Margaret of Anjou’s Supposed Lovers

Leaving aside the question of the paternity of Edward of Lancaster (as we’ve seen, there’s no proof that anyone other than Henry VI was the boy’s father), what of the various men that popular historians have romantically linked with Margaret of Anjou?

As I should have made clear in the earlier version of the post, there were indeed contemporary rumors that Edward of Lancaster was a bastard and that Margaret was unfaithful to her husband–a ballad written by a Yorkist sympathizer refers to “fals heryres fostered,” for instance, and Pope Pius II quoted Warwick as saying that Margaret and “those who defile the king’s chamber” had taken over the government. The contemporary gossips, however, were reticent about naming names; modern writers have been less so.

Bertram Fields, for instance, in his book Royal Blood, a defense of Richard III, baldly asserts that Margaret “had been known for years to have dallied with her favorites, notably the dukes of Suffolk and Somerset.” Like too many admirers of Richard III, Fields, while bemoaning the various myths that have grown up around that king, is quite content to perpetuate myths about other historical figures. The claim that Margaret and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, were lovers was not made until the sixteenth century, and even then only in a throwaway remark by the chronicler Edward Hall that Suffolk was “the queen’s darling.” It was Shakespeare, not contemporaries of Margaret and Suffolk, who gave us the story of a full-blown love affair between Suffolk and Margaret.

As for the Duke of Somerset, there were three such dukes associated with Margaret: Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (died 1455) and his sons Henry (died 1464) and Edmund (died 1471). Though Paul Murray Kendall and others have stated that the elder Edmund was suspected of fathering Margaret’s child, I have yet to find any contemporary English source alleging that he and Margaret were lovers–although in his youth, Edmund was linked romantically with the widowed Catherine of Valois, Henry V’s queen. Hall states that when Somerset was arrested in 1453, he was in Margaret’s great chamber; assuming that this noncontemporary account is true, it’s notable that Somerset was not said to have been in Margaret’s bedchamber. Margaret did grant the elder Somerset an annuity of 100 marks in 1451. It is recorded as having been paid at Michaelmas 1453, at which time it was noted that it was being paid for past and future services as well as “for the great good will and kindness that he will show [her] in her urgent affairs.” Helen Maurer has suggested that the “urgent affairs” referred to Henry’s recent mental breakdown, which would make sense. There is no reason, however, to assume that the annuity was prompted by a love affair.

The elder Edmund was killed at St. Albans in 1455; his eldest son, Henry, took up the family dukedom and the Lancastrian cause. Henry Beaufort is linked suggestively with Margaret in one contemporary rumor: on March 15, 1461, Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador in France, wrote from Brussels to Cicho Symonete, Secretary to the Duke of Milan: “They say here that the Queen of England, after the king had abdicated in favour of his son, gave the king poison. At least he has known how to die, if he did not know what to do else. It is said that the queen will unite with the Duke of Somerset. However these are rumours in which I do not repose much confidence.” Henry VI, of course, had not abdicated in favor of his son, nor had he been poisoned. The rumor that Margaret intended to “unite” with Somerset, then, should inspire no more confidence in us than it did in Camulio. I do, however, confess to finding it plausible that this Somerset could have been Margaret’s lover–he was young, handsome, and charismatic and had done her the great service of defeating the Duke of York at Wakefield–but there is no evidence that he actually did play such a role in Margaret’s life.

Henry Beaufort was executed at Hexham in 1464. (Being a Beaufort during this period did not auger well for one’s future.) Late in that year, his younger brothers, Edmund and John, joined Margaret of Anjou in exile in France. There is no evidence that either of these men, or any of the other men who shared Margaret’s exile, were romantically involved with her. Indeed, the younger Beauforts and the Duke of Exeter, who was also exiled abroad, spent most of their exile in the service of the Duke of Burgundy, far away from Koeur Castle in France, where Margaret was lodged.

Another man who occasionally is named by modern writers as Margaret’s lover (and a possible father of Edward of Lancaster) is James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire; Kendall, for instance, claims that he was rumored to be the prince’s father, though he doesn’t cite a source for his assertion. Wiltshire, who was executed after the Battle of Towton, was the royal treasurer of the Lancastrian government and was particularly disliked by the Yorkists, but there is nothing to indicate that he was unusually close to Margaret. I have found no contemporary allegation that he and Margaret were lovers.

Philippe Erlanger, a French writer who wrote a very fanciful biography of Margaret, patriotically hinted that Pierre de Breze, Seneschal of Normandy, was Margaret’s lover, and he even attributed Henry Beaufort’s brief defection to Edward IV as having been prompted by jealousy over Margaret’s intimacy with Breze. The latter, who was twenty years Margaret’s senior, lent her military assistance and traveled with her in the early 1460’s, but he had been closely associated with Margaret’s family for decades and was likely motivated by those ties rather than any carnal passion. If Margaret was suspected of having an affair with Pierre during this time, it seems odd that Edward IV’s government failed to exploit the propaganda possibilities that such a relationship presented.

Proving a negative is notoriously difficult, and it can’t be shown that Margaret was not having sexual intercourse with any of these men or with anyone else besides her husband. (Contrary to one historical novelist’s assertion, however, Suffolk can be positively eliminated as a possible father of Edward of Lancaster, having been murdered over three years before the boy was born.) As it hasn’t been proven either, however, that Margaret was having an affair with any of these men, confident assertions like that of Fields quoted above should have no place in nonfiction unless supported by contemporary evidence.

