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Response to Review no. 355

First, I would like to thank Dr Laynesmith for a generous and thoughtful review of my book. Like most authors, I would guess, I have my own thoughts regarding which parts of the argument are the most or least effective, and I do not propose to share them here, though I confess that it was interesting – if not enlightening – to see what someone else made of the finished product. Since other readers will undoubtedly come to their own conclusions in these matters anyway, I am content to leave them to it, without disputing Dr Laynesmith’s specific criticisms. My comments will be limited to one area that I would like to clarify, where I think she has misread or misunderstood me, and an observation she has made regarding the nature of my study that I would like to emphasize.

In her description of my analysis of events following the battle of Northampton and the failure of Margaret’s enterprise after St Albans, Dr Laynesmith problematizes the earl of Northumberland’s involvement in a way that I do not. Whether Margaret initially told him to raise troops or he set out to do so on his own, it is clear that she summoned others to the gathering in the north and that she intended to use the resulting force against the Yorkists. That being said, the attack on York at Wakefield was opportunistic, the product of circumstances that delivered an opening into the hands of the Lancastrian military leaders – one of whom was Northumberland – which they promptly took. My suggestion is that their victory was double-edged: it eliminated York himself, but it also forced the Lancastrian hand. I suspect that ‘Margaret’s army’ had to march south sooner than had originally been intended, before arrangements for supply were fully in place, and that this helps to account for the subsequent pillaging. The failure of the Lancastrians to obtain food from the City of London following second St Albans, which I discuss at some length, was likewise the immediate cause of their failure and abrupt departure. Without fresh supplies and with a Yorkist force of uncertain size rapidly approaching, Margaret ‘could not fight another battle’.(p. 200)

Taking a more long-range view, however, it seems doubtful that Margaret could have successfully reverted to her modus operandi of invoking the king’s authority to justify her own power. For one thing, Henry’s Yorkist captivity had revealed his authority to be a sham. Despite the steps that were taken immediately following St Albans to provide the appearance of a normally functioning male authority, it appears that there were serious questions as to who was really in charge. The ladies’ delegation sent to negotiate by the City is a symptom of this uncertainty. That they were accompanied by male clergy (a more usual choice to parlay with a military force) underlines the problem.

Dr. Laynesmith has observed that the book is narrowly focused, and I would like to emphasize that this was the result of premeditation rather than oversight. It was never intended to be a biography. The decision to limit detailed discussion to Margaret’s years as queen up to the deposition (and not as queen-in-exile or as captive) was a strategic move to avoid possible conflation of her options and activities in what were very different circumstances. It was nevertheless clear that some sort of account of her later years would have to be provided to pacify readers. Thus, when I finally reached the epilogue, it became a matter of doing it, and being done, getting the focus back to some concluding remarks about the years of Margaret’s effective queenship as quickly as possible. 

Within the time frame I had chosen, further decisions of what to include or leave out were the products of my own interests and circumstances. As I observed in the book, the myth of Margaret has been remarkably tenacious. When I started working on her, I truly did not know just what I might find, although I hoped it would be interesting. When the pieces began to come together in a way that challenged the components of the myth and suggested a very different picture of her activities, I decided to tackle its implications for understanding her role in the Wars of the Roses head-on and to make that my focus. This, of course, goes somewhat against the grain of most current studies of prominent medieval women, which depend in large part upon household management and religiosity for their content. But Margaret was not any of these other women, and it seemed better to me to try to shift the ground on which future discussions of her would have to take place – since it looked like I would have the material to do it – and to leave other matters, important in themselves but extraneous to the myth, to other writers. As Dr Laynesmith points out, ‘there is much more that might be said about Margaret’s queenship’, and, while I may not be quite done with her, I am not overly possessive and look forward to reading more of what others may have to say.