The infamous Margaret of Anjou played the game of thrones as easily as breathing. Married to the Mad King Henry VI, Margaret had to take control of her destiny for herself. The Wars of the Roses were not for the faint of heart, yet Margaret schemed and warred with the best of them—right up until her absolutely brutal end. Dive in to learn more about the most devious woman in English history.
Margaret of Anjou Facts
Her Parents Were Rich
Though she eventually became one of the most powerful women on Earth, everyone has to start somewhere. Margaret was the second daughter of Rene, the disgraced King of Naples, and Isabella, the Duchess of Lorraine. Sure, having a king for a father and a duchess for a mother sounds pretty darn fancy, but Margaret’s childhood was no fairy tale.
Her Dad Was A Screw-Up
Margaret of Anjou eventually became a ruthless and effective ruler, but she sure didn’t learn it from her father. People called King Rene “a man of many crowns but no kingdoms” because he lucked into not one, not two, but three separate crowns: He was the King of Naples, the King of Sicily, and the King of Jerusalem. The only problem? He couldn’t manage to rule any of them!
By the time of Margaret’s birth, Rene had scurried back to his wife’s homeland of Lorraine, while usurpers ruled all of his so-called “kingdoms.” No, Rene was not a good king—but that’s just the start of his seedy history.
Her Dad Liked To Cheat
Life in the Good King Rene’s household was…awkward, to say the least. Margaret grew up not only with her five brothers and four sisters—but also with her three half-siblings. Turns out, King Rene had a thing for mistresses, and he brought up his illegitimate kids alongside the rest. But even surrounded by a hoard of siblings, Margaret was something special.
She Had A Cute Nickname
Margaret’s parents took to calling her la petite creature. She was a ravenous learner and an obsessive with hobbies that ranged from romantic literature to more manly pursuits like hunting. Even as a girl, Margaret of Anjou clearly had the makings of greatness—but she sure didn’t learn it from her hapless father. So, where did it come from?
The answer should be obvious…
She Had Some Serious Female Role Models
Ok, so Margaret’s dad wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but the women in her life were a different story. First, there was her grandmother, Yolande of Aragon, who single-handedly ruled the Duchy of Anjou and fought off English invasions. Then there was her mother Isabella, who personally fought wars on her husband’s behalf and ruled the Duchy of Lorraine through sheer force of will.
When it came to powerful women, Margaret of Anjou had the best role models she could ask for—and she’d need every bit of help to prepare her for what was coming.
She Moved Up Fast
One day, Margaret of Anjou was a minor princess in a backwater Duchy—the next, she was the Queen of England. Her uncle, King Charles VII of France, arranged for her to marry King Henry VI of England when she was 14 years old. On the surface, it seemed like a simple match: French princess marries English king, and the two countries bury the hatchet after fighting for, quite literally, a hundred years.
But in the cutthroat world of Medieval Europe, nothing was ever so simple. Margaret might not have realized it, but she was stepping right into a viper’s den.
She Stayed In A Prison
Margaret’s first days in England were straight out of a fairy tale. London threw an absolutely massive party to celebrate her marriage. The festivities lasted two straight days and, as was the custom at the time, Margaret spent the night in between at the Tower of London. Little did she know, she’d find herself back in the Tower before long—but under much darker circumstances.
She Became A Queen
After the party ended, Margaret and Henry VI tied the knot. She was 15 by this point, and he was 23. I doubt Henry realized how lucky he was to marry Margaret. She would end up being his knight in shining armor as his reign fell apart around him. On the flip side, though, poor Margaret likely didn’t understand what a disaster she’d signed up for when she married Henry VI—soon to be known as the Mad King of England.
She Had Some Powerful Enemies
Margaret couldn’t have known it at the time, but she’d made an enemy for life when she married Henry VI. You see, there were two major factions vying for power in England at the time: The Red Rose of Lancaster, and the White Rose of York. The Lancasters planned Margaret’s match, and in doing so completely blocked the Yorks’ plans to find their own bride for Henry.
That means Richard, the Duke of York, was Margaret’s sworn enemy the second she stepped foot in England—but he’d eventually pay a terrible price for crossing her.
