A Letter to Margaret of Anjou

Since some of you found the letter from the Earl of Oxford of interest, here’s one of my favorite letters from the Paston collection. It’s written to Margaret of Anjou on August 30, 1461, by two of her and Henry VI’s most faithful followers: Robert Hungerford and Robert Whittingham.

Following the defeat at Towton, Margaret and Henry had gone into exile in Scotland. Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, accompanied by Hungerford and Whittingham, went to France to meet with King Charles VII, only to find when they arrived that Charles had died and that they would have to deal with his son, Louis XI, who promptly imprisoned the three Englishmen. All three were freed eventually, but the last line of the letter is made poignant by the ill fates of all three men: Somerset and Hungerford were among the 30 men captured and executed by John Neville, Lord Montagu, after the battle of Hexham in 1464; Whittingham died at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.

Note the reference to the “Earl of March”: though Edward IV was the ruling king at the time, Hungerford and Whittingham refused to call him by his royal title.


To the Queen of England, in Scotland.

Madam, please it your good God, we have since our coming hither written to your highness thrice; the first we sent by Bruges, to be sent to you by the first vessel that went into Scotland; the other two letters were sent from Dieppe, the one, by the carvel in the which we came; and the other, in another vessel; but, madam, all was one thing in substance, of putting you in knowledge of the kings your uncle’s death, whom God assoyl, and how we stood arrested, and do yet. But on Tuesdey next we trust and understand we shall up to the king your cousin germain. His commissaries, at the first of our tarrying, took all our letters and writings, and bear them up to the king; leaving my Lord of Somerset in keeping at the castle of Arques; and my fellow Whityngham and me (for we had safe conduct) in the town of Dieppe, where we are yet. But on Tuesday next we understand that it pleaseth the said king’s highness that we shall come to his presence: and are charged to bring us up Monsieur de Cressell, now bailiff of Canse and Monsieur de la Mot.

Madam, ferth you not, but be of good comfort, and beware that ye adventure not your person, nor my lord the Prince, by the sea, till ye have other word from us; in less than your person cannot be sure there as ye are, and that extreme necessity drive you thence. And for God’s sake the king’s highness be advised the same; for as we be informed the Earl of March is into Wales by land, and hath sent his navy thither by sea. And madam, think verily, we shall not sooner be delivered but that we will come straight to you, without death take us by the way; the which we trust he will not, till we see the king and you peaceable again in your realm; the which we beseech God soon to see, and to send you that your highness desireth.

Written at Dieppe, the 30th day of August.

Your true subjects and liege men,


[taken from John Fenn’s edition of the Paston Letters)

8 thoughts on “A Letter to Margaret of Anjou”

  1. Nice post, Susan. Letters from exiles are nearly always poignant. It was such a strong theme in Old English literature and seems still to strike a chord, more especially if it's real writing by real people.

  2. Excellent post, Susan.
    Yes they were executed by 'nice' John Neville – not a bit like his brother Richard!! Another example of how people judge men by different standards as it suits them. John 'reluctantly' turned from Edward (or was wearing his livery coat at Barnet if you go to the extreme) – and so he must be 'nice'. Hence John always seems to get a good press in historical novels and Warwick doesn't. As Karen said in her post about Barnet both men knew why they were there and the consequencies that would follow. 🙂

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Ragged Staff!

    Su, isn't that the truth! There's one novelist who goes so far as to portray John as a man who hates war (in case the reader misses the point, he's made to tell his wife, "I hate war!"). I suppose he might have hated war, but he was certainly good at it! But this novelist also has John as being Richard, Duke of Gloucester's mentor, and since her Richard is saintly and peace-loving, her John has to be also.

  4. I know the book well, Susan, and that particular passage resulted in wall-hurling #37! A lot of historical novelists seem to have difficulty with characters of any more than one dimension, and as for moral ambiguity… Free John Nevill! I say.

  5. Despite the many troubles she certainly endured during her reign and her life thereafter, it must have been a great comfort to her to have had so many staunch and loyal supporters sending their best wishes and guidance while they were the ones imprisoned. I agree with Ragged Staff that the letter is very poignant, especially with us being aware of the fates that awaited these men. Thank you for posting these letters – very interesting to read.

  6. Very interesting to see these letters, and I agree that this one is poignant.

    Having a fifteenth-century nobleman and soldier like John Neville declare "I hate war!" strikes me as implausible in the extreme!

  7. Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

    I very much enjoyed reading these letters. It helps to make them real and give us an insight into their thoughts and fears. Thanks for finding and posting them. Congratulations on the release of your book too!

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