Margaret of York

Margaret of York bigraphy, stories - British noble

Margaret of York : biography

3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503

Margaret of York (3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503) – also by marriage known as Margaret of Burgundy – was Duchess 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, England, and she died at Mechelen in the Low Countries.


William Caxton, who introduced the new art of printing into the Kingdom of England and was a staunch Yorkist supporter, counted Margaret as one of his patrons. A presentation copy of Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book printed in the English language (late 1473- early 1474), has a specially made engraving showing Caxton presenting the book to Margaret. The volume is now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. This "patronage" may be more advertising than analogous to traditional medieval patronage.See Rutter, Russell. "William Caxton and Literary Patronage." Studies in Philology 84.4 (1987): 440-470.

Of the many splendid manuscripts commissioned by Margaret when she was Duchess of Burgundy, the richest, most powerful and stylish Duchess of Europe, pride of place goes to the illuminated Visions of Tondal illuminated by Simon Marmion (now at the Getty Museum; a facsimile has been published).Thomas Kren and Roger Wieck, The Visions of Tondal, from the library of Margaret of York (Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1992). For a fuller account of her manuscripts and patronage, see Thomas Kren, ed., Margaret of York, Simon Marmion).

A good-looking woman, but (rarely for the hyperbole of her age) never described as beautiful, Margaret had fine features, and was, at almost 6 feet, very tall, a feature accentuated by her slimness, and her straight and upright bearing. Her eyes were grey, and her mouth was small; her smile allowed her to demonstrate her wry humour, her wit, and her graciousness. In appearance, she was utterly unlike the dark and burly Duke Charles the Bold, who was shorter than her: when they met for the first time, she was forced to bend in order to receive his kiss. But her intelligence was keen, and her will strong; she made a worthy bride for the Duke in nature.

With her husband’s family, she got on excellently: she became a mother-figure to her stepdaughter, Mary, who shared Margaret’s interests in reading, riding, hunting, and falconry; her mother-in-law, Isabella of Portugal, said of Margaret that she was "well pleased with the sight of this lovely lady, and pleased with her manners and virtues".

A capable ruler, she proved a masterful Duchess; she was a Yorkist in sympathies, but she was before that the Duchess of Burgundy. She bore no male heir to succeed to the Duchy, but she preserved it from ruin; to her actions can be ascribed the survival of the Burgundian state, and the prevention of French dominance in Europe.

Early life

Duchess Isabella of Burgundy, the mother of Charles the Bold, was through her blood-ties and her perception of Burgundian interests pro-English. As a granddaughter of John of Gaunt, she was consequently sympathetic to the House of Lancaster. She believed that Burgundian trade, from which the Duchy drew its vast wealth, depended upon friendly relations with England. For this reason she was prepared to favour any English faction which was willing to favour Burgundy. By 1454, she favoured the House of York, headed by Margaret’s father, Richard, 3rd Duke of York. Although the King of England, Henry VI, was the head of the House of Lancaster, his wife, Margaret of Anjou, was a niece of Burgundy’s bitter enemy, Charles VII of France, and was herself an enemy of the Burgundians; the Duke of York, by contrast, shared Burgundy’s enmity towards the French, and preferred the Burgundians. Because of this, when the Duke of York came to power in 1453–54, 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’ father, Philip the Good, for a French alliance. Philip had Charles betrothed to Isabella of Bourbon, the daughter of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, and Agnes of Burgundy, in late March 1454, and the pair were married on 31 October 1454.