15 thoughts on “Margaret of Anjou’s Supposed Lovers”

  1. Well said, Susan! I do find if difficult to imagine that during her longs years in France Margaret wasn't a little lonely, but if she did take a lover at that time she would possibly have made sure he wasn't anyone of rank and because we have no evidence of one, would have been very discrete if she did. I have York and Warwick both declaring privately that Edward is Somerset's bastard, but the views of my characters don't necessarily reflect my own.

  2. I don't know if you have ever heard of the play 'Towton' by an amateur playwright called Andrew MacHutchon. I saw an amdram production in 2007 in Leeds which was (I think) only the second time it had ever been put on and the main talking point of which was that they had persuaded Robert Hardy to record a brief scene-setting narration.

    Anyway the central premise of the play, which actually covered a period from the early 1450s up until the battle of Towton, was that Richard, Duke of York was the father of Edward, Prince of Wales. The staging was better than the play and managed to represent both battles of St Albans and Wakefield as well as Towton itself with only a dozen or so participants in each and still make them different from one another and quite interesting to watch.

  3. I always enjoy reading here so much! Thanks for another really interesting piece.

    I remember hearing somewhere- probably a lit class a million years ago- that Shakespeare's portrayals in Richard III were solely intended to gain favor with Queen Elizabeth by justifying the Tudor line's right to the throne. Does this make sense of his statements?

  4. Michele at Reader's Respite

    What always amazes me is that it's not as if these people didn't have absolutely fascinating lives already….why the need to add all these sexual escapades?

    Human nature is the same, regardless of the century….gossip reigns, lol.

  5. In fairness there were contemporary rumours but I suspect these were 'political', not uncommon at the time. Louis XI smeared Margaret of York with unchastity as an attempt to stop her marriage to Burgundy. The Lancastrians even accused the long-dead Philippa of Clarence of playing away in an attempt to throw dirt on the Mortimer claim. So we must see this as a piece of tactical propaganda. (Most likely – we can never know absolutely.)

  6. Couldn't agree more with your last sentence. It amazes me how this whole pile of basically nothing at all can be written up as 'known for years to have dallied…' when it suits the writer. Ridiculous.

  7. Susan Higginbotham

    Ragged Staff, thanks!

    IM, that sounds fascinating! I would love to see how the author got York and Margaret together.

    LadyDoc, I think with Richard III, Shakespeare was just embellishing what had already written about Richard III and making a great story out of it. I don't think he was writing simply to please Elizabeth–"Richard II," as I recall, made her quite uncomfortable.

    Michele, quite true!

    Brian, I should have been more clear in my post (and I'll edit it accordingly) and noted that there were indeed contemporary rumors about Margaret's infidelity. What I haven't found, however, is contemporary English rumors linking her with a specific man–except for the one about Henry Beaufort. I think some contemporary French sources might link her with the elder Edmund Beaufort, but I haven't seen them.

    Kathryn, it's annoying, isn't it!

  8. Ah… the medieval tabloids. And how fascinating they still are… And as far as Bertram Fields, I will read that one with an open mind being wary of such statements. I will be mighty confused afterwards though I am sure. So what should I follow that read up with?!

  9. Susan Higginbotham

    Marie, you might try John Gillingham's book on the Wars of the Roses, if you're interested in the period generally, or A. J. Pollard's Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, if you're interested in Richard in particular. For Margaret of Anjou, the best book is Helen Maurer's, although it's not a full-fledged biography but a study of queenship. There are older biographies of Margaret, but they're dated and/or, in cases like the Erlanger book, full of misinformation. J. J. Bagley's is probably the best of the older works, but it's dated.

  10. Well I guess we can all take comfort in the fact that some things never change: in this case, sex sells. I remember reading Fields' book about 10 years ago (I think it was) and I remember even then being skeptical of some of it.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

  11. Well Sue whether you like it or not, whether I like it or not, we’ve arrived at crunch point.

    Have you any idea how I’m feeling right now? Like the poor guy on the Enola Gay whose job it was to pull the lever when the plane flew over Hiroshima. He had, possibly, the consolation that he didn’t know what the fall-out would be. I alas don’t have that consolation.

    The genie’s out of the bottle There’s no going back now.

  12. Susan, I was skeptical about the claims of MoA's promiscuity from the time I took an interest in the WoR. Many men and women still have difficulty with women leading armies or participating smashmouth politics. Witness the treatment that Joan of Arc and Catherine the Great have received.
    Have you received Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses yet? I recently did and it's turning out to be an interesting book- it's refreshing to see Santiuste break down the battles between 1460-1471 and show that EIV success was due to his being an excellent tactician, and being able to make tough decisons under pressure- not that he was like, you know 6'4", really handsome, had lots of charisma and could get guys to follow him.

  13. Susan Higginbotham

    Elizabeth, thanks!

    Trish, whatever the genie is, I'm sure it will be interesting.

    Caroline, very true! I do have the Edward IV book and haven't read it straight through, but I've been impressed but what I have read.

  14. I have to admit to choosing Wiltshire in my own fictional story, because it suited the purpose of my narrative best, but as there is no record of him fathering any children, legitimate or illegitimate, I think history is against this and he is unlikely to be the father of Edward Lancaster.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Stolen Crown, by the way.

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