Margaret of Anjou: a brief guide to the ‘She-Wolf of France’

She was formidable queen who played a leading role in the Wars of the Roses during the incapacity of Henry VI. Michele Seah considers Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou married Henry VI of England in 1445

Margaret of Anjou was the wife of the last Lancastrian king of England, Henry VI, who reigned from 1422-61 and again from 1470-71. She was the second daughter and fourth surviving child of René, duke of Anjou, and his wife, Isabelle, daughter and heir of Charles II, duke of Lorraine.

Advertisement

Margaret’s connections to many important European ruling families, including the French royals, was the main reason why her marriage to Henry was arranged. Their union was meant to cement an alliance between England and France, ending the conflict that we know today as the Hundred Years’ War.

Yet Margaret is arguably best remembered from William Shakespeare’s history plays as the ‘She-Wolf of France’ – a ruthless queen who assumed leadership during the Wars of the Roses when Henry VI suffered a physical, or possibly mental, breakdown.

Margaret of Anjou: key dates and facts

Born: 23 or 24 March 1430

Died: 25 August 1482

Queen from: 22 April 1445 to 4 March 1461, and again from October 1470 to May 1471 during her husband’s brief restoration to the throne

Parents: René of Anjou and Isabelle of Lorraine

Children: Edward of Lancaster

Remembered for: Helping to end the Hundred Years’ War by marrying Henry VI, but becoming embroiled in the Wars of the Roses. Due to her husband’s poor health, she personally led the Lancastrian faction at times.

Henry’s incapacity in the early 1450s left Margaret with no choice but to take on a central role in the worsening conflict between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. When the Lancastrians were finally defeated at the battle of Towton on 29 March 1461, the leader of the Yorkists, Edward, earl of March (the son of Richard, duke of York, who had been slain in an earlier battle), took the throne as Edward IV.

Margaret fled to Scotland and then to France with her son, Edward of Lancaster, where she worked to gather support and raise an army to restore her husband to the throne. When Edward IV’s erstwhile supporter, Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, transferred his support to the Lancastrians in 1469, Margaret allied herself with him and married her son to Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne.

Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne following Warwick’s invasion of England in September 1470, but the Yorkists rallied and Edward IV returned with an army in March 1471, defeating Warwick and the Lancastrians at the battle of Barnet. Margaret and Prince Edward led the Lancastrians at the battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 but, again, they were defeated and she was captured by the Yorkists a few days later. Worse still, Prince Edward was slain during the battle and Henry was murdered in the Tower of London most likely on the orders of Edward IV.

With her son and husband both dead, Margaret lost her main purpose in life. She herself would die in obscurity, as a pensioner of Louis XI in France.

Dr Michele Seah is a medieval historian. She recently gained her PhD at the University of Newcastle, Australia, specialising in the economic resources and affinities of queens consort in 15th-century England

Advertisement

This content first appeared in the March 2021 issue of BBC History Revealed