Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

Royal Courtship

When Margaret was not more than fourteen or fifteen years of age, she began to be very celebrated for her beauty and accomplishments, and for the charming vivacity of her conversation and her demeanor. She resided with her mother in different families in Lorraine and in other parts of France, and was sometimes at the court of the Queen of France, who was her near relative. All who knew her were charmed with her. She was considered equally remarkable for her talents and for her beauty. The arrangement which had been made in her childhood for marrying her to the Count of St. Pol was broken off, but several other offers were made to her mother for her hand, though none of them was accepted. Isabella was very proud of her daughter, and she cherished very lofty aspirations in respect to her future destiny. She was therefore not at all inclined to be in haste in respect to making arrangements for her marriage.

In the mean time, the feud between the uncles and relatives of King Henry, in England, as related in a preceding chapter, had been going on, and was now reaching a climax. The leaders of the two rival parties were, as will be recollected, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, or Cardinal Beaufort, as he was more commonly called, who had had the personal charge of the king during his minority, on one side, and the Duke of Gloucester, Henry's uncle, who had been regent of England during the same period, on the other. The king himself was now about twenty-four years of age, and if he had been a man of vigor and resolution, he might perhaps have controlled the angry disputants, and by taking the government fully into his own hands, have forced them to live together in peace under his paramount authority. But Henry was a very timid and feeble-minded man. The turbulence and impetuousness of his uncles and their partisans in their quarrel was altogether too great for any control that he could hope to exercise over them. Indeed, the great question with them was which should contrive the means of exercising the greatest control over him.

In order to accomplish this end, both parties began very early to plan and manœuvre with a view of choosing the king a wife. Whichever of the two great leaders should succeed in negotiating the marriage of the king, they knew well would, by that very act, establish his influence at court in the most absolute manner.

Princes and kings in those days, as, indeed, is the case to a considerable extent now, had some peculiar difficulties to contend with in making their matrimonial arrangements, so far at least as concerned the indulgence of any personal preferences which they might themselves entertain on the subject. Indeed, these arrangements were generally made for them, while they were too young to have any voice or to take any part in the question, and nothing was left for them but to ratify and carry into effect, when they came to years of maturity, what their parents, or grand councils of state, had determined for them when they were children, or else to refuse to ratify and confirm it at the cost of incurring a vast amount of difficulty and political entanglement, and perhaps even open and formidable war.

And even in those cases where the prince or king arrived at an age to judge for himself before any arrangements were made for him, which was the fact in regard to Henry VI., he was still very much embarrassed and circumscribed in his choice if he attempted to select a wife for himself. He could not visit foreign courts and see the princesses there, so as to judge for himself who would best please him; for in those days it was very unsafe for personages of any considerable rank or position to visit foreign countries at all, except at the head of an army, and in a military campaign. In the case, too, of any actually reigning monarch, there was a special difficulty in the way of his leaving his kingdom, on account of the feuds and quarrels which always in such cases arose in making the necessary arrangements for the government of the kingdom during his absence.

For these and various other causes, a king or a prince desiring to choose a wife was obliged to content himself with such information relating to the several candidates as he could obtain from hearsay in respect to their characters, and from miniatures and portraits in respect to their personal attractions. This was especially the case with King Henry VI. Each of the two great parties, that of Cardinal Beaufort on one hand, and that of the Duke of Gloucester on the other, were desirous of being the means of finding a bride for the king, and both were eagerly looking in all directions, and plotting for the accomplishment of this end, and any attempt of the king to leave the kingdom for any purpose whatever would undoubtedly have brought these parties at once to open war.

The Duke of Gloucester and those who acted with him fixed their eyes upon three princesses of a certain great family, called the house of Armagnac. Their plan was to open negotiations with this house, and to obtain portraits of the three princesses, to be sent to England, in order that Henry might take his choice of them. Commissioners were appointed to manage the business. They were to open the negotiations and obtain the portraits. The cardinal, of course, and his friends were greatly interested in preventing the success of this plan, though, of course, it was necessary for them to be discreet and cautious in manifesting any open opposition to it in the then present stage of the affair.