She Fought An Uphill Battle
Margaret had her work cut out for her when she showed up in England. While her mom and grandma had managed to wield power, that was over on the continent. In England, people weren’t nearly as comfortable with a woman taking control. Countless men tried to push Margaret of Anjou to the sidelines—but they had no idea who they were messing with.
Sooner or later, each of them would realize that you did not want to make an enemy of Margaret.
Her Husband Was A Failure
If you had to blame the Wars of the Roses on one person, it would have to be Margaret’s husband, King Henry VI. His dad, the fearsome Henry V, was a warrior in every sense of the word. He’d carved out massive swaths of France for himself and brought England to glory like it had never seen before. As for Henry VI? Well…he wasn’t really into the whole “king” thing.
He Was A Terrible King
Henry VI became king when he was a baby. I guess people hoped he’d grow into the role? By the time he married Margaret, he was 23 and definitely old enough to take the reins for himself. Problem was, he had absolutely no interest in being a king. He’d much rather spend his time in church, or reading, or basically anything that wasn’t ruling England.
And unfortunately for Margaret, being king wasn’t the only thing Henry wasn’t interested in…
He Wouldn’t Touch Her
Pretty much every King of England was an incorrigible womanizer…except for Henry VI. You’d think Margaret would be happy about that, but the thing is, Henry wasn’t interested in any women—not even his wife. The years began to pass, and their frigid bedroom produced exactly zero heirs. In fact, things eventually got so bad that Henry and Margaret were forced to resort to some disturbing measures.
They Needed “Help” In The Bedroom
For her part, it doesn’t seem like Margaret was the problem—in this marriage, she pretty much never was. Henry’s disinterest in women was so strong, he literally had no idea what he was supposed to do in the bedroom. So, his advisors decided he needed a little…help. There’s no delicate way to say this: Henry and Margaret had a sex coach. This trusted advisor joined them in their bedchamber to show Henry how it’s done.
And somehow, that was just the beginning of Margaret’s nightmare behind bedroom doors.
She Starved Herself
Clearly, Henry VI had no clue what he was doing in the bedroom, and yet Margaret still blamed herself. This was the Middle Ages, after all, and people pretty much always blamed the woman if a couple had trouble conceiving. So, Margaret put herself through the wringer to try and get pregnant. She started starving herself, in the hope that God would reward her sacrifice with a child.
This was how Margaret spent the first years of her marriage—but bigger problems were brewing elsewhere.
She Took The Blame For Her Husband’s Screwups
Not long after Margaret’s marriage to Henry VI, the English gave up the French territory of Maine—land Henry V had fought tooth and nail for—and got nothing in return. It was a devastating blow for English morale. It wasn’t long before people started whispering that the king’s new French bride was to blame. Soon after arriving in England, Margaret became public enemy number one in many people’s eyes.
But Margaret of Anjou learned from the best, and anyone after her head would quickly realize that this fiery French girl was no easy target.
They Loved Each Other Deeply
Margaret of Anjou’s early days in England were a complete nightmare. She arrived in a strange country to marry a man she’d never met when she was 15. Even worse, pretty much everyone hated her from the start. If you think that sounds completely miserable, you’d be right. But at least there was one bright spot: Her and Henry’s marriage was surprisingly tender. Sure, the physical side of their relationship was, ahem, lacking, but by all accounts, they actually seemed to care about each other deeply.
Basically, Henry VI hit the jackpot when he married Margaret of Anjou. Not only did she love him, but Margaret was the only person in the world who could protect the feeble Henry from the storm that was coming.
They Had Breakfast In Bed
If Margaret ever had any happy days, they were early in her marriage. One particularly joyful moment saw the couple kicking off New Year celebrations by receiving their gifts in bed, where they lay in their PJs and pillows all morning. They were like the John and Yoko of their day—and sadly, their union met a similarly tragic end.
He Had A Weird “Surprise”
Being married to Henry wasn’t exactly the most physically fulfilling relationship, but hey, at least the poor guy tried his best. In his more lucid years, a young Henry greeted Margaret by disguising himself as a squire and “unmasking” his royal identity to her in a show of courtly love and pageantry. But this was during the all-too-brief good days. Soon enough, their entire world would be thrown into chaos.
