gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,
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gillpolack

Women's History Month - guest post by RJ Barker



RJ Barker's sporadic and eccentric short fiction has appeared in many and various places though as he considers record keeping one the few sins available to man he can't tell you where. RJ is always RJ and never R.J. Apart from when people print it as R.J. and he feels like it would be picky to correct other people's correct grammar to his own incorrectness.

RJ dislikes talking about himself in the third person as is traditional for this sort of thing so let's just dispense with that shall we? I live in Yorkshire with my wonderful (and exceedingly patient) wife, my son, so many books, and a collection of rather bad taxidermy (got something that looks stuffed by a man who's never seen an animal? I am your market). I'm considerably less wise than my years, and when I'm not writing I'm probably indulging myself by being chronically ill because everyone needs a hobby.

I can be found on twitter @dedbutdrmng and am currently represented by Rob Dinsdale of Dinsdale-Imber, (maybe he did something terrible in a past life.) and am putting the finishing touches to my SF novel, 'A Darkness Against the Stars' before it leaves the nest to try and fly by itself.

Anyway, it's traditional I end any bio with my wish to grow antlers and live the exciting life of a professional coatrack to the rich and famous. So I shall.



So.

Margaret of Anjou.

There are so many reasons why I should not be writing about Margaret of Anjou for women's history month. Not a woman, for a start (though I am regularly mistaken for one due to my luxuriant hair, soft voice and elegant hands.) I'm also not a historian(1) and, I think, worse than both of these is the fact I'm from Yorkshire and Ms Of Anjou was a Lancastrian during the Wars of the Roses.

Though, the Lancastrians were based in York, and the Yorkists power base was in the south of England(2). But, let's not complicate things any more than we need, let's get on with it. I will unfurl my banner – 'House of RJ. Short on history. Long on comedic footnotes.'

I came across Ms Of Anjou when I was asked to write a monologue about her for a friend to perform. I was shocked that I didn't know more about her. She should be a huge figure in British history. She is fascinating and kind of difficult not to see as 'a right cow'(3). Though we must be fair to Margaret here and point out that everyone (male and female) at the time was 'a right cow' and given the overall attitude to women of the time being 'a right cow' was probably a prerequisite for getting a bunch of utter, utter bastards to do as they were told.

First, it's important to understand that in the Wars of the Roses (Game of Thrones SPOILER; everyone dies) all of Margaret’s generation lost. Victory was only ever fleeting and won at great cost. But I think there's little question that Ms Of Anjou was the right woman at the right time. Sort of.

I'm not going to go into who was allied to who and who married what and who betrayed who because we would be here for ever. If you must know then pop over to wikipedia. I'll wait here.

Done?

Okay. Now you either know what's coming up anyway or I'm writing for the lazy people who couldn't be bothered fact checking; which, to be quite frank(4), is how I like it. Now, cursory reading of history could make you believe Margaret of Anjou was a power hungry, cruel, woman who slept with those she would find useful and ripped England apart.

I, armed with a bit of pop psychology, a dangerously small amount of knowledge and a definite partisan streak aim to tell you this is tosh! Tosh! I say.

In fact, Margaret of Anjou should be seen in the same way as Boadicea – as a lioness of England(5). Even her aims were similar, in fact, in some ways she's even stronger than Boadicea as a warrior queen was far more acceptable to the Iceni than it was to the Lancastrian or Yorkist aristocracy. This is probably why Margaret of Anjou never got a chariot (OUTRAGE!)

Margaret, was married off to Henry VI at fourteen. Now, unfortunately, Henry was a bit of a simpleton, the War of the Roses Homer Simpson, if you will, and Margaret was more...not Marge Simpson, though it would be pleasing similarlywise. No, she was more like Lisa Simpson.

Oh dear.

No.

That's a really bad analogy. Put that out of your mind. We're not in Egypt here. No marrying close kin.

Strictly cousins only.

What I'm saying is that Margaret was clever. She was well educated and she was born to rule. She would have had no doubt that the throne of England was hers by right and, probably, by the will of God. And she had probably already been fighting for it for years. Imagine being thrown into the cut-throat world of Game of Thrones at fourteen, with no friends. Imagine the strength of mind it takes not to be beaten down when you are seen by society as weak just because of your genitals?

She was strong, born to to rule and wanted to rule. I mean, she headed her letters 'by the queene.' And why else would you marry a man who only thought about donuts?(6) Or maybe, when it came to it, she had something more precious than ambition to protect. (cue dramatic music)

First let's come back to Ms Of Anjou being a 'right cow'. This is from history written by men and even more pertinent to the way Mags is portrayed – history written by the men who won. It's like if I wrote a history of my wife (I have not won), I would of course concentrate on all her astounding and wonderful qualities, but if I were cruel or had an agenda I would concentrate on the fact she is pathologically unable to close a draw.

Seriously, why? It's not hard? I mean, it's what they are designed to do. Just close it.

I'd also probably be at pains to point out what an astounding and great human being I was and that I always close drawers.

Always.

I mean, its a drawer. It's meant to be closed. It makes the furniture look nicer and everything.

But this means we're viewing Margaret through gloat tinted spectacles – and still, it is quite plain that they respected her. She wasn't just a playing piece. This woman roared.

