Margaret of Anjou, born on the 23rd of March 1430, was the daughter of Rene of Anjou, Count of Anjou and later the Count of Provence and King of Naples and Sicily. At age 14, she was betrothed to Henry VI of England and married to him the next year on April 23, 1445. Shortly after the marriage, she was crowned queen of England at Westminster. William de la Pole of the Lancastrian line had succeeded in beating the York line in finding a wife for Henry, aligning himself with the monarchy through Margaret.
The king of France had negotiated that the marriage be part of a peace negotiation that would give control of Anjou back the the French. While Margaret had grown up in the turmoil of a family feud, King Henry was known for being a very gentle, devout soul and the exact opposite of his wife. Well educated for a woman of her time, Margaret was an imperious, strong-willed French princess, which made her unpopular with the people of Britain from the start.
Being very assertive, Margaret was responsible for much of the aristocratic matchmaking and the raising of taxes that went on during her husband’s reign. Though she tried to assert her power strongly with the nobles, she had less power because she did not bear a child until 1453. She supported her advisor and close friend Edmund Beaufort over the Yorkists, firmly aligning herself further with the Lancastrians. When she finally did give birth to her son Edward, Henry was struck with a bout of insanity. Because of this, the Yorkists later accused Margaret of giving birth to an illegitimate child, possibly fathered by Edmund.
Becoming a mother strongly influenced Margaret’s political involvement. From that point on, she vigorously fought for her husband and son’s rights. The Yorks were far more popular in London and northern England, but Margaret fought to maintain control. When Margaret pushed too far, the Lancastrians lost a battle the the Yorkists and she had to acquiesce to their control for a year. “The queen is a great and strong-laboured woman, for she spareth no pain to sue her things to an intent and conclusion to her power" (Paston Letters, i. 378)
She fought for her power in the war of roses until the Duke of York was killed in 1460. In 1461, Margaret and the Lancastrians were defeated at Towton and she and her son fled to Scotland. She invaded from her refuge and won the second battle of St. Albans, brutally executing prisoners of war shortly thereafter. She went to her native France to request help and mustered a force to invade England again, though, in doing so, she fed the fact that Edward of York was immensely popular among the English people.
She bided her time, educating her son around the closest thing she could muster to a court. "We be all in great poverty, but yet the queen sustaineth us in meat and drink. Her highness may do no more than she doth" (Works, ii. 72, ed. Clermont) wrote one of the people present with her at this time. While Edward IV of York was on the throne, her husband Henry was kept in the tower but eventually murdered in his sleep. Her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was killed in battle trying to reclaim the throne.
She was a great woman on the losing side of a particularly ugly war. The war of roses, or the cousins’ war, was particularly gruesome in that it truly was a battle between kinsmen. Margaret came in from France having been raised by a strong-willed mother in the midst of her own family turmoil, but was swept aside by that of her new family. She was politically active, which was unusual for English noblewomen at her time, but she was not particularly cunning when it came to governing.
She stacked the parliament in her favour and married of the aristocracy according to how she wanted the families to be aligned, but she never truly won the favour of the English people. Not only was she French, but she was the wife of a man who could not competently rule his kingdom. She had the backbone to be a ruler, but she could not because of the customs and laws of her time. Margaret had to rely upon finding other strong men to lead her forces, such as Edmund Beaufort and the Earl of Warwick, but she could not rely on her husband the king.
Though she fought bitterly, bringing viscious Celts and arrogant French mercenaries in to fight her own people, she stood firm for what she believed to be right. She fought for her family, even though every family that she had ever known had fractured beyond repair. She fought a world that would not hear the voice of a woman, even as wife of a kind and mother of the Prince of Wales. Margaret of Anjou stood tall against whatever life brought against her.