B RIGHT as were the hopes and prospects of Margaret after the battle of Wakefield, a few short months were sufficient to involve her cause again in the deepest darkness and gloom. The battle of Wakefield, and the death of the Duke of York, took place near the last of December, in 1460. In March, three months later, Margaret was an exile from England, outlawed by the supreme power of the realm, and placed under such a ban that it was forbidden to all the people of England to have any communication with her.
This fatal result was brought about, in a great measure, by the reaction in the minds of the people of the country, which resulted from the shocking cruelties perpetrated by her and by her party after the battle of Wakefield. The accounts of these transactions spread through the kingdom, and awakened a universal feeling of disgust and abhorrence. It was said that when Lord Clifford carried the head of the Duke of York to Margaret on the point of a lance, followed by a crowd of other knights and nobles, he said to her,
"Look, madam! The war is over! Here is the ransom for the king!"
Then all the by-standers raised a shout of exultation, and began pointing at the ghastly head, with mockings and derisive laughter. They had put a paper crown upon the head, which they seemed to think produced a comic effect. The queen, though at first she averted her face, soon turned back again toward the horrid trophy, and laughed, with the rest, at the ridiculous effect produced by the paper crown.
The murder, too, of the innocent child, the duke's younger son, produced a great and very powerful sensation throughout the land. The queen, though she had not, perhaps, commanded this deed, still made herself an accessory by commending it and exulting over it, The ferocious hate with which she was animated against all the family of her fallen foe was also shown by another circumstance, and that was, that when she commanded the two heads, viz., that of the Duke of York and that of the Earl of Salisbury, to be set upon the city walls, she ordered that a space should be left between them for two other heads, one of which was to be that of Edward, the oldest son of the Duke of York, who was still alive, not having been present at the battle of Wakefield, and who, of course, now inherited the title and the claims of his father.
This young Edward was at this time about nineteen years of age. His title had been hitherto the Earl of March, and he would, of course, now become the Duke of York, only he chose to assume that of King of England. He was a young man of great energy of character, and he was sustained, of course, by all his father's party, who now transferred their allegiance to him. Indeed, their zeal in his service was redoubled by the terrible resentment and the thirst for vengeance which the cruelties of the queen awakened in their minds. Edward immediately put himself in motion with all the troops that he could command. He was in the western part of England at the tine of his father's death, and he immediately began to move toward the coast in order to intercept Margaret on her march toward London.
At the same time, the Earl of Warwick advanced from London itself to the northward to meet the queen, taking with him the king, who had up to this time remained in London. The armies of Warwick and of the queen came into the vicinity of each other not far from St. Alban's, before the young Duke of York came up, and a desperate battle was fought. Warwick's army was composed chiefly of men hastily got together in London, and they were no match for the experienced and sturdy soldiers which Margaret had brought with her from the Scottish frontier. They were entirely defeated. They fought all day, but at night they dispersed in all directions, and in the hurry and confusion of their flight they left the poor king behind them.
During the battle Margaret did not know that her husband was on the ground. But at night, as soon as Henry's keepers had abandoned him, a faithful serving-man who remained with him ran into Margaret's camp, and finding one of the nobles in command there, he informed him of the situation of the king. The noble immediately informed the queen, and she, overjoyed at the news, flew to the place where her husband lay, and, on finding him, they embraced each other with the most passionate tokens of affection and joy.
Margaret brought the little prince to be presented to him, and then they all together proceeded to the abbey at St. Alban's, where apartments were provided for them. They first, however, went to the church, in order to return thanks publicly for the deliverance of the king.
They were received at the door of the church by the abbot and the monks, who welcomed them with hymns of praise and thanksgiving as they approached. After the ceremonies had been performed, they went to the apartments in the abbey which had been provided for them, intending to devote some days to quiet and repose.
In the mean time the excitement throughout the country continued and increased. The queen perpetrated fresh cruelties, ordering the execution of all the principal leaders from the other side that fell into her hands. She alienated the minds of the people from her cause by not restraining her troops from plundering; and, in order to obtain money to defray the expenses of her army and to provide them with food, she made requisitions upon the towns through which she passed, and otherwise harassed the people of the country by fines and confiscations.
The people were at length so exasperated by these high-handed proceedings, and by the furious and vindictive spirit which Margaret manifested in all that she did; that the current turned altogether in favor of the young Duke of York. The scattered forces of his party were reassembled. They began soon to assume so formidable an appearance that Margaret found it would be best for her to retire toward the north again. She of course took with her the king and the Prince of Wales.
At the same time, Edward, the young Duke of York, advanced toward London. The whole city was excited to the highest pitch of enthusiasm at his approach. A large meeting of citizens declared that Henry should reign no longer, but that they would have Edward for king.
When Edward arrived in London he was received by the whole population as their deliverer. A grand council of the nobles and prelates was convened, and, after solemn deliberations, Henry was deposed and Edward was declared king.
Two days after this a great procession was formed, at the head of which Edward rode royally to Westminster and took his seat upon the throne.
Margaret made one more desperate effort to retrieve the fortunes of her family by a battle fought at a place called Towton. This battle was fought in a snow-storm. It was an awful day. Margaret's party were entirely defeated, and nearly thirty thousand of them were left dead upon the field.
As soon as the result was known, Margaret, taking with her her husband and child and a small retinue of attendants, fled to the northward. She stopped a short time at the Castle of Alnwick, a strong-hold belonging to one of her friends; but, finding that the forces opposed to her were gathering strength every day and advancing toward her, and that the country generally was becoming more and more disposed to yield allegiance to the new king, she concluded that it would not be safe for her to remain in England any longer.
So, taking her husband and the little prince with her, and also a few personal, attendants, she left Alnwick and crossed the frontier into Scotland, a fugitive and an exile, and with no hope apparently of ever being able to enter England again.