Henry VI - The Reign Of England's Weakest King

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A photograph of a statue of Henry VI, reproduced by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of York.
'O he was gentle, mild and virtuous'

Richard III1 by William Shakespeare

Henry VI (ruled 1422-61, 1470-71) was without doubt one of England's weakest kings. Henry VI began his reign ruler of France and England, but ended unable to even control his own wife or have his own opinions. Under his reign common man lost the right to vote, England not only lost her possessions in France gained by Henry's father, Henry V, but itself became consumed by a period of chaos and later by the civil war now known as the Wars of the Roses2. Highlighting Henry VI's failure as king is the fact that he succeeded his father Henry V, one of England's strongest monarchs.

Henry V

Henry V had, after the battles of Agincourt and Rouen, been successful in his campaign to reclaim France. In May 1420 he was recognised as "Henricus, rex Angliae et haeres Francie", King of England and Heir of France. He had regained the Duchy of Normandy and ruled all France north of the river Loire. It was on 2 June, 1420 that, in marrying Lady Catherine of France, he made his greatest mistake, one he did not live to see. Her father was the mad Charles VI of France, who believed he was made out of glass, and the inherited insanity that was dominant in his family was to infect and influence Henry V's son, who was crowned Henry VI, King of England and France, when only nine months old.

'No sooner was I crept out of my cradle but I was made a king at nine months old. Was never subject longed to be a king as I do long and wish to be a subject.'

– Henry – Henry VI Part II by William Shakespeare

Henry VI was born in Windsor Castle on 6 December 1421, while his father was besieging Meaux. It was during the siege of Meaux that Henry V became ill. He died soon after of dysentery on 31 August 1422 at his castle of Vincennes outside Paris. Two months later the mad king of France, Charles VI, also died. Henry VI, at ten months old, was the heir to two kingdoms.

The House of Lancaster

'What plain proceedings is more plain than this? Henry doth claim the crown from John of Gaunt, The fourth son; York claims it from the third. Till Lionel's issue fails, John's should not reign.'

Henry VI Part II

Henry VI was descended from the House of Lancaster, the family of the fourth son of Edward III3, John of Gaunt the Duke of Lancaster. The first son of Edward III, Edward the Black Prince, died before his father and his son, Richard II, was deposed and murdered by John of Gaunt's son and Henry VI's grandfather, Henry IV. The second son of Edward III, William, died young. The third son was Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whose granddaughter Anne married Edward III's fifth son Edmund Duke of York's grandson, Richard Earl of Cambridge, father of Richard Duke of York. Richard Duke of York, also called Richard Plantagenet, was descended from the third and fifth son of Edward III whereas Henry VI was descended from the fourth.

As a child, Henry VI's two uncles, the brothers of Henry V, were appointed positions of power. John, Duke of Bedford, a wise and capable man was appointed regent in both England and France. His younger brother, the reckless Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was Protector of the Realm of England and was expected to carry on with the war against the Dauphin of France. His tutor was Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. His tutor's son Henry Beauchamp, later 1st Duke of Warwick, was his closest childhood friend4.

On 3 January 1437 Henry VI's mother, Queen Catherine of Valois, died. On her death it was discovered that after the death of Henry V she had married his squire, Owen Tudor, and had given birth to four children 5. Henry was delighted to discover he had half-brothers, to whom he gave land and title, but did not get on with his stepfather, whom he twice had arrested for marrying his mother, although Owen Tudor later retired to his Welsh lands. Henry then made it illegal for a member of the royal family to marry without the monarch's permission6.

Removal Of Right To Vote

In 1445 Henry VI removed the right to vote 'from those of yeoman status or below'. The vast majority of the population of England lost the right to vote and Parliament became the preserve of the rich. It would not be until the 1884 Reform Act that most men, though not all, only home owners, would regain the right to vote. All men and women, regardless of home ownership status, would not gain the right to vote until 1918.

The reason for this was that a 'very great, outrageous, and excessive Number of People' were voting. These voters were 'of the most Part People of small Substance, and of no Value.' It was believed that this would cause undesirable people, such as commoners, to be elected to Parliament, and the more people able to vote there were, the more likely that serious riots, batteries, manslaughter and chaos would erupt. Henry VI limited the vote so only men owning land worth 40 shillings or more, all the land to all be held within the same county, could vote.

