Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

The Fall Of Suffolk

After the death of the Duke of Gloucester, Queen Margaret was plunged in a perfect sea of plots, schemes, manúuvres, and machinations of all sorts, which it would take a volume fully to unravel. This state of things continued for two years, during which time she became more and more involved in the difficulties and complications which surrounded her, until at last she found herself in very serious trouble. I can only here briefly allude to the more prominent sources of her perplexity.

In the first place, the people of England were very seriously displeased at the treatment which Gloucester had received. They would not believe that he died a natural death, and the impression gained ground very generally that the queen was the cause of his being murdered. They did not suppose that she literally ordered him to be put to death, but that she gave hints or intimations, as, royal personages were accustomed to do in such cases in those days, on which some zealous and unscrupulous follower ventured to act, certain of pleasing her. As Gloucester had been a general favorite with the nation, these rumors and suspicions tended greatly to alienate the hearts of the people from the queen. Many began to hate her. They called her the French woman, and vented their ill-will in obscure threats and mutterings.

This feeling of hostility to the queen was increased by the very unfortunate turn that things were taking in France about this time. The provinces of Maine and Anjou lay directly to the south of Normandy, which last was the most valuable of the possessions which the English crown held in France, and these two provinces had been given up to the French at the time of Margaret's marriage. It was only on condition that the English would give them up that Lord Suffolk could induce Margaret's father to consent to the match. Suffolk was extremely unwilling to surrender these provinces. He knew that the English nobles and people would be very much dissatisfied as soon as they learned that it was done, and he feared that he might at some future day be called to account for having been concerned in the transaction. But the king was so deeply in love with Margaret that he insisted on Suffolk's complying with the terms which were exacted by her friends, and the provinces were ceded.

The Duke of York was regent in France at that time, but Margaret felt some uneasiness in respect to his position there. He was the representative and heir of the rival line; and while it was for her interest to give him prominence enough under Henry's government to prevent his growing discontented and desperate, it was not good policy to exalt him to too high a position. She was accordingly somewhat at a loss to decide what to do.

Soon after the death of Gloucester, Somerset, finding that he was an object of suspicion, felt himself to be in danger, and he proposed to Margaret that he should retire into Normandy for a time. Margaret suggested that he should take the regency of Normandy in the Duke of York's stead. To this he finally consented. The Duke of York was recalled, and Somerset went to take command of Normandy in his stead.

At the time that Suffolk negotiated the marriage contract between Henry and Margaret, a truce had been made with the King of France, as has already been stated. Suffolk intended and hoped to conclude a permanent peace, but he could not succeed in accomplishing this. The King of France, as soon as the marriage was fairly carried into effect, seemed bent on renewing hostilities, and as he had now the territories of Maine and Anjou in his possession, with all the castles and fortresses which provinces contained, he could advance to the frontiers of Normandy on that side with facility, and organize expeditions for invading the country in the most effective manner.

He now only wanted a pretext, and a pretext in such cases is always soon found. A certain company of soldiers, who had been dismissed from some place in Maine in consequence of the cession of that province to France, instead of going across the frontier into Normandy to join the English forces there, as they ought to have done, went into Brittany, another French province near, and there organized themselves into a sort of band of robbers, and committed acts of plunder. The King of France complained of this to Somerset, for this was after Somerset had assumed the command as regent, or governor of Normandy. Somerset admitted the facts, and proposed to pay damages. The king named a sum so great that Somerset could not or would not pay it, and so war was again declared.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


In consequence of the advantages which the King of France enjoyed in having possession of Maine, he could organize his invading army in a very effective manner. He crossed the frontier in great force, and after taking a number of towns and castles, and defeating the English army in several battles, he at last drove Somerset into Rouen, the capital of the province —a very ancient and remarkable town—and shut him up there.

After a short siege Rouen was compelled to capitulate, and, besides giving up Rouen, Somerset was obliged to surrender several other important castles and towns in order to obtain his own liberty.

Things went on in this way during the year 1449, from bad to worse, until finally the whole of Normandy was lost. The town of Cherbourg, which has lately become so renowned on account of the immense naval and military works which have been constructed there, was the last retreat and refuge of the English, and even from this they were finally expelled.

The people of England were in a great rage. The principal object of their resentment was Lord Suffolk, who was now the first minister and the acknowledged head of the government. During the progress of the difficulties with Gloucester, Margaret had kept him a great deal in the background, in order that the public might not associate him with those transactions, nor hold him in any way responsible for them, though there was no doubt that he was the queen's confidential friend and counselor through the whole. After the death of Gloucester he had been gradually brought forward, and he had now, for some time, been the acknowledged minister of the crown, and as such responsible, according to the theory of the British Constitution and to the ideas of English-men, for every thing that was done, and especially for every thing like misfortune and disaster which occurred.

There was, of course, a great outcry raised against Suffolk, and also, more covertly, against the queen, who had brought Suffolk into power. All the mischief originated, too, people said, in the luckless marriage of Margaret to the king, and the cession of Maine and Anjou to the French as the price of it. The French would never have been able to have penetrated into Normandy had it not been for the advantage they gained in the possession of those provinces on the frontier.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


There were still large possessions held by the English in the southwestern part of France on the Garonne. The capital of this territory, which was the celebrated province of Guienne, was Bordeaux, a large and important city in those days as now. It stands on the bank of the river where it begins to widen toward the sea, and thus it was accessible to the English in their ships as well as when coming with their armies by land. It was a place of great strength as well as of commanding position, being provided with castles and towers to defend it from the landward side, and thick walls and powerful batteries along the margin of the water.

