I N former times, the territory which now constitutes France was divided into a great number of separate provinces, each of which formed almost a distinct state or kingdom. These several provinces were the possessions of lords, dukes, and barons, who ruled over them, respectively, like so many petty kings, with almost absolute sway, though they all acknowledged a general allegiance to the kings of France or of England. The more northern provinces pertained to England. Those in the interior and southern portions of the country were under the dominion of France.
The great families who held these provinces as their possessions ruled over them in a very lordly manner. They regarded not only the territory itself which they held, but the right to govern the inhabitants of it as a species of property, which was subject, like any other estate, to descend from parent to child by hereditary right, to be conveyed to another owner by treaty or surrender, to be assigned to a bride as her marriage portion, or to be disposed of in any other way that the lordly proprietors might prefer. These great families took their names from the provinces over which they ruled.
One of these provinces was Anjou. The father of Margaret, the subject of this history, was a celebrated personage named Regnier or René, commonly called King René. He was a younger son of the family which reigned over Anjou. It is from this circumstance that our heroine derives the name by which she is generally designated—Margaret of Anjou. The reason why her father was called King René will appear in the sequel.
Another of the provinces of France above referred to was Lorraine. Lorraine was a large, and beautiful, and very valuable country, situated toward the eastern part of France. Anjou was considerably to the westward of it.
The name of the Duke of Lorraine at this time was Charles. He had a daughter named Isabella. She was the heiress to all her father's possessions. She was a young lady of great beauty, of high spirit, of a very accomplished education, according to the ideas of those times. When René was about fourteen years old a match was arranged between him and Isabella, who was then only about ten. The marriage was celebrated with great parade, and the youthful pair went to reside at a palace called Pont à Mousson, in a grand castle which was given to Isabella by her father as a bridal gift at the time of her marriage. Here it was expected that they would live until the death of her father, when they were to come into possession of the whole province of Lorraine.
In process of time, while living at this castle, René and Isabella had several children. Margaret was the fifth. She was born in 1429. Her birthday was March 23.
The little infant was put under the charge of a family nurse named Theophanie. Theophanie was a long-tried and very faithful domestic. She was successively the nurse to all of Isabella's children, and the family became so much attached to her that when she died René caused a beautiful monument to be raised to her memory. This monument contained a sculptured image of Theophanie, with two of the children in her arms.
Very soon after her birth Margaret was baptized with great pomp in the Cathedral in the town of Toul. A large number of relatives of high rank witnessed and took part in the ceremony.
When at length Charles, Duke of Lorraine, Isabella's father, died, and the province should have descended to Isabella and René, there suddenly appeared another claimant, who thought, not that he had a better right to the province than Isabella, but that he had more power to seize and hold it than she, even with all the aid that her husband René could afford her. This claimant was Isabella's uncle, the younger brother of Duke Charles who had just died. His name was Antoine de Vaudemonte, or, as it would be expressed in English, Anthony of Vaudemont. This uncle, on the death of Isabella's father, determined to seize the duchy for himself, instead of allowing it to descend to Isabella, the proper heir, who, being but a woman, was looked upon with very little respect. "Lorraine," he said, "was too noble and valuable a fief to descend in the family on the spindle side."
So he collected his adherents and retainers, organized an army, and took the field. Isabella, on the other hand, did all in her power to induce the people of the country to espouse her cause. René took the command of the forces which were raised in her behalf, and went forth to meet Antoine. Isabella herself, taking the children with her, went to the city of Nancy —which was then, as now, the chief city of Lorraine, and was consequently the safest place for her—intending to await there the result of the conflict. Little Margaret was at this time about two years old.
The battle was fought at a place called Bulgneville, and the fortune of war, as it would seem, turned in this case against the right, for René's party were entirely defeated, and he himself was wounded and taken prisoner. He fought like a lion, it is said, as long as he remained unharmed; but at last he received a desperate wound on his brow, and the blood from this wound ran down into his eyes and blinded him, so that he could do no more; and he was immediately seized by the men who had wounded him, and made prisoner. The person who thus wounded and captured him was the squire of a certain knight who had espoused the cause of Antoine, named the Count St. Pol.
