On 28 September 1423, the nobles swore loyalty to Henry VI. They summoned Parliament in the King's name and established a regency council. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Henry IV's youngest son and Henry VI's uncle, was appointed Protector and Defender of the Realm and the Church until the King came of age, but his appointment was revocable by the Council at any time. His duties were limited to keeping the peace and summoning and dissolving Parliament. Bishop Henry Beaufort (Cardinal from 1426), Henry V's half-uncle, had an important place on the Council. Henry IV's elder surviving son, John, Duke of Bedford, was the senior regent, having been appointed Regent of France (in charge of running the ongoing war) as well as replacing Gloucester as Regent of England whenever Bedford was personally in the country.
From 1428, Henry's tutor was the Earl of Warwick, whose father had been instrumental in the opposition to Richard II's reign. Henry was also influenced by Henry Beaufort, and later William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk. The young king came to favour a policy of peace in France.
Henry's half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper, the sons of his widowed mother's relationship with Owen Tudor, were later given earldoms. Edmund Tudor was the father of Henry Tudor, later to gain the throne as Henry VII of England.
Henry was eventually crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6 November 1429 a month before his eighth birthday, and King of France at Notre Dame in Paris on 16 December 1431. However, he did not assume the reins of government until he was declared of age in 1437—the year in which his mother died.
As for Henry VI's uncles, who in the early part of the child king's reign were the most powerful of the regents, John, Duke of Bedford, died in 1435; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was disgraced, and died in custody in 1447, probably of a heart attack, before he could be accused of treason.
On gaining his majority, Henry VI proved to be a deeply spiritual man, lacking the worldly wisdom necessary to allow him to rule effectively. Right from the time he assumed control as king in 1437, he allowed his court to be dominated by a few noble favourites; the faction in favour of ending the war in France quickly came to dominate, while the voices of Richard, Duke of York and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the leaders of the pro-war faction, were ignored.
Cardinal Beaufort and Suffolk meanwhile persuaded the king that the best way of pursuing peace with France was through a marriage with Charles VII’s wife's niece, Margaret of Anjou. Henry agreed, especially when he heard reports of Margaret’s stunning beauty, and sent Suffolk to negotiate with King Charles. Charles agreed to the marriage on condition that he would not have to provide the customary dowry and instead would receive the lands of Maine and Anjou from the English. These conditions were agreed to in the Treaty of Tours, but the cession of Maine and Anjou was kept secret from parliament. It was known that this would be hugely unpopular with the English populace.
The marriage went ahead in 1445 and Margaret’s character seems to have complemented that of Henry’s in that she was prepared to take decisions and show leadership where he was content to be led by her. In this much Margaret proved a more competent ruler than Henry ever was, even though she was only 16 at that time. Now came the thorny issue of Maine and Anjou. Henry had procrastinated about keeping his end of the bargain with Charles VII, knowing that it would be a hugely unpopular move and that Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and the war party would be especially critical of it. However, Margaret was determined to make him see it through and finally it became public knowledge in 1446. Most public anger was directed at Suffolk, for having negotiated the Treaty of Tours, but Henry and Margaret were determined to protect him, knowing they were vulnerable too, having also had full knowledge of the conditions of the marriage.
In 1447, the king, the queen and the group surrounding them (Suffolk, Somerset, and the ageing Cardinal Beaufort) summoned Gloucester before parliament on a charge of treason in Bury St Edmunds, and he died in captivity, whether of natural causes or foul play was not clear. The death of Gloucester left York as Henry’s heir presumptive, but Henry never officially acknowledged this and York continued to be excluded from the court circle, being banished to govern Ireland, while Henry and Margaret promoted Suffolk and Edmund Beaufort to dukedoms, (a title normally reserved for immediate relatives of the monarch). Beaufort, the new Duke of Somerset (and Cardinal Beaufort's nephew) was sent to France to lead the war.
In 1449, Somerset, leading the campaign in France, reopened hostilities in Normandy, but by the autumn had been pushed back to Caen. By 1450, the French had retaken the whole province, so hard won by Henry V. Returning troops, who had often not been paid, added to the sense of lawlessness in the southern counties of England, and Jack Cade led a rebellion in Kent in 1450, calling himself "John Mortimer" in sympathy with York and setting up residence at the White Hart Inn in Southwark (the white hart had been the symbol of the deposed Richard II). Henry came to London with an army to crush the rebellion, but was persuaded to keep half his troops behind while the other half met Cade at Sevenoaks. Cade triumphed and went on to occupy London. In the end, the rebellion achieved nothing, and London was retaken after a few days of disorder, but the rebellion showed that feelings of discontent were running high.