Trouble Was Brewing
Unfortunately, there’s more to being a king than playing dress-up and opening presents in bed. While Henry and his new bride were off playing house, Henry’s kingdom started going to the dogs. Or, more specifically, to the French. Maine was just the beginning—over the next few years, Henry lost more and more of his father’s territory in France.
And if things were bad on that side of the English Channel, things were even worse back home.
England Grew More And More Dangerous
As Henry lost more and more territory in France, disgruntled troops returned to England, out of a job and demanding pay. Since Henry couldn’t find the money, they took to pillaging the countryside to take what they believed they were owed. Eventually, lawlessness and chaos ruled the land. Margaret and Henry were living a fantasy behind the walls of their palace—but it was only a matter of time before they had to face the consequences for Henry’s screwups.
She Set Her Sights On Enemy #1
As the years went by, people began to realize that Margaret of Anjou was more than just a trophy wife. While the English normally expected women to remain seen and never heard, Margaret started to throw her weight around. And the first matter of business? A certain guy named Richard of York, who was getting way too uppity for her tastes.
She Had Control Of Her Husband
England may not have accepted women in roles of power in the era, but Margaret had one key advantage: Her husband adored her and would do pretty much anything she said. With Henry like putty in her hands, Margaret started whispering in his ear with one goal in mind: It was time to get rid of Richard of York. Oh Margy, if only it was that simple.
She Got Rid Of The Competition
At the time, Richard of York was busy trying to clean up Henry’s mess over in France—but Margaret wouldn’t have that. She got Henry to essentially exile Richard of York to Ireland. By hiding him away on the Emerald Isle, Margaret had effectively cut her greatest enemy off from all power. And as if that wasn’t cold enough, she tried to have him assassinated twice during this time.
Margaret was done playing nice—but as if she hadn’t already messed with Richard of York enough, she had one last twist of the knife in mind.
Her Guy Was Totally Useless
If there was anyone Richard of York hated more than Margaret of Anjou, it was probably the Duke of Somerset. York was a cunning and capable leader, while Somerset was pretty much useless. So imagine how furious York was when Margaret had him exiled him away in Ireland, then sent the sycophantic Somerset off to France. Richard had to sit and watch as Somerset lost battle after battle, giving up nearly all of England’s territory.
This was not going to end well for anyone involved.
Her Rival Fought Back
Richard of York managed to dodge Margaret’s attempts on his life and make it back to London, where he took matters into his own hands. He confronted the King himself—and the spineless Henry VI didn’t stand a chance. After a single talking-to, Henry brought York back into his inner-circle. To say this made Margaret furious would be an understatement, but this was just the beginning.
Her Grand Plans Fell Apart
With King Henry back under Richard’s control, that meant Margaret was on the outs yet again. Even worse, York had her buddy, the Duke of Somerset, impeached for his utter humiliation in France (to be fair, he totally deserved it). Margaret had to grit her teeth as she watched Richard of York undo everything she’d fought so hard for—but then, York went too far, and Margaret had no choice but to act.
Richard Went Too Far
Margaret had been this close to getting rid of Richard of York once and for all, and now suddenly the guy was back and screwing up her plans worse than ever. But this time, he crossed a line: He got the Speaker of the House of Commons to suggest that Richard of York actually become heir to the throne.
If Margaret knew one thing, it’s that “heir to the throne” was reserved for her progeny. It was time to teach Richard a lesson.
Margaret Took Over
Henry VI was the rope in a never-ending game of tug of war between Margaret and Richard of York. York had gained the upper hand for a bit, but Margaret managed to yank Henry right back. She cut all “Richard of York for heir” talk off at the bud. She dissolved Parliament and had the speaker who had dared suggest it thrown in prison.
Richard of York could tell she’d beaten him. He fled London for Wales to bide his time and wait for his next chance to make a power grab—and as luck would have it, he wouldn’t have to wait for long.
Her Prayers Were Answered
In 1452, after seven years of marriage, Margaret of Anjou finally became pregnant. Her and Henry’s dreams had finally come true. The birth of a son would put the nation at ease—not to mention, quiet the disturbing rumors that had been floating around about the couple. But for Margaret of Anjou, good news rarely lasted long. Just as things were finally looking up, her life took its darkest turn yet.