Key Figures In Henry VI's Reign

'Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned king

Of France and England, did [Henry V] succeed,

Whose state so many had the managing

That they lost France and made his England bleed

Henry V, Epilogue by William Shakespeare

Some monarchs are powerful forces of nature, around whom all the events of their reign revolve. Henry VI was not one of those. Instead of being the focal point of his reign, he drifted with the ebb and flow of those surrounding him. Although Henry ruled the country, he could not even rule his own mind and would agree with the opinion of those around him.

Henry VI himself was a mild-mannered, easily led man. He frequently expressed a desire to live the life of a monk and is reported to have been mortified by women. In later life he suffered from madness, which took the form of either a complete collapse and withdrawal from the world around him, or depression and lethargy, with the king spending days at a time in his bedroom, mainly asleep. He was proudest of his achievements in founding Eton and Cambridge colleges.

During Henry VI's childhood the powerful men in England spent much of their time arguing amongst themselves. The chief culprit was the extremely ambitious Henry Beaufort, an illegitimate son of John of Gaunt, half-brother of King Henry V, the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester and uncle to Henry VI. He was Cardinal, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England and therefore one of the richest and most powerful men in England. Although Henry V had been able to keep him in place, after Henry's death he regularly conflicted with Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester on how to run affairs of state in both England and France, with open fights between his and Humphrey's supporters. Humphrey's key supporter was his protégé and cousin, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. Henry Beaufort's nephew John Beaufort the Duke of Somerset and new man, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk also had an influential position supporting Henry Beaufort and wished to establish their own place in society. It was this environment of two opposed factions in England, which Henry VI did nothing to address, that would later lead to the Wars of the Roses.

The key figures in his reign were

Person and TitleLivedSupported
King Henry VI1422-71Lancaster
Queen Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England1430-82Lancaster
Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester1375-1447(Lancaster)
John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford1389-1435(Neutral)
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester1391-1447(York)
Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick1382-1439(Lancaster)
Henry Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick, King of the Isle of Wight1425-1446(Lancaster)
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York1411-60York
William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk1396-1450Lancaster
John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset1403-1444Lancaster
Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset1406-1455Lancaster
Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset1436-64Lancaster
Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset1438-71Lancaster
John Beaufort, Marquess of Dorset1440-71Lancaster
Bloody John Clifford the Butcher, Baron of Skipton1435-61Lancaster
Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford1431-1495Lancaster
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury1400-60York
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker1428-71York/Lancaster
John Neville, Earl (later Marquis) Montagu1431-71York/Lancaster
Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March, later Edward IV1442-83York
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III1452-85York
Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers1405–69Lancaster/York
Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers1440-83Lancaster/York
Elizabeth Woodville, later Queen of England1437-92Lancaster/York

In many ways the division that was later to split into war between the Houses of York and Lancaster was already present in the split within the House of Lancaster itself; between Bedford and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester on one side and the illegitimate branch, the Beaufort family, on the other.

War In France

At the age of 8 in November 1429, Henry was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. However by this time the French army led by Joan of Arc had defeated the English army at Orléans, and the bastard Charles VII7 was crowned in Rheims, in accordance with French tradition that dictated that kings of France must be crowned there. Although on St George's Day in 1430 Henry VI arrived in Calais to be crowned, his French coronation in Notre-Dame was not until 2 December 1431 as he had been unable to reach Paris safely before then. In the meantime funds to continue the war were running low and a key ally, the Valois Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy8, was paid vast sums for little or no help provided.

The king's forces in France did have three experienced leaders; John, Duke of Bedford, Richard, Duke of York and the formidable general John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Sadly Duke John died in 1435, leaving a power struggle between Duke Humphrey and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York on one side, who were in favour of continuing the war in France, and Henry Beaufort and the Dukes of Suffolk and Somerset, who were in favour of peace, on the other. Immediately on the Duke of Bedford's death the Duke of Burgundy allied himself with France and the English forces, without enough funds to continue the war, were forced out of Paris and then all of France except Calais.