And now, onto some of her cool stuff.

And then some less cool stuff.

But we'll try and stay upbeat in our discussion of destructive civil war where thousands died.

First off, SHE WON. I mean, not in the short term. Or her lifetime. But she did win. Okay, the Yorkists won the battle but their rule was short lived and it was Lancastrian blood that went on to rule eventually. Sort of. Well, maybe it was a pyrrhic victory but that's still a victory, right?

Secondly, She was right. She was the queen, her husband was king and (though it breaks my Yorkshire heart) the Plantagenets were upstarts attempting a populist coup.

Thirdly, she sponsored Queen's College in Oxford and was a patron of learning. I'm very for this.

Fourthly, her enemies called her the She-Wolf.

SHE-WOLF, best superhero ever.

Neither was she as power hungry as she's often portrayed. In fact, she was a relatively quiet, background figure until the Duke of York (backed by the powerful Neville family) took advantage of her husband's mental infirmities for his own purposes. Taking a step back, I sort of suspect that a large parts of Margaret’s actions were not those of a woman desperate to hang on to power, as much as they were of a parent protecting their son. After all, her son was the heir, and an heir does not generally survive an ambitious takeover by a rival faction.

Margaret is often criticised for being unwilling to bend or make treaty and for purchasing the favour of foreign powers in her war. But ask yourself this, she was thrown into the bears' den of the English court at fourteen. Until then she'd been in France at her father's court. She was married to a very weak King and her only real friends, at least at first, were the Suffolks(7) who brokered her marriage. It's very easy in hindsight to say that she should have treated or done this or that but we cannot imagine (or know) how very lonely she must have been. We can't imagine the amount of strength it must have taken to stand up to the other powers in England. And she could not be weak, she just couldn't, her son's life depended on her strength.

She had to stand.

And stand she did. And the Yorkists hated her for it and we still view her through that hate.

Shakespeare, who I reckon was pretty much good Queen Bets' lickspittle, had Margaret of Anjou having an affair with the Duke of Suffolk and CARRYING AROUND HIS HEAD after he died. That's some pretty heavy duty besmirching there. Also, there's no contemporary source for it (I expect to be told I am wrong in the comments). She's also supposed to have dallied with the Duke of Somerset, one of them anyway (there were three.) BUT(8) the idea of her taking a lover just doesn't work. She's having to work with some of the most powerful men in the land, all of whom are at the same time jostling with each other for favour. It seems to me this would be a bad time to cuckold a King or show rather too much favour to any one of them as it would put you in a position the others can use against you.

However, a clever and beautiful women like Margaret would probably have had to play these men off against each other for her favour. And why not?

And let's be fair here. The only thing worse than having your reputation smirched as a powerful 15thc lady was not having a reputation to be smirched.

Have you ever heard of Lady Mildred of Ladder on the Wall? No, mostly because I just made her up but also because she had no reputation to destroy and as such is only a 'was married to Donald Lord of Ladder on The Wall, a man who fell from grace while trying pull himself up the social rung,' in history(9). Mildred was no threat, she was a bit of a milksop to be honest.

But Margaret?

Very much a threat to Plantagenet male power. She was hardline. She did not back down when maybe she should have. I imagine that she could have married her son into the family of the duke of York – BUT(10) – I can't imagine that the Yorkists would have allowed her to stay as close to her son as she had been and remember, she was thrown into the court at fourteen; she must have seen terrible echoes of her own life in marrying off her son. Not to mention the possibility of an 'accident'(11) happening.

Of course, if you cannot bend the end result is inevitable – you break.

In 1471 Margaret of Anjou led(12) her troops toward Wales with her son – the heir to the throne. They joined battle at Tewkesbury and the Yorkist forces were victorious. Margaret’s son was cut down (or executed) in a very similar manner to the way her forces hacked(13) down the Duke of York and his teenage son at the Battle of Wakefield.

Margaret would never be a power again. The loss of her son seemed to break her (as I'm sure it would me). And though the Yorkists were a little kinder to her than she was to York and his son (whose heads she had mounted on the Battlements of York) I am sure she found their mercy patronising. Margaret of Anjou would end her days in poverty at home in Anjou. Back in England her name had been, and would continue to be, mauled.

I think, undeservedly so.

Now, go read some real history about her, not my twaddle.




(Most of this info was gleaned when I wrote a one-woman (less partisan, more accurate) monologue about Margaret of Anjou for 'History's Maid'. If you are interested in having the script performed or getting hold of a copy you can contact them here - http://www.historysmaid.co.uk/ )



1. If you are a historian, and many of my friends are, sorry about this. Really.
2. For shame.
3. Not my words. Really. Honestly. Well, maybe. Anyway, I will come back to this.
4. Frank, not A Frank. Totally different time period.
5. She was French, I hear you say. Shut up, you hear me say.
6. May not be historically accurate.
7. Rich people using their money to gain power, good job that's been put a stop to, right kids?
8. I like big buts and I cannot lie.
9. Sorry.
10. See 8.
11. Pre Sherlock and Great Dane owning groups of kids murder was surprisingly easy to get away with.
12. She LED her troops. See, maybe if she'd had a chariot we'd be living in a different England.
13. This is entirely the right word.
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