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Margaret of York Duchess of Burgundy 1446-1503

Margaret of York, 3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503, by marriage she was known as Margaret of Burgundy then Duchess Consort of Burgundy as the third wife of Charles the Bold and acted as a protector of the Duchy after his death. She was a daughter of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the sister of two Kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. She was born at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, in the Kingdom of England, and she died at Mechelen in the Low Countries.

Margaret of York Duchess of Burgundy Consort of Burgundy 3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503

Born 3 May 1446 Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England

Died 23 November 1503 Mechlin, Flanders (aged 57)

Husband Charles the Bold Charles Martin, Duke of Burgundy

No children One stepchild Mary of Burgundy

Father Richard of York Richard Plantagenet

Mother Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

Surviving Siblings 6/12 Anne, Duchess of Exeter Edward IV, King of England Edmund, Earl of Rutland Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk George, Duke of Clarence Richard III, King of England

House of York

Her Mother Cecily Neville and Father Richard of York were betrothed in 1424 she was 9 years old and he was 13. They were married by October 1429. Their first child, Anne of York, was born in August 1439.

Margaret was born 3rd May 1446 at Fotheringhay Castle. She was the sixth of a total of twelve children and the last surviving daughter.

Around 1454 when King Henry VI suffered a nervous breakdown her Father Richard of York established himself as a Protector.

Duchess Isabella of Burgundy, the mother of Charles the Bold, was, through her blood-ties pro-English. She was sympathetic to the House of Lancaster but by 1454, she favoured the House of York.

Because of this, when the Duke of York came to power during Henry VI’s first period of insanity, negotiations were made between himself and Isabella for a marriage between Charles the Bold, then Count of Charolais, and one of York’s unmarried daughters, of whom the 8-year-old Margaret was the youngest.

The negotiations petered out, however due to power struggles in England, and the preference of Charles’s father for a French alliance. Charles became betrothed to Isabella of Bourbon the daughter of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, and Agnes of Burgundy and the pair were married on 31 October 1454.

Margaret, being a useful bargaining tool to her family, was still unmarried at age 19, when Isabella of Bourbon died in September 1465. Charles was pro-English, and wished to make an English marriage and alliance against the French. Her brother was now Edward IV and this made Margaret a far more valuable bride than she had been as the mere daughter of a Duke.

But in 1466, Margaret was betrothed to Peter, Constable of Portugal, whom the rebellious Catalans had invited to become their King. Peter was himself a nephew of Duchess Isabella of Burgundy, and the betrothal thus signified an attempt to placate Burgundy. It was not to be however, worn out by illness, sorrow and overwork, Peter died on 29 June 1466, leaving Margaret available once more.

By 1467, the situation had changed again. Charles the Bold had become Duke of Burgundy. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, had turned against Edward IV, and was plotting against him with French support. Edward in such circumstances needed the support of Charles and provided no further obstacles to the marriage negotiations, formally agreeing to it in October 1467.

During this time, Louis XI did all he could to prevent the marriage, demanding the Pope refuse to give a dispensation for the marriage (the pair were fourth cousins), promising trade favours to the English, undermining Edward’s credit with the international bankers to prevent him being able to pay for Margaret’s dowry, encouraging a Lancastrian invasion of Wales, and slandering Margaret, claiming that she was not a virgin and had borne a bastard son. During this time, Louis XI did all he could to prevent the marriage, demanding the Pope refuse to give a dispensation for the marriage (the pair were fourth cousins), promising trade favours to the English, undermining Edward’s credit with the international bankers to prevent him being able to pay for Margaret’s dowry, encouraging a Lancastrian invasion of Wales and slandering Margaret, claiming she was not a virgin and had borne a bastard son.

He was ignored, and a dispensation was secured after Burgundian bribes secured Papal acquiescence. A complex agreement was drawn up between England and Burgundy. By terms of the marriage contract, Margaret retained her rights to the English throne and her dowry was promised to Burgundy even if she died within the first year (the dowry would return to the bride’s family under such circumstances). Charles dowered Margaret with the cities of Mechelen, Oudenaarde and Dendermonde.