Before the war in France had ended, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was recalled to England. He had been a capable and popular leader in the war in France, where he was the King's Lieutenant. Richard of York had plunged himself deeply in debt, all but ruining himself, in order to pay for the war in France on Henry VI's behalf, never receiving financial support from the king. He was considered the young king's natural heir to the throne. This would mean he was and so was considered an enemy by the Beaufort family, who also feared his popular status. Richard of York was replaced first in France with the frail and elderly Earl of Warwick and on Warwick's death with the incompetent Duke of Somerset. One of Somerset's first acts was to attack his ally the Duke of Brittany.

Finally in 1440 Henry VI was forced to reappoint Richard of York, but this was an empty office. Richard of York again received no funds or men from the king and he was forced to impoverish himself in order to pay his soldiers' wages. York was again recalled to England and, to get him out of the way, was appointed the King's Lieutenant in Ireland in 1447.

In an attempt to form a peace treaty and truce, Henry VI at the age of 23 in 1444 was married to a French princess, the 16 year old Margaret of Anjou. This was arranged by the Duke of Suffolk, who not only arranged the marriage without a dowry, the terms of the marriage dictated that England surrender Maine, one of England's chief possessions in France. The English garrison at Maine were shocked at this betrayal and refused to leave Maine. In February 1448 Charles VII broke the truce and attacked Maine, with victory following swiftly after victory.

Finally on 19 October 1453 Bordeaux, the capital of Aquitaine and the last English stronghold in France except Calais, surrendered to the French army. After 116 years, the Hundred Years War was over.

England Power Struggle

'Uncles of Gloucester and of Winchester... O what a scandal it is to our crown that two such noble peers as ye should jar!'

– Henry in Henry VI Part I by William Shakespeare

Meanwhile in England throughout the 1440s the factions and divisions within the House of Lancaster continued. In 1441 Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester had arrested the Duchess of Gloucester, Humphrey's wife, for witchcraft and conspiracy against the king. She was sentanced to life imprisonment. In 1447 Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, himself was arrested for conspiracy without evidence and died soon after. It was believed that he was murdered on the orders of Queen Margaret, who was a strong supporter of Suffolk and the Beaufort family, to whom she owed her status as queen. Margaret was never popular with the common people of England, who blamed her for the loss of the war in France. She was also haughty and had grown up used to expecting the respect due her rank, when in England the people never felt she had earned their respect.

Queen Margaret began to arrest those who had supported Humphrey, and continued to try to marginalise her main rival, the Duke of York, so he could have no influence on the easily persuadable Henry VI. Records portray Henry as having grown to be a gentle man who could not make his own decision and would agree with whoever he spoke to last. One consequence of this was that he frequently gave away crown possessions to those around him, especially the supporters of his wife, Queen Margaret9.

Rise and Fall of Suffolk

'Thus Suffolk have prevailed...
Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the King;
But I will rule both her, the King and realm.

– Suffolk in Henry VI Part I by William Shakespeare

With the king an empty figurehead, in the 1440s and 50s real power began to grow in local nobles and their supporters, who could corrupt justice to suit their own needs. The most powerful of these were the Duke of Suffolk and his ally the Duke of Somerset, who both had the support of Queen Margaret. In 1444 John the Duke of Somerset died, with his younger brother Edmund replacing him as Duke of Somerset. In the late 1440s and early 1450s, England was flooded with refugees escaping from France. Piracy was common in the Channel and French raiding parties frequently attacked the south coast. Lords began to take matters into their own hands and began fighting amongst themselves; perhaps the most serious case was the war between the two rival powerful families who held land along the Scottish border, the Nevilles and the Percies. In 1453 this rivalry threatened to erupt into major violence.

Throughout the country the Duke of Suffolk was considered responsible for the loss of France, the chaotic state of the realm and of the corruption of the king. In February 1450 Suffolk was accused of a vast number of crimes including high treason, conspiracy, misuse of funds, peculation10 and corruption. If found guilty of any of the main charges, the penalty would have been death, however with Queen Margaret as a supporter Suffolk was confident he had nothing to fear from the king, the only man with the power to sentence him. In March 1450 Henry found Suffolk innocent of all major charges, found him guilty of some minor offences and banished him from the realm for five years. Suffolk left England on 1 May, 1450 but had not travelled far before his ship was intercepted and he was beheaded.

