Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

The Wedding

Preparations were now immediately made for solemnizing the marriage and bringing the young queen at once to England. The marriage ceremony by which a foreign princess was united to a reigning prince, according to the custom of those times, was two-fold, or, rather, there were two distinct ceremonies to be performed, in one of which the bride, at her father's own court, was united to her future husband by proxy, and in the second the nuptials were celebrated anew with her husband himself in person, after her arrival in his kingdom. Suffolk, as was stated in the last chapter, was appointed to act as the king's proxy in this case, for the performance of the first of these ceremonies. He was to proceed to France, espouse the bride in the king's name, and convey her to England. Of course a universal excitement now spread itself among all the nobility and among all the ladies of the court, which was awakened by the interest which all took in the approaching wedding, and the desire they felt to accompany the expedition.

A great many of the lords and ladies began to make preparations to join Lord and Lady Suffolk. Nothing was talked of but dresses, equipments, presents, invitations, and every body was occupied in the collecting and packing of stores and baggage for a long journey. At length the appointed time arrived, and the expedition set out, and, after a journey of many days, the several parties which composed it arrived at Nancy, the capital city of Lorraine, where the ceremony was to be performed.

At about the same time, the King and Queen of France, accompanied by a great concourse of nobles and gentlemen from the French court, who were to honor the wedding with their presence, arrived. A great many other knights and ladies, too, from the provinces and castles of the surrounding country, were seen coming in gay and splendid cavalcades to the town, when the appointed day drew nigh, eager to witness the ceremony, and to join in the magnificent festivities which they well knew would be arranged to commemorate and honor the occasion. In a word, the whole town became one brilliant scene of gayety, life, and excitement.

The marriage ceremony was performed in the church, with great pomp and parade, and in the midst of a vast concourse of people, composed of the highest nobility of Europe, both lords and ladies, and all dressed in the most magnificent and distinguished costumes. No spectacle could possibly be more splendid and gay. At the close of the ceremony, the bride was placed solemnly in charge of Lady Suffolk, who was to be responsible for her safety and welfare until she should arrive in England, and there be delivered into the hands of her husband. Lady Suffolk was a cousin of Cardinal Beaufort, and she undoubtedly received this very exalted appointment through his favor. The appointment brought with it a great deal of patronage and influence, for a regular and extended household was now to be organized for the service of the new queen, and of course, among all the lords and ladies who had come from England, there was a very eager competition to obtain places in it. There are enumerated among those who were appointed to posts of service or honor in attendance on the queen, under the Marchioness of Suffolk, five barons and baronesses, seventeen knights, sixty-five squires, and no less than one hundred and seventy-four valets, besides many other servitors, all under pay. Then, in addition to these, so great was the eagerness to occupy some recognized station in the train of the bride, that great numbers applied for appointments to nominal offices for which they were to receive no pay.

If René, Margaret's father, had been possessed of a fortune corresponding to his rank, the expense of all these arrangements, at least up to the time of the departure of the bridal party, would have been defrayed by him; but as it was, every thing was paid for by King Henry, and the precise amount of every expenditure stands recorded in certain old books of accounts which still remain among the ancient English archives.

The nuptials of the princess were celebrated by a tournament and other accompanying festivities, which were continued for eight days. In these tournaments a great many mock combats were fought, in which the most exalted personages present on the occasion took conspicuous and prominent parts. The King of France himself appeared in the lists, and fought with René, the father of the bride. The king was beaten. It would have been impolite for any one to have vanquished the father of the bride at a tournament held in honor of the daughter's nuptials. The Count St. Pol, too, who had formerly been betrothed to Margaret, but had not been allowed to marry her, fought very successfully, and won a valuable prize, which was conferred upon him with great ceremony by the hands of the two most distinguished ladies present, namely, the Queen of France and Isabella of Lorraine, the bride's mother. Perhaps he too was politely allowed to win his victory and his honorary prize, in consideration of his submitting so quietly to the loss of the real prize which his great competitor, the King of England, was so triumphantly bearing away from him.

