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Mean Girl: Margaret of Anjou

Updated on November 25, 2015
Margaret of Anjou's portrait in a stained-glass window.
Margaret of Anjou's portrait in a stained-glass window. | Source
Early Life
War of the Roses
War of the Roses Part 2
The beautiful and intelligent queen is married at 15.
Lancastrian battle is lost, and Henry VI is deposed.
Nine years after their defeat, the Lancastrians seize the throne again.
She bears her first child at 23 (rumored to be illegitimate)
Lancastrians win the battle, and Margaret orders the deaths of two Yorkists.
The Yorkists win in a battle against the Lancastrians. Henry VI is killed in prison, while the Prince of Wales dies on the battlefield.
Her husband suffers a mental breakdown.
Lancastrians are defeated. Margaret of Anjou aligns with the Earl of Warwick to try to reclaim the throne.
Margaret of Anjou is imprisoned, then ransomed back to France where she dies seven years later.

Early Life

Margaret of Anjou was born on March 23, 1430, in Lorraine, France. It's interesting that, at this time, we were able to obtain such accurate birth records. In England, at this time, girl's births were not as clearly documented (in comparison). It speaks volumes about the values of varying cultures at this period of time.

Throughout her childhood, Margaret of Anjou was labeled "la petite creature." Translated to English, it means "the small creature." Why was she given this title? Needless to say, another figure in history held a similar nickname. Anne Boleyn, another lady of the time period, was nicknamed "la petite Boleyn." Perhaps there is a commonality to be drawn there between these two powerful women.

She had several sisters and brothers, as well as an array of half-siblings. Her mother ensured her daughter was well-educated, and may have arranged lessons with a French scholar. In this period of time, it was expected that women were to be educated on matters of the home (such as embroidery). Women were not expected to have knowledge of various intellectual pursuits (which at that time was primarily reserved for men). So, the fact that her mother may have enabled her to be tutored shows that she was very progressive for the time period. She would have had very modern ideas of what a woman's role should be. This fact, then, influences her later behaviors as queen.

Married Life and Early Queendom

On April 23, 1445, at the tender age of 15, Margaret of Anjou married King Henry VI of England. Women back then had to grow up early, as they were expected to marry and bear children at this time. In our modern culture, people are marrying later and having children later (for some, into their thirties). How much has changed!


It's interesting to note that she never paid a dowry for her marriage. At this time, it was highly unusual. Instead, during marriage negotiations, the French reclaimed some lands previously held by the English. This is a fact which was kept hidden from the English people, as they anticipated a highly negative reaction.

She was described by contemporaries as being beautiful, passionate, proud, and strong-willed. It speaks much to her character, as she had to mature early in a particularly brutal time in English history. Her mother and grandmother possessed similar traits, as they had to firmly stand their ground on various matters.

Margaret of Anjou was quite a forward thinker for that age.

Birth of an Heir

Henry VI of England was not a successful king. He valued religion and learning more than military matters. Furthermore, it was a king who was used to having other people tell him what to do. He had reigned since infancy, and was always being controlled. After marrying Margaret, she soon took the position of those before and, too, controlled the king. Henry VI had suffered a complete breakdown, leaving the nation of England in a precarious state. For without a strong king to govern the kingdom, how would there be order and stability?

Margaret was known for her volatile temperament. However, she shared Henry's love of learning and supported the founding of Queen's College in Cambridge, England. So Margaret was not only a passionate leader, but she was also highly intelligent. Could it be that she threatened Henry's closest advisers?

Margaret gave birth to their only son, Prince Edward, on October 13, 1453. It was rumored that the child was not actually Henry's, but in fact a product of an adulterous liaison. Whether true or not, we cannot be certain without DNA evidence. However, this claim alone was very dangerous. If the prince was to inherit, whispers of illegitimacy could be enough for the people of England to depose him. She must have felt very threatened to know this fact. A mother's love is said to be the strongest of bonds.

Portrait of a young Margaret of Anjou (featured on the right).
Portrait of a young Margaret of Anjou (featured on the right). | Source

The Rise of the Yorkists

Several years had passed, and Parliament had decided that the nation required a strong male influence. The ambitious Richard, Duke of York, was appointed regent while Henry remained mentally incapacitated. This news did not go over well with Margaret of Anjou, who realized that the duke was a highly powerful claimant and had equally powerful friends at court. Her husband's position was seriously threatened, and as a result, so too was her own and that of her only son. She valued family above all other things. She did whatever it took to protect their interests.

Shrewdly, she persuaded her husband to banish the Duke of York from his post and exile him to Ireland. She also attempted to have him assassinated several times along his journey back (albeit unsuccessfully). Soon-after, loss of lands in France had lead to a rise of riots in the city. These events spurred the Duke of York to safely return from exile and return to his previous post. To make matters worse, her two closest allies were removed from their posts and then proposed that Duke of York be made heir to the throne.