Cade's Revolt

Shortly after Suffolk's headless body was dumped at Dover the people of Kent revolted against Henry's rule. In June 1450 a man known as Jack Cade organised a rebellion complete with a detailed manifesto listing many of the corrupt practices in the realm and denouncing the state of the country. The demands included a full inquiry into Duke Humphrey's murder, the return of Crown Property given away on Suffolk's advice and a freely elected Parliament. Over 3,000 supporters followed Jack Cade to Blackheath, across the Thames from London.

Henry VI eventually met the rebels in mid-June, who insisted on reform and swore allegiance to him, before leaving to return to Kent. When the rebels were leaving, Henry ordered his troops to attack them. His troops were outnumbered and the rebels included many army veterans from France, and so the Royal forces were quickly defeated. In response Henry fled from London to Kenilworth Castle near Coventry, and London was occupied by the rebels on 2 July. Any known supporters of Suffolk were executed, and after several days of looting the people of London rose up and after bitter street fighting, drove the rebels of Kent out of the city. Jack Cade himself died on 12 July, however the unrest spread, with another supporter of Suffolk, Bishop Aiscough who had performed the king's marriage ceremony, murdered in Wiltshire.

York's Return

'From Ireland thus comes York to claim his right

And pluck the crown from feeble Henry's head:

Ring, bells, aloud; burn, bonfires, clear and bright

To entertain England's lawful king.

Henry VI Part II by William Shakespeare

Henry issued a general pardon to all rioters who returned to their homes and Edmund, Duke of Somerset returned to England to fulfil Suffolk's vacant position of Constable of England, causing more unrest rather than being able to solve it. The Duke of Somerset, as a grandson of John of Gaunt and great-grandson of Edward III, was manoeuvring to become heir to the throne. In September 1450 the Duke of York returned to England from Ireland, followed by his army. Richard of York appears to have had no interest in claiming the throne at this point, but instead aimed to provide strong counsel to the king and replace the incompetent Somerset as Constable. The Duke of Somerset was able to use this position to make himself even more rich and powerful, while the Duke of York remained heavily in debt, paying off the cost of the war in France.

In October 1450 the Duke of York declared it was his intention to reform the government of England and remove the incompetent influence of people such as Edmund, Duke of Somerset. The Queen and King Henry firmly supported Somerset and an uneasy peace reigned.

This peace was shaken in September 1451. The Earl of Devon, Somerset's brother-in-law, besieged Lord Bonville in Taunton with a force of 3,000 men in a petty squabble that originated when Henry VI appointed Lord Bonville Royal Steward for Cornwall and then appointed the Earl of Devon Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall. Although the Duke of York intervened and restored peace, tensions throughout the country remained high.

In February 1452 the Duke of York declared complete loyalty to Henry and swore to free him from corrupt advice and influence, and gathered an army that marched on London. The larger Royal army marched to intercept and, when they met, the Duke met with the king and gave a petition of his grievances, grievances that were true and justified, many of which listing Somerset's incompetence. Henry conceded York's demands, and so the Duke of York disbanded his army, after which York was arrested, made to swear another oath of allegiance to Henry before being released and a general pardon issued.

Henry VI – A Father?

'Ah, wretched man, would I had died a maid and never seen thee, never borne thee son, seeing thou hast proved so unnatural a father.'

– Queen Margaret discussing Henry VI, Henry VI Part III by William Shakespeare

In 1453 rumours that Queen Margaret was having an affair with the Duke of Somerset persisted. Also in August 1453 Henry received the news that his general John Talbot had been killed in France. Unable to cope, Henry went mad and withdrew from the surrounding world. By October 1453 the whole kingdom was slipping into chaos, not helped by Queen Margaret giving birth on 13 October, 1453 to a son, Edward, who replaced Richard, Duke of York as heir to the throne. The Queen announced that the Duke of Somerset was the young baby's godfather, when many suspected that he was in fact the true father.

By Christmas 1454 Henry VI regained his sanity. When informed he had a son he famously remarked 'he must have been fathered by the Holy Ghost, as [Henry] had no recollection of doing so', which increased the persistent rumours that the young Edward was the son of the Duke of Somerset, and not of royal blood at all.