In 1450, the Duchy of Aquitaine, held since Henry II's time, was also lost, leaving Calais as England's only remaining territory in France. By 1452, York was persuaded to return from Ireland, claim his rightful place on the council, and put an end to bad government. His cause was a popular one, and he soon raised an army at Shrewsbury. The court party, meanwhile, raised their own similar-sized force in London. A stand-off took place south of London, with York presenting a list of grievances and demands to the court circle, including the arrest of the Duke of Somerset. The king initially agreed, but Margaret intervened to prevent the arrest of Somerset. By 1453, his influence had been restored, and York was again isolated. In the meantime, an English advance in Aquitaine had retaken Bordeaux and was having some success, and the queen announced that she was pregnant.
However, English success in Aquitaine was short-lived, and on hearing the news of the English defeat in August 1453, Henry slipped into a mental breakdown and became completely unaware of everything that was going on around him. This was to last for more than a year, and Henry failed even to respond to the birth of his own son and heir, who was christened Edward (Edward of Westminster and Prince of Wales). York, meanwhile, had gained a very important ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, one of the most influential magnates and possibly richer than York himself. York was named regent as Protector of the Realm in 1454. He finally had the position of influence he had wanted, the queen was excluded completely, and Somerset was detained in the Tower of London, while many of York's supporters spread rumours that the king's child was not his, but Somerset's. Other than that, York's months as regent were spent tackling the problem of government overspending. On Christmas Day 1454, however, Henry regained his senses.
Henry possibly inherited his illness from Charles VI of France, his maternal grandfather, who coped with intermittent periods of insanity over the last 30 years of his life. He, in turn, could have inherited the hereditary trait from his mother Joanna of Bourbon, who showed obvious signs resembling mental breakdown, and her Bourbon family, where her grandfather Louis I, Duke of Bourbon, her father Peter I, Duke of Bourbon and her brother Louis II, Duke of Bourbon each had symptoms of the ailment.
Queen Margaret, exiled in Scotland and later in France, was determined to win back the throne on behalf of her husband and son, and with the help of both Henry and Margaret's first cousin King Louis XI of France eventually formed an alliance with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had fallen out with Edward IV. After marrying his daughter to the Prince of Wales, Warwick returned to England, defeated the Yorkists in battle, liberated Henry VI and restored him to the throne on 30 October 1470. Henry's return to the throne lasted a very short time. By this time, years in hiding followed by years in captivity had taken their toll on Henry, who had been weak-willed and mentally unstable to start with. By all accounts Henry looked lethargic and vacant as Warwick and his men paraded him through the streets of London as the rightful King of England, and the contrast with the imposing King Edward whom he had replaced must have been marked. Within a few months Warwick had overreached himself by declaring war on Burgundy, whose ruler responded by giving Edward IV the assistance he needed to win back his throne by force. The Prince of Wales was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.
Edward IV was now the undisputed master of England.
Henry's one lasting positive achievement was his fostering of education — he founded both Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. Continuing an architectural patronage trend begun by his father, these (King's College Chapel and Eton College Chapel respectively) and most of his other architectural commissions (like his completion of his father's foundation of Syon Abbey) consisted of a single, grand, late Gothic or Perpendicular-style church (usually called a chapel, a term which belies their size) with a monastic and/or educational foundation attached. Each year on the anniversary of Henry VI's death, the Provosts of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, lay roses and lilies on the altar in St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
Henry seems to have been a decent man, but completely unsuited to kingship. He allowed himself to be totally dominated by the power-hungry factions which surrounded him at court and was later powerless to stop the outbreak of bloody civil war. It was clearly too much for him to cope with, as his recurring mental illness from 1453 onwards showed. During the Wars of the Roses it was his queen, Margaret, who was the driving force behind the Lancastrian faction, while Henry was captured first by one side, then the other. Whoever had the king in their possession was able to claim to be ruling in his name.
Means of escape; a war correspondent's memoir of life and death in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Vietnam.(Brief article)(Book review)
Aug 01, 2009; 9780805089639 Means of escape; a war correspondent's memoir of life and death in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Vietnam....