We haven’t had an ancestor post recently, and the visit to Westminster Abbey to see the tomb of Edward I was a chance to give a thought to his wife, Margaret of France. (Unfortunately, her tomb isn’t there. She was buried at Christ Church Greyfriars in London, but her burial place was despoiled during the Reformation. Henry VIII has a lot to answer for…)
Edward I is usually associated with his first wife, the much-loved Eleanor of Castile. Well, much loved by her husband. Her popularity with the public waned a bit when her business practices came to light. As it happened, the Spanish princess was a keen woman of real estate and her dealings left more than a few people smarting. But she and Edward were utterly devoted–a remarkable thing in a dynastic marriage–and upon her death, he ordered “Eleanor crosses” to be erected at each place her coffin rested on its journey from her deathbed at Lincoln to her burial at Westminster Abbey. (This marks the origin of Charing Cross, the ‘charing’ being a corruption of the phrase ‘chere reine’ or ‘dear queen’.)
After her death, Edward was bereft, but with only one surviving son out of a possible sixteen pregnancies, he had little choice but to put himself back out on the marriage market, and at this time, a union with France was the most desirable. The fact that it took five years and a bit of warfare to make it happen might have dimmed the prospects of a happy marriage, but in fact, Edward and Margaret of France were by all accounts absolutely blissful together. Edward was either a phenomenal king or a horror out of hell, depending on whether you ask a medieval Englishman or his Welsh or Scottish counterpart. The fact that he had two extremely happy marriages–both arranged–does say something redeeming about his qualities as a husband. In fact, his twenty-year old bride was so lonely for him when he went campaigning in Scotland that she packed up and followed her sixty-year old husband–in spite of a burgeoning pregnancy.
Together Margaret and Edward had three children–Thomas of Brotherton (Earl of Norfolk and my 20th-great grandfather), Edmund, and Eleanor. The fact that their only daughter was named for her predecessor, apparently at her insistence, indicates Margaret was a generous and thoughtful consort. She performed the act of queenly intercession many times, securing mercy for those who fell afoul of Edward’s wrath. She was only 26 when Edward died, but she never remarried, claiming–according to legend–that when he died, so did all other men for her.
Upon Edward’s death, the succession of her stepson, Edward II–with whom she enjoyed a warm relationship–ought to have been a time of peace for Margaret. She had two young sons to bring up and the new king was marrying her half-niece. But it was not to be. Edward II, besotted with his favorites to the point of irrationality, refused to grant his young half-brothers the titles and lands their father had promised, bestowing them upon his lover instead. Margaret contributed 40,000 pounds of her own money to the overthrow of this courtier, living long enough to see him executed and the future Edward III born before succumbing to illness just shy of the age of forty.
Her sons, aged eighteen and seventeen, fought hard to secure their rightful inheritances. The hot-tempered Thomas managed to win his, being created Earl of Norfolk and given the role of Keeper of England while his elder half-brother was fighting in Scotland. He threw in his lot with Edward II’s wife, Isabella, when she staged a coup to dethrone her husband and put the youthful Edward III in his place, and his gamble paid off handsomely. He supported his nephew’s eventual coup against his mother’s rule, and was rewarded with the position of Earl Marshal of England before his death at the age of 38. Margaret’s other son, Edmund didn’t fare so well. Initially supportive of Queen Isabella, he was found to be plotting rebellion against her regime and was swiftly executed. Little Eleanor, the last of her parents’ children, had died at the age of five. But Thomas and Edmund both left daughters who carried on their family’s invincible will, Thomas’s daughter being created Duchess of Norfolk in her own right, while Edmund’s little Joan became Princess of Wales–the first Englishwoman to bear that title–and the mother of Richard II.