Suffolk did all in his power to raise and send off re-enforcements to the army in Guienne, but it was in vain. The English were driven out of one town and castle after another, until, at last, Bordeaux itself fell, and all was lost.

The resentment and rage of the people of England now knew no bounds. Suffolk was universally denounced as the author of all these dire calamities. Lampoons and satires were written against him; he was hooted sometimes by the populace of London when he appeared in the streets, and every thing portended a gathering storm. At length, in the fall of 1449, a Parliament was summoned. When it was convened, Suffolk appeared in the House of Lords as usual, and, rising in his place, he called the attention of the peers to the angry and vindictive denunciations which were daily heaped upon him by the public, declaring that he was wholly ignorant of the crimes which were laid to his charge, and challenging his enemies to bring forward any proof to sustain their accusations.

A spirit of bold defiance like this might have been successful in some cases, perhaps, in driving back the tide of hostility and hate which was rising so rapidly, but in this instance it seemed to have the contrary effect. The enemies of Suffolk in the House of Commons took up the challenge at once. They were strong enough to carry the house with them. They passed an address to the peers, requesting them to cause Suffolk to be arrested and imprisoned. They would, they said, immediately bring forward the proofs of his guilt.

The Lords replied that they could not arrest and imprison one of their number except upon specific charges made against him. Where upon the Commons very promptly prepared a list of charges and sent them to the Lords. On this accusation the Lords ordered Suffolk to be arrested, and he was sent to the Tower.

During the two months that succeeded his arrest his enemies were busily engaged in preparing the bill of impeachment against him in form, and collecting the evidence by which they were to sustain it, while the queen was equally earnest and anxious in the work of contriving means to save him. She visited him secretly, it is said, in his prison, and conferred with him on the plan to be pursued. They seem to have been both convinced that it was impossible for him to remain in England and ride out the storm. The only course of safety would be for him to leave the country for a while, provided the means could be devised of getting him away. What the plan was which they agreed upon for accomplishing this purpose will appear in the sequel.

At length, on the thirteenth of March; he was summoned before the House of Lords, and the bill of impeachment was brought forward. There were a great many charges, beginning with that of having wickedly and with corrupt motives surrendered, and so lost forever to the crown, the provinces of Maine and Anjou, and going on to numerous accusations of malfeasance in office; of encroachments on the prerogatives of the king, and of acts in which the interest and honor of the country had been sacrificed to his own personal ambition or private ends. Suffolk defended himself in a general speech, without, however, demanding, as he was entitled to do, a formal trial by his peers. These proceedings occupied several days—as long as any lingering hope remained in Suffolk's mind of his being able to stem the torrent. At length, however, on the seventeenth of March, finding that the pressure against him was continually increasing; and that there would be no chance of an acquittal if he were to claim a trial, he appealed to the king to decide his case, saying that, though he was entirely innocent of the crimes charged against him, he would submit himself entirely to his majesty's will.

In response to this appeal; the king declared, through the proper officer, in the House of Lords, that he would not decide upon the question of the guilt or innocence of the accused, since he had not demanded a trial, but he thought it best, under all the circumstances of the case, that Suffolk should leave the country. He therefore issued a decree of banishment against him for five years. He was required to leave England before the first of May, and not to put his foot upon any English soil until the five years were expired.

The Lords were much displeased at having the affair thus taken out of their hands. They made a formal protest against this decision, but they could do nothing more. The people, too, were very much enraged. They declared that Suffolk should never leave London alive; and on the day when they expected that he was to be taken from the Tower to be conveyed to France, a mob of two thousand men collected in the streets, resolved to kill him.

But the queen devised means for enabling him to evade them. Some of his servants and followers were seized, but he succeeded in making his escape, and; after going to his castle in the country, and making some hurried arrangements there, he went down to the sea-coast at Ipswich, a town in the eastern part of the island, and there embarked for France in a vessel which the queen had taken the precaution to have ready there for him.

The vessel immediately sailed, steering to the southward, of course, toward the Straits of Dover. As she was passing through the Straits, between Dover and Calais, a man-of-war named the Nicholas of the Tower, hove in sight, coming up to the vessel just as they were sending a boat on shore at Calais to inquire whether Suffolk would be allowed to land there. The boat was intercepted. At the same time, a boat from the man-of-war came on board the vessel, bringing officers who were instructed to search her thoroughly. Of course, they found Suffolk on board, and the officer, as soon as Suffolk was discovered, informed him that he must go with him on board the man-of-war.

Suffolk had no alternative but to obey. The captain of the man-of-war received him, as he stepped upon the deck, with the words, I am glad to see you, traitor, or something to that effect. Such a salutation must have plainly indicated to Suffolk what was before him. The man-of-war moved toward the English shore, and began to make signals to some parties on the land. She remained there for two days, exchanging signals in this way from time to time, and apparently awaiting orders.

At length, on the third day, a boat came off from the shore, provided with every thing that was necessary for the execution of a criminal. There was a platform with a block upon it, an axe, or cleaver of some sort, and an executioner. Suffolk was conveyed on board the boat, and there, with very little ceremony, his head was laid upon the block, and the executioner immediately commenced his task of severing it from the body. But, either from the unsteadiness of the boat, or the unsuitableness of the instrument, or the clumsiness of the operator, five several blows were required before the bloody deed was done.

The boat immediately proceeded to the shore. The men on board threw out the dissevered remains upon the beach, and then went away.

Some friends of Suffolk, hearing what had been done, came down to the beach, and, finding the separate portions of the body lying in the sand where they had been thrown, placed them reverently together again, and gave them honorable burial.