The king was very particular in the instructions which he gave to the commissioners in respect to the portraits, with a view of securing, if possible, perfectly correct and fair representations of the originals. He wished that the princesses should not be flattered at all by the artist in his delineation of them, and that they should not be dressed at their sittings in any unusually elegant manner. On the contrary, they were to be painted "in their kirtles simple, and their visages like as ye see, and their stature, and their beauty, and the color of their skin, and their countenances, just as they really are." The artist was instructed, too, by the commissioners to be expeditious in finishing the pictures and sending them to England, in order that the king might see them as soon as possible, and make his choice between the three young ladies whose "images" were to be thus laid before him.

This plan for giving the king an opportunity to choose between the three princesses of Armagnac, nicely arranged as it was in all its details, failed of being carried successfully into effect; for the father of these princesses, as it happened, was at this same time engaged in some negotiations with the King of France in respect to the marriage of his daughters, and he wished to keep the negotiations with Henry in suspense until he had ascertained whether he could or could not do better in that quarter. So he contrived means to interrupt and retard the work of the artist, in order to delay for a time the finishing of the pictures.

In the mean time, while the Duke of Gloucester and his party were thus engaged in forwarding their scheme of inducing Henry to make choice of one of these three princesses for his wife, the cardinal himself was not idle. He had heard of the beautiful and accomplished Margaret of Anjou, and, after full inquiry and reflection, he determined in his own mind to make her his candidate for the honor of being Queen of England. The manner in which he contrived to introduce the subject first to the notice of the king was this.

There was a certain man, named Champchevrier, who had been taken prisoner in Anjou in the course of the wars between France and England, and who was now held for ransom by the knight who had captured him. He was not, however, kept in close confinement, but was allowed to go at large in England on his parole—that is, on his word of honor that he would not make his escape and go back to his native land until his ransom was paid.

Now this Champchevrier, though a prisoner, was a gentleman by birth and education; and while he remained in England, held by his parole, was admitted to the best society there, and he often appeared at court, and frequently held converse with the king. In one of these interviews he described, in very glowing terms, the beauty and remarkable intelligence of Margaret of Anjou. It is supposed that he was induced to this by Cardinal Beaufort, who knew of his acquaintance with Margaret, and who contrived the interviews between Champchevrier and the king, in order to give the former an opportunity to speak of the lady to his majesty incidentally, as it were, and in a way not to excite the king's suspicions that the commendations of her which he heard were prompted by any match-making schemes formed for him by his courtiers.

If this was the secret plan of the cardinal, it succeeded admirably well. The king's curiosity was strongly awakened by the piquant accounts that Champchevrier gave him of the brilliancy of young Margaret's beauty, and of her charming vivacity and wit.

"I should like very much to see a picture of the young lady," said the king.

"I can easily obtain a picture of her for your majesty," replied Champchevrier, "if your majesty will commission me to go to Lorraine for the purpose."

Champchevrier considered that a commission from the king to go to Lorraine on business for his majesty would be a sufficient release for him from the obligations of his parole.

The king finally gave Champchevrier the required authority to leave the kingdom. Champchevier was not satisfied with a verbal permission merely, but required the king to give him a regular safe-conduct, drawn up in due form, and signed by the king's name. Having received this document, Champchevrier left London and set out upon his journey, the nature and object of the expedition being of course kept a profound secret.

A certain nobleman, however, named the Earl of Suffolk, was admitted to the confidence of the king in this affair, and was by him associated with Champchevrier in the arrangements which were to be made for carrying the plan into execution. It would seem that he accompanied Champchevrier in his journey to Lorraine, where Margaret was then residing with her mother, and there assisted him in making arrangements for the painting of the picture. They employed one of the first artists in France for this purpose. When the work was finished, Champchevrier set out with it on his return to England.