Margaret was never described as beautiful. She was slim and fair with light hair. She was nearly six feet tall (this was extremely tall for the time, the average woman was 5 feet 1 inch tall and the average man was 5 feet 5 inches tall.) She had small features, grey eyes, a warm smile, and a wry sense of humor. She was gracious and pious, very intelligent, full of energy and had a strong will.

Margaret left Margate for Sluys on 23 June 1468. Despite Louis XI having ordered his ships to seize her, her convoy crossed without incident, reaching Sluys on the evening of the 25th. On 27 June she met Charles for the first time, She was half a foot taller than him and she was forced to bend in order to receive his kiss. The pair were privately married between 5am and 6am on 3 July 1468. The celebrations that followed were extravagant even by the standards of the Burgundians, who were already noted for their opulence and generous festivities. The bride made her Joyous Entry in a golden litter drawn by white horses, wearing upon her head a coronet. During this procession, she charmed the burghers of Bruges when she chose to wave to them rather than shut herself away from the wind and rain.

In the city itself, wine spurted freely from sculpted archers and artificial pelicans in artificial trees, the canals were decorated with torches, and the bridges decked with flowers, the arms of the happy couple were displayed everywhere, accompanied by the mottoes of the pair (Charles’s “I have undertaken it”) and (Margaret’s “May good come of it”).

When the Duke and Duchess appeared there, both wore magnificent crowns. Margaret’s crown was adorned with pearls, and with enamelled white roses for the House of York set between red, green and white enamelled letters of the Latinization of her name (“Margarita de York”, m ar ga ri ta de yo rk), with gold Cs and Ms, entwined with lovers’ knots.

Although the marriage produced no children, Margaret proved a valuable asset to Burgundy. Immediately after her wedding, she journeyed with her step-daughter Mary through Flanders, Brabant and Hainaut. Her subjects were impressed by her intelligence and capability.

In the same year, Edward IV and his brother the Duke of Gloucester were forced to flee England, when their brother the Duke of Clarence, and his father-in-law the Earl of Warwick, rebelled and drove the King into exile, Charles was forced to intercede on the part of his brother in law, ordering the London merchants to swear loyalty to Edward under threat of losing their trading rights in Burgundy, a threat that proved successful.

But the next year, Margaret was left despairing when Clarence and Warwick supported a French backed Lancastrian invasion of England, although she together with her mother Cecily, Dowager Duchess of York, attempted to reconcile Clarence and Edward the rebellion continued, and on 2 October 1470 the Lancastrians were returned to power and Edward had fled to Margaret and Charles in Burgundy. Her brother’s overthrow lessened Margaret’s dynastic worth, this together with regard for her brother, made her plead passionately to her husband that he support Edward and make measures to restore him.

Nonetheless, her husband paid little attention to her begging; when he decided to support Edward, it was when he had decided for himself that it was in his best interests to oppose the Lancastrian rule of England, backed as it was by a France which had in early December 1470 been encouraged by the English situation to declare war on Burgundy.

By April, Edward was back in England Margaret followed events carefully, requesting meticulous details of events in England, and was pleased to note the reconciliation between her brothers George and Edward. She also provided her mother in law, Isabel, with information on the progress of Edward’s campaign to regain the throne

In the summer of 1472, a fire broke out in her castle in Ghent while she made pilgrimages to shrines for help becoming pregnant. The fire destroyed rings, jewels, tapestries, furs and clothing valued between 50,000 and 60,000 crowns.

Isabella and Charles struck against Margaret’s family. With Henry VI and his son dead, Isabella was one of the most senior members of the House of Lancaster, and had a good claim to the English throne she legally transferred to Charles, which would allow Charles later that year to officially claim the English throne, despite the fact that his brother-in-law was the Yorkist King of England. However, Charles chose not to press the claim.

By 1477, Margaret’s position as Duchess of Burgundy was no longer as brilliant a it had been after Isabella’s death in 1471, Charles had become increasingly tyrannical and grandiose. He arranged for his daughter and heiress, Mary, to be betrothed to Maximilian of Habsburg.

