Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

Childless, And A Widow

Margaret did not trust entirely for her safety to the sacredness of the sanctuary where she had sought refuge. She endeavored, by all the means in her power, to keep the place of her retreat secret from all but her chosen and most trustworthy friends. Very soon, however, she was visited by some of these, especially by some young nobles, who came to her exasperated, and all on fire with rage and resentment, on account of the death of their friends and relatives, who had been slain in the battle.

They found Margaret, however, in a state of mind very different from their own. She was beginning to be discouraged. The long continued and bitter experience of failure and disappointment, which had now, for so many years, been her constant lot, seemed at last to have had power to undermine and destroy even her resolution and energy. Her friends, when they came to see her, found her plunged in a sort of stupor of wretchedness and despair from which they found it difficult to rouse her.

And when, at length, they succeeded in so far awakening her from her despondency as to induce her to take some interest in their consultations, her only feeling for the time being seemed to be anxiety for the safety of her son. She begged and implored them to take some measures to protect him. They endeavored to convince her that her situation was not so desperate as she imagined. They had still a powerful force, they said, on their side. That force was now rallying and reassembling, and, with her presence and that of the young prince at their head-quarters, the numbers and enthusiasm of their troops would be very rapidly increased, and there was great hope that they might soon be able again to meet the enemy under more favorable auspices than ever.

But the queen seemed very unwilling to accede to their views. It was of no use, she said, to make any farther effort. They were not strong enough to meet their enemies in battle, and nothing but fresh disasters would result from making the attempt. There was nothing to be done but for herself and the young prince, with as many others as were disposed to share her fortunes, to return as soon as possible to France, and there to remain and wait for better times.

But the young prince was not willing to adopt this plan. He was young, and full of confidence and hope, and he joined the nobles in urging his mother to consent to take the field. His influence prevailed; and Margaret, though with great reluctance and many forebodings, finally yielded.

So she left the sanctuary, and, with the prince, was escorted secretly to the northward, in order to join the army there. The western counties of England, those lying on the borders of Wales, had long been very favorable to Henry's cause, and when the people learned that the queen and the young prince were there, they came out in great numbers, as the nobles had predicted, to join her standard. In a short time a large army was ready to take the field.

Margaret was at this time at Bath. She soon heard that King Edward was coming against her from London with a large army. Her own forces, she thought, were not yet strong enough to meet him; so she formed the plan of crossing the Severn into Wales, and waiting there until she should have a larger force concentrated.

Accordingly, from Bath she went down to Bristol, which, as will be seen from the map, is on the banks of the Severn, at a place where the river is very wide. She could not cross here, the lowest bridge on the river being at Gloucester, thirty or forty miles farther up; so she moved up to Gloucester, intending to cross there. But she found the bridge fortified, and in the possession of an officer under the orders of the Duke of Gloucester, who was a partisan of King Edward, and he refused to allow the queen to pass without an order from his master.

It seemed not expedient to attempt to force the bridge, and, accordingly, Margaret and her party went on up the river in order to find some other place to cross into Wales. She was very much excited on this journey, and suffered great anxiety, for the army of King Edward was advancing rapidly, and there was danger that she would be intercepted and her retreat cut off; so she pressed forward with the utmost diligence, and at length, after having marched thirty-seven miles in one day with her troops, she arrived at Tewkesbury, a town situated about midway between Gloucester and Worcester. When she arrived there, she found that Edward had arrived already within a mile of the place, at the head of a great army, and was ready for battle.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


There was, however, now an opportunity for Margaret to cross the river and retire for a time into Wales, and she was herself extremely desirous of doing so, but the young nobles who were with her, and especially the Duke of Somerset, a violent and hot-headed young man, who acted as the leader of them, would not consent. He declared that he would retreat no farther.

"We will make a stand here;" said he, "and take such fortune as God may send us."

So he pitched his camp in the park which lay upon the confines of the town, and threw up intrenchments. Many of the other leaders were strongly opposed to his plan of making a stand in this place, but Somerset was the chief in command, and he would have his way.

He, however, showed no disposition to shelter himself personally from any portion of the danger to which his friends and followers were to be exposed. He took command of the advanced guard. The young prince, supported by some other leaders of age and experience, was also to be placed in a responsible and important position. When all was ready, Margaret and the prince rode along the ranks, speaking words of encouragement to the troops, and promising large rewards to them in case they gained the victory. Margaret's heart was full of anxiety and agitation as the hour for the commencement of hostilities drew nigh. She had often before staked very dear and highly-valued friends in the field of battle, but now, for the first time, she was putting to hazard the life of her dearly beloved and only son. It was very much against her will that she was brought to incur this terrible danger. It was only the sternest necessity that compelled her to do it.