In the mean time Isabella had remained at Nancy with the children, in a state of the utmost suspense and anxiety, awaiting the result of a conflict on which depended the fate of every thing that was valuable and dear to her. At length, at the window of the tower where she was watching, with little Margaret in her arms, for the coming of a herald from her husband to announce his victory, her heart sank within her to see, instead of a messenger of joy and triumph, a broken crowd of fugitives, breathless and covered with dust and blood, suddenly bursting into view, and showing too plainly by their aspect of terror and distress that all was lost. Isabella was overwhelmed with consternation at the sight. She clasped little Margaret closely in her arms, exclaiming in tones of indescribable agony, "My husband is killed! my husband is killed!"
Distress of Margaret's Mother.
Her distress and anguish were somewhat calmed by the fugitives assuring her, when they arrived, that her husband was safe, though he had been wounded and taken prisoner.
There was a great deal of sympathy felt for Isabella in her distress by all the people of Nancy. She was very young and very beautiful. Her children, and especially Margaret, were very beautiful too, and this greatly increased the compassion which the people were disposed to feel for her. Isabella's mother was strongly inclined to make new efforts to raise an army, in order to meet and fight Antoine again; but Isabella herself, who was now more concerned for the safety of her husband than for the recovery of her dominions, was disposed to pursue a conciliatory course. So she sent word to her uncle that she wished to see him, and entreated him to grant her an interview. Antoine acceded to her request, and at the interview Isabella begged her uncle to make peace with her, and to give her back her husband.
Antoine said that it was out of his power to liberate René, for he had delivered him to the custody of the Duke of Burgundy, who had been his ally in the war, and the duke had conveyed him away to his castle at Dijon, and shut him up there, and that now he would probably not be willing to give him up without the payment of a ransom. He said, however, that he was willing to make a truce with Isabella for six months, to give time to see what arrangement could be made.
This truce was agreed upon, and then, at length, after a long negotiation, terms of peace were concluded. René was to pay a large sum to the Duke of Burgundy for his ransom, and, in the mean time, while he was procuring the money, he was to leave his two sons in the duke's hands as hostages, to be held by the duke as security. In respect to Lorraine, Antoine insisted, as another of the conditions of peace, that Isabella's oldest daughter, Yolante, then about nine years old, should be betrothed to his son Frederick, so as to combine, in the next generation at least, the conflicting claims of the two parties to the possession of the territory; and, in order to secure the fulfillment of this condition, Yolante was to be delivered immediately to the charge and custody of Antoine's wife, the mother of her future husband. Thus all of Isabella's children were taken away from her except Margaret. And even Margaret, though left for the present with her mother, did not escape being involved in the entanglements of the treaty. Antoine insisted that she, too, should be betrothed to one of his partisans; and, as if to make the case as painful and humiliating to René and Isabella as possible, the person chosen to be her future husband was the very Count St. Pol whose squire had cut down and captured René at the battle of Bulgneville.
These conditions were very hard, but Isabella consented to them, as it was only by so doing that any hope seemed to be opened before her of obtaining the release of her husband. And even this hope, in the end, proved delusive. René found that, notwithstanding all his efforts, he could not obtain the money which the duke required for his ransom. Accordingly, in order to save his boys, whom he had delivered to the duke as hostages, he was obliged to return to Dijon and surrender himself again a prisoner. His parting with his wife and children, before going a second time into a confinement to which they could now see no end, was heartrending. Even little Margaret, who was yet so very young, joined from sympathy in the general sorrow, and wept bitterly when her father went away.
The duke confined his captive in an upper room in a high tower of the castle of Dijon, and kept him imprisoned there for several years. One of the boys was kept with him, but the other was set at liberty. All this time Margaret remained with her mother. She was a very beautiful and a very intelligent child, and was a great favorite with all who knew her. The interest which was awakened by her beauty and her other personal attractions was greatly increased by the general sympathy which was felt for the misfortunes of her father, and the loneliness and distress of her mother.
