Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

King Henry VI

King henry the sixth, who subsequently became the husband of Margaret of Anjou, was only about nine months old, as has already been said, when he succeeded to the throne by the death of his father. He was proclaimed by the heralds to the sound of trumpets and drums, in all parts of London, while he was yet an infant in his nurse's arms.

Of course the question was now who should have the rule in England while Henry remained a child. And this question chiefly affected the little king's uncles, of whom there were three—all rude, turbulent, and powerful nobles, such as were briefly described in the last chapter. Each of them had a powerful band of retainers and partisans attached to his service, and the whole kingdom dreaded greatly the quarrels which every one knew were now likely to break out.

The oldest of these uncles was Thomas. He was Duke of Exeter.

The second was John. He was Duke of Bedford. The third was Humphrey. He was Duke of Gloucester. Thomas and Humphrey seem to have been in England at the time of their brother the old king's death. John, or Bedford, as he was commonly called, was in France, where he had been pursuing a very renowned and successful career, in extending and maintaining the English conquests in that country.

The leading nobles and officers of the government were assembled in council soon after the old king's death, and in order to prevent the breaking out of the quarrels which were otherwise to have been anticipated between these uncles, they determined to divide the power as nearly as possible in an equal manner among them. So they appointed Thomas, the Duke of Exeter, who seems to have been less ambitious and warlike in his character than the rest, to the charge and custody of the young king's person. Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, was made Protector of England, and John, the Duke of Bedford, the Regent of France. Thus they were all seemingly satisfied.

But the peace which resulted from this arrangement did not continue very long. Pretty soon a certain Henry Beaufort, a bishop, was appointed to be associated with Henry's uncle Thomas in the personal charge of the king. This Henry Beaufort was Henry's great-uncle, being one of the sons of John of Gaunt. He was a younger son of his father, and so was brought up to the Church, and had been appointed Bishop of Winchester, and afterward made a cardinal. Thus he occupied a very exalted position, and possessed a degree of wealth, and power, and general consequence little inferior to those of the grandest nobles in the land. He was a man, too, of great capacity, very skillful in manúuvring and intriguing, and he immediately began to form ambitious schemes for himself which he designed to carry into effect through the power which the custody of the young king gave him. He was, of course, very jealous of the influence and power of the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Gloucester became very jealous of him. It was not long before occasions arose which brought the two men, and their bands of followers, into direct and open collision.

I can not here go into a full account of the particulars of the quarrel. One of the first difficulties was about the Tower of London, which Beaufort had under his command, and where there was a prisoner whom Gloucester wished to set at liberty. Then there was a great riot and disturbance on London Bridge, which threw the whole city of London into a state of alarm. Beaufort alleged that Gloucester had formed a plan to seize the person of the king and tale him away from Beaufort's custody; and that he had designs, moreover, on Beaufort's life. To defend himself and, to prevent Gloucester from coming to the palace where he was residing, he seized and fortified the passages leading to the bridge. He built barricades, and took down the chains of the portcullis, and assembled a large armed force to guard the point. The people of London were in great alarm. They set watches day and night to protect their property from the anticipated violence of the soldiers and partisans of the combatants, and thus all was commotion and fear. Of course there were no courts of justice powerful enough to control such a contest as this, and finally the people sent off a delegation to the Duke of Bedford in France, imploring him to come to England immediately and see if he could not settle the quarrel.

The Duke of Bedford came. A Parliament was convened, and the questions at issue between the two great disputants were brought to a solemn trial. The Duke of Gloucester made out a series of heavy charges against the cardinal, and the cardinal made a formal reply which contained not only his defense, but also counter charges against the duke. These papers were drawn up with great technicality and ceremony by the lawyers employed on each side to manage the case, and were submitted to the Duke of Bedford and to the Parliament. A series of debates ensued, in which the friends of the two parties respectively brought criminations and recriminations against each other without end. The result was, as is usual in such cases, that both sides appeared to have been to blame, and in order to settle the dispute a sort of compromise was effected, with which both parties professed to be satisfied, and a reconciliation, or what outwardly appeared to be such, was made. A new division of powers and prerogatives between Gloucester, as Protector of England, and Beaufort, as custodian of the king, was arranged, and peace being thus restored, Bedford went back again to France.

Things went on tolerably well after this for many years; that is, there were no more open outbreaks, though the old jealousy and hatred between Gloucester and the cardinal still continued. The influence of the Duke of Bedford held both parties in check as long as the duke lived. At length, however, when the young king was about fourteen years old, the Duke of Bedford died. He was in France at the time of his death. He was buried with great pomp and ceremony in the city of Rouen, which had been in some sense the head-quarters of his dominion in that country, and a splendid monument was erected over his tomb:

A curious anecdote is related of the King of France in relation to this tomb. Some time after the tomb was built Rouen fell into the hands of the French, and some persons proposed to break down the monument which had been built in memory of their old enemy; but the King of France would not listen to the proposal.

"What honor shall it be to us," said he, "or to you, to break down the monument, or to pull out of the ground the dead bones of him whom, in his life, neither my father nor your progenitors, with all their power, influence, and friends, were ever able to make flee one foot backward, but who, by his strength, wit, and policy, kept them all at bay. Wherefore I say, let God have his soul; and for his body, let it rest in peace where they have laid it."

When King Henry was old enough to be crowned, in addition to the English part of the ceremony, he went to France to receive the crown of that country too. The ceremony, as is usual with the French kings, was performed at the town of St. Denis, near Paris, where is an ancient royal chapel, in which all the great religious ceremonies connected with the French monarchy have been performed. A very curious account is given by the ancient chroniclers of the pageants and ceremonies which were enacted on this occasion. The king proceeded into France and journeyed to St. Denis at the head of a grand cavalcade of knights, nobles, and men-at-arms, amounting to many thousand men, all of whom were adorned with dresses and trappings of the most gorgeous description. At St. Denis the authorities came out to meet the king, dressed in robes of vermilion, and bearing splendid banners. The king was presented, as he passed through the gates, "with three crimson hearts, in one of which were two doves; in another, several small birds, which were let fly over his head; while the third was filled with violets and flowers, which were thrown over the lords that attended and followed him."

At the same place, too, a company of the principal civic dignitaries of the town appeared, bearing a gorgeous canopy of blue silk, adorned and embroidered in the most beautiful manner with royal emblems. This canopy they held over the king as he advanced into the town.

At one place farther on, where there was a little bridge to be crossed, there was a pageant of three savages fighting about a woman in a mimic forest. The savages continued fighting until the king had passed by. Next came a fountain flowing with wine, with mermaids swimming about in it. The wine in this fountain was free to all who chose to come and drink it.

Then, farther still, the royal party came to a place where an artificial forest had been made, by some means or other, in a large, open square. There was a chase going on in this forest at the time when the king went by. The chase consisted of a living stag hunted by real dogs. The stag came and took refuge at the feet of the king's horse, and his majesty saved the poor animal's life.

Thus the king was conducted to his palace. Several days were spent in preliminary pageants and ceremonies like the above, and then the coronation took place in the church, the king and his party being stationed on a large platform raised for the purpose in the most conspicuous part of the edifice.

After the coronation there was a grand banquet, at which the king, with his lords and great officers of state, sat at a marble table in a magnificent ancient hall. Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, was the principal personage in all these ceremonies next to the king. Gloucester was very jealous of him, in respect to the conspicuous part which he took in these proceedings.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


Henry was quite young at the time of his coronations. He was a very pretty boy, and his countenance wore a mild and gentle expression.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


The quarrel between the Duke of Gloucester and the bishop was kept, in some degree, subdued during this period, partly by the influence of the Duke of Bedford while he lived, and partly by Gloucester's mind being taken up to a considerable extent with other things, especially with his campaigns in France; for he was engaged during the period of the king's minority in many important military expeditions in that country. At length, however, he came back to England, and there, when the king was about twenty years of age, the quarrel between him and the bishop's party broke out anew. The king himself was, however, now old enough to take some part in such a difficulty, and so both sides appealed to him. Gloucester made out a series of twenty-four articles of complaint against the bishop. The bishop, on the other hand, accused the duke of treason, and he specially charged that his wife had attempted to destroy the life of the king by witchcraft. The duchess was condemned on this charge, and it is said that, by way of penance, she was sentenced to walk barefoot through the most public street in London with a lighted taper in her hand. Some other persons, who were accused of being accomplices in this crime, were put to death.

The witchcraft which it was said these persons practiced was that of making a waxen image of the king, and then, after connecting it with him in some mysterious and magical way by certain charms and incantations, melting it away by degrees before a slow fire, by which means the king himself, as was supposed, would be caused to pine and wither away, and at last to die. It was universally believed in those days that this could be done.

Of course, such proceedings as these only embittered the quarrel more and more, and Gloucester became more resolute and determined than ever in prosecuting his intrigues for depriving the bishop of influence, and for getting the power into his own hands. The king, though he favored the cardinal, was so quiet and gentle in his disposition, and so little disposed to take an active part in such a quarrel, that the bishop could not induce him to act as decidedly as he wished. So he finally conceived the idea of finding some very intelligent and capable princess as a wife for the king, hoping to increase the power which he exercised in the realm through his influence over her.

The lady that he selected for this purpose was Margaret of Anjou.