Margaret, the Mother-in-Law From Hell?

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.

Sources:

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

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9 Responses to Margaret, the Mother-in-Law From Hell?

  1. Ragged Staff says:

    Great post, Susan. It's nice that someone else sees the Anne Nevill that I see – she was the daughter of an earl, for pete's sake! not an innocent doe eyed farm girl thrust into a situation she wasn't prepared for. Clarence wouldn't have kept such a keen eye out for a possible pregnancy if there was no consummation. And wouldn't that have thrown the cat among the pigeons!

  2. trish wilson says:

    As you and I both know Sue what is one of the factors that can lead to the annullment of a marriage; non-consummation

    You really think that MoA despite having her arm twisted didn't know about that? Papal dispensations are one thing; papal decretals about what invalidates a marriage are another and you wonder why R3 failed to take his claim to a consistory court?

    I've no doubt that once she saw the possibility of regaining her former glory her first thought was how to get rid of her ally from hell as soon as she had.

    You really think the way Warwick and the rest of the Nevilles had been insulting and humilating her and her kinsfolk for years she would have really wanted a Neville to be her successor?

    Put it this way. Neither she or Warwick had any choice of achieving their objectives unless they played ball with King Louis whose only objective was to smash the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and in the MoA/Warwick alliance saw his opportunity to do so. Alas Louis was in such a hurry to grind Burgundy under his heel he didn't see the obvious that the moment he declared war on Burgundy he would provide Duke Charles with the legitimate reason to aid his brother-in-law which is what happened.

    If Louis had waited until Margaret was back in England with no real Yorkist threat to tackle it could have gone both their ways. Unfortunately he couldn't and the rest as they say is history.

    Was Margaret the mother-in-law from hell? That's debatable but I doubt while she was still in France and dependent on Louis's continuing goodwill whether she would have done anything that
    might have given him pause for thought. If you want to know about the real mother-in-law from hell take a look at her namesake Beaufort.

    As for RS's spelling it's Neville not Nevill; in French the final e is hardly pronouned besides which Neville would probaly have been pronounced 'Neveeja'.

    Finally Clarence who had come so close to becoming King himself was hardly likely to welcome the idea that it would be his wife's sister not his wife who might become the next Queen of England. Keeping an keen eye on whether Anne became pregnant or not was not his primary objective; getting himself out of the invidious situation in which he had landed himself owing to his misplaced trust in Warwick was.

    Thrown a cat amongt the pigeons if she had been. Given the ruthless behaviour of the Yorkists at Tewkesbury I doubt if any pregnanacy would have lasted that long. What allow any Lancastrian sprig to survive? Only think of the merciless pursuit of Henry Tudor across Wales and for some reason he and Uncle Jasper failed to make it to Tewkesbury. Wonder why?

  3. Ragged Staff says:

    Contemporary 15th century spelling, of names and other words, was fluid. But my spelling choice isn't actually based on that at all. The descendants of Bergaveny use the same spelling that I do, and that's all the authority I need.

  4. trish wilson says:

    With all due respect Ragged Staff while I do not wish to cross swords with you on someone else’s blog you leave me no choice.

    The correct spelling/title is ABERGAVENNY’ as anyone in Wales knows and I’m part-Welsh. If the silly Saesneg (Welsh for English as is the Scottish ‘Sassenach’ both based on the word Saxon) couldn’t get it right that is hardly any fault of mine.

    And when it comes to all those medieval mis-spellings do I know a thing or two. Like in the case of Lady Eleanor Butler. I now have a dozen different variations of her name so which one do you think I should choose?

  5. Susan Higginbotham says:

    Trish, if you've seen "Eleanor Butler" spelled six different ways (and so have I), how can you say there's a "right" medieval spelling of her name? Same with Neville.

    Even today, for instance, I see "Bamborough" spelled two different ways–I ended up choosing the spelling that's on the castle's website.

    Trish, I'll have to ask you not to continue to use this blog to berate other posters (or me). If you want to disagree politely, that's one thing, but I'm tired of people being harangued here, often about matters that have nothing to do with the post in question.