In the mean time, René, shut up in the tower at the castle of Dijon, made himself as contented as he could, and employed his time in various peaceful and ingenious occupations. Though he had fought well in the battle with Antoine, he was, in fact, not at all of a warlike disposition. He was very fond of music, and poetry, and painting; and he occupied his leisure during his confinement in executing beautiful miniatures and paintings upon glass, after the manner of those times. Some of these paintings remained in the window of a church in Dijon, where they were placed soon after René painted them, for several hundred years.
It has already been stated that the name by which Margaret's father is commonly designated is King René. The origin of this royal title is now to be explained. He had an older brother, who became by inheritance, with Joanna his wife, king and queen of the Two Sicilies, that is, of the kingdom consisting of the island of Sicily and the territory connected with Naples on the main land. The brother, at the close of his life, designated René as his heir. This happened in the year 1436, while René was still in captivity in the castle of Dijon. He could, of course, do nothing himself to assert his claims to this new inheritance, but Isabella immediately assumed the title of Queen of the Two Sicilies for herself, and began at once to make preparation for proceeding to Italy and taking possession of the kingdom.
While maturing her plans, she took up her residence for a time at the chateau of Tarascon, on the banks of the Rhone, with the two children who remained under her care, namely, her son Louis and Margaret. Her other son was at Dijon with his father, and the other daughter, Yolante, had been given up, as has already been said, to the custody of the wife of Antoine, with a view of being married, as soon as she was old enough, to Antoine's son.
The children attracted great, attention at Tarascon. Their mother Isabella was by birth a lady of very high rank, her family being intimately connected with the royal family of France. She was now, too, by title at least, herself a queen. The children were very intelligent and beautiful, and the misfortunes and cruel captivity of their father and brother were known and talked of in all the country around. So the peasants and their families crowded around the chateau to see the children. They brought them wreaths of flowers and other votive offerings. They sang songs to serenade them, and they built bonfires around the walls of the chateau at night, to drive away the infection of the plague, which was then prevailing in some parts of the country, and was exciting considerable alarm.
The people of the country believed that this plague was produced by magic and witchcraft, and there were some poor old women, who came with the other peasants to the walls of the chateau of Tarascon to see the children, who were believed to be witches. Afterward the plague broke out at Tarascon, and Margaret's mother was obliged to go away, taking the children with her. The poor women were, however, seized and burned at the stake, it being universally believed that it was they who had caused the plague.
Isabella's arrangements were now so far matured that she went at once into Italy with the children, and took up her abode there in the town of Capua. René still remained in captivity, but Isabella caused him to be proclaimed King of the Two Sicilies with great pomp and parade. At the time of this ceremony, the two children, Margaret and her brother, were seated beside their mother in a grand state carriage, which was lined with velvet and embroidered with gold, and in this way they were conveyed through the streets of the city.
After a time René was liberated from his confinement, and restored to his family, but he did not long enjoy this apparent return of prosperity. His claim to the kingdom of Naples was disputed, and, after a conflict, he was expelled from the country. In the mean time, the English had so far extended their conquests in France that both his native province of Anjou, and his wife's inheritances in Lorraine, had fallen into their hands, so that with all the aristocratic distinction of their descent, and the grandeur of their royal titles, the family were now, as it were, without house or home. They returned to France, and Isabella, with the children, found refuge from time to time with one and another of the great families to which she was related, while René led a wandering life, being reduced often to a state of great destitution.
He, however, bore his misfortunes with a very placid temper, and amused himself, wherever he was, with music, poetry, and painting. He was so cheerful and good-natured withal that he made himself a very agreeable companion, and was generally welcome, as a visitor, wherever he went. He retained the name of King René as long as he lived, though he was a king without a kingdom. At one time he was reduced, it is said, to such straits that to warm himself he used to walk to and fro in the streets of Marseilles, on the sunny side of the buildings, which circumstance gave rise to a proverb long known and often quoted in those parts, which designated the act of going out into the sun to escape from the cold as warming one's self at King René's fireside.
Such was the family from which Margaret of Anjou sprung.