In the mean time, the English knight whose prisoner Champchevrier was, heard in some way that his captive had left England, and had returned to France, and the intelligence made him exceedingly angry. He thought that Champchevrier had broken his parole and had gone home without paying his ransom. Such an act as this was regarded as extremely dishonorable in those days, and it was, moreover, not only considered dishonorable in a prisoner himself to break his parole, but also in any one else to aid or abet him in so doing, or to harbor or protect him after his escape. The knight determined, therefore, that he would at once communicate with the King of France on the subject, explaining the circumstances, and asking him to rearrest the supposed fugitive and send him back.

So he went to the Duke of Gloucester, and, stating the case to him, asked his grace to write to the King of France, informing him that Champchevrier had escaped from his parole, and asking him not to give him refuge, but to seize and send him back. Gloucester was very willing to do this. It is probable that he knew that Champchevrier was a friend of the cardinal's, or at least that he was attached to his interests, and that it was altogether probable that his going into France was connected with some plot or scheme by which the cardinal and his party were to derive some advantage. So he wrote the letter, and it was at once sent to the King of France. The King of France at this time was Charles VII.

The king, on receiving the letter, gave orders immediately that Champchevrier should be arrested. By this time, however, the painting was finished, and Champchevrier was on the way with it from Lorraine toward England. He was intercepted on his journey, taken to Vincennes, and there brought before King Charles, and called upon to give an account of himself.

Of course he was now obliged to tell the whole story. He said that he had not broken his parole at all, nor intended in any manner to defraud his captor in England of the ransom money that was due to him, but had come to France by the orders of the King of England. He explained, too, what he had come for, and showed Charles the painting which he was carrying back to the king. He also, in proof of the truth of what he said, produced the safe-conduct which King Henry had given him.

King Charles laughed very heartily at hearing this explanation, and at perceiving how neatly he had discovered the secret of King Henry's love affairs. He was much pleased, too, with the idea of King Henry's taking a fancy to a lady so nearly related to the royal family of France. He thought that he might make the negotiation of such a marriage the occasion for making peace with England on favorable terms. So he dismissed Champchevrier at once, and recommended to him to proceed to England as soon as possible, and there to do all in his power to induce King Henry to choose Margaret for his queen.

Champchevrier accordingly returned to England and reported the result of his mission. The king was very much pleased with the painting, and he immediately determined to send Champchevrier again to Lorraine on a secret mission to Margaret's mother. He first, however, determined to release Champchevrier entirely from his parole, and so he paid the ransom himself for which he had been held. The Duke of Gloucester watched all these proceedings with a very jealous eye. When he found that Champchevrier, on his return to England, came at once to the king's court, and that there he held frequent conferences, which were full of mystery, with the king and with the cardinal, and when, moreover, he learned that the king had paid the ransom money due to the knight, and that Champchevrier was to be sent away again, he at once suspected what was going on, and the whole court was soon in a great ferment of excitement in respect to the proposed marriage of the king to Margaret of Anjou.

The Duke of Gloucester and his party were, of course, strongly opposed to Margaret of Anjou; for they knew well that, as she had been brought to the king's notice by the other party, her becoming Queen of England would well-nigh destroy their hopes and expectations for all time to come. The other party acted as decidedly and vigorously in favor of the marriage. There followed a long contest, in which there was plotting and counterplotting on one side and on the other, and manœuvres without end. At last the friends of the beautiful little Margaret carried the day; and in the year 1444 commissioners were formally appointed by the governments of England and France to meet at the city of Tours at a specified day, to negotiate a truce between the two countries preparatory to a permanent peace, the basis and cement of which was to be the marriage of King Henry with Margaret of Anjou. The truce was made for two years, so as to allow full time to arrange all the details both for a peace between the two countries, and also in respect to the terms and conditions of the marriage.

As soon as the news that this truce was made arrived in England it produced great excitement. The Duke of Gloucester and those who were, with him, interested to prevent the accomplishment of the marriage, formed a powerful political party to oppose it. They did not, however, openly object to the marriage itself, thinking that not politic, but directed their hostility chiefly against the plan of making peace with France just at the time, they said, when the glory of the English arms and the progress of the English power in that country were at their height. It was very discreditable to the advisers of the king, they said, that they should counsel him to stop short in the career of conquest which his armies were pursuing, and thus sacrifice the grand advantages for the realm of England which were just within reach.

