29 March 2023
The bride's journey
How do you bring a soon-to-be queen to her new kingdom?
In November 1444, an expedition of over 300 people was sent to France with a specific mission: to bring Margaret of Anjou (b. 1430, d. 1482) to England for her marriage to King Henry VI (r. 1422–1461, 1470–1471). The receipts and expenses of the journey and of the preparations made for it were recorded in an account-book (Add MS 23938) which has been digitised for the British Library's Medieval and Renaissance Women project. The volume in question, covering the period from 17 July 1444 to 16 October 1445, was compiled by two royal clerks, John Breknoke and John Everdon.
The first page of the account-book containing the receipts and expenses of the expedition to bring Margaret of Anjou to England: Add MS 23938. f. 1r
Margaret of Anjou was the daughter of René (r. 1435–1442), Duke of Anjou and King of Naples, and Isabella (b. 1400, d. 1453), Duchess of Lorraine. Her marriage to Henry VI had been negotiated by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, as part of a truce in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Margaret was betrothed (that is, promised in marriage) to Henry when she was 15 years old, and her future husband was 23. She was originally married to Henry by proxy, before she left for England, with William de la Pole standing in for Henry. The accounts describe her from that point onwards as Queen of England, being titled in Latin, ‘Compotus Johannis Breknoke et Johannis Euerdon de expensis domine Margarete regine veniente in Angliam’.
Queen Margaret of Anjou and King Henry VI in the ‘Talbot Shrewsbury Book': Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 2v
For the fifteen months covered by this account, a temporary household was created with the sole purpose of organising Margaret’s journey to England and accompanying her until she could be provided with a new permanent establishment upon her arrival. The expedition was led by William de la Pole himself. It was expected that the journey would only last three months, but in fact it lasted from November 1444 until April 1445. The cost of this enterprise was £5,563 17s. 5d., exceeding the funds that had been assigned to it by over £400.
The total expenditure covered by the accounts: Add MS 23938, f. 21r
The accounts contain an extraordinary list of people who accompanied the queen during the journey. As well as the Duke of Suffolk, it included the Marchioness of Suffolk and her ladies, 5 barons and 5 baronesses, 17 knights, 65 esquires and 204 valets. The queen’s own Angevin servants and entourage joined them on the way back to England, multiplying the number of people onboard. The journey also required the expertise of multiple sailors, who brought Margaret from France to England via the Cinque Ports (the five major ports in South-East England: Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Hastings).
A list of wages and people in the expedition: Add MS 23938, f. 13r
These accounts provide a fascinating insight into one of the most solemn and expensive such expeditions in medieval English history. Margaret remained married to Henry until he was murdered at the Tower of London in May 1471. She was subsequently placed into the custody of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk (Geoffrey Chaucer's grand-daughter), her former lady-in-waiting, before being ransomed by King Louis XI in 1475 and returning to France, where she lived the remainder of her life. Those events are reflected by another document digitised for our project (Add Ch 13293); but that's another story!
A certificate for the safe delivery of Margaret of Anjou to Louis XI in 1476, photographed under ultraviolet light (Add Ch 13293)
We are extremely grateful to Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous funding of Medieval and Renaissance Women.
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