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The King’s Marriage part II

Armed with the letters patent and assurances designed to protect him from blame and attack, the earl of Suffolk and his associated ambassadors landed at Harfleur on 13 March 1444. They crossed English held territories heading south. At Blois the duke of Orléans joined them, and they proceeded down the river Loire to Tours. René, Duke of Anjou, Bar and Lorraine, King of Naples and of Jerusalem, father of the prospective bride, rode out to meet them and to escort them to their king, Charles VII. It was soon apparent that permanent peace was as far away as ever, but at least a two-year truce was concluded until April 1446. Charles VII was perfectly willing to allow his niece, Margaret, to wed the English king, but  he had no intention of contributing financially towards the union. Margaret's dowry was to be René's empty claims to the islands of Majorca and Minorca. The clergy of Anjou voted one and a half tenths of their annual income towards the marriage, while the Estates of the duke promised a subsidy of 33,000 livres.

Margaret herself had been at Angers awaiting the outcome of the negotiations, and was now brought by her mother to join the duke in Tours. On 4 May Suffolk called to wait upon his future queen. Margaret would soon view Suffolk and his wife as her strongest supporters and closest friend at the English court. Any hints of a romantic attachment between herself and the earl are purely wild fantasy. Shakespeare has her saying: I tell thee, Pole, when in the city of Tours/ Thou ran'st a-tilt in honour of my love/ And stol'st away the ladies' hearts of France,/ I thought King Henry had resembled thee/ In courage, courtship and proportion./ But all his mind is bent to holiness,..... Margaret was a young woman of fourteen. Suffolk was a married man of forty-seven. Their bond was to be one of mutual political interest only.

The formal betrothal took place on 24 May in the church of St. Martin of Tours with Suffolk standing proxy for the King. At the ensuing banquet Margaret was accorded royal deference along with Charles VII's own queen. The truce was signed four days later and the English delegation then set off back to England to report the success of their mission. The citizens of Rouen greeted them with relief and jubilation, but Suffolk still advised the King's Lieutenant, York, to use the truce to reinforce and re-supply the garrisons of Normandy. Back in England King Henry was delighted and he rewarded Suffolk with the title of a marquis and made him Grand Master of the Household. Preparations were now taken in hand to fetch his new bride and for her wedding and coronation. She was to be accompanied by Suffolk's wife, Alice, the countesses of Salisbury and Shrewsbury, five barons and baronesses, seventeen knights, sixty-seven esquires and 174 valets. On 13 November 1444 Suffolk and his grand party crossed back to France in seventy ships.

They proceeded to Nancy where Charles VII and René were at war with the city of Metz. Margaret was at Angers and was brought to Nancy early in 1445. The marriage was performed with Suffolk again as the King's proxy in the cathedral of Nancy. It was followed by eight days of celebrations. Margaret and her retinue, accompanied by her parents and her brother, left Nancy on 2 March, but not before Charles VII had charged her to use her influence on her new husband to get the surrender of Maine to Duke René. (This had apparently been raised during the truce negotiations, but not settled. In fact the surrender of Maine would be delayed more than three years, firstly by Henry himself, and then by the recalcitrant garrison in Maine.) In Paris Margaret was received joyfully as a harbinger of possible peace and the archbishop celebrated a Mass for her in Notre Dame. At Pontoise she was met by the Duke of York, who  in the years to come would develop into her bitterest enemy and the greatest danger to her crown. On 22 March she was greeted in Rouen with great pomp and celebration, but Margaret was coming down with an illness, possibly a mild case of smallpox which had been rampant in France in the 1440s. (Henry was to write that the pox (pokkes) be broken out upon her.) This may explain the delay of two and half weeks in Rouen before her departure down river to Harfleur.

The crossing did nothing to help her ailing condition. The seas were rough and stormy, blowing her ship off course and breaking two masts. They made land in foul weather at Portchester and Margaret was carried ashore by Suffolk himself. Word was dispatched to Windsor of Margaret's arrival in Portchester, and her subsequent removal to a hospice in Southampton where she was being attended. Henry hastened south to take up residence in Southwick, where he waited impatiently for the Margaret to improve so he could see her. He wrote to Chancellor Stafford: our most dear and best beloved wife the Queen is yet sick of the labour and indisposition of the sea by occasion of which the pox be broken out upon her, for which cause we may not in our own person hold the feast of Saint George at our castle of Windsor upon Saint George's day next coming. There is a romantic tale from 1458 that Henry disguised as a squire had gone with a message to Margaret, so he could observe her unkowingly while she read the royal letter. When Suffolk then revealed that the squire had been none other than the King himself, she was vexed at not having known it, because she had kept him on his knees.... Whether true or merely a contemporary fantasy is hard now to say, but it is certainly a nice story.

Perhaps because of the Queen's still delicate health and because London was in the midst of preparing for her coronation, King Henry decided on a quiet wedding to solemnize their marriage, conducted by the royal confessor, William Aiscough, Bishop of Salisbury, on 23 April in the nearby abbey church of Titchfield. A month was to pass before Queen Margaret could make her official entry into London. Henry left her at Winchester in the charge of Cardinal Beaufort, the chief leader of the peace faction, which also probably served to strengthen her ties to the Beaufort family. Henry returned to Windsor and then to Westminster for the resumption of parliament.