Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

Illness Of The King

The circumstances of poor Margaret's case seem to have reversed all ordinary conditions of domestic happiness. The birth of her son placed her in a condition of extreme and terrible danger, while the immediate bursting of the storm was averted, and the sufferings which she was in the end called upon to endure in consequence of it were postponed for a time by what would, in ordinary circumstances, be the worst possible of calamities, the insanity of her husband. Happy as a queen, says the proverb, but what a mockery of happiness is this, when the birth of a child is a great domestic calamity, the evils of which were only in part averted, or rather postponed, by an unexpected blessing in the shape of the insanity of the husband and father.

Henry's health had been gradually declining during many months before the little Edward was born. The cares and anxieties of his situation, which often became so extreme as to deprive him of all rest and sleep, became, at length, too heavy for him to bear, and his feeble intellect, in the end, broke down under them entirely. The queen did all in her power to conceal his condition from the people, and even from the court. It was comparatively easy to do this, for the derangement was not at all violent in its form. It was a sort of lethargy, a total failure of the mental powers and almost of consciousness—more like idiocy than mania. The queen removed him to Windsor, and there kept him closely shut up, admitting that he was sick, but concealing his true situation so far as was in her power, and, in the mean time, carrying on the government in his name, with the aid of Somerset and other great officers of state, whom she admitted into her confidence. Parliament and the public were very uneasy under this state of things. The Duke of York was laying his plans, and every one was anxious to know what was coming. But Margaret would allow nobody to enter the king's chamber, under any pretext whatever, except those who were in her confidence, and entirely under her orders.

At length, about two months after Edward was born, the highest dignitary of the Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died. This event, according to the ancient usages of the realm, gave the House of Lords the right to send a deputation to the king to condole with him, and to ascertain his wishes in respect to the measures to be adopted on the occasion.

This committee accordingly proceeded to Windsor, and coming, as they did, under the authority of ancient custom, which in England, in those days, had even more than the force of law, they could not be refused admission. They found the king lying helpless and unconscious, and they could not obtain from him any answer to what they said to him, or any sign that the slightest spark of intelligence remained in his mind.

The committee reported these facts to the House of Lords. Finding how serious the king's illness was, the party of the Duke of York concluded to wait a little longer. There was a great probability that the king would soon die. The life, too, of the infant son was of course very precarious. He might not survive the dangers of infancy, and in that case the Duke of York would succeed to the throne at once without any struggle. So a sort of compromise was effected. Parliament appointed the Duke of York protector and defender of the king during his illness, or until such time as Edward, the young prince, should arrive at the proper age for undertaking the government. It was at this time that young Edward was made Prince of Wales. The conferring of this title upon him was confirmed by both houses of Parliament. They thus solemnly decreed that, though the Duke of York was to exercise the government during the sickness of the king and the minority of Edward, still the kingdom was to be reserved for Edward as the rightful heir, and he was to be put into possession of the sovereign power, either as regent in case his father should continue to live until that time, or as king if, in the interim, he should die.

The Duke of York and his friends acceded to this arrangement, in hopes that the prince never would arrive at years of discretion, but that, before many years, and perhaps before many months, both father and son would die. He thought it better, at any rate, to wait quietly for a time, especially as, during the period of this waiting, he was put in possession substantially of the supreme power.

Queen Margaret herself was extremely dissatisfied with the arrangement by which the Duke of York was made regent, since it of course deprived her of all her power. But she could do nothing to prevent it. Besides, her mind was so filled with the maternal feelings and affections which her situation inspired and with the care of the infant child, that she had for a time no heart for political contention.

Then, moreover, the Parliament, at the same time that they made the Duke of York regent, and thus virtually deprived the queen of her power, settled upon her an ample annuity, by means of which she would be enabled to live, with her son in a state becoming her rank and her ambition. One motive, doubtless, which led them to do this was to induce her to acquiesce in this change, and remain quiet in the position in which they thus placed her.

In addition to the liberal supplies which the Parliament granted to the queen, they made ample provision for maintaining the dignity and providing for the education of the young prince. Among other things, a commission of five physicians was appointed to watch over his health.

Margaret was the more easily persuaded to acquiesce in these arrangements from believing, as she did, that the state of things to which they gave rise would be of short duration. She fully believed that her husband would recover, and then the regency of the Duke of York would cease, and the king—that is, the king in name, but she herself in reality—would come into power again. So she determined to bide her time.

She accordingly retired from London, and set up an establishment of her own in her palace at Greenwich, where she held her court, and lived in a style of grandeur and ceremony such as would have been proper if she had been a reigning queen. Her old favorite, too, Somerset, was at first one of the principal personages of her court; but one of the first acts of the Duke of York's regency was to issue a warrant of arrest against him. The officers, in executing this warrant, seized him in the very presence-chamber of the queen. Margaret was extremely incensed at this deed. She declared that it was not only an act of political hostility, but an insult. She was, however, entirely helpless. The Duke of York had the power now, and she was compelled to submit.

But she was not required to remain long in this humiliating position. She procured the best possible medical advice and attendance for her husband, and devoted herself to him with the utmost assiduity, and, at length, she had the satisfaction of seeing that he was beginning to amend. The improvement commenced in November, about eight or ten months after he first fell into the state of unconsciousness. When at length he came to himself, it seemed to him, he said, as if he was awaking from a long dream.

Margaret was overjoyed to see these signs of returning intelligence. She longed for the time to come when she could show the king her boy. He had thus far never seen the child.

We obtain a pretty clear idea of the state of imbecility or unconsciousness in which he had been lying from the account of what he did and said at the interview when the little prince was first brought into his presence. It is as follows:

"On Monday, at noon, the queen came to him and brought my lord prince with her, and then he asked 'what the prince's name was,' and the queen told him 'Edward,' and then he held up his hands, and thanked God thereof.

"And he said he never knew him till that time, nor wist what was said to him, nor wist where he had been, while he had been sick, till now; and he asked who were the godfathers, and the queen told him, and he was well content.

"And she told him the cardinal was dead, and he said he never knew of it till this time; then he said one of the wisest lords in this land was dead.

"And my Lord of Winchester and my Lord of St. John of Jerusalem were with him the morrow after Twelfth day, and he did speak to them as well as ever he did, and when they came out they wept for joy. And he saith he is in charity with all the world, and so he would all the lords were. And now he saith matins of our Lady and even-song, and heareth his mass devoutly."

The very first moment that the king was able to bear it, Margaret caused him to be conveyed into the House of Lords, there to resume the exercise of his royal powers by taking his place upon the throne and performing some act of sovereignty. The regency was, of course, now at an end, and the Duke of York, leaving London, went off into the country in high dudgeon.

The queen, of course, now came into power again. The first thing that she did was to release Somerset from his confinement, and reinstate him as prime minister of the crown.