Her Husband Suffered His Biggest Lost Yet
The Duchy of Aquitane was one of the richest territories in all of France, and the English had held it for centuries. Well, in 1451, Henry VI managed to lose it to the French. After briefly taking it back the next year, Henry proceeded to lose it yet again. This was the last straw. Henry, and all of England, were an utter disgrace. Men like Richard of York weren’t going to put up with it any longer.
Henry and Margaret needed to act fast, or they were going to end up with knives in their backs—and at that exact moment, an absolute disaster struck.
Henry Lost His Mind
So we’ve been calling Henry VI “The Mad King of England,” but so far, he hasn’t exactly done anything too mad. Sure, he was a crummy, spineless king, but mad? Not quite. Well, that was about to change. When Henry VI heard that he’d lost Aquitane for good, his mind simply…broke. The King of England essentially became a vegetable. He couldn’t speak—he could barely even get out of bed—for an entire year.
Margaret of Anjou had to watch her husband waste away, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
He Didn’t Even Recognize His Own Son
England was resting on a knife’s edge, and Henry was in no state to rule—but for Margaret, that was the least of her worries. Devastatingly, Henry’s mental breakdown meant he completely missed the birth of his long-awaited son. When Margaret first showed the child to him, a hale, healthy boy named Edward, he didn’t even respond.
It must have been heartbreaking for Margaret, but it was actually even worse than it appeared—her entire future was in jeopardy.
Her Son’s Future Was In Danger
Thanks to a bizarre custom, the King of England had to acknowledge his child in order for them to become heir to the throne. That meant that if Henry never recovered, Margaret’s child would never become king. All she could do was sit and pray that her husband came to his senses—but at least she had plenty to keep her occupied while she waited.
She Had To Do Everything
Taking care of the catatonic Henry was no simple task. He quite literally couldn’t do anything himself. He had to be fed, washed, and clothed, and someone had to watch him at all hours of the day. Margaret personally saw to it that her husband was properly taken care of—but that was only half the battle. England needed leadership, and whether they liked it or not, Margaret of Anjou was about to take charge.
She Played The Game
With her husband off the playing field, Margaret dove into the game of thrones head first. She starting doing everything in her power to protect her husband and her son. She worked tirelessly to keep the true nature of Henry’s illness a secret. To help her fend off the likes of Richard of York and other enemies to the throne, Margaret sought out powerful allies wherever she could find them.
But nothing ever came easy for Margaret of Anjou. Sure, she made some allies—but she also spawned some truly scandalous rumors.
Scandalous Rumors Spread About Her
Margaret rallied around the Duke of Somerset (remember that guy?) and the Duke of Suffolk, mostly because they hated Richard of York as much as she did. But, as her husband was nowhere to be found and Margaret was spending more and more time around these strapping Dukes, you can guess what happened. People started to talk. Oh, so Henry and Margaret can’t have a kid for seven years, now one finally shows up out of the blue? Just as she starts chumming around with a bunch of handsome Dukes?
Rumors of infidelity would dog Margaret for the rest of her life—and her enemies would try to use them to take her down.
She Had A Simple Solution
To Margaret of Anjou, the solution to England’s problems seemed simple: Make her the regent in her husband’s “absence.” After all, it had worked for her mom and grandma, why wouldn’t it work for her? But dudes like Richard of York wanted that power for themselves, and they weren’t about to give up an inch to some woman who wasn’t even English.
Margaret had to bide her time and plan her next move—but then her greatest enemy forced her hand.
She Lost Control
Not too long after the birth of her son, the worst-case scenario happened for Margaret. Through political machinations of his own, the hated Richard of York managed to get himself named Lord Protector of England while Henry remained unresponsive. Alongside his crony Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (who just so happened to the richest man in all of England), Richard of York set about tightening their grip on England.
Their first order of business? Margaret of Anjou.
