Henry VI of England

This short article is an uncomplicated review for students of Shakespeare and history. Succeeding his father at nine months young in 1422, and growing up extra-pious, Henry was a Lancastrian who was not fit for the hard-hitting politics of fifteenth-century kingship. He suffered from bouts of mental illness. He died (was killed) in 1471.

Let’s say he was a nice guy, but unfit to rule as king.

The so-called Wars (actually just Battles) of the Roses began on his watch. The White Rose later came to symbolize the House of York, and the Red Rose the House of Lancaster.

Let’s get the big picture with these tables.

GENEALOGICAL TABLES

The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses: The Turbulent Years of the Last Plantagenets, Seven Kings from Richard II in 1377 to Richard III in 1485:

Dan Jones, Wars of the Roses:

BASIC FAMILY FACTS

Henry was born at Windsor, Berkshire, 6 Dec 1421. He succeeded his father Henry V on 31 Aug 1422 when he was just nine months old. He was crowned king of England at Westminster on 6 Nov 1429 and king of France at Notre Dame, Paris on 16 Dec 1431, due to his father’s conquest of a divided France and the Treaty of Troyes (1420) and the death of Charles VI. His mother was Catherine of Valois, and his maternal grandfather was Charles VI, the “Mad” or the “Crazy.” Henry also suffered with bouts of mental illness.

He married at the Abbey of St. Mary at Titchfield, Hampshire, on 23 Apr 1445 Margaret of Anjou. She was daughter of René the Good, duke of Lorraine, titular king of Sicily and Naples, by Isabelle, daughter and heiress of Charles II, duke of Lorraine. She was the niece of Charles VII, king of France. She was born at Pont-à-Mousson on 23 Mar 1430 and baptized at Toul. He died in the Tower of London 21 or 22 May 1471.

Richard, duke of Gloucester (future Richard III), was in the tower at the same time, and no doubt he killed the king on his brother Edward IV’s orders, so his brother could remain king without a rival. He was initially buried at Chertsey Abbey. But when miracles occurred at his tomb King Richard III moved his remains to St. George’s chapel, Windsor.

His wife was imprisoned variously at the tower and at Windsor and Wallingford Castles, but released in Nov 1475 on payment of 50,000 crowns ransom demanded by Edward IV. She died at Dampierre-sur-Loire Castle, near Saumur, France on 25 Aug 1482 and was buried in Angers Cathedral.

Henry and Margaret’s child:

1. Edward of Lancaster, duke of Cornwall, son and heir apparent, was born at Westminster on 13 Oct 1453. He was created Prince of Wales and earl of Chester 15 Mar 1454. He married at Amboise, France, probably on 13 Dec 1470, Anne Neville, younger daughter and co-heiress of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick and Salisbury (descendant of Edward III) by Anne Beauchamp, countess of Warwick (descendant of Edward III), 4th daughter of Richard Beauchamp, 13th earl of Warwick. Anne was born at Warwick Castle, Warwickshire 11 June 1456. They had no issue.

Edward was slain at the Battle of Tewkesbury 4 May 1471 and was buried at Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire. His death ended the direct line of the House of Lancaster.

Anne married at Westminster Abbey shortly before 18 Mar 1472 Richard, duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III of England. She died at Westminster 16 Mar 1485 and was buried under the presbytery on the south side in Westminster Abbey. Rumors spread that Richard poisoned her.

This post does not cover the details of the “Wars.” Plenty of websites do that.

Here are the ….