  6. trish wilson says:

    The point I was trying to make was the invidious position in which Margaret found herself particularly the way King Louis twisted her arm. I don’t care for PMK very much but I do give him credit for taking a look at the way KL’s meddling affected other places besides England – the book is entitled ‘The Universal Spider.’

    Margaret was also a mother as well as a mother-in-law and a mother myself I’m trying to imagine what my reaction would be if if some powerful cousin of mine tried to twist my arm to arrange a marriage alliance between myself and a man who had been hounding me for years not for my personal benefit but for his.

    As somebody once said, “History is written by the victors’ and MoA was one of the losers. We’ve all been told what happened post Bosworth ad nauseam but I do think it’s worth pointing out that the political mud-slinging had already been going on for the 40-50 years before and MoA was one of the victims.

    One has to remember how much the English were smarting after their losses in France and for many being then saddled with a French-born queen related to the King of France was the last straw.. In my view, particularly given the political axe-grinding of the time MoA was something of a sitting duck from the moment she set foot in England. Tempestuous termagant or the medieval equivalent of QE2 –quite honestly if she’d done the same as her namesake Beaufort, gone all religious and dressed up as a nun there’d have been plenty to find fault with that.

    Was she the mother-in-law from hell? Well to me it comes down to two things – Who’s writing about her and what is his/her motive – same goes for other personages caught up in WOTR – and unfortunately the tribal loyalty is still with us. Let’s not forget either Tewkesbury was not so much a battle as a massacre and no doubt E4 felt the necessity for some ‘justification’ which was to go by the French axiom ‘Cherchez la femme’.

    For the record I wasn’t having at a go at RS merely a tongue in cheek moan about the misspellings medieval and otherwise largely due to pronunciation the No1 nightmare of any linguist as a former French colleague ruefully admitted with aristocratic names like Beauchamp pronounced Beecham and Althorp pronounce Althrup and that’s before we even think even about all those variations on ‘ough’. Only German it seems is spelt as she is spoken

    I appreciate American humour may not be the same as the British and mine is predominantly Jewish/Celtic but whatever I have may done on with no malicious intention it doesn’t even compare with Desmond Seward’s swipe at female novelists of the Ricardian persuasion or those vicious comments masquerading as Amazon reviews particularly diehard RGs in respect of people they don’t like such as Hicks and Weir ; one has even gone so far as to accuse MAH of telling lies and distorting facts and MAH just happens to be a member of the Royal Historical Society.

    You’re more than welcome to comb my hair, tick me off for being OT or OTT or consign any comment to the dustbin of history – it’s a daily occurrence and professional hazard within such places as the City and Wall Street where a wicked dare I say gallows sense of humour comes in useful, What I don’t like however is a situation where a comment that gets posted is regarded as being inappropriate or off topic or misconstrued/misunderstood or going down like a lead balloon nevertheless gets published and then the unfortunate sender gets publicly castigated in the next post. If you don’t like it for whatever reason, pull the switch, consign it to the great cyberspace trashcan. If you thought I was berating another poster fair enough but to go public about it is hardly my notion of disagreeing politely and I wasn’t even disagreeing just making what I thought was some jokey comments. It you don’t like it hit ‘delete’ That’s a much more civilised way of making one‘s point rather than kicking the poor poster in the cyberspace version of the doghouse.. No malice was intended and only sorry that you thought it was.

  7. Susan Higginbotham says:

    Trish, peace! I didn't really see the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the comments about spelling (and my sense of humor is quite dry), but if you say they were meant that way, I'll believe you. Let's start out fresh for the next post (if I can get one out in this heat).

  8. trish wilson says:

    Thank you Sue but please don't hestitate to comb my hair in future if you think it warranted all the same. On reflection maybe I've spent too many years in the piranha tank as I call it and it's taking time to wind down.

    PS
    I'm booked for Tewkesbury and next weekend it's the gardens of Westminster Abbey and other aspects of Westminster monastic life that only come around every mid-June.

  9. Susan Higginbotham says:

    I'm jealous! Give my regards to Edward of Lancaster and the gang.