They Pushed Her Out
York and Warwick weren’t stupid, so they realized that their greatest adversary wasn’t Henry. It was the ruthless Queen Margaret of Anjou who posed the biggest threat. So, when York became Lord Protector, he quickly marginalized Margaret, allowing her absolutely no say in matters of state. But that was just the beginning of their plots against her…
They Spread Lies About Her
To plant the seed of doubt in the English people, York and Warwick worked hard to inflame the rumors that Margaret slept with the Duke of Somerset, and that her son, Edward of Westminster, wasn’t actually Henry’s. Not only did this make people distrust their French queen even more, but it also opened the door for someone else to become Henry’s heir—namely, York himself.
She Faced A Genuine Threat
Margaret of Anjou had good reason to be so wary of Richard of York this whole time. By some interpretations, the Duke actually had a better claim to the throne than Henry himself. If she wasn’t careful, she might see everything she’d earned taken from her. But still, with her husband incapacitated, all she could do was bide her time and wait for her moment…
Then finally, in 1454, Henry VI finally regained his senses. You’d think that might defuse the situation—but it made it so, so much worse.
She Made A Bold Move
With Henry back in the picture, Margaret made her boldest move yet. She called for a Great Council—and didn’t invite anyone who supported the House of York. She called for everyone loyal to the king to join together to protect him “from his enemies.” She didn’t have to be specific about it for everyone to know exactly who she was talking about.
Margaret was done with subtle schemes and plots: She was taking Richard of York on once and for all. However, there’s one teensy little thing she didn’t account for…
She Started A Conflict
You had to get up pretty early in the morning to pull one over on Richard of York, and apparently, Margaret didn’t get up quite early enough. While Margaret called her Great Council and tried to have York eliminated through political means, York himself took a decidedly more direct approach. He gathered his forces and marched straight for London. Evidently, he believed the sword was mightier than the pen.
To say what happened next was a catastrophe for Margaret of Anjou would be an understatement.
She Suffered A Horrible Defeat
It’s about time that these Wars of the Roses we’ve heard so much about finally kicked off. Margaret gathered a Lancastrian army to meet Richard of York head-on. The two sides met in battle for the first time at the First Battle of St. Albans. It…did not go well for Margaret. Not only were several of her most important allies slain in the fighting (including the hapless Earl of Somerset), but Richard of York actually managed to take King Henry VI captive!
Score one for the House of York—Margaret was in some serious trouble now.
She Lost…For Now
Richard of York was willing to do a lot for power, but apparently, regicide was a little too far for him. He dragged the captive king back to London and forced Henry to recognize him once more as Lord Protector of England. The ball was firmly in York’s court—but don’t you worry, Margaret of Anjou still had plenty of tricks up her sleeve.
She Grew Even More Hated
Thus far, Margaret had done a pretty great job of amassing power, but she was always fighting against one major issue: The people of England hated her guts. What she did in 1457 didn’t help matters either. One of her cronies, a French general named Pierre de Breze, attacked the English coast and set the town of Sandwich aflame. Margaret hoped to sow chaos in England as a way to strengthen her position against Richard of York, but her plan backfired horribly.
Not only did the English repel de Breze, but everyone knew Margaret was behind it. If people hated her before, they despised her now. Suddenly, the rumors about her started getting even more twisted.
The Lies About Her Spread Across The World
Margaret of Anjou was starting to make a name for herself across Europe—for all the wrong reasons. Bawdy songs about her and her illegitimate son spread across the continent and even the Pope himself had heard the claims that the queen and “those who defile the king’s chamber” had taken control of the government. It was humiliating—but nothing compared to the humiliation that was coming next.
England Was Ready To Explode
If you couldn’t tell, things in England were reaching a boiling point. The Yorks and Lancasters had crossed swords once, and it was only a matter of time before they did it again. And this is the point when poor King Henry VI finally tried to take matters into his own hands. Cue: the weirdest moment in English history.
Her Husband…Tried His Best
King Henry VI wasn’t much of a king, but at least he was creative. In 1458, he figured he’d come up with the perfect solution to the conflict in England, and he called it Love Day. Does that sound kind of…stupid to you? Well guess what: It was stupid. Henry’s big plan to end the Wars of the Roses was, literally, to make everyone hold hands and say they love each other.
And that’s not even the most awkward part.