BASIC FACTS AND STORIES

  1. He was only nine months young he succeeded to the throne on the death of his young father Henry V, while on campaign. He was raised by various powerful magnates (generic term for large landowners), like his uncle, Duke of Gloucester (outmaneuvered in 1447); his half-uncle Cardinal Beaufort (d. 1447); William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk (fell in 1450, after losses in France).
  2. Then these two vied for power: Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset (a descendant of John of Gaunt and therefore a Lancastrian); and Richard, duke of York (great-grandson of Edmund Mortimer, heir apparent of Richard II and therefore a Yorkist).
  3. While his father was an effective warrior and administrator, his son would turn out to be the opposite.
  4. Henry grew up to be extra-pious and even prudish. When he was young, a certain lord brought before him dancing women with bare breasts. He was angered, looked away, and ran out of the room.
  5. His confessor told him to have sex only rarely with his beautiful wife. Maybe that’s why they had only one child.
  6. He had no taste for war. In 1440 he sent Richard, duke of York, to campaign in Normandy, France. Meanwhile he founded Eton College.
  7. In 1445, he sought peace with France, who gave the hand of Margaret of Anjou to him, but only on the condition that Henry should hand over the provinces of Maine and Anou.
  8. This was kept a secret, but when the pro-war party in England found out, the match became a scandal. England lost a lot of money giving away those rich territories. And think of the dishonor to the national pride.
  9. The duke of Suffolk charged the pro-war leader, Humphrey of Gloucester, who yearned for an all-out attack on France, with treason. He died in captivity, probably from a stroke.
  10. The giving away of the two provinces was the beginning of the end for the Hundred Years War
  11. No need for an apostrophe on Years’ because it is a title, e.g. The War of a Hundred Years (the “War” is not in possession of or does not belong to a “Hundred Years”!); it’s like saying Los Angeles Lakers TV Network–no need for an apostrophe on Lakers–TV Network of the LA Lakers, a title).
  12. Let’s move on.
  13. An Irish-born soldier in the English army, Jack Cade, fought in the final stages of the Hundred Years War. From Kent he led a revolt into London on 4 July. People were tired of the endless and costly war, which the French were winning, thanks to Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc).
  14. By 1450 England lost all of Normandy and Aquitaine, with only the coastal town of Calais in English hands. French raids on the English coast led the rebels to charge the king’s advisers with incompetence and should be replaced with better nobles, like Richard, duke of York. Cade called himself John Mortimer, claiming descent from the Mortimers.
  15. In May 1450 Cade and his rebels seized and beheaded Lord Saye, Henry’s treasurer. In turn Cade was seized and beheaded, and the rebellion was quelled. But when the son of Richard, duke of York, Edward (future Edward IV) marched into London with agrarians, people remembered the Jack Cade rebellion.
  16. Ii 1452 York returned from Ireland (where he was exiled), raised an army and demanded the removal of Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset. But with the help of Queen Margaret, he survived, and York was isolated.
  17. In Aug 1453 Henry suffered from a complete mental collapse (one researcher says possibly catatonic schizophrenia). He was speechless and unaware of what happened and everything around him. He had not been aware of the birth of his son, Edward on 13 Oct 1453. Henry partially recovered at Christmas 1454.
  18. York was the regent during the king’s incapacity and arrested Somerset, but after Margaret recovered from childbirth, she made her own bid for power. She had the winning hand—the son and heir. She released Somerset and excluded York.
  19. Civil war broke out, and this was the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. Henry’s (Somerset’s) House of Lancaster’s emblem had been the red rose, while York’s emblem had been the white rose.
  20. Somerset was killed at the Battle of St. Albans, and Somerset was defeated and killed. Lancastrians lost that one.
  21. But the Lancastrians recovered and defeated the Yorkists on 12 Oct 1459 at Ludford Bridge.
  22. However, on 10 July, the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton, and the king was captured.
  23. Richard of York, arriving from Ireland in September, claimed the throne. He was, after all, descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, second son of Edward III, whereas Henry was descended from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt, and was king only because of his grandfather Henry IV usurped the throne.
  24. The House of Lords refused to depose King Henry, but agreed to an Accord, which said when Henry died, Richard would become king. Many magnates rejected the Accord and rallied around queen Margaret, with their retainers. Soon they had a large army.
  25. And so it came to pass that Richard was killed at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 Dec 1460. The blood feud was paid out for the loss at St. Albans. His head was displayed with a paper crown on it.
  26. Then the Lancastrians recovered the king at the Second Battle of St. Albans on 17 Feb 1461. So the king is with the Lancastrians.
  27. Richard of York’s heir was Edward, an effective leader and military commander. By this time Henry was a broken down cipher of a king. Edward marched into London and proclaimed himself king on 4 Mar 1461.
  28. He was supported by Richard Neville, a Yorkist and earl of Warwick, who had been appointed great chamberlain of England, admiral of England and warden of the Cinque Ports and Dover Castle for life. He was the captain of Calais. He was the so-called “king-maker,” the most powerful man in England behind the crown.
  29. As if to seal the deal, the Lancastrians were defeated at the Battle of Towton on 29 Mar. This battle was fought in Yorkshire in a blizzard and was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil (one historian says it was the bloodiest one in English versus English until the seventeenth century Civil War). About 50,000 fought each other. One contemporary account says 28,000 lost their lives. A more realistic estimate says 9,000 (Ross).
  30. Henry and Margaret escaped to the north into the snowy dark with wardrobes and money-bags and pack horses. The pair found shelter in Scotland.
  31. In Oct 1463 he returned to England and installed himself at Bamburgh in the north and reigned over a small area in Northumberland. Margaret and Prince Edward had left for France to seek help. He never saw them again.
  32. In May 1464 the Lancastian army was defeated at Hexham. Henry had taken refuge in nearby Bywell Castle and was nearly caught, but he escaped, leaving behind his cap of state. He evaded capture for over a year.
  33. In June 1465 he was betrayed by a monk and captured while crossing the Ribble at Bungerly Hippingstones. He was accompanied only by a squire and two clergymen, one of whom was a former dean of Windsor.
  34. He was taken south and led through the City, wearing a straw hat and his feet tied beneath the horse’s belly and taken into the Tower of London.
  35. Warwick fell out with Edward and restored Henry as king on 31 Oct 1470 in the so-called “Readeption.” (Edward left the country.) His followers celebrated. A week later he was recrowned at St. Paul’s His second reign lasted only a few months, however.
  36. Edward IV landed at Yorkshire, gathered an army and proclaimed himself king. Henry rode through the streets of London asking them to fight for him.
  37. Edward marched into the capital, and on 11 Apr 1471 Henry was deposed for again and taken to the tower.
  38. At the Battle of Barnet 14 Apr 1471, Edward had Henry with him, which was vital for demoralizing the Lancastrians. The Yorkists defeated Warwick and the Lancastrians. Warwick was killed.
  39. At the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471 Edward IV slaughtered the Lancastrians, killing Prince Edward (Henry’s son) and capturing Queen Margaret.
  40. On the 21 May, late at night (so some believe he died on 22nd), he died or was murdered, when Edward IV returned to London triumphantly. With the death of Henry’s heir, there was no need for Henry VI. Gone.
  41. Because of his supposed saintliness, a cult grew up around Henry VI. Edward IV (and later) Richard III tried to suppress it.
  42. In 1910, Henry’s tomb in St. George’s chapel, Windsor, was opened. He had brown hair. Some historians claim a part of his hair was darker due to blood from a blow to the head.
  43. However, Ross says a blow to the head would have been spotted, since his body was displayed outside St. Paul’s Cathedral the next day. Rather, his cult followers said he was stabbed with a dagger. But no one knows for sure.
  44. Ross: “It is hard not to feel sympathy for Henry VI. To be a king in fifteenth-century England when kingship was a difficult task taxed able men to the limit. Henry, however, was not an able king. He was a manifestly decent man placed by accident of birth in a role to which he was utterly unsuited; a man of piety when he needed to be a man of policy; a man uninterested in the business of kingship when kingship meant business; a man of peace whose inheritance was foreign conflict and whose rule bred civil war” (p. 99).
  45. In his book Desmond Seward calls him the Holy Fool.

