Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

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Margaret found one friend in France, who seems to have espoused her cause from a sentiment of sincere and disinterested attachment to her. This was a certain knight named Pierre de Brezé. He was an officer of high rank in the government of Normandy, and a man of very considerable influence among the distinguished personages of those times.

Margaret had known him intimately many years before. He was appointed one of the commissioners on the French side to negotiate, with Suffolk and the others, the terms of Margaret's marriage, and he had taken a very prominent part in the tournaments and other celebrations which took place in honor of the wedding before Margaret left her native land. When he now saw the poor queen coming back to France an exile, bereft of friends, of resources, and almost of hope, the interest which he had felt for her in former years was revived. It is said that he fell in love with her. However this may be, it is certain that Margaret's great beauty must have had a very important influence in deepening the sentiment of compassion which the misfortunes of the poor fugitive were so well calculated to inspire. At any rate, Brezé entered at once into the queen's service with great enthusiasm. He brought with him a force of two thousand men. With this army, and with the money which she had borrowed of King Louis, Margaret resolved to make one more attempt to recover her husband's kingdom.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott

At length, in the month of October, 1462, five months after she arrived in France, she set sail with a small number of vessels, containing the soldiers that Brezé had provided for her. Her plan was to land in the north of England, for it was in that part of the country that the friends of the Lancaster line were most numerous and powerful.

King Edward's government knew something of her plans, or, at least, suspected them, and they stationed a fleet to watch for her and intercept her. She, however, contrived to elude them, and reached the shores of England in safety.

The fleet approached the shore at Tynemouth, but the guns of the forts were pointed against her, and she was forbidden to land. She, however, succeeded, either at that place or at some other point along the coast, in effecting a debarkation; but she was threatened so soon with an attack by a large army which she heard was approaching, under the command of the Earl of Warwick, that the French troops fled precipitately to their ships, leaving Margaret, the prince, Brezé, and a few others who remained faithful to her, on shore. Being thus deserted, Margaret and her party were compelled to retreat too. They embarked on board a fisherman's boat, which was the only means of conveyance left to them, and in this manner made their way to Berwick, which town was in the possession of her friends.

They were long in reaching Berwick, being detained by a storm. The storm, however, caused Margaret a much greater injury than mere detention. The ships in which the French soldiers had fled were caught by it off a range of rocky cliffs lying between Tynemouth and Berwick, the most prominent of which is called Bamborough Head. The ships were driven upon the rocks and rocky islands which lay along the shore, and there broken to pieces by the sea which rolled in upon them from the offing. All the stores, and provisions, and munitions of war which Margaret had brought from France, and which constituted almost her sole reliance for carrying on the war, were lost. Most of the men saved themselves, and made their escape to an island that lay near, called Holy Island. But here they were soon afterward attacked by a body of Yorkist troops and cut to pieces.

Margaret reached Berwick in her fishing-boat at last, bearing these terrible tidings to her friends there. One would suppose that the last hope of her being able to retrieve her fallen fortunes would now be extinguished, and that she would sink down in utter and absolute despair.

But it was not in Margaret's nature to despair. The more heavily the pressure of calamity and the hostility of her foes weighed upon her, the more fierce and determined was the spirit of resistance which they aroused in her bosom. In this instance, instead of yielding to dejection and despondency, she began at once to take measures for assembling a new force, and the ardor and energy which she displayed inspired all around her with some portion of her confidence and zeal. A new army was raised during the winter. Very early in the spring it took the field, and a series of military operations followed, in which towns and castles were taken and retaken, and skirmishes fought all along the Scottish frontier. At length the contending forces were concentrated near a place called Hexham, and a general battle ensued. The queen's army was defeated. The king, who was in the battle, had a most narrow escape. He fled on horseback—for when he was in good bodily health he was an excellent horseman—but he was so hotly pursued that three of his body-guard were taken.

It is mentioned that one of the men thus taken wore the king's cap of state, which was embroidered with two crowns of gold, one representing the kingdom of England and the other that of France, the title to which country the English sovereigns still pretended to claim, in virtue of their former extended possessions there, although pretty much all except the town of Calais was now lost.

Perhaps the pursuers of the king's party were deceived by this royal cap; and took the wearer of it for the king. At any rate, the officer wearing the cap was taken, and the king escaped.

Immediately after the victory on the field at Hexham, a body of the Yorkist troops broke into the camp where the queen was quartered, and where, with the young prince, she was awaiting the result of the battle. As soon as the queen found that the enemy were coming, she seized the prince and ran off with him, in mortal terror, into a neighboring wood. She knew well that, if the child was taken, he would certainly be killed. Indeed, such bloody work had been made on both sides, with assassinations and executions during the year prior to this time, that men's minds were in the highest state of exasperation; and it is probable that both Margaret herself and the child would have been butchered on the spot if they had remained in the camp until the victorious troops entered it.

As soon as Margaret gained the wood she turned off into the most obscure and solitary paths that she could find, thinking of nothing but to escape from her pursuers, who, she imagined in her fright, were close behind. At length, after wandering about in this manner for some time, she fell in with a company of men in the wood, who were either a regular band of robbers, or were tempted to become robbers on that occasion by the richness of the stranger's dress, and by the articles of jewelry and other decorations which she wore; for, although Margaret's means were extremely limited, she still maintained, in some degree, the bearing and the appointments of a queen.