The discussions and dissensions which arose in the court and in Parliament on this subject were very violent; but in the end Cardinal Beaufort and his party were successful, and the king appointed the Earl of Suffolk embassador extraordinary to the court of France to negotiate the terms and conditions of the permanent peace which was to be made between the two countries, and also of the marriage of the king. At first Suffolk was very unwilling to undertake this embassy. He feared that, in order to carry out the king's wishes, he should be obliged to make such important concessions to France that, at some future time, when perhaps the party of the Duke of Gloucester should come into power, he might be held responsible for the measure, and be tried and condemned, perhaps, for high treason, in having been the means of sacrificing the interests and honor of the kingdom by advising and negotiating a dishonorable peace. These fears of his were probably increased by the intensity of the excitement which he perceived in the Gloucester party, and perhaps, also, by open threats and demonstrations which they may have uttered for the express purpose of intimidating him.

At any rate, after receiving the appointment, his courage failed him, and he begged the king to excuse him from performing so dangerous a commission. The king was, however, very unwilling to do so. Finally, it was agreed that the king should give the earl his written order, executed in due and solemn form, and signed with the great seal, commanding him, on the royal authority, to undertake the embassage. Suffolk relied on this document as his means of defense from all legal responsibility for his action in case his enemies should at any future time have it in their power to bring him to trial for it.

In negotiating the peace, and in arranging the terms and conditions of the marriage, a great many difficulties were found to be in the way, but they were all, at last overcome. One of these difficulties was made by King René, the father of Margaret. He declared that he could not consent to give his daughter in marriage to the King of England unless the king would first restore to him and to his family the province of Anjou, which had been the possession of his ancestors, but which King Henry's armies had overrun and conquered. The Earl of Suffolk was very unwilling to cede back this territory, for he knew very well that nothing would be so unpopular in England, or so likely to increase the hostility of the English people to the proposed marriage, and consequently to give new life and vigor to the Gloucester party in their opposition to it, as the giving up again of territory which the English troops had won by so many hard-fought battles and the sacrifice of so many lives. But René was inflexible, and Suffolk finally yielded, and so Anjou was restored to its former possessors.

Another objection which René made was that his fortune was not sufficient to enable him to endow his daughter properly for so splendid a marriage; not having the means, he said, of sending her in a suitable manner into England.

But this the King of England said should make no difference. All that he asked was the hand of the princess without any dowry. Her personal charms and mental endowments were sufficient to outweigh all the riches in the world; and if her royal father and mother would grant her to King Henry as his bride, he would not ask to receive with her "either penny or farthing."

King Henry was made all the more eager to close the negotiations for the marriage as soon as possible, and to consent to almost any terms which the King of France and René might exact, from the fact that there was a young prince of the house of Burgundy—a very brave, handsome, and accomplished man—who was also a suitor for Margaret's hand, and was very devotedly attached to her. This young prince was in France at this time, and ready, at any moment, to take advantage of any difficulty which might arise in the negotiations with Henry to press his claims, and, perhaps, to carry off the prize. Which of the two candidates Margaret herself would have preferred there is no means of knowing. She was yet only about fifteen years of age, and was completely in the power and at the disposal of her father and mother. And then the political and family interests which were at stake in the decision of the question were too vast to allow of the personal preferences of the young girl herself being taken much into the account.

At last every thing was arranged, and Suffolk returned to England, bringing with him the treaty of peace and the contract of marriage, to be ratified by the king's council and by Parliament. A new contest now ensued between the Gloucester and Beaufort parties. The king, of course, threw all his influence on the cardinal's side, and so the treaty and the contract carried the day. Both were ratified. The Earl of Suffolk, as a reward for his services, was made a marquis, and he was appointed the king's proxy to proceed to France and espouse the bride in the king's name, according to the usual custom in the case of royal marriages.