Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott


On the day following the assassination of Henry, the body was taken from the Tower and conveyed through the streets of London, with a strong escort of armed men to guard it, to the Church of St. Paul's, there to be publicly exhibited, as was customary on such occasions. Such an exhibition was more necessary than usual in this case, as the fact of Henry's death might, perhaps, have afterward been called in question, and designing men might have continued to agitate the country in his name, if there had not been the most positive proof furnished to the public that he was no more.

The body remained lying thus during the day. When night came, it was taken away and carried down to Blackfriar's—a landing upon the river nearly opposite Saint Paul's. Here there was a boat lying ready to receive the hearse. It was lighted with torches, and the watermen were at their oars. The hearse was put on board, and the body was thus borne away, over the dark waters of the river, to the lonely village of Chertsey, where it had been decided that he should be interred.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


For some time after Henry's death Margaret was kept in close confinement in the Tower. At length, finding that every thing was quiet, and that the new government was becoming firmly established, the rigor of the unhappy captive's imprisonment was relaxed. She was removed first to Windsor, and afterward to Wallingford, a place in the interior of the country, where she enjoyed a considerable degree of personal freedom, though she was still very closely watched and guarded.

At length, about four years afterward, her father, King René, succeeded in obtaining her ransom for the sum of fifty thousand crowns. René was not the possessor of so much money himself, but he induced King Louis to pay it, on condition of his conveying to him his family domain.

The ransom was to be paid in five annual installments, but on the payment of the first installment the queen was to be released and allowed to return to her native land. It was stipulated, too, that, as a condition of her release, she was formally and forever to renounce all the rights of every kind within the realm of England to which she might have laid claim through her marriage with Henry. It might have been supposed that they would have required her to sign this renunciation before releasing her. But it was held by the law of England, then as now, that a signature made under durance was invalid, the signer not being free. So it was arranged that an English commissioner was to accompany her across the Channel, and go with her to Rouen, where he was to deliver her to the French embassadors, who, in the name of Louis, were to be responsible for her signing the document.

This plan was carried into effect. Margaret set out from the castle of Wallingford under the care of a man on whom Edward's government could rely for keeping a close watch over her, and taking care that she went on quietly through England to the port of embarkation. This port was Sandwich. Here she embarked on board a vessel, with a retinue of three ladies and seven gentlemen, and bade a final farewell to the kingdom which she had entered on her bridal tour with such high and exultant expectations of grandeur and happiness.

She arrived at Dieppe in the beginning of 1476, and proceeded immediately to Rouen, where the commissioner, who came to attend her, delivered her to the French embassadors appointed to receive her, and attend to the signing of the renunciation.

The document was written in Latin, but the import of it was as follows :

I, Margaret, formerly in England married, renounce all that I could pretend to in England, by the conditions of my marriage, with all other things there, to Edward, now King of England.

It cost Margaret no effort to sign this paper. With the death of her husband and her son all hope had been extinguished in her bosom, and life now possessed nothing that she desired. She signed this fatal document, renouncing not only all claims to be henceforth considered a queen, but all pretension that she had ever been one, with a passive indifference and unconcern which showed that her spirit was broken, and that the fires of pride and ambition which had burned so fiercely in her breast were now, at last, extinguished forever.

When the paper was signed Margaret was dismissed and left at liberty to go her own way to her native province of Anjou, where it was her intention to spend the remainder of her days. Her plan was to pass by the way of Paris, in order to see once more her cousin, King Louis, who had treated her with so much consideration and honor when she was on her way to England with a fair prospect of finding her husband upon the throne. But the case was different now, Louis thought, and instead of receiving kindly her intimation that she was intending to visit Paris on her way home, he sent her word that she had better not come, and advised her instead to make the best of her way to her father in Anjou.

He, however, as if to soften this incivility, sent an escort to accompany her in her journey home, but Margaret was so stung by her cousin's heartless abandonment of her in her distress that she resolved to accept no favor at his hands; so she refused the escort, and set out with her few personal companions alone.

This little blazing up of the old flames of pride and resentment in her heart came near, however, to costing Margaret her life, for she had not gone far on her journey before an emergency occurred in which an escort would have been of great service to her. It seems that when the English were driven out of Normandy, many families and some whole villages remained of people who were too. poor to return. These people were now in a very low and miserable condition. They mourned continually the hard necessity by which they had been left without friends or protection in a foreign land; and they understood, too, that the first beginning of the abandonment of their possessions in France by the English was the cession of certain provinces by the government of Henry VI. at the time of that monarch's marriage with Margaret of Anjou, and that all the subsequent misfortunes of their countrymen in France, by which, in the end, the whole country had been lost, had their origin in these transactions.

Now it happened that Margaret, on her journey from Rouen to Anjou, stopped the first night at one of these villages. The people, seeing a party of strangers come to town, gathered round the inn at night from curiosity to learn who they might be. When they were informed that it was Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, who had been banished from the kingdom, and was now returning home, they were excited to the highest pitch of anger against her as the author of all their sufferings. They made a rush into the house to seize her, and, if they had been successful, they would doubtless have killed her upon the spot. But some of the gentlemen who were in her party defended her sword in hand, and kept the mob at bay until she gained her apartment. They guarded her there until they could send for the authorities, who came and dispersed the mob. Margaret immediately returned to Rouen, willing enough now to accept of an escort. A proper guard was provided for her, and under the protection of it she set out once more on her journey, and this time went on in safety.

When Margaret at last reached her native country of Anjou, she was received very kindly by her father, and went to live with him in a castle called the castle of Reculée, situated about a league from Angers, the capital of the province.

Here she remained about four years. It was a very pleasant place. The castle was situated upon the bank of a river, and yet in a commanding situation, which afforded a pretty view of the town. There was a beautiful garden attached to the castle, and a gallery of painting and sculpture. Her father, King René, was a painter himself, and he amused himself a great deal in painting pictures to add to his collection or to give to his friends.

But Margaret could take no interest in any of these things. Her mind was all the time filled with bitter recollections of the past, which, even if she did not cling to and cherish them, she could not dispel. She dwelt continually upon thoughts of her husband and her child. She made ceaseless efforts to obtain possession of their bodies, in order that she might have them transported to Anjou, and, as she could not succeed in this, she paid annually a considerable sum to secure the services of priests to say masses over their graves in England, in order to secure the repose of their souls.

Indeed, the anguish and agitation which continually reigned in her heart preyed upon her like a worm in the centre of a flower. "Her eyes, once so brilliant and expressive," says one of her historians, "became hollow and dim, and permanently inflamed from continual weeping."Indeed, the whole mass of her blood became corrupted, and a fearful disease affected her once beautiful skin, making her an object of commiseration to all who beheld her.

She continued in this state until her father died. He, on his death-bed, committed her to the care of an old and faithful friend, who, after King René's decease, took her with him to his own castle of Damprierre, which was situated about twenty-five miles farther up the river.

But, though Margaret was treated very kindly by the friend to whom her father thus consigned her, she did not long survive this change. She died, and was buried in the cathedral at Angers, and for centuries afterward the ecclesiastics of the chapter, once every year, at the return of the proper anniversary, performed a solemn ceremony over her grave by walking round it with a slow and measured step, singing a hymn.