Margaret of Anjou

1429 – 1482

Remember Duke Humphrey? You know – the chap who fought at Agincourt, collected books and women in equal quantities, built a nice big tower then fell foul of nutty King Henry VI ? Well, I’ve been finding out about the Lady Macbeth character in all this, the scheming Margaret of Anjou, who ended up being the next owner of the tower (and his other Greenwich gaff, Bella Court, which was where the Old Royal Naval College is now.)

It’s worth remembering that when she married the future Henry VI, Margaret was just 15. It can’t have been much of a prospect, being ripped away from everything you know (she was born in Lorraine, right over in the east of France) and sent off to England to marry some bloke who was already widely known to be bonkers. But she decided to make the best of it and got stuck into the politics that her husband just wasn’t capable of grasping.

Whether she was more interested in protecting her husband’s or her own status is unclear, but she always had an ear out for anything that might threaten his kingship. She started hearing whispers about the ahem, unconventional, lifestyle of Duke Humphrey of Greenwich. It cannot have gone unnoticed that the erudite Duke Humphrey was not only rumoured to be somewhat more popular than her husband, but that he was also sitting on a very pretty palace by the riverside at Greenwich with a nice tower up a hill surrounded by parkland and fluffy deer.

The queen’s support gave Humphrey’s enemies a fillip, and in a frenzy of hubris, they put an end to him in a most unsavoury way, leading directly to Jack Cade’s Rebellion.

Humph’s body not cold in the ground, Margaret lost no time in moving straight into Bella Court herself. She changed the name to the Pleasaunce and got the decorators in. The theme was ‘girly.’

Out went the masculine man-about-town pad of Duke Humph, full of books and hunting trophies, in came pink and white stone, terracotta tiles with her monogram, stained glass windows with pictures of daisies all over them (Marguerites, geddit?)sundry pavilions, pavements, flowery arbours and a giant jewel house for her accessories. She didn’t forget her husband – his badge was a hawthorn bud (who thought that one up? The Royal badgemaker must have been really running out of ideas. I can just hear him thinking “Oh – he’s nuts anyway, he won’t notice…”)so she used that flower in the decor too.

She arranged it all around two courts – state and private and she had all the latest mod-cons in her own luxury apartments, including a bath. I don’t know if she had fairy lights, furry pencil cases and sleepovers too, but let’s face it she was FIFTEEN – that’s what you do at that age…

She spent five years making her house nice and trying to keep her position secure. She had a son, but paternity rumours rumbled around the court like a baron’s belly after a hog roast and though surrounded by cronies in her pretty palace, outside, things were getting ugly.

The Wars of the Roses were getting underway and Margaret was a sitting duck. The Pleasaunce was charming enough, but hardly a stronghold, and many local people still resented the death of Duke Humphrey. As things got nastier, she just stopped feeling safe at Greenwich. Richard, Duke of York, captured the King, Margaret escaped up north and started raising an army for the Lancastrians. I can’t see that she ever went back to Greenwich.

From this moment on she becomes an almost entirely political animal. Gone are the girly giggles, in comes Woman of Steel. She seems to have been right in the thick of it – if not actually on the battlefields, certainly close enough to witness the deaths of friend and foe alike. She schemed with the best of them, and, after going back to France to bolster support, on her return she led her own army. She even managed to restore her husband to the throne (albeit briefly) in 1470. But after seeing her son die on the battlefield in 1471, she was a broken spirit. She was captured and imprisoned in Wallingford Castle and the Tower of London for several years.

Margaret was finally ransomed by the King of France, but she’d had enough. She died in 1482 in Anjou, her lovely, girly palace already taken over by another curious woman. But that’s for another day…

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