Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott


It was in this way that public affairs were mingled and complicated with private and personal intrigues in the English court at the time of Margaret's arrival in the country. Margaret was of a character which admirably fitted her to act her part well in the management of such intrigues, and in playing off the passions of ambition, love, resentment, envy, and hate, as manifested by those around her—passions which always glow and rage with greater fury in a court than in any other community—so as to accomplish her ends. She was very young indeed, but she had arrived at a maturity, both mental and personal, far beyond her years. Her countenance was beautiful, and her air and manner possessed an inexpressible charm, but her mental powers were of a very masculine character, and in the boldness of the plans which she formed, and in the mingled shrewdness and energy with which she went on to the execution of them, she evinced less the qualities of a woman than of a man.

It was supposed by all parties in England that Lady Neville was dead. Of course the Duke of Gloucester had no idea that any one could have escaped from the boat. He supposed that he had effected the complete destruction of all on board of it. Somerset's men, who had been stationed at some distance from the landing to receive Lady Neville and convey her home, waited until long past the appointed hour, but no one came. The inquiries which Somerset made secretly the next day showed that the boat had sailed from the village, but no tidings of her arrival in London could be obtained, and he supposed that she must have been lost, with all on board, by some accident on the river. As for the Earl of Salisbury, Lady Neville's father, Gloucester went to him at once, and informed him what he had done. He had detected his daughter, he said, in a guilty intrigue, which, if it had been made public, would have brought not only herself, but all her family, to shame. The earl, who was a man of great sternness and severity of character, said that Gloucester had done perfectly right, and they agreed together to keep the whole transaction secret from the world, and to circulate a report that Lady Neville had died from some natural cause.

Such was the state of things when Margaret and Lady Neville arrived in London. As soon as the queen became somewhat established in her new home, she began to revolve in her mind the means of deposing Gloucester. Her plan was first to endeavor to arouse her husband from his lethargy, and to awaken in his mind something like a spirit of independence and a feeling of ambition.

"You have in your hands," she used to say to him, "what may be easily made the foundation of the noblest realm in Europe. Besides Great Britain, you have the whole of Normandy, and other valuable possessions in France, which together form a vast kingdom, the government of which you might acquire great glory, if you would take the government of it into your own hands."

She went on to represent to him how unworthy it was of him to allow all the power of such a realm to be wielded by his uncle, instead of assuming the command at once himself, as every consideration of prudence and policy urged him to do. A great many instances had occurred in English history, she said, in which a favorite minister had been allowed to hold power so long, and to strengthen himself in the possession of it so completely, that he could not be divested of it, so that the king himself came at length to be held in subjection by his own minister. The Duke of Gloucester was advancing rapidly in the same course; and, unless the king aroused himself from his inaction, and took the government into his own hands, he would soon lose all power to do it, and would sink into a condition of humiliating dependence upon one of his own subjects.

Then, again, she urged upon him at other times the example of his father and grandfather, Henry IV. and Henry V., whose reigns, through the personal energy and prowess which they had exhibited in strengthening and extending their dominions, had given them a world-wide renown. It would be extremely inglorious for the descendant of such a line to spend his life in spiritless inactivity, and to leave the affairs of his kingdom in the hands of a relative, who of course could only be expected to exercise his powers for the purpose of promoting his own interest and glory.

Moreover, she reminded him of a danger that he was in from the representations of other branches of the royal line who still claimed the throne, and might at any time, whenever an opportunity offered, be expected to attempt to enforce their claims. As will be seen by the genealogical table, Lionel, the second  son of Edward III.—whose immediate descendants had been superseded by those of John of Gaunt, the third son, on account of the fact that the only child of Lionel was a daughter, and she had been unable to make good her claims—had a great-granddaughter, named Anne, who married Richard, a son of Edmund, the fourth  of the sons of Edward III.

Richard Plantagenet, who issued from this union, was, of course, the descendant and heir of Lionel. He had also other claims to the throne, and Margaret reminded her husband that there was danger at any time that he might come forward and assert his claims.

