“Six Degrees” from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Margaret of Anjou

“Six Degrees” from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Margaret of Anjou

Everything begins with Eleanor of Aquitaine! She is fascinating both for her life and her “life after life.” Eleanor had a bevy of children – two daughters with Louis VII of France, and three daughters and five sons with Henry II of England. Of those ten children, six had children of their own. Through these grandchildren, Eleanor became the ancestor to the expected (the monarchs of England) and the unexpected!

Our featured “Eleanor descendant” is Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI. Margaret was among the most unfortunate of Plantagenet queens.

Born 23 March 1429, she married Henry VI on 23 April 1445 at age 16. Margaret was not well loved by the English; her marriage was meant to bring peace with France – and peace with France was never popular! Margaret’s cause was not helped by the lapse of eight years before her only son was born. Margaret’s husband was, with good reason, eventually toppled off his throne but only after disinheriting his own son. Margaret took up the fight on behalf of them both – and lost (but not for lack of effort). Her son and husband killed, Margaret lived out her final days as an impoverished exile in her father’s duchy of Anjou.

That father was Rene I, “the Good” (1409-1480), Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence, Count of Piedmont, Duke of Bar, Duke of Lorraine, King of Naples, King of Jerusalem, and King of Aragon (including Sicily, Majorca and Sicily). On paper. In reality, Rene ruled Anjou and Provence. He gave away Lorraine. He lost Bar, Naples and all his other claimed Italian properties. He never was king of Jerusalem or Aragon. He earned his title “the Good” from his charitable endeavors, not from his non-existent accomplishments as a ruler.

arms of Rene I, Count of Anjou

The arms of Rene I, Count of Anjou. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

What Rene did have was a close connection to the French king, Charles VII. Charles had married Rene’s sister, Marie. When a high-ranking French bride was needed to cement a treaty with England, Charles turned to his niece, Margaret of Anjou.

Rene’s parents (Margaret’s grandparents) were Louis II of Anjou and Yolanda of Aragon. Louis (1377-1417) was the line-carrier to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Yolanda was the power!

Yolanda of Aragon was one of the more extraordinary women of her times. Her daughter Marie, Rene’s sister, was married to the Dauphin Charles, later Charles VII of France. Yolanda was one of the Dauphin’s prime supporters, motivators and advisers as he struggled to gain his crown, and to drive the English out of France. With King Henry V of England in control of Paris, Charles set up an alternative court in Poitiers, near Yolanda. Many of his edicts included her name. It was Yolanda who first recognized the power (and usefulness) of Joan of Arc to the Dauphin’s cause.

Yolanda’s influence on her granddaughter, Margaret of Anjou, is undoubted. In Yolanda’s last years, she and Margaret both lived at Rene’s palace at Saumur. Margaret was 12 when Yolanda died.

Louis II’s father (Yolanda of Aragon’s father-in-law and Margaret of Anjou’s great-grandfather) was Louis I of Anjou, the second son of King John II of France. Louis fought at the Battle of Poitiers (19 September 1356), a decisive English victory during the Hundred Years War.

The English troops were led by Prince Edward of England, the “Black Prince,” oldest son of King Edward III. The French forces were personally led by King John II, with his sons by his side.

coronation of King John II of France

King John II of France at his coronation. Courtesy of the National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

When it became clear that the French forces would lose the day, King John sent his three older sons (Charles, Louis and John) away to safety. John and his youngest son, Philip, were captured and imprisoned in England.

The English demanded a monumentally high ransom for John’s release. The only way to raise the money was for John to return to France and lead the effort. Before the English released him, however, they demanded that John give forty high-ranking hostages as surety that he would not simply renege on his promise.

John’s son, Louis I of Anjou, was one of those hostages, serving as a pledge for his father’s word. When the ransom proved a long time in coming, Louis escaped back to France. His father John was appalled. Dishonored by the breaking of his agreement, John returned to captivity in England in order to redeem his honor. He died in England in 1364.

King John II was the son of Philip VI of France. It was Philip’s accession to the French throne that began the Hundred Years War.

An early French king named Philip, Philip IV, had three sons. He also had a daughter, Isabella, who married England’s King Edward II and had a son, Edward III. After all three of Philip IV’s sons died without heirs, Edward III attempted to claim the French throne as the oldest son of Philip’s daughter. The French invoked their own tradition, in which women could not inherit. Instead, the crown was kept in the “male line” and was given to Philip VI, the oldest son of Philip IV’s younger brother, Charles of Valois. Edward invaded and so it all began…

Charles of Valois and his older brother Philip IV were the sons of French king Philip III.

Philip III

Philip III, father of King Philip IV and Charles of Valois. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Philip III was the son of Louis IX of France (king and saint). Louis IX was the oldest son of Blanche of Castile and Louis VIII of France.

Charles of Valois married an earlier Margaret of Anjou. This Margaret was the granddaughter of Charles I of Anjou, the younger son of Blanche of Castile and Louis VIII of France.

With Charles’ marriage to Margaret, a match between second cousins, their branched lineages rejoined.

Blanche of Castile was the daughter of Eleanor Plantagenet, the wife and queen of Alfonso VIII of Castile, and the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II.