On 5 January 1477 Charles died in battle outside Nancy, in Lorraine. His naked and disfigured body being discovered some days afterward frozen into the nearby river. Charles’ head had been cleft in two by a halberd, lances were lodged in his stomach and loins, and his face had been so badly mutilated by wild animals that only his physician was able to identify him by his long fingernails and the old battle scars on his body.

It was in the wake of her husband’s death that Margaret proved truly invaluable to Burgundy. She had always been regarded as a skilful and intelligent politician, now she went beyond even that. Margaret was fond of court pageantry and enjoyed plays and masquerades almost every night.

She strongly advised Mary to accept Maximilian’s suit, and marry him immediately. Margaret now moved to secure military support from her brother, Edward IV, he sent enough support to allow Mary and Maximilian to resist the French advances.

Her brother, the Duke of Clarence was imprisoned in the Tower of London and put on trial for treason against his brother Edward IV. He was privately executed” at the Tower on 18 February 1478 been drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.

On 22 July 1478, Mary gave birth to a son and heir, Philip, Louis XI had rumours spread that the child was in fact, a girl. Margaret who was standing godmother to the child, disproved the rumour as the Christening party left the church she conclusively proved that the child was an undoubted male, by undressing him and presenting him to the assembled crowd. In 1480, the next child of Mary was a girl named Margaret, after the dowager Duchess.

Margaret was however dealt a devastating blow in 1482 her much loved step-daughter Mary fell from her horse whilst hunting, and broke her back. The injuries were fatal and Mary died on 27 March

On 9 April 1483 her brother Edward IV died. It is not known what actually caused Edward’s death. Pneumonia and typhoid have both been conjectured, as well as poison. Some attributed his death to an unhealthy lifestyle, as he had become stout and inactive in the years before his death.

Her brother Richard took over as Lord Protector of the realm for Edward’s eldest son 12-year-old Edward V. On 25 June, an assembly of Lords and commoners endorsed a declaration to this effect and proclaimed Richard the rightful king. In 1485 Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth by the leader of the House of Lancaster Henry Tudor. Who took the crown for himself. Henry married Margarets niece Elizabeth of York.

In 1487 Margaret supported a young man who claimed to be her missing nephew Edward Plantagenet. Margaret collected 2,000 Flemish mercenaries and shipped them to Ireland under the command of Martin Schwartz, a noted military leader of the time. They arrived in Ireland on 5 May. King Henry was informed of this and began to gather troops.

The boy was defeated in battle. He was pardoned after admitting he was really Lambert Simnel, born of humble origin. At the age of about ten, he was taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest named Richard Simon who decided to become a kingmaker. He tutored the boy in courtly manners and taught him the necessary etiquette. Henry put him to work in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner.

In 1495 Margaret publicly acknowledge a young man as her missing nephew Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York who was the second son of her brother Edward IV. Having not seen him for many years Margaret may have indeed believed that he was her nephew or she simply may have grasped at the chance for revenge against Henry VII who killed her brother.

He was captured at Beaulieu Abbey. He confessed he was an imposter, his name was Perkin Warbeck the son of John Osbeck a local official in Flanders. He was initially treated well by Henry. He confessed to being an impostor, he was released from the Tower, and was given accommodation at Henry’s court. After two years he tried to escape. He was quickly recaptured. On 23 November 1499 he read out a confession and was hanged.

Henry VII found Margaret undoubtedly problematic, but there was little he could do, since she was protected by her step son in law Maximilian.

She maintained her duties until she died suddenly on November 23, 1503 at the age of 57. She was buried at the monastery of the Recollects at Malines. Her tomb and memorial were destroyed in the sixteenth century.

Margaret in fiction and media… . 1972 The Shadow of the Tower she was played by Rachel Kempson.

. 2014 Isabel she was played by Úrsula Corberó.

. 2017 The White Princess she was played by Joanne Whalley.

. Daughter of York Paperback by Anne Easter Smith

. The Diabolical Duchess Paperback by Christine Weightman

. Lancaster And York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

. Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

. Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy by Christine Weightman

. Princess of England, Duchess of Burgundy by Harry Schnitker

Margaret of York Duchess of Burgundy Consort of Burgundy 3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503

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