The celebrations of the eight days were interrupted and enlivened by one remarkable incident, which for a time threatened to produce very serious difficulty. It will be remembered that when the original contract and treaty were made between René and the uncle of Isabella, Antoine of Vaudemonte, at the time when peace was re-established between them, after the battle in which René was taken prisoner, that not only was it agreed that Margaret should be betrothed to the Count St. Pol, but also that Yolante, Margaret's elder sister, was betrothed to Antoine's son Ferry, as he was called. Now Ferry seemed not disposed to submit quietly, as St. Pol had done, to the loss of his bride, and as he had never thus far been able to induce René and Isabella to fulfill their agreement by consenting to the consummation of the marriage, he determined now to take the matter into his own hands. So he formed the scheme of an elopement. His plan was to take advantage of the excitement and confusion attendant on the tournament for carrying off his bride. He organized a band of adventurous young knights who were willing to aid him in his enterprise, and, laying his plans secretly and carefully, he, assisted by his comrades, seized the young lady and galloped away with her to a place of safety, intending to keep her there in his own custody until King René and her mother should consent to her immediate marriage, King René, when he first heard of his daughter's abduction, was very angry, and declared that he would never forgive either Ferry or Yolante. But the King and Queen of France interceded for the lovers, and René at last relented. Ferry and Yolante were married, and all parties were made friends again, after which the celebrations and festivities were renewed with greater spirit and ardor than before.

At length the time for the conclusion of the public rejoicings at Nancy, and for the commencement of Margaret's journey to England, arrived. Thus far, though nominally under the care and keeping of Lord and Lady Suffolk, Margaret had of course been really most intimately associated with her own family and friends; but now the time had come when she was to take a final leave of her father and mother, and of all whom she had known and loved from infancy, and be put really and fully into the trust and keeping of strangers, to be taken by them to a distant and foreign land. The parting was very painful. It seems that Margaret's beauty and the charming vivacity of her manners had made her universally beloved, and the hearts not only of her father and mother, but of the whole circle of those who had known her, were filled with grief at the thought of parting with her forever.

The King and Queen of France, who seem to have loved their niece with sincere affection, determined to accompany her for a short distance, as she set out on her journey from Nancy. Of course, many of the courtiers went too. These, together with the great number of English nobles and gentry that were attached to the service of the bride, made so large a company, and the dresses, caparisons, and trappings which were exhibited on the occasion were so splendid and fine, that the cavalcade, as it set out from the city of Nancy on the morning when the journey was to commence, formed one of the gayest and grandest bridal processions that the world has ever seen.

After proceeding for five or six miles the procession came to a halt, in order that the King and Queen of France might take their leave. The parting filled the hearts of their majesties with grief. The king clasped Margaret again and again in his arms when he bade her farewell, and told her that in placing her, as he had done, upon one of the greatest thrones in Europe, it seemed to him, after all, that he had really done nothing for her, "for even such a throne is scarcely worthy of you, my darling child," said he. In saying this his eyes filled with tears. The queen was so overwhelmed with emotion that she could not speak; but, kissing Margaret again and again amid her sobbings and tears, she finally turned from her and was borne away.

Margaret's father and mother did not take their leave of her at this place, but went on with her two days' journey, as far as to the town of Bar le Duc, which was near the frontiers of Lorraine. Here they, too, at last took their leave, though their hearts were so full, when the moment of final parting came that they could not speak, but bade their child farewell with tears and caresses, unaccompanied with any words whatever of farewell.

Still Margaret was not left entirely alone among strangers when her father and mother left her. One of her brothers, and some other friends, were to accompany her to England. She had, moreover, by this time become well acquainted with the Marquis and Marchioness of Suffolk, under whose charge and protection she was now traveling, and she had become strongly attached to them. They were both considerably advanced in life, and were grave and quiet in their demeanor, but they were very kind and attentive to Margaret in every respect, and they made every effort in their power to console the grief that she felt at parting with her parents and friends, and leaving her native land, and they endeavored in every way to make the journey as comfortable and as agreeable as possible to her.

During all this time a vessel, which had been dispatched from England for the purpose, was waiting at a certain port on the northern coast of France called Kiddelaws, ready to take the queen and her bridal train across the Channel. The distance from Nancy to this port was very considerable, and the means and facilities for traveling enjoyed in those days were so imperfect that a great deal of time was necessarily employed on the journey. Besides this, a long delay was occasioned by the want of funds. King Henry had himself agreed to defray all the expenses of the marriage, and also of the progress of the bridal party through France to England. These expenses were necessarily great, and it happened at this time that the king was in very straitened circumstances in respect to funds. He was greatly embarrassed, too, in the efforts which he made to procure money, by the difficulties which were thrown in his way by the party of the Duke of Gloucester, who resisted by every means in their power all action of Parliament tending to furnish the king's treasury with money, and thus promote the final accomplishment of the marriage.