She Held Hands With Her Nemesis
Because of course he did, Henry made Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou hold hands specifically. If I could travel back in time to witness just one day in history, I think I’d choose that one, just to see whose face got redder. Oh, and by the way, in case you couldn’t guess: Love Day didn’t work. The fighting started up again almost immediately, and in 1460, Margaret of Anjou suffered yet another devastating blow.
She Led From The Front Lines
Let no one say Margaret wasn’t willing to get her hands dirty. In 1460, she, King Henry VI, and their young son all showed up to personally lead their men at the Battle of Northampton. Unfortunately, the battle was an utter disaster. Not only did the Lancastrians lose—terribly—but the Yorkists actually captured King Henry VI yet again.
Margaret, at least, got away safely, but she didn’t run and hide. She was going to get her husband back, no matter what it took.
She Looked For Help
Margaret of Anjou was nothing if not resourceful. The English hated her? Then she’d find support elsewhere. OK sure, the Pierre de Breze debacle didn’t work out so well, but you know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. So that’s what she did. She set sail for Scotland to try and rally some support up there.
What she didn’t realize as her ship cast off was that she’d barely make it back to London alive.
She Nearly Drowned
You might think that the trip from London to Scotland isn’t that far, but in the Middle Ages, any time you set sail might be your last. Margaret was on her way north when a storm suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Her ship lost to the waves, Margaret barely made it back to shore in a lifeboat. For most ladies, a frigid, soaking wet catastrophe at sea would probably be enough to make them give up.
But Margaret of Anjou was not most ladies.
She Got Help From Disturbing Men
Beggars can’t be choosers, so Margaret had to take anyone she could get in her fight against Richard of York. That meant the roving bands of outlaws in the English countryside were fair game. With her son by her side, she convinced these men that York was a deceiver and that her boy was the true heir to the throne. She must have had a way with words, because they ate it up and joined her side.
She finally brought this army against York’s at the Battle of Wakefield. By the time the fighting had stopped, the entire nation would be thrown on its head.
She Turned The Tide
If you’re keeping track, you’d probably say that at this point in the Wars of the Roses, Margaret’s team was losing. Badly. Well, all of that was about to change. The Lancastrians absolutely demolished the Yorkist forces at Wakefield—their first major victory of the conflict. But a mere victory wasn’t what made the Battle of Wakefield a huge turning point in the conflict.
When the fighting finally stopped, one particular corpse stood out among the rest…
She Defeated Her Worst Enemy
Let’s take a step back for a second: Richard of York was rich, powerful, and popular. Henry VI was inept and unstable. His advisors were almost entirely useless or corrupt. In most worlds, Richard of York would have simply waltzed into London and claimed the crown for himself. It should have been a piece of cake—if not for Margaret of Anjou.
For all of Richard’s ambitions, he died like any other soldier at the Battle of Wakefield. But in a grim twist, that was only the beginning of his humiliation.
His Fate Was Unspeakably Gruesome
Historians aren’t positive if Richard of York was cut down in battle or if Margaret’s men executed him aftward, but one thing is for certain: The Lancastrian forces beheaded Richard of York. Gruesomely, they then put his head on a pike at the gates of the city of York—a reminder to all what happened to anyone who challenged Margaret of Anjou.
If anyone looked closely at the grisly sight, they’d see something strange: A mocking paper crown on Richard of York’s head. Margaret wasn’t actually there, so she almost certainly didn’t order this herself, but I’m sure she’d have appreciated the gesture.
She Kept On Rolling
Margaret was really rolling now. Next up was the Second Battle of St. Albans, where Margaret personally led her armies against the remaining Yorkist forces, led this time by the new Earl of Warwick: Richard Neville, also known as the infamous Kingmaker. Margaret handily defeated her enemies once again and managed to rescue her husband, Henry VI, after months in captivity.
I’m sure at this point, Margaret was feeling pretty good about herself. Richard of York was out of the picture, the Yorkists were on the run, and her husband was free—but there was one person she didn’t count on.
She Lost It All In An Instant
In the Wars of the Roses, fortunes could change in an instant, and that’s exactly what happened at the Battle of Towton. One second, it seemed like Margaret had won once and for all—then it was all taken away the next. You see, Richard of York had a son: Edward. The House of York was far from down and out, and at the Battle of Towton, Edward did the unthinkable. In one fell swoop, Edward of York, with the Kingmaker at his side, defeated Margaret’s armies, deposed Henry VI, and proclaimed himself Edward IV.