When the battle began, Margaret withdrew to an elevation within the park, from which she could witness the progress of the fight. For some time her army remained on the defensive within their intrenchments, but at length Somerset, becoming impatient and impetuous, determined on making a sally and attacking the assailants in the open field.

So, ordering the others to follow him, he issued forth from the lines. Some obeyed him, and others did not. After a while he returned within the lines again, apparently for the purpose of calling those who remained there to account for not obeying him. He found Lord Wenlock, one of the leaders, sitting upon his horse idle, as he said, in the town. He immediately denounced him as a traitor, and, riding up to him, cut him down with a blow from his battle-axe, which cleft his skull.

The men who were under Lord Wenlock's banner, seeing their leader thus mercilessly slain, immediately began to fly. Their flight caused a panic, which rapidly spread among all the other troops, and the whole field was soon in utter confusion.

When Margaret saw this, and thought of the prince, exposed, as he was, to the most imminent danger in the defeat, she became almost frantic with excitement and terror. She insisted on rushing into the field to find and save her son. Those around found it almost impossible to restrain her. At length, in the struggle, her excitement and terror entirely overpowered her. She swooned away, and her attendants then bore her senseless to a carriage, and she was driven rapidly away out through one of the park gates, and thence by a by-road to a religious house near by, where it was thought she would be for the moment secure.

The poor prince was taken prisoner. He was conveyed, after the battle, to Edward's tent. The historians of the day relate the following story of the sad termination of his career.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


When Edward, accompanied by his officers and the nobles in attendance upon him, covered with the blood and the dust of the conflict, and fierce and exultant under the excitement of slaughter and victory, came into the tent, and saw the handsome young prince standing there in the hands of his captors, he was at first struck with the elegance of his appearance and his frank and manly bearing. He, however, accosted him fiercely by demanding what brought him to England. The prince replied fearlessly that he came to recover his father's crown and his own inheritance. Upon this, Edward threw his glove, a heavy iron gauntlet, in his face.

The men standing by took this as an indication of Edward's feelings and wishes in respect to his prisoner, and they fell upon him at once with their swords and murdered him upon the spot.

Margaret did not know what had become of her son until the following day. By that time King Edward had discovered the place of her retreat, and he sent a certain Sir William Stanley, who had always been one of her most inveterate enemies, to take her prisoner and bring her to him. It was this Stanley who, when he came, brought her the news of her son's death. He communicated the news to her, it was said, in an exultant manner, as if he was not only glad of the prince's death, but as if he rejoiced in having the opportunity of witnessing the despair and grief with which the mother was overwhelmed in hearing the tidings.

Stanley conveyed the queen to Coventry, where King Edward then was, and placed her at his disposal. Edward was then going to London in a sort of triumphant march in honor of his victory, and he ordered that Stanley should take Margaret with him in his train. Anne of Warwick, her son's young bride, was taken to London too, at the same time and in the same way.

During the whole of the journey Margaret was in a continued state of the highest excitement, being almost wild with grief and rage. She uttered continual maledictions against Edward for having murdered her boy, and nothing could soothe or quiet her.

It might be supposed that there would have been one source of comfort open to her during this dreadful journey in the thought that, in going to the Tower, which was now undoubtedly to be her destination, she should rejoin her husband, who had been for some time imprisoned there. But the hope of being thus once more united to almost the last object of affection that now remained to her upon earth, if Margaret really cherished it, was doomed to a bitter disappointment. The death of the young prince made it now an object of great importance to the reigning line that Henry himself should be put out of the way, and, on the very night of Margaret's arrival at the Tower, her husband was assassinated in the room which had so long been his prison.

Thus all Queen Margaret's bright hopes of happiness were, in two short months, completely and forever destroyed. At the close of the month of March she was the proud and happy queen of a monarch ruling over one of the most wealthy and powerful kingdoms on the globe, and the mother of a prince who was endowed with every personal grace and noble accomplishment, affianced to a high-born, beautiful, and immensely wealthy bride, and just entering what promised to be a long and glorious career. In May, just two months later, she was childless and a widow. Both her husband and her son were lying in bloody graves, and she herself, fallen from her throne, was shut up, a helpless captive, in a gloomy dungeon, with no prospect of deliverance before her to the end of her days. The annals even of royalty, filled as they are with examples of overwhelming calamity, can perhaps furnish no other instance of so total and terrible reverse of fortune as this.