LATER PLANTAGENETS

The years denote their reigns.

Henry IV (1399-1413)

Henry V (1413-1422)

Henry VI (1429-1461, 1470-1471)

Edward IV (1461-1470, 1471-1483)

Edward V (1483)

Richard III (1483-1485)

EARLY PLANTAGENETS

Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine (duchess of Aquitaine, queen, and Henry II’s wife)

Richard I

King John

Henry III

Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I)

Edward I

Eleanor of Castile (married Edward I)

Edward II

Edward III

Richard II

RELATED

Glossary of Medieval Terms A to J

Glossary of Medieval Terms K to Z

Matilda, Empress (Henry II’s mother). The post has links to her Norman ancestors!

William Longsword and Life in the Medieval Age and His American Descendants

Royal gateway ancestors of the Northeast

Royal gateway ancestors of the Middle Colonies

Royal gateway ancestors of Virginia

Image credit:

National Portrait Galley.

SOURCES

Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and Constitution in England c. 1437-1509, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge UP 1997).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses: The Turbulent Years of the Last Plantagenets, Seven Kings from Richard II in 1377 to Richard III in 1485, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam (CLB 1997).

Anne Curry, Henry V: Playboy Prince to Warrior King, Penguin Monarchs (Allen Lane Penguin, 2015).

The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, gen. ed. Norman Cantor (Viking 1999).

John Gillingham, The Wars of the Roses: Peace and Conflict in Fifteenth-Century England (Louisiana State U 1981).

Michael Hicks, The War of the Roses, 1455-1485, Essential Histories: (Osprey 2013).

Dan Jones, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors (Penguin 2014).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

A. J. Pollard, The Wars of the Roses, 2nd ed. British History in Perspective (Palgrave Macmillan 2001).

The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols. (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

Charles Ross, Edward IV, new ed. Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 1997).

James Ross, Henry VI: A Good, Simple, and Innocent Man, Penguin Monarchs (Allen Lane Penguin 2016).

Desmond Seward, The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty (Pegasus, 2014).

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