In consequence of all these difficulties and delays, it was nearly three months from the time when the bridal ceremony was performed at Nancy before Margaret was ready to embark for England in the vessel that awaited her at Kiddelaws.

It was not merely for the expenses of the journey through France of Margaret and her train that Henry had to provide. On her arrival in England there was to be a grand reception, which would require many costly equipages, and the giving of many entertainments. Then, moreover, the marriage ceremony was to be performed anew, and in a far more pompous and imposing manner than before, and after the marriage a coronation, with all the attendant festivities and celebrations. All these things involved great expense, and Margaret could not come into the kingdom until the preparations were made for the whole. To such straits was the king reduced in his efforts to raise the money which he deemed necessary for the proper reception of his bride, that he was obliged to pledge a large portion of the crown jewels, and also of the family plate and other personal property of that kind. A considerable part of the property so pledged was never redeemed.

At length, however, things were so far in readiness that orders arrived for the sailing of the expedition. The party accordingly embarked, and the vessel sailed. They crossed the Channel, and entered Portsmouth harbor, and finally landed at the town of Porchester, which is situated at the head of the harbor. The voyage was not very agreeable. The vessel was small, and the Channel in this place is wide, and Margaret was so sick during the passage, and became so entirely exhausted, that when the vessel reached the port she could not stand, and Suffolk carried her to the shore in his arms.

The boisterous weather which had attended the party during their voyage increased till it ended in a dreadful storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, which burst over the town of Porchester just at the time while the party were landing. The people, however, paid no attention to the storm and rain, but flocked in crowds into the streets where the bride was to pass, and strewed rushes along the way to make a carpet for her. They also filled the air with joyful acclamations as the procession passed along. In this way the royal bride was conveyed through the town to a convent in the vicinity, where she was to rest for the first night, and prepare for continuing her journey to London.

The next day, the weather having become settled and fair, it was arranged that Margaret and her party should be conveyed from Porchester to Southampton along the shore in barges. The water of this passage is smooth, being sheltered every where by the land. The barges first moved down Portsmouth harbor, then out into what is called the Solent Sea, which is a narrow, sheltered, and beautiful sheet of water, lying between the Isle of Wight and the main land, and thence, entering Southampton Water, they passed up, a distance of eight or ten miles, to the town.

On the arrival of the queen at Southampton, she was conveyed again to a convent in the vicinity of the town, for this was before the days of hotels. Here she was met by persons sent from the king to assist her in respect to her farther preparations for appearing at his court. Among other measures that were adopted, one was the sending a special messenger to London to bring an English dressmaker to Southampton, in order that suitable dresses might be prepared for the bride, to enable her to appear properly in the presence of the English ladies at the approaching ceremonies.

In the mean time, King Henry, whom the rules of royal etiquette did not allow to join the queen until the time should arrive for the performance of the second part of the nuptial ceremony, came down from London, and took up his abode at a place ten or twelve miles distant, called Southwick, where he had a palace and a park. The nuptials were to be celebrated at a certain abbey called Lichfield Abbey, which was situated about midway between Southampton, where the queen was lodged, and Southwick, the place of waiting for the king. The king had expected that every thing would be ready in a few days, but he was destined to encounter a new delay. Margaret had scarcely arrived in Southampton when she was attacked by an eruptive fever of some sort, resembling small-pox, which threw all her friends into a state of great alarm concerning her. The disease, however, proved less serious than was at first apprehended, and after a week or two the danger seemed to be over.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


During all the time while his bride was thus sick Henry remained in great suspense and anxiety at Southwick, being forbidden, by the rigid rules of royal etiquette, to see her.

At length Margaret recovered, and the day was appointed for the final celebration of the nuptials. When the time arrived, Margaret was conveyed in great state, and at the head of a splendid cavalcade, to the abbey, and there the marriage ceremony was again performed in the presence of a great concourse of lords and ladies that had come from London and Windsor, or from their various castles in the country around, to be present on the occasion.

This final ceremony was performed in April, 1445. Of course, as Margaret was born in March, 1429, she was at this time sixteen years and one month old.

Among other curious incidents which are recorded in connection with this wedding, there is an account of Margaret's receiving, as a present on the occasion—for a pet, as it were, just as at the present day a young bride might receive a gift of a spaniel or a canary-bird—a lion. It was very common in those times for the wealthy nobles to keep such animals as these at their castles. They were confined in dens constructed for them near the castle walls. The kings of England, however, kept their lions, when they had any, in the Tower of London, and the practice thus established of keeping wild beasts in the Tower was continued down to a very late period; so that I remember of often reading, when I was a boy, in English story-books, accounts of children, when they went to London, being taken by their parents to see the "lions in the Tower."

