Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

A Royal Cousin

As soon as Margaret escaped to Scotland, far from being disheartened by her misfortunes, she began at once to concert measures for raising a new army and going into England again, with a view of making one more effort to recover her husband's throne. She knew, of course, that there was a large body of nobles, and of the people of the country, who were still faithful to her husband's cause, and who would be ready to rally round his standard whenever and wherever it should appear. All that she required was the nucleus of an army at the outset, and a tolerably successful beginning in entering the country. There were knights and nobles, and great numbers of men, every where ready to join her as soon as she should appear, but they were nowhere strong enough to commence a movement on their own responsibility.

One of the measures which she adopted for strengthening her interest with the royal family of Scotland was to negotiate a marriage between the young prince, who was now seven years old, and a Scotch princess. She succeeded in conditionally arranging this marriage, but she found that she could not raise troops for a second invasion of England.

In the mean time, she had sent three noblemen as her messengers into France, to see what could be done in that country. France was her native land, and the king at that time, Charles VII., was her uncle. She had strong reason to hope, therefore, that she might find aid and sympathy there. Toward the close of the summer, however, she received a letter from two of her messengers at Dieppe which was not at all encouraging.

The letter began by saying, on the part of the messengers, that they had already written to Margaret three times before; once by the return of the vessel, called the Carvel, in which they went to France, and twice from Dieppe, where they then were, but all the letters were substantially to communicate the same evil tidings, namely, that the king, her uncle, was dead, and that her cousin had succeeded to the throne, but that the new king seemed not at all disposed to regard her cause favorably. His officers at Dieppe had caused all their papers to be seized and taken to the king, and he had shut up one of their number in the castle of Arques, which is situated at a short distance from Dieppe. He had been apparently prevented, from imprisoning the other two by their having been provided with a safe-conduct, which protected them.

Furthermore, the writers of the letter bade the queen keep up good courage, and advised her, for the present, to remain quietly where she was. She must not, they said, venture herself, or the little prince, upon the sea in an attempt to come to France unless she found herself exposed to great danger in remaining in Scotland. They wished her to notify the king, too, who they supposed was at that time secreted in Wales, for they had heard that the Earl of March—they would not call him King of England, but still designated him by his old name—was going into Wales with an army to look for him.

They said, in conclusion, that as soon as they were set at liberty they should immediately come to the queen in Scotland. Nothing but death would prevent their rejoining her, and they devoutly hoped and believed that they should not be called to meet with death until they could have the satisfaction of seeing her husband the king and herself once more in peaceable possession of their realm.

But the reader may perhaps like to peruse the letter itself in the words in which it was written. It is a very good specimen of the form in which the English language was written in those days, though it seems very quaint and old-fashioned now. It was as follows:

"MADAM,—Please your good God, we have, since our coming hither, written to your highness thrice; once by the carvel in which we came, the other two from Dieppe. But, madam, it was all one thing in substance, putting you in knowledge of your uncle's death, whom God assoil, and how we stood arrested, and do yet. But on Tuesday next we shall up to the king, your cousin-german. His commissaires, at the first of our tarrying, took all our letters and writings, and bore them up to the king, leaving my Lord of Somerset in keeping at the castle of Arques, and my fellow Whyttingham and me (for we had safe-conduct) in the town of Dieppe, where we are yet.

"Madam, fear not, but be of good comfort, and beware ye venture not your person, nor my lord the prince, by sea, till ye have other word from us, unless your person can not be sure where ye are, and extreme necessity drive ye thence.

"And, for God's sake, let the king's highness be advised of the same; for, as we are informed, the Earl of March is into Wales by land, and hath sent his navy thither by sea.

"And, madam, think verily, as soon as we be delivered, we shall come straight to you, unless death take us by the way, which we trust he will not till we see the king and you peaceably again in your realm; the which we beseech God soon to see, and to send you that your highness desireth. Written at Dieppe the 30th day of August, 1461.

