Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

The Queen of Last Hope is a comprehensive biographical novel about Margaret of Anjou, Queen consort of King Henry VI of England. Marguerite was known for her learnedness and fierceness and was an exact opposite in personality to her weak, mentally unstable husband who was gentle and pliant and easily lead astray. She enjoyed hunting as well as reading and never hesitated to fight for what she believed in or wanted. Ruthlessly, she would make use of anyone who could further her cause.

Susan Higginbotham has written a highly detailed, historically rich novel about this notorious and formidable woman. The complexity of the times and its numerous colorful personages are accurately depicted within the pages of this novel. To fully understand all the characters and their roles, this is a novel to read slowly.

As the main character, the beautiful first person narrative clearly depicts Margaret's power and strength without delving into the darker aspects of her personality and some of her violent acts.

Above all, this is a story of one woman, determined to fight for her love of family and crown against insurmountable odds at a time when women mattered little to the world other than for breeding. A very enjoyable novel about a brawny medieval queen.

Margaret of Anjou
23 March 1430 – 25 August 1482

Margaret, was the daughter of Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine and the Count of Anjou who later became titular King of Naples and Sicily.

King Rene of Naples and Sicily

Margaret was greatly desired as a bride. In 1444, King Henry VI of England, sent the Earl of Suffolk to France with an embassy to ask for her hand in marriage.

King Henry VI

Margaret's uncle, King Charles VII of France, agreed to the marriage of his niece, but only if he did not have to provide the customary dowry and would receive the lands of Maine and Anjou from the English.

King Louis VII

Margaret was initially married to King Henry by proxy. He was eight years her senior. She crossed the Channel in 1445, and then formally married Henry at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire. She was only fifteen years old at the time.

In the English Court, Elizabeth Woodville, future Queen of England, served as her Maid of Honour.

Elizabeth Woodville

As a young woman, Margaret was known for her beauty, passion, and proud nature. Born from a long line of strong, indomitable royal women, Margaret, also tenacious and strong willed, became a formidable opponent to anyone who threatened her family or the English Crown.

Her husband, Henry, an inefficient king, possessed a more gentle spirit than his wife. He was more interested in religion and books and less interested in the military issues which plagued his kingdom. He had been placed on the throne when only a few months old. Regents controlled the kingdom on his behalf.

By the time he married Margaret, his mental condition was already precarious. At the time their son, Edward of Westminster was born in 1453, he experienced a complete mental breakdown.

Edward of Westminster and Lancaster
Prince of Wales 

To discredit the boy’s claim to the throne of England, many circulated rumours that Edward was illegitimate and the result of an adulterous affair with either Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset or James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire, both staunch allies of Margaret who supported her against the Duke of Gloucester and his war party.

She retired from London to live in Greenwich and occupied herself with the care of her young son. When the ambitious Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York was appointed regent while Henry was mentally incapacitated, she fought against him with true vitriolic belligerence because he posed a true threat to ursurp her husband’s crown. The Duke of York was influential and prominent, while Henry was gullible, malleable, and mentally unsound. Margaret, insolent and audacious and highly in disfavour, became boldly determined to preserve the English crown for her son. She became a powerful force against the Yorks in the War of the Roses.

Richard Plantagent
Duke of York

After the King’s recovery, Margaret became more involved in politics and persuaded her husband to dissolve Parliament then raise an army to crush those she believed were his opponents.

Margaret won on the battlefield and was merciless to her enemies. Threats on her life were not uncommon. When the Duke of York’s son annihilated her forces, she and Henry escaped to Scotland before embarking for France to seek help from her uncle King Louis XI. He lent Margaret a small force and she returned to Scotland. But it failed and Margaret and Henry were soon reduced to the most abysmal of circumstances.

In 1463, she again became dependent on the charity of her father as she waited for an opportunity to strike at England. That opportunity came in 1471, but her forces were beaten and her son slain. Margaret was taken captive and held in various English castles until 1475 when King Louis XI negotiated her release. She lived in Anjou and lived in extreme poverty until 1482.

Margaret of Anjou in stained glass

1 comment:

Audra said...

I've heard such great things about Higginbotham's books. She's on my TBR -- the problem is which to start with! ;)