(The following is a slightly revised blog post I did on Margaret of Anjou, the subject of my novel in progress,
The Queen of Last Hopes. For more pieces about her and a picture gallery, see the links at the bottom of the page.)
Margaret of Anjou, queen to the unfortunate Henry VI, has surely been one of the most maligned English queens. She’s regularly portrayed as an adulteress and a vengeful harpy. One historical novel even has her repeatedly trying to murder her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville, though I never quite figured out why. (I’m not sure the author knew either.)
A set piece in many a Wars of the Roses novel, even some recent ones where the authors should have known better, involves cruel Margaret ordering immediately after the Battle of Wakefield that the severed heads of the Duke of York and his teenage son, the Earl of Rutland, be displayed and the Duke’s head be garnished with a
paper crown. In fact, Margaret was not at the Battle of Wakefield; she was in Scotland at the time. There’s even been considerable doubt cast as to the extent of the atrocities supposedly committed by her troops.
Written in Royston, this letter was delivered to Archbishop Thomas Bourchier in London while the king was on his way to Leicester. John Say delivered it at Watford, though not into the king’s hands as York hoped. This is a long letter, and pretty dense, so I’m posting it with a translation below. (Translation from British History online, Parliamentary Rolls, Henry VI, 1455. http://www.british-
As members of the Archbishop’s family were split between the king’s forces and York’s, it would have been in his interests to try and broker a peaceful end to the very tense situation.
The letter has been described as ‘propaganda’, which it was certainly used for after the fact. I don’t doubt, however, that the three lords were genuinely concerned about their safety should the meeting at Leicester go ahead without them. There was a flurry of letters during the days leading up to the first battle of St Albans, all intended for the eyes of the king and none of them (apparently) reaching him. York blamed Somerset for withholding them and, according to the Fastolf Relation, Buckingham admitted to Mowbray Herald that Henry hadn’t seen them. Whether anything would have changed had the king read the letters is, of course, impossible to know.
There has been a great deal written about Cecily Nevill. Google her (with the inevitable final ‘e’) and you’ll get nearly 98,000 results, most of them discussing her in relation to the men (husband, sons and brothers) in her life. She outlived all but one of her children, and spent thirty five years in widowhood. Two of her sons became kings of England, a granddaughter was queen, as she herself almost was.
Here’s another will for you: that of Cecily, Duchess of York. Cecily signed her will on May 31, 1495, at her home of Berkhamsted Castle, a few days before her death. Her will appears in Wills From Doctors’ Commons, edited by John Gough Nichols and John Bruce and available on Google Books.
Cecily’s will takes up eight pages and is printed in a single paragraph. I have taken the liberty of breaking down the bequests into paragraphs to make it more readable.
An indispensable site for anyone researching the Wars of the Roses: British History Online. Here you can find, among other things, the Rolls of Parliament for the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. There’s a lot you can access for free, but getting the full benefit of it costs around £36 a year. I really can’t do without it.
Immediately after the first battle of St Albans, York, Salisbury and Warwick attended the King in his quarters at St Albans Abbey. Abbot Whetehamstede gives York a hell of a speech denouncing the dead Somerset and urging Henry to ‘rejoice’ at both Somerset’s death and York’s triumph. “I am, and always was, and all my followers are and were your faithful – indeed, your most faithful – liegemen; and we will always remain…” York had been insisting the truth of this for some years now, so determined to get his point across that twice he stood with a sizeable band of armed men, demanding to be given access to the king.