Margaret had to flee to Wales, then Scotland, but she likely wasn’t too worried. She’d won back her husband once, and she could do it again, right? Well, this time, it wouldn’t be so simple.
Her Husband Was A Useful Pawn
Margaret could thank her lucky stars for one thing: The usurper King Edward had every reason to keep her husband alive. Sure, Henry VI was technically Edward’s mortal enemy, but he was also still, well, Henry. He was still feeble, unstable, and prone to complete breakdowns. Margaret and her son would have been much harder to deal with, but as long as Henry was alive, he was the figurehead for the Lancastrian resistance.
That gave Margaret some time to plot her next move—but this defeat wasn’t like the others. It would be years before she saw her husband again.
She Fell Far
Eventually, Margaret had to admit defeat (for now) and set sail back for France, bringing her son with her. There, she learned firsthand how far you can fall in the world. Margaret of Anjou was the rich and powerful Queen of England one day, and essentially a beggar the next, depending on the hospitality of friends and relatives to sustain her and her son—but Margaret had a very, very good reason to keep going.
She Raised Her Son To Be A King
Even Margaret realized that her husband was pretty much a lost cause at this point, but she still had her son to worry about. Margaret was going to do whatever it took to make sure young Edward of Westminster got to reclaim his birthright—but those early years weren’t easy. She had to raise her boy to be a king while watching the usurper King Edward IV tighten his grip on England.
For seven long years, Margaret trained her boy and bided her time—until a surprise came knocking at her door. Out of nowhere, the last person she ever expected came offering his help.
She Found A Shocking Ally
Margaret probably would have been down and out if not for one important ally: her cousin, King Louis XI of France. Louis no doubt preferred Margaret to the upstart Edward IV, and he helped to support Margaret and her son during their sojourn in France. Louis was also the one who made Margaret take an audience with an extremely unexpected guest: Richard Neville, the Kingmaker. The same man who helped Edward IV dethrone her husband.
Yeah, this was going to be awkward…
The Kingmaker Turned On His King
So what the heck was the Kingmaker, one of the usurper’s greatest allies, doing in France seeking an audience with Margaret of Anjou of all people? Well, it turns out, not everything was sunshine and roses back in England. Neville personally made Edward IV a king, and Edward proceeded to do whatever the heck he wanted, completely ignoring all of Neville’s advice.
That didn’t sit well with a man like Richard Neville, so he figured, “Hey, if I made one king, I can always make another!” After all those years of waiting, Margaret’s chance had finally come.
She Showed Him Who’s Boss
When the Kingmaker came to her in France, Margaret made one of the pettiest moves in history: She forced him to kneel in front of her for 20 of the most uncomfortable minutes of all time. After what must have felt like an eternity, she finally let him rise. She forgave him for his treachery, and the two set about planning how to reclaim the English throne.
She Found Her Son A Bride
First things first: Margaret married her son to Neville’s daughter. That way, when they reclaimed the throne, each of them would have a piece of the crown. Honestly, it was a pretty tidy little deal—but that was the easy part. The hard part came next: They had to restart the Wars of the Roses after nearly a decade of peace.
She Sent The Kingmaker To Do Her Dirty Work
Evidently, Margaret still didn’t quite trust Neville just yet. You’d think the best plan would be combining their forces and striking as one. Well, Margaret thought otherwise. She made Neville take his men to England ahead of her to prove his worth. At first, it seemed like her plan went unbelievably well. Neville stormed London, freed Henry VI from the Tower of London, and made him king once more.
For anyone counting, that makes two kings that the Kingmaker made—but their victory was short-lived.
Her Triumphant Return Was Spoiled
Margaret set sail for England not long after Neville’s victory, but she was too late. Literally on the day that Margaret, along with her son and daughter-in-law, landed back on English soil, Edward IV’s forces turned the tide. They fought Richard Neville at the Battle of Barnet and not only defeated him, but actually slew him in battle.
That was Margaret’s most important ally off the gameboard. Even worse, a far more devastating loss was soon to follow.
