Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy

Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy (1446-1503), youngest of Richard III’s surviving sisters. Her marriage to Charles Duke of Burgundy was a major cause of Edward IV’s rift with the Earl of Warwick. She was an exceptional patron of religious institutions and art, and a key supporter of Perkin Warbeck, the last major pretender to Henry VII’s throne.

It was long assumed that Margaret’s support for Yorkist exiles and pretenders was a measure of her deep loyalty to her family and especially her brother Richard. More recently it has been argued that her real motive was curbing Henry VII’s influence in order to protect Burgundy’s interests.

Margaret was born 3 May 1446, the sixth child and third daughter of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville. It is often reported that she was born at Fotheringhay, but a note in her sister Anne Duchess of Exeter’s Book of Hours locates her birth at Waltham Abbey. She probably spent her early childhood in her mother’s household with her brothers George and Richard.

After Edward IV’s marriage, Margaret was very often in the queen’s company. Her own marriage to the Duke of Burgundy’s heir, Charles Count of Charolais, was proposed late in 1465 but the Earl of Warwick favoured an alliance with France. Nonetheless, the marriage was agreed in 1468, by which time Charles had become duke. Only half of Margaret’s £41,666 dowry was ever paid. The wedding in May 1468 was extraordinarily spectacular with tournaments and pageants on the theme of the Golden Tree.

Margaret shared religious and cultural interests with her mother-in-law, Isabelle of Portugal. Margaret was a patron of William Caxton who later brought his printing press to England.

At Henry VI’s readeption, Edward IV’s arrival in Burgundy initially seems to have been something of a political embarrassment to Duke Charles. Margaret corresponded with the Yorkist exiles but they did not initially meet (at least in public). On 3 December 1470 Louis XI of France declared war on Burgundy, anticipating support from the new Lancastrian king. The following January Edward IV and Richard Duke of Gloucester arrived at Hesdin to spend time with Margaret. Her husband was now willing to help Edward reclaim his throne. Margaret was busy raising funds for her brother while the Duke of Burgundy took his armies to face the French. Margaret was also active in successful negotiations to persuade George Duke of Clarence to switch sides.

Margaret only returned to England once, in 1480, to seek military aid against France. She had no children of her own. When Duke Charles died in 1477 Margaret was very active in supporting her step-daughter Marie, Duchess of Burgundy, and in arranging Marie’s marriage to Maximilian king of the Romans. Marie died in 1482 leaving a five-year-old heir, Philip the Fair, who Margaret now brought up.

Margaret refused to recognise Henry VII’s accession and paid for 2,000 mercenaries to support Lambert Simnel. However, shared English and Burgundian concerns over France’s ambitions in Brittany seem to have brought their rulers together for a time. Following the Anglo-French peace treaty of November 1492, Margaret took up Perkin Warbeck’s cause (he had now been abandoned by the French). She died 23 November 1503 and was buried at the monastery of the Recollects (Observant Franciscans) in Mechelen.

You can find out about an unusual and beautifully illustrated religious text created for Margaret here, and then browse the entire book here.

The page from her sister’s Book of Hours which reveals her birthplace can be seen here (you will need to move the image to see the bottom margin and probably magnify it too as the ink is very faded).

Since 1958 there have been pageants in Bruges every five years to commemorate her wedding celebrations: find out more here.

An article from The Ricardian explores the search for Margaret’s tomb.

John Ashdown-Hill’s blog describes looking for Margaret’s mtDNA in the hope of tracing her burial.




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