Under these circumstances, it was evident, said she, that the king could not consider his interests safe in the care of any person whatsoever out of his own immediate family—that is, in any one's hands but his own and those of his wife. A minister, however strong his professions of fidelity and attachment might be, could not be depended upon. If another dynasty offered him more advantageous terms, there was not, and there could not be, any security against his changing sides; whereas a wife, whose interests were bound up inseparably with those of her husband, might be relied upon with absolute certainty to be faithful and true to her husband in every conceivable emergency.

These representations which Margaret made to her husband from time to time, as she had opportunity, produced a very considerable impression upon him. Still he seemed not to have resolution and energy enough to act in accordance with them. He said that he did not see how he could take away from his uncle a power which he had always exercised well and faithfully. And then, besides, he himself had not the age and experience necessary for the successful management of the affairs of so mighty a kingdom. If he were to undertake the duties of government, he was convinced that he should make mistakes, and so get into difficulty. Margaret, however, clearly perceived that she was making progress in producing an impression upon her husband's mind. To increase the influence of her representations, she watched for occasions in which Gloucester differed in opinion from the king, and failed to carry out suggestions or recommendations which the king had made, relating probably, in most cases, to appointments to office about the court. Some say she created  these occasions by artfully inducing her husband to make recommendations which she knew the duke would not sanction. At all events, such cases occurred, and Margaret took advantage of them to urge her views still more upon Henry's mind.

"How humiliating," said she, "that a great monarch should be dependent upon one of his subjects for permission to do this or that, when he might have all his affairs under his own absolute control!"

But Henry, in reply to this, said that it was not in human nature to escape mistakes, and he thought he was very fortunate in having a minister who, when he was in danger of making them, could interpose and save him from the ill consequences which would otherwise result from his errors.

To this Margaret rejoined that it was indeed true that human nature was liable to err, but that it was very humiliating for a great and powerful sovereign to have public attention called to his errors by having them corrected in that manner by an inferior, and to be restricted in the exercise of his powers by a tutor and a governor, in order to keep him from doing wrong, as if he were a child not competent to act for himself.

"Besides," she added, "if you would really take the charge of your affairs into your own hands and act independently, what you call your errors you may depend upon it the public would designate by a different and a softer name. The world is always disposed to consider what is done by a great and powerful monarch as of course right, and even when it would seem to them wrong they believe that its having that appearance is only because they are not in a position to form a just judgment on the question, not being fully acquainted with the facts, or not seeing all the bearings of them."

She assured her husband, moreover, that if he would take the business of the government into his own hands, he would be very successful in his administration of public affairs, and would be well sustained by all the people of the realm.

Besides thus operating upon the mind of the king, Margaret was secretly employed all the time in ascertaining the views and feelings of the principal nobles and other great personages of the realm, with a view to learning who were disposed to feel hostile to the duke, and to unite all such into an organized opposition to him. One of the first persons to whom she applied with this view was Somerset, the former lover of Lady Neville.

She presumed, of course, that Somerset would be predisposed to a feeling of hostility to the duke on account of the old rivalry which had existed between them, and she now proposed to make use of Lady Neville's return, and of her agency in restoring her to him, as a means of inducing him to enter fully into her plans for overturning his old rival's power. In order to retain the management of the affair wholly in her own hands, she agreed with Lady Neville that Lady Neville herself was not in any way to communicate with Somerset until she, the queen, had first had an interview with him, and that he was to learn the safety of Lady Neville only through her. Lady Neville readily consented to this, believing that the queen could manage the matter better than she herself could do it.

It will be recollected that Somerset was married during the period of his former acquaintance with Lady Neville, but his wife had died while Lady Neville was in France, and he was now free; so that the plan which the queen and lady Neville now formed was to give him an opportunity, if he still retained his love for her, to make her his wife.

In the prosecution of her design, the queen made arrangements for a secret interview with Somerset, and in the interview informed him that Lady Neville was still alive and well; that she was, moreover, not far away, and it was in the queen's power to restore her to him if he desired again to see her, and that she would do so on certain conditions.