The betrayal and backstabbing could not have been any more devastating for Margaret of Anjou. Three devastating blows: the loss of her two closest allies, a husband who was mentally ill, and the prince's suggested removal from the succession. She must have felt so devastated by the news. Within a few months, however, Margaret had regained control of Henry, Parliament was dissolved, and Richard of York went to Wales. Amazingly, she was able to summon the strength needed to overcome the obstacles she faced. It speaks much to her unbreakable spirit.


That victory was short-lived, however. A powerful French general and supporter of Margaret landed on the English coast and burned a city to the ground. Outraged, Margaret became the subject of public ridicule. Vicious rumors and cruel ballads filled the English countryside. Margaret was now the victim of an onslaught of emotional abuse. It was so overwhelming that Margaret of Anjou appointed an Earl of Warwick to maintain and guard the sea from potential invaders. How humiliating for Margaret, for someone to have acted in "her name" but meanwhile, assist the deterioration of her reputation with the English people. Margaret, already a foreigner in her own kingdom, was now a complete outcast and subject of derision.

The War of the Roses

Needless to say, the Yorkist and Lancastrian forces had now come to blows. The War of the Roses had begun. One of its first victims was her closest friend and ally, Somerset. It was a heavy blow to the threatened Margaret of Anjou. In addition, her husband was now in Yorkist possession as he had been captured on the battlefield. Once again, Margaret's family are in peril.

Shrewdly, Margaret realized she needed more allies. She fled to Scotland to gain more Lancastrian supporters. Following a second battle, the Lancastrians were victorious. King Henry VI was rescued, unharmed, as he had been put under the protection of two Yorkists. In an act of vengeance, Margaret overrode King Henry's promises of a pardon and ordered their deaths. It is safe to assume that these two men were the targets of her overall frustration with the Yorkist cause and the pain and humiliation she and her family had suffered at their hands. She asked her son what their fate should be. Coldly, he replied that their heads should be cut off. And so, it was done.

The next battle was a Lancastrian defeat, in the year 1461. The son of the late Richard Duke of York, Edward IV of England, declared himself king. Once again, Margaret was on the run for her life and for those of her loved ones. She and her son fled into Wales in an effort to win back her son's inheritance. She made an ally of her cousin, King Louis XI, and approached the Earl of Warwick. It was the same man who had betrayed her previously to put Edward IV on the throne. He was furious at Edward's marriage to the commoner Elizabeth Woodville, and had rebelled against his former friend.

Naturally, she was hesitant. To cement the alliance, Warwick's daughter Anne Neville married the Prince of Wales. It would be a long and enduring nine years until they returned to England. Edward IV was deposed and Henry VI was restored to the throne in 1470.

Edward, Prince of Wales (the son of Margaret of Anjou).
Edward, Prince of Wales (the son of Margaret of Anjou). | Source

Resolution

Another battle ensued, resulting in the death of the Earl of Warwick. During the famed Battle of Tewkesbury, Queen Margaret lead her army to defeat. Once again, her husband was back in custody and now, even more heartbreaking, the Prince of Wales was dead. Her only son, her future, her hopes and dreams, perished. She was completely broken. Seized by orders of King Edward IV, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Shortly after this defeat, her husband died under mysterious circumstances (likely murdered by Yorkist supporters). She remained in England until she was ransomed by her cousin, King Louis XI.

The last seven years of her life were spent living in France, alone, as her entire family had been killed. The lonely remainder of her life ended in 1482, of which death must have been a welcome break from the pain of living.

Final Evaluation

At first glance, and without proper details, one might assume that Margaret of Anjou was a heartless and cruel leader without any redeeming qualities. However, in the context of her life, it becomes clear that Margaret was anything but a "mean girl." Rather, she was like a dog that had been kicked repeatedly throughout her life. Rather than continue to endure the abuse, she struck back.

She was a foreigner in a strange land, living among subjects who couldn't stand her. Margaret was in many ways a modern woman: free-thinking, passionate, aggressive, and strong-willed. These traits were not valued in a medieval lady. Margaret lacked necessary support from her husband, as he was mentally ill and incapacitated. She was very much alone, and had to keep it together for the family.

She was trying to protect and spare the lives of her family and friends, including her ill husband. All the while, she needed desperately to secure the future of her son and only heir. A child whose very legitimacy was questioned.

She was in survival mode for nearly her entire reign as queen. She could never rest securely, as there was always someone ready to take her place. Betrayal and backstabbing were commonplace. Then, finally, by the end, she lost her entire family forever.

She had sought to rule England, and in that aspect, she had failed. The remainder of her life she spent in isolation, having to reflect on the pain and misery of her life. She lived a life wrought with difficulty and conflict, and did the best she could to keep everything together for herself and her family. These are not the actions of a "mean girl."

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    • TrixieShi profile image
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      Diana Strenka 2 years ago from North Carolina

      Great comments! I love Phillipa Gregory, especially for her efforts to restore King Richard III's name!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 2 years ago from Taos, NM

      The War of the Roses is the historical background of one of Phillipa Gregory's novels. She tells her story of Elizabeth Woodville and King Edward and she does portray Margaret Anjou as a "mean girl." Interesting hub and I enjoyed reading this.

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      Mel Stewart 2 years ago from Western Australia

      Looks like the daughter in point of Mary but that would be magical

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