Richard Neville

The Nevilles, through marrying the daughter of John of Gaunt, were related to the House of Lancaster and had supported Henry VI against the Duke of York. The most powerful member of the Neville family was Richard Neville, Earl Of Warwick, later known as The Kingmaker.

Richard Neville was born in 1428 and in 1434 had married Anne11, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Henry VI's childhood tutor, and sister of Henry VI's closest childhood friend, Henry de Beauchamp. Richard Neville inherited the title Earl of Warwick. By the time he was 20 Warwick was the third richest man in the country, after the King and Richard, Duke of York.

The Earl of Warwick quarrelled with Edmund, Duke of Somerset over land that Warwick had inherited and Henry VI had confiscated and granted to the Duke of Somerset. The Percy family sided with Somerset and 700 men attacked a Neville family wedding on 24 August 1453.

York In Command

In November 1453, with the king still mad, the Royal Council committed the Duke of Somerset to the Tower of London on unspecified charges. Queen Margaret, meanwhile, claimed the regency of the realm during her husband's illness.

In February 1454 York was nominated by Parliament as the King's Lieutenant and the Duke of York opened Parliament in Reading Abbey. One of his first acts was in March 1454, when he declared the young Prince Edward as Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester and heir to the throne. This sent a clear message that he was not after the throne, but instead was quarrelling with the unpopular Margaret and Somerset. York was then appointed Protector of England and Chief Councillor to the King. York used his new powers to tackle the problems of piracy in the south coast and settle the unrest in the North. In 1454 the Duke of Exeter, supported by the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Egremont, claimed the throne for himself and raised an army against King Henry VI, however Egremont was defeated at Stamford Bridge in 1454 and the Duke of Exeter imprisoned in Pontefract Castle.

In 1455 Henry VI regained power and York stepped down as Protector of England. Under Margaret's guidance, Henry reversed all of York's decisions, and dismissed Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury from the post of Chancellor. This act served to unite the powerful Neville family with the Duke of York.

In April 1455 the Duke of Somerset had regained power and summoned the Duke of York and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick to a Parliament in Leicester, a Lancaster stronghold, where a trap had been arranged to have them arrested and executed. Instead, York, Salisbury and Warwick assembled an army of 3,000 men and sent a message to King Henry stating their loyalty to the King and asking the King to dismiss the Duke of Somerset and call a truce. This Henry did not do, and the result was the outbreak of the War of the Roses

The War Of The Roses

While the King was unsure of how to act, York advanced to St Albans. Instead, Henry marched to intercept York at St Albans, supported by the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond and Thomas, Lord Clifford. Henry assumed that the Duke of York would surrender on sight of the Royal Banner, but instead the Yorkists conclusively won the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455. The Duke of Somerset, Henry Earl of Northumberland and Thomas, Lord Clifford were killed and the king injured by an arrow in the neck.

After the battle, York and Warwick fell on their knees before King Henry VI, sent for a surgeon to tend his wound. They then proceeded to London, showing Henry courtesy and respect and on the Sunday following the battle King Henry sat on a throne in St Paul's Cathedral and symbolically was given his crown by York. Royal pardons were issued to all who had fought at St Albans and, on York's insistence, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester was pronounced innocent of all that he had been accused of. In November York became Protector of the Realm again.

Meanwhile Queen Margaret gathered new supporters, the sons of those who had died at St Albans. Henry Beaufort, the new Duke of Somerset, John 'Bloody' Clifford, son of Thomas Clifford and Henry, third Earl of Northumberland. Despite this, her demands of royal gifts and honours from those around her angered the people of England and encouraged many to swear loyalty to the Duke of York.

In 1456 the Lancastrians acted to remove York from power and convinced Henry VI to dismiss him from service and send him to the unstable border with Scotland. This was an odd move as King James II of Scotland had declared that he considered York the true king of England.

Between 1456 and 1458 the country continued to slip into chaos. By this time it was obvious that Henry VI, with his frequent bouts of madness, was incapable of ruling, but neither York nor Margaret were willing to work together or let the other side gain power. Margaret tried to persuade Henry to abdicate in favour of her son, but as many suspected that Prince Edward was the son of the Duke of Somerset, this was not acceptable.

In April 1459 Margaret summoned the Duke of York to Coventry, a Lancastrian stronghold, shortly after gathering an