I was planning a “Myths About Margaret of Anjou” post, but when I thought about it, I realized that it was shaping up to be a pretty long one! So we’ll take one myth at a time, starting with the notion, firmly enshrined in historical fiction and encouraged by some authors of nonfiction, that Margaret was the mother-in-law from hell to little Anne Neville.
It’s true that Margaret seems to have been reluctant to make an alliance with Warwick in 1470, although Anthony Gross has discussed evidence that Sir John Fortescue, Margaret’s chancellor in exile, had put out feelers for just such a partnership–and a marriage between Edward and a daughter of Warwick’s–as early as 1468. The Maner and Guyding of the Earl of Warwick sets forth the posturings of both Margaret and Warwick, with Margaret complaining that she saw neither “honor nor profit” in a match between her son and Anne; she even claimed that Edward IV had offered her son a match with young Elizabeth of York! Warwick had his own grudges against Margaret to trot out: “King Henry and she by their false counsel had enterprised the destruction of him and his friends in body and in goods.” In the end, though, as Michael Hicks has pointed out, while both parties had to save face before their respective followers by presenting themselves as reluctant allies, and both parties no doubt profoundly mistrusted each other, there was no better solution to their respective problems than a marriage between Prince Edward and Anne.
I know I pick on Paul Murray Kendall a lot in this blog, but his biographies remain very popular and influential, and they have heavily colored novelists’ portrayals of Anne and Edward of Lancaster, so I’m going to pick on him again. Kendall, treating Anne as a sacrificial victim to her father’s ambition and Margaret’s vengeance, paints a pathetic portrait of the fourteen-year-old Anne as bride-to-be: “Richard Neville could doubtless guess his daughter’s bewilderment and fear. . . . Warwick could guess, too, the coldness with which Anne would be welcomed into the household of Margaret of Anjou.” Authors have gleefully elaborated upon Kendall’s depiction of Anne, portraying her as suffering outrage after outrage during her miserable stay with the vicious, depraved Lancastrian queen (one novel even has Margaret trying to murder the poor girl). The reality, however, is that we have no idea as to how Margaret treated Anne: she might have treated her coldly; she might have treated her warmly. (For that matter, we have only Kendall’s word for it that Anne was fearful and bewildered about her marriage; for all we know, she might have been excited about a match that put in her line to be Queen of England if her father’s attempt to restore Henry VI to the throne succeeded.)
It’s often pointed out as proof of Margaret’s hostility, however, that she forbade the couple to consummate their marriage. As the ubiquitous Kendall put it, “Queen Margaret, perhaps under pressure from Louis XI, fulfilled her bargain, but left herself as free as possible to disavow or annul [the marriage] later. In all probability, Anne never shared a marriage bed with the Prince.” In fact, the evidence hardly bears out this confident assertion by Kendall, who perhaps simply liked the idea of leaving Anne unsullied by the hands of Lancaster for the benefit of her second husband, Kendall’s much-admired Richard III. Although the agreement between Margaret and Warwick did indeed specify that the marriage would not be “perfected” until Warwick had gone to England and recovered it or most of it for King Henry, Warwick fulfilled his part of the bargain in October 1470 by restoring Henry VI to the throne. Meanwhile, King Louis was industriously obtaining papal dispensations for Edward and Anne to marry, and the marriage took place at Amboise on December 13, 1470. Nothing suggests that Margaret broke the agreement, and the dispensations that were procured hardly give the impression that anyone was trying to leave a loophole so that the marriage could be easily annulled. If Margaret had broken her part of the bargain by refusing to allow the couple to consummate their marriage, there were plenty of ways Warwick in England could have found out about it: through Anne’s mother, through Anne’s sister, through Anne herself, and most importantly, through King Louis, who wanted a happy Warwick so that the men could go to war against Burgundy. Sforza de’ Bettini of Florence, an ambassador at the French court, gave no impression on December 19, 1470, that anything was amiss following the wedding ceremony: “The Queen of England and the Countess of Warwick, with the prince and princess their children, have left and returned to England, to the unspeakable satisfaction and content of his said Majesty.” On the other side of the Channel, nothing indicates that Warwick was dissatisfied with Margaret’s conduct in any way. All in all, then, it appears that the marriage was duly consummated, or if for some reason it wasn’t, no one seemed particularly bothered about it.
The young couple would not, of course, actually return to England until April 1471. In the meantime, accompanied by their mothers, in December 1470 they went to Paris, where at Louis’s command they received a grand welcome from a host of VIP’s and passed through streets decorated with tapestries and hangings in their honor. It’s difficult to square this magnificent reception for the newlyweds in France’s greatest city with Kendall’s comment that the marriage of Edward and Anne was “something of a hole-and-corner affair.” Nor is there anything to suggest that Margaret did anything to interfere with her daughter-in-law’s enjoying center stage at these festivities.
Anne’s life took a tragic turn, however, when her father was killed at the Battle of Barnet. Kendall writes that Anne “was no longer regarded as any consequence” upon her father’s death, but there’s no indication that Margaret, who herself was initially thrown into despair when the news of Barnet was broken to her at Cerne Abbey, was insensitive to her daughter-in-law’s grief, though she naturally had other preoccupations besides comforting Anne. Anne was not left behind at Cerne Abbey, as she might have been had she been considered merely an encumbrance by the Lancastrians. Instead, she traveled with her husband and Margaret to Tewkesbury, where Prince Edward was killed. Soon afterward, Margaret was taken into custody and Anne was put in the charge of her sister’s husband, the Duke of Clarence. Whatever the nature of Anne and Margaret’s relationship–hostile, civil, or friendly–it most likely ended at that point, as there’s no indication that the women saw each other again. Margaret died in France in 1482; less than a year after her former mother-in-law’s death, Anne became Queen of England when her second husband, Richard III, took the throne.
Just as there’s no evidence that Margaret was hostile toward Anne, Kendall notwithstanding, there’s no evidence that she was friendly to her either: it’s one of those things novelists just have to guess at, though most follow convention as dictated by Kendall and make Margaret a shrew toward her daughter-in-law (at best). There’s one grant that Richard III made, however, which suggests Queen Anne might have felt some residual sympathy for her companions of 1470-71: an annuity of 20 marks to Katherine Vaux, who had served Margaret of Anjou since the 1450’s and who was at her deathbed in 1482. Katherine was one of the ladies captured with Margaret and Anne after Tewkesbury. While there’s no indication in the grant that it was made at Anne’s request, it’s very unlikely that Richard would have made it had Katherine been a party to any ill-treatment of Anne during her brief time as Princess of Wales or if Anne had had nothing but unhappy memories of her sojourn with the Lancastrians. Perhaps, then, just perhaps, this gift to a lady whom Margaret of Anjou must have cherished deeply was a belated tribute to Anne’s first mother-in-law.
Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan – 1385-1618
Anthony Gross, The Dissolution of the Lancastrian Kingship
Michael Hicks, Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III
Michael Hicks, Warwick the Kingmaker
Rosemary Horrox and P. W. Hammond, eds., British Library Harleian manuscript 433
Margaret L. Kekewich, The Good King: Rene of Anjou and Fifteenth Century Europe
Margaret Lucille Kekewich, et al., eds, The Politics of Fifteenth-Century England: John Vale’s Book
Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third
Jenny Stratford, ed., The Lancastrian Court