama caught the interest of William Shakespeare, who lived about a century later. His dramas include Henry VI, Parts 1 to 3, and Richard III. Margaret is the only character that appears alive in all four plays. How does she come out, as a fictional character?

She doesn't look aggressive
and ruthless, does she?

The truth is, we cannot trust artists
nor authors to be accurate when it
comes to depicting royals!
Shakespeare's Margaret is intelligent but ruthless. In the plays, she is aggressive and power-hungry. She personally attacks the Duke of York in battle, taunts him and humiliates him, and then kills him. She becomes suicidal after her son and husband die. She later comes back to England in order to dramatically curse each and every noble who backed the House of York. (Much of this stuff really is fiction, remember!)

This picture is from the 1800s.

The picture above and the two pictures below show the 
character of Margaret as she appeared in various
various versions of Shakespeare's plays.

Also on this date:

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