"Your true subjects and liegemen,


Margaret remained through the winter in Scotland, anxiously endeavoring to devise means to rebuild her fallen fortunes. But all was in vain; no light or hope appeared. At length, when the spring opened, she determined to go herself to France and see the king her cousin, in hopes that, by her presence at the court, and her personal influence over the king, something might be done.

The king her cousin had been her playmate in their childhood. He was the son of Mary, her father René's sister. Mary and René had been very strongly attached to each other, and the children had been brought up much together. Margaret now hoped that, on seeing her again in her present forlorn and helpless condition, his former friendship for her would revive, and that he would do something to aid her.

She was, however, entirely destitute of money, and she would have found it very difficult to contrive the means of getting to France, had it not been for the kindness of a French merchant who resided in Scotland, and whom she had known in former years in Nancy, in Lorraine, where she had rendered him some service. The merchant had since acquired a large fortune in commercial operations between Scotland and Flanders which he conducted. In his prosperity he did not forget the kindness he had received from the queen in former years, and, now that she was in want and in distress, he came forward promptly to relieve her. He furnished her with the funds necessary for her voyage, and provided a vessel to convey her and her attendants to the coast of France. She sailed from the port of Kirkcudbright, on the western coast of Scotland, and so passed down through the Irish Sea and St. George's Channel, thus avoiding altogether the Straits of Dover, where she would have incurred danger of being intercepted by the English men-of-war.

She took the young prince with her. The king it was thought best to leave behind.

So great were the number of persons dependent upon the queen, and so urgent were their necessities; that all the funds which the French merchant had furnished her were exhausted on her arrival in France. She found, moreover, that the three friends, the noblemen whom she had sent to France the summer before, and from whom she had received the letter we have quoted, had left that country and gone to Scotland to seek her. They had provided themselves with a vessel, in which they intended to take the queen away from Scotland and convey her to some place of safety, not knowing that she had herself embarked for France. They must have passed the queen's vessel on the way, unless, indeed, which is very probably the case, they went up the Channel and through the Straits of Dover, thus taking an altogether different route from that chosen by the queen.

When they reached Scotland they hovered on the coast a long time, endeavoring to find an opportunity to communicate with her secretly; but at length they learned that she was gone.

In the mean time, Margaret, having arrived in France, borrowed some money of the Duke of Brittany, in whose dominions it would seem she first landed. With this money Margaret supplied the most pressing wants of her party, and also made arrangements for pursuing her journey into the country, to the town in Normandy where her cousin the king was then residing.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


It is said that, on arriving at the court of the king and obtaining admission to his majesty's presence, Margaret took the young prince by the hand, and, throwing herself down at her cousin's feet, she implored him, with many tears, to take pity upon her forlorn and wretched condition, and that of her unhappy husband, and to aid her in her efforts to recover his throne.

But the king, with true royal heartlessness, was unmoved by her distress, and manifested no disposition to espouse her cause.

Some negotiations, however, ensued, at the close of which the king promised to loan her a sum of money—for a consideration. The consideration was that she was to convey to him the port and town of Calais, which was still held by the English, and was considered a very important and very valuable possession, or else pay back double the money which she borrowed.

Thus it was not an absolute sale of Calais, but only a mortgage of it, which the queen executed. But, nevertheless, as soon as this transaction was made known in England, it excited great indignation throughout the country, and seriously injured the cause of the queen. The people accused her of being ready to alienate the possessions of the crown, possessions which it had cost so much both in blood and treasure to procure.

Of course, the security which the king obtained for his loan was of a somewhat doubtful character, for Margaret's mortgage deed of Calais, although she gave it in King Henry's name, and was careful to state in it that she was expressly authorized by him to make it, was of no force at all so long as Edward of York reigned in England, and was acknowledged by the people as the rightful king. It was only in the event of Margaret's succeeding in recovering the throne for her husband that the mortgage could take effect. The deed which she executed stipulated that, as soon as King Henry should be restored to his kingdom, he would appoint one of two persons named, in whom the King of France had confidence, as governor of the town, with authority to deliver it up to the King of France in one year in case she did not within that time pay back double the sum of money borrowed.

He seemed to think that, considering the great risk he was taking, a hundred percent per annum was not an exorbitant usury.