Margaret sent her lion to the Tower. In the book of expenses which was kept for this famous bridal progress, there is an account of the sum of money paid to two men for taking care of this lion, feeding him and conveying him to London. The amount was £2 5s. 3d., which is equal to about ten or twelve dollars of our money. This seems very little for such a service, but it must be remembered that the value of money was much greater in those times than it is now.

Immediately after the marriage ceremony was completed, the preparations for the journey having been all made beforehand, the king and queen set out together for London, and it soon began to appear that this part of the journey was to be more splendid and gay than any other. The people of the country, who had heard marvelous stories of the youth and beauty and the early family misfortunes of the queen, flocked in crowds along the roadsides to get a glimpse of her as she passed, and to gaze on the grand train of knights and nobles that accompanied her, and to admire the magnificence of the dresses and decorations which were so profusely displayed. Every body came wearing a daisy in his cap or in his button-hole, for the daisy was the flower which Margaret had chosen for her emblem. At every town through which the bride passed she was met by immense crowds that thronged all the accessible places, and filled the windows, and in some places covered the roofs of the houses and the tops of the walls, and welcomed her with the sound of trumpets, the waving of banners, and with prolonged shouts and acclamations.

In the mean time, the Duke of Gloucester, who, with his party, had done every thing in his power to oppose the marriage, now, finding that it was an accomplished fact, and that all farther opposition would not only be useless, but would only tend to hasten and complete his own utter downfall, concluded to change his course, and join heartily himself in the general welcome which was given to the bride. His plan was to persuade the queen that the opposition which he had made to King Henry's measures was directed only against the peace which had been made with France, and which he had opposed for political considerations alone, but that, so far as the marriage with Margaret was concerned, he approved it. So he prepared to outdo, if possible, all the rest of the nobility in the magnificence of the welcome which he was to give her on her arrival in London. He possessed a palace at Greenwich, on the Thames, a short distance below London, and he sent an invitation to Margaret to come there on the last day of her journey, in order to rest and refresh herself a little preparatory to the excitement and fatigue of entering London. Margaret accepted this invitation, and when the bridal procession began to draw nigh, Gloucester came forth to meet her at the head of a band of five hundred of his own retainers, all dressed in his uniform, and wearing the badge of his personal service. This great parade was intended partly to do honor to the bride, and partly to impress her with a proper sense of his own rank and importance as one of the nobles of England, and of the danger that she would incur in making him her enemy.

Very splendid preparations were made in the city of London to do honor to the royal bride in her passage through the city. It was the custom in those times to exhibit in the streets, on great public days, tableaux, and emblematic or dramatic representations of certain truths or moral sentiments appropriate to the occasion, and sometimes of passages of Scripture history. A great many of these exhibitions were arranged by the citizens of London, to be seen by the bride and the bridal procession as they passed through the streets. Some of these were very quaint and queer, and would only be laughed at at the present day. For instance, in one place was an arrangement of two figures, one dressed to represent justice, and the other peace; and these figures were made movable and fitted with strings, so that, at the proper moment, when the queen was passing, they could be made to come together and apparently kiss each other. This was intended as an expression of the text, justice and peace have kissed each other, which was considered as an appropriate text to characterize and commemorate the peace between England and France which this marriage had sealed. In another place there was an emblematical pageant representing peace and plenty. There were also, at other places, representations of Noah's ark, of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, of the heavenly Jerusalem, and even one of the general resurrection and judgment day.

On the morning of the day appointed for the queen's entry into London, the pageants having all been prepared and set up in their places, a grand procession of the mayor and aldermen, and other dignitaries, was formed, and proceeded down the river toward Greenwich, in order to meet the queen and escort her through the city. These civic officers were all mounted on horseback, and dressed in their gay official costumes. The chiefs were dressed in scarlet, and the body of their followers, arranged in bands according to their respective trades, wore blue gowns, with embroidered sleeves and red hoods. In this way the royal procession was escorted over London Bridge, and through the principal streets of the city to Westminster, where the bride was at length safely received in the palace of her husband.

This was on the 28th of May. Two days afterward Margaret was crowned queen in Westminster with great parade and ceremony. The coronation was followed by a grand tournament of three days' duration, accompanied with banquets and other festivities usual on such occasions, and then at length the bride had the satisfaction of feeling that the long-protracted ceremony was over, and that she was now to be left to repose.