On April 22, 1445, fifteen-year-old Margaret of Anjou married twenty-three-year-old Henry VI at Titchfield Abbey.
Margaret and Henry had been formally betrothed a year before, on May 24, 1444, at Tours, with William de la Pole, then the Earl of Suffolk, standing proxy for the king. Suffolk had arranged the marriage in exchange for a truce with France; modern historians have discredited the story that as part of the negotiations, he secretly promised to cede Maine to the French. Nonetheless, when disaster overtook the English in France a few years later, the popular backlash against those deemed responsible for the debacle would cost Suffolk his life in 1450.
Following her betrothal, Margaret was brought back to her father’s castle at Angers, where she remained until February 1445, when she went to Nancy to attend her older sister’s wedding. (Margaret is often said to have married Henry by proxy at Nancy at this time, but B.M. Cron has cast serious doubts on these accounts.) After her sister’s wedding festivities were concluded, Margaret began her journey into English-occupied Normandy. At Pontoise on March 18, 1445, the task of greeting Margaret fell, ironically enough, to Richard, Duke of York, who was Henry VI’s lieutenant in Normandy and France. York escorted Margaret to Rouen, where she turned 15 on March 23.
Henry VI had arranged for his young bride to enter Rouen in style. He had sent her a chariot covered in cloth of gold, drawn by six white horses, in which to make her entrance. Unfortunately, Margaret, who was dogged by illness throughout these proceedings, was too sick to ride in her fine new chariot: Alice de la Pole, the Marchioness of Suffolk (her husband had been made marquis by a grateful Henry VI) took her place. Probably at Rouen the ailing Margaret had the opportunity to meet Cecily, Duchess of York, and the four children she and York had at the time: Anne, Edward, Edmund, and Elizabeth.
Margaret sailed to England from Harfleur on the Cokke John of Cherbourg, whose master, Thomas Adam, was later rewarded by Henry VI with a grant of 20 marks annually. Margaret landed at April 9 at Portsmouth. The next day, she traveled by water to Southampton, and was serenaded on the way by seven trumpeters, playing on two Genoese galleys.
The Victorian writers, and modern writers who have picked up on their accounts, go into great detail about the horrors of Margaret’s voyage to England. They add the touching story that poor Margaret was so prostrated by her journey that she had to be carried ashore by Suffolk, but after a day of trying I haven’t been able to trace this story past Agnes Strickland. It is known, however, that Margaret was sick after her arrival in England, for Henry VI was unable to attend the St. George’s Day Garter festivities because of her illness. On April 16, he wrote from Southwick, "Oure moost dere and best beloved wyf the Quene is yet seke of the labour and indisposicion of the sea, by occasion of which the pokkes been broken out upon hir, for which cause we may not in oure own personne holde the feste of Saint George at oure castel of Wyndesore."
Margaret’s illness was probably relatively mild, for a Margarta Chamberleyne, “tyremakere,” was sent from London to attend to her wardrobe while the queen was in Southampton. She might have received another visitor as well: In 1458, an Italian correspondent to the Duchess of Milan claimed that Henry had disguised himself as a squire and handed the queen a letter so that he could observe her while he was reading it, on the theory that a woman could be “seen over well when she reads a letter.” Whether Henry, who as a squire was kept on his knees by the queen as she read the letter, liked what he saw is unrecorded.
Little is known about the marriage ceremony that finally took place at Titchfield Abbey. Margaret’s wedding ring was made from a ring of gold “garnished with a fair ruby” that had been given to Henry VI by Cardinal Beaufort when Henry was crowned at Paris. The marriage was performed by William Aiscough, bishop of Salisbury, the king’s confessor. Like Suffolk, the bishop was to suffer a tragic fate: he was murdered in 1450. The bride received an unusual wedding present, from a sadly unrecorded donor: a lion, which was duly conveyed to the menagerie at the Tower.
Whether the couple consummated their marriage on their wedding night is, as one would expect, unknown. Margaret would be crowned on May 30, 1445, but she would have to wait until October 13, 1453, before she finally bore an heir.