The men at once stopped her, and began to plunder her and the prince of every thing which they could take from them that appeared to be of value. As soon as they had possessed themselves of this plunder they began to quarrel about it among themselves. Margaret remained standing near, in great anxiety and distress, until presently, watching her opportunity, she caught up the prince in her arms and slipped away into the adjoining thickets.

She ran forward as fast as she could go until she supposed herself out of the reach of pursuit from the robbers, and then looked for a place in the densest part of the wood where she could hide, with the intention of remaining there until night. Her plan was then to find her way out of the wood, and so wander on until she should come to the residence of some one of her friends, who she might hope would harbor and conceal her.

She accordingly continued in her hiding-place until evening came on, and then, having recovered in some degree, by this interval of rest, from the excitement, fatigue, and terror which she had endured, she came out into a path again, leading little Edward by the hand. The moon was shining, and this enabled her to see where to go.

After wandering on for some time, she was alarmed by the apparition of a tall man, armed, who suddenly appeared in the pathway at a short distance before her. She had no doubt that this was another robber. It was too late for her to attempt to fly from him. He was too near to allow her any chance of escape. In this extremity, she conceived the idea of throwing herself upon his generosity as her last and only hope. So she advanced boldly toward him, leading the little prince by the hand, and said to him, presenting the prince,

"My friend, this is the son of your king! Save him!"

The man appeared astonished. In a moment he laid his sword down at Margaret's feet in token of submission to her, and then immediately offered to conduct her and the prince to a place of safety. He also explained to her that he was one of her friends. He had been ruined by the war, and driven from his home, and was now, like the queen herself, a wanderer and a fugitive. He had taken possession of a cave in the wood, and there he was now living with his wife as an outlaw. He led Margaret and the prince to the cave, where they were received by his wife, and entertained with such hospitalities as a home so gloomy and comfortless could afford.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


Margaret remained an inmate of this cave for two days. The place is known to this day as Margaret's Cave. It stands in a very secluded spot on the banks of a small stream. The ground around it is now open, but in Margaret's time it was in the midst of the forest. The entrance to the cave is very low. Within, it is high enough for a man to stand upright. It is about thirty-four feet long, and half as wide. There are some appearances of its having been once divided by a wall into two separate apartments.

For two days Margaret remained in the cave, suffering, of course, the extreme of suspense and anxiety all the time, being in great solicitude to hear from her friends, the nobles and generals who had been defeated with her in the battle. Her host made diligent though secret inquiries, but could gain no tidings. At length, on the morning of the third day, to Margaret's infinite relief and joy, he came in bringing with him De Brezé himself, with his squire, whose name was Barville, and an English gentleman who had escaped with De Brezé from the battle, and had since been wandering about with him, looking every where for the queen. Margaret was for the moment overjoyed to see these friends again, but her exultation was soon succeeded by the deepest grief at hearing the terrible accounts they gave of the death of her nearest friends, some of whom had been killed in the battle, and others had been taken prisoners and cruelly executed immediately afterward. Up to this time, through all the danger and suffering which she had endured since the battle, she had been either in a state of stupor, or else filled with resentment and rage against her enemies, and she had not shed a tear; but now grief for the loss of these dear and faithful friends seemed to take the place of all other emotions, and she wept a long time as if her heart would break.

Margaret learned, however, from her friends that the king had made his escape, and was probably in a place of safety, and this gave her great consolation. It was thought that the king had succeeded in making his way to Scotland.

In the course of the day, one of the party who came with Brezé went out into the neighboring villages to see if he could learn any new tidings, and before long he returned bringing with him several nobles of high rank and princes of the Lancastrian line. Margaret felt much relieved to find her party so strengthened, and arrangements were soon made by the whole party for Margaret to leave the cave with them, and endeavor to reach the Scottish frontier, which was not much more, in a direct line, than thirty miles from where they were.

Before they departed from the cave Margaret expressed her thanks very earnestly to the outlaw and his wife for their kindness in receiving her and the little prince into their cave, and in doing so much for their comfort while there, although by so doing they not only encroached very much upon their own slender means of support, but also incurred a very serious risk in harboring such a fugitive. Having been plundered of every thing by the robbers in the wood, she had nothing but thanks to return to her kind protectors. The nobles who were now with her offered the wife of the outlaw some money—for they had still a small supply of money left—but she would not receive it. They would require all they had, she said, for themselves, before they reached Scotland.

The queen was much moved by this generosity, and she said that of all that she had lost there was nothing that she regretted so much as the power of rewarding such goodness.

On leaving the wood at Hexham, the party, instead of proceeding north, directly toward the frontier of Scotland, concluded to journey westward to Carlisle, intending to take passage by water from that place through Solway to Kirkcudbright, the port from which Margaret had sailed when she went to France. They were obliged to use a great many precautions in traversing the country to prevent being discovered. The party consisted of Margaret and the young prince, attended by Brezé and his squire, and also by the man of the cave, who was acquainted with the country, and acted as guide. They reached Carlisle in safety, and there embarked on board a vessel, which took them down the Firth and landed them in Kirkcudbright.

Though now out of England, Margaret did not feel much more at ease than before, for during her absence in France a treaty had been made between King Edward and the Scottish king which would prevent the latter from openly harboring her in his dominions; so she was obliged to keep closely concealed.