She Led Her Forces At A Final Stand
With Richard Neville gone, there was only Margaret left to lead her forces, and that’s exactly what she did at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Unfortunately, that only meant she was there to personally witness everything she had ever worked for ripped away from her in an instant.
She Suffered A Devastating Loss
From the instant her son was born, everything Margaret of Anjou did was to ensure he got to take his rightful place as King of England. That all ended at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Edward IV’s forces annihilated her army, but that was the least of Margaret’s worries: Her 17-year-old son, Edward of Westminster, lost his life in the fray.
Margaret had spent nearly 20 years fighting tooth and nail for her boy’s birthright. With him gone, she was finally, completely, defeated—but sadly, there was even more heartbreak in store.
Her Spirit Completely Left
After fighting for the White Rose of Lancaster for so long, everyone in England knew just how dangerous Margaret of Anjou was. She was ruthless, aggressive, and willing to do absolutely anything to achieve her goals. Or, at least, she was. All reports say that the loss of her son completely broke her spirit for good. From that day on, Margaret of Anjou was a ghost of her former self.
Edward IV’s forces easily took her captive after the fighting stopped and dragged her back to the Tower of London. Perhaps she thought she might find some solace by seeing her long-lost husband once more—but even that wasn’t meant to be.
She Never Got To Say Goodbye
Edward IV had kept Henry VI alive all these years because he was less of a threat than Margaret’s son, Edward of Westminster. However, with young Edward out of the picture, there was no reason to keep Henry VI around either. Though no one knows exactly how Henry VI’s life ended, pretty much every historian agrees that Edward IV had Henry executed shortly after Tewkesbury.
When Margaret arrived at the Tower of London, she might have been expecting a reunion with Henry—instead, she only got another loved one to mourn.
She Lost Everything
The final years of Margaret’s life are a sad reflection of what she once was. She spent five years as a prisoner in England until Louis XI of France ransomed her back in 1475. When she returned back home, the French king forced her to give up all of her claims to her father’s land. She did so readily—at this point, she had nothing to live for, so what did she care about some territory she hadn’t seen in years?
No, Margaret didn’t care about land. She didn’t care about anything—and that means her final years were incredibly heartbreaking.
She Was A Walking Corpse
Margaret ended up living in France for seven more years, but her fighting spirit had completely gone. The fierce warrior queen who’d fought bravely for so long was dead. When she finally passed, impoverished and alone at the age of 52, you could consider it a blessing. But, just like Richard of York before her, the grave held even more humiliations for her.
She Got No Rest In Peace
Margaret lay entombed next to her parents in Angers Cathedral, but you won’t find her there today. During the French Revolution, rioters ransacked the cathedral. They removed her remains from their resting place and unceremoniously scattered them across the grounds. Even in death, this poor woman can’t catch a break!
She Never Forgot What She Was
Margaret might have spent the final years of her life as a shell of her once formidable self, but she still had a least a spark of that woman in her: For the rest of her life, she started all of her letters with the words, “By the Queen.”
She Inspired Another Fearsome Queen
Any of this story sound familiar? A fierce, ruthless queen who will do anything to protect her children? Rumors of infidelity? Fought for the Lancasters? Sounds kinda like Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones, right? Well, Margaret of Anjou was actually George R.R. Martin’s main inspiration when it came to Cersei—and now that you know her story, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
She Showed No Mercy
The most ruthless act of Margaret’s entire life came shortly after the Second Battle of St. Albans. In case you forgot, that was the battle where Margaret’s forces rescued the captive Henry VI. During the fighting, two men, William Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriell, watched over the captive king. When the fighting stopped, Henry promised that he would show these two men mercy.
But Margaret had a much darker fate in mind.
She Let Her Son Decide Her Prisoners’ Dark Fate
Going against her husband’s wishes, Margaret put the two men on trial for treason—but that’s not the messed up part. According to several reports, Margaret asked her seven-year-old son how the two men should die, and his response was absolutely ruthless. Little Prince Edward apparently took more after his mother than his father, and he demanded that the two men be beheaded, ignoring his dad’s cries for mercy.
Now there’s a mother-son duo I would not want to cross.