Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

Anxiety And Trouble

For about six years after this time, that is, from the birth of Prince Edward till he was six years old, and while Margaret was advancing from her twenty-fourth to her thirtieth year, her life was one of continual anxiety, contention, and alarm. The Duke of York and his party made continual difficulty, and the quarrel between him, and the Earl of Warwick, and the other nobles who espoused his cause, on one side, and the queen, supported by the Duke of Somerset and other great Lancastrian partisans on the other, kept the kingdom in a constant ferment. Sometimes the force of the quarrel spent itself in intrigues, manúuvres, and plottings, or in fierce and angry debates in Parliament, or in bitter animosities and contentions in private and social life. At other times it would break out into open war, and again and again was Margaret compelled to leave her child in the hands of nurses and guardians, while she went with her poor helpless husband to follow the camp, in order to meet and overcome the military assemblages which the Duke of York was continually bringing together at his castles in the country or in the open fields.

The king's health during all this period was so frail, and his mind, especially at certain times, was so feeble, that he was almost as helpless as a child. There was an hereditary taint of insanity in the family, which made his case still more discouraging.

Queen Margaret took the greatest pains to amuse him, and to provide employments for him that would occupy his thoughts in a gentle and soothing manner. When traveling about the country, she employed minstrels to sing and play to him; and, in order to have a constant supply of these performers provided, and to have them well trained to their art, she sent instructions to the sheriffs of the counties in all parts of the kingdom, requiring them to seek for all the beautiful boys that had good voices, and to have them instructed in the art of music, so that they might be ready, when called upon, to perform before the king. In the mean time they were to be paid good wages, and to be considered already, while receiving their instruction, as acting under the charge and in the service of the queen.

Margaret and the other friends of the king used to contrive various other ways of amusing and comforting his mind, some of which were not very honest. One was, for example, to have different nobles and gentlemen come to him and ask his permission that they should leave the kingdom to go and make pilgrimages to various foreign shrines, in order to fulfill vows and offer oblations and prayers for the restoration of his majesty's health. The king was of a very devout frame of mind, and his thoughts were accustomed to dwell a great deal on religious subjects, and especially on the performance of the rites and ceremonies customary in those days, and it seemed to comfort him very much to imagine that his friends were going to make such long pilgrimages to pray for him.

So the nobles and other great personages would ask his consent that they might go, and would take solemn leave of him as if they were really going, and then would keep out of sight a little while, until the poor patient had forgotten their request.

It is said, however, that one nobleman, the Duke of Norfolk, who was so kind-hearted a man that he went by the name of the Good Duke, actually made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on this errand, and there offered up prayers and supplications at the famous chapel of the Holy Sepulchre for the restoration of his sovereign's health.

They used also to amuse and cheer the king's mind by telling him, from time to time, that he was going to be supplied with inexhaustible treasures of wealth by the discovery of the philosopher's stone. The philosopher's stone was an imaginary substance which the alchemists of those days were all the time attempting to discover, by means of which lead and iron, and all other metals, could be turned to gold. There were royal laboratories, and alchemists continually at work in them making experiments, and the queen used to give the king wonderful accounts of the progress which they were making, and tell him that the discovery was nearly completed, and that very soon he would have in his exchequer just as much money as his heart could desire. The poor king fully believed all these stories, and was extremely pleased and gratified to hear them.

There were times during this interval when the king was tolerably well, his malady being somewhat periodical in its character. This was the case particularly on one occasion, soon after his first recovery from the state of total insensibility which has been referred to. The Duke of York, as has already been said, was put very much out of humor by the king's recovery on this occasion, and by his own consequent deposition from the office of regent, and still more so when he found that the first act which the queen performed on her recovery of power was to release his hated enemy, Somerset, from the prison where he, the Duke of York, had confined him, and make him prime minister again. He very soon determined that he would not submit to this indignity. He assembled an army on the frontiers of Wales, where some of his chief strong-holds were situated, and assumed an attitude of hostility so defiant that the queen's government determined to take the field to oppose him.

So they raised an army, and the Duke of Somerset, with the queen, taking the king with them, set out from London and marched toward the northwest. They stopped first at the town of St. Alban's. When they were about to resume their march from St. Alban's, they saw that the hills before them were covered with bands of armed men, the forces of the Duke of York, which he was leading on toward the capital. Somerset's forces immediately returned to the town. Margaret, who was for a time greatly distressed and perplexed to decide between her duty toward her husband and toward her child, finally concluded to retire to Greenwich with the little prince, and await there the result of the battle, leaving the Duke of Somerset to do the best he could with the king.

Very soon a herald came from the Duke of York to the gates of St. Alban's, and demanded a parley. He said that the duke had not taken arms against the king, but, only against Somerset. He professed great loyalty and affection for Henry himself, and only wished to save him from the dangerous counsels of a corrupt and traitorous minister, and he said that if the king would deliver up Somerset to him, he would at once disband his armies, and the difficulty would be all at an end.

The reply sent to this was that the king declared that he would lose both his crown and his life before he would deliver up either the Duke of Somerset or even the meanest soldier in his army to such a demand.

The Duke of York, on receiving this answer, immediately advanced to attack the town. For some time Henry's men defended the walls and gates successfully against him, but at length the Earl of Warwick, who was the Duke of York's principal confederate and supporter in this movement, passed with a strong detachment by another way round a hill, and through some gardens, and thence, by breaking down the wall which stood between the garden and the town, he succeeded in getting in. A terrible conflict then ensued in the streets and narrow lanes of the city, and the attention of the besieged being thus drawn off from the walls and the gates, the Duke of York soon succeeded in forcing his way in too.

King Henry's forces were soon routed with great slaughter. The Duke of Somerset and several other prominent nobles were killed. The king himself was wounded by an arrow, which struck him in the neck as he was standing under his banner in the street with his officers around him. When these his attendants saw that the battle was going against him, they all forsook him and fled, leaving him by his banner alone. He remained here quietly for some time, and then went into a shop near by, where presently the Duke of York found him.

As soon as the Duke came into the king's presence he kneeled before him, thus acknowledging him as king, and said,

"The traitor and public enemy against whom we took up arms is dead, and now there will be no farther trouble."

"Then," said the king, "for God's sake, go and stop the slaughter of my subjects."

The duke immediately sent orders to stop the fighting, and, taking the king by the hand, he led him to the Abbey of St. Alban's, a venerable monastic edifice, greatly celebrated in the histories of these times, and there caused him to be conveyed to his apartment. The next day he took him to London. He rendered him all external tokens of homage and obedience by the way, but still virtually the king was his prisoner.

Poor Queen Margaret was all this time at Greenwich, waiting in the utmost suspense and anxiety to hear tidings of the battle. When, at length, the news arrived that the battle had been lost, that the king had been wounded, and was now virtually a prisoner in the hands of her abhorred and hated enemy, she was thrown into a state of utter despair, so much so that she remained for some hours in a sort of stupor, as if all was now lost, and it was useless and hopeless to continue the struggle any longer.

She however, at length, revived, and began to consider again what was to be done. The prospect before her, however, seemed to grow darker and darker. The fatigue and excitement which the king had suffered, joined to the effects of his wound, which seemed not disposed to heal, produced a relapse. The Duke of York appears to have considered that the time had not yet come for him to attempt to assert his claims to the throne. He contented himself with so exhibiting the condition of the king to members of Parliament as to induce that body to appoint him protector again. When he had thus regained possession of power, he restored the king to the care of the queen, and sent her, with him and the little prince, into the country.

One of the most extraordinary circumstances which occurred in the course of these anxious and troubled years was a famous reconciliation which took place at one time between the parties to this great quarrel. It was at a time when England was threatened with an invasion from France. Queen Margaret proposed a grand meeting of all the lords and nobles on both sides, to agree upon some terms of pacification by which the intestine feud which divided and distracted the country might be healed, and the way prepared for turning their united strength against the foe. But it was a very dangerous thing to attempt to bring these turbulent leaders together. They had no confidence in each other, and no one of them would be willing to come to the congress without bringing with him a large armed force of followers and retainers, to defend him in case of violence or treachery. Finally, it was agreed to appoint the Lord-mayor of London to keep the peace among the various parties, and, to enable him to do this effectually, he was provided with a force of ten thousand men. These men were volunteers raised from among the citizens of London.

When the time arrived for the meeting, the various leaders came in toward London, each at the head of a body of retainers. One man came with five hundred men, another with four hundred, and another with six hundred, who were all dressed in uniform with scarlet coats. Another nobleman, representing the great Percy family, came at the head of a body of fifteen hundred men, all his own personal retainers, and every one of them ready to fight any where and against any body, the moment that their feudal lord should give the word.

These various chieftains, each at the head of his troops, came to London at the appointed time, and established themselves at different castles and strong-holds in and around the city, like so many independent sovereigns coming together to negotiate a treaty of peace.

They spent two whole months in disputes and debates, in which the fiercest invectives and the most angry criminations and recriminations were uttered continually on both sides. At length, marvelous to relate, they came to an agreement All the points in dispute were arranged, a treaty was signed, and a grand reconciliation—that is, a pretended one—was the result.

This meeting was convened about the middle of January, and on the twenty-fourth of March the agreement was finally made and ratified, and sealed, in a solemn manner, by the great seal. It contained a great variety of agreements and specifications, which it is not necessary to recapitulate here, but when all was concluded there was a grand public ceremony in commemoration of the event.

At this celebration the king and queen, wearing their crowns and royal robes, walked in solemn procession to St. Paul's Cathedral in the city. They were followed by the leading peers and prelates walking two and two; and, in order to exhibit to public view the most perfect tokens and pledges of the fullness and sincerity of this grand reconciliation, it was arranged that those who had been most bitterly hostile to each other in the late quarrels should be paired together as they walked. Thus, immediately behind the king, who walked alone, came the queen and the Duke of York walking together hand in hand, as if they were on the most loving terms imaginable, and so with the rest.

The citizens of London, and vast crowds of other people who had come in from the surrounding towns to witness the spectacle, joined in the celebration by forming lines along the streets as the procession passed by, and greeting the reconciled pairs with long and loud acclamations; and when night came, they brightened up the whole city with illuminations of their houses and bonfires in the streets.

In about a year after this the parties to this grand pacification were fighting each other more fiercely and furiously than ever.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


At one time, when the little prince was about six years old, the queen made a royal progress through certain counties in the interior of the country, ostensibly to benefit the king's health by change of air, and by the gentle exercise and agreeable recreation afforded by a journey, but really, it is said, to interest the nobles and the people of the region through which she passed in her cause, and especially in that of the little prince, whom she took on that occasion to show to all the people on her route. She had adopted for him the device of his renowned ancestor, Edward III., which was a swan;  and she had caused to be made for him a large number of small silver swans, which he was to present to the nobles and gentlemen, and to all who were admitted to a personal audience, in the towns through which he passed. He was a bright and beautiful boy, and he gave these little swans to the people who came around him with such a sweet and charming grace, that all who saw him were inspired with feelings of the warmest interest and affection for him.

Very soon after this time the war between the two great contending parties broke out anew, and took such a course as very soon deprived King Henry of his crown. The events which led to this result will be related in the next chapter.