Somerset was overjoyed at hearing this news. At first he could not be persuaded that it was true; and when assured positively that it was so, and that the long lost Lady Neville was alive and well, and in England, he was in a fever of impatience to see her again. He would agree to any conditions, he said, that the queen might name, as the price of having her restored to him. The queen said that the conditions were three.

The first was that he was to see her but once, and that only for a few minutes, in order that he might be convinced that she was really alive, and then was to leave her and not to see her again until the Duke of Gloucester had fallen from power.

The second was that he should pretend to be not on good terms with the queen herself, in order to avert suspicion in respect to some of her schemes until such time as she should be ready to receive him again into favor.

The third was that he should do all he could to increase and strengthen the party against the duke, by turning as many as possible of his friends, and those over whom he had any influence, against him, and then finally, when the party should become sufficiently strong, to prefer charges against him in Parliament, and bring him to trial.

Somerset at once agreed to all these conditions, and the queen then admitted him to an interview with Lady Neville.

He was overwhelmed with transports of love and joy at once more beholding her and pressing her in his arms. The queen, who was present, was very much interested in witnessing the proofs of the ardor of the affection by which the lovers were still bound to each other, but she soon interrupted their expressions and demonstrations of delight by calling Somerset's attention to the steps which were next to be taken to further their plans.

"The first thing to be done," said she, "is for you to see the Earl of Salisbury and ask the hand of his daughter, and at the same time endeavor to induce him to join our party."

The Earl of Salisbury had a son, the brother, of course, of Lady Neville, whose title was the Earl of Warwick. He was the celebrated king-maker, so called, referred to in a former chapter. He received that title on account of the great influence which he subsequently exercised in raising up and putting down one after another of the two great dynasties. His power was at this time very great, partly on account of his immense wealth, and partly on account of his commanding personal character. Margaret was extremely desirous of bringing him over to her side.

Somerset readily undertook the duty of communicating with the Earl of Salisbury, with a view, of informing him of his daughter's safety and asking her hand, and at the same time of ascertaining what hope there might be of drawing him into the combination which the queen was forming against the Duke of Gloucester.

Somerset accordingly sought an interview with Salisbury, and told him that the report which had been circulated that his daughter was dead was not true—that she was still alive—that, instead of having been drowned in the Thames, as had been supposed, she had made her escape to France, where she had since lived under the protection of the dauphiness.

He was, of course, not willing to make known the real circumstances of the case in respect to the cause of her flight, and so he represented to the earl that the reason why she left the country was to escape the marriage with Gloucester, which would have been extremely disagreeable to her. She had now, however, returned, and he was commissioned by her to ask the earl's forgiveness for what had passed, and his consent that he himself—that is, Somerset, who had always been strongly attached to her, and who now, by the death of his former wife, was free, should be united to her in marriage.

If Somerset had succeeded in this part of his mission, he was then intending, when the old earl's love for his daughter should have been reawakened in his bosom by the joyful news that she was alive, and by the prospect of a brilliant marriage for her, to introduce the subject of the Duke of Gloucester, and perhaps cautiously reveal to him the true state of the case in respect to the murderous violence with which the duke had assailed his daughter, and which was the true cause of her flight. But the earl did not give him any opportunity to approach the second part of his commission. After having heard the statement which Somerset made to him in respect to his daughter, he broke out in a furious rage against her. He called her by the most opprobrious names. He had full proof of her dishonor, and he would have nothing more to do with her. He had disinherited her, and given all her share of the family property to her brother; and the only reason why he ever wished her to come into his sight again was that he might with a surer blow inflict upon her the punishment which Gloucester had designed for her.

Somerset saw at once that the case was hopeless, and he withdrew.

Thus the attempt to draw Salisbury into the conspiracy against the duke seemed for the time to fail. But Margaret was not at all discouraged. She pushed her manúuvres and intrigues in other quarters with so much diligence and success that, in about two years after her arrival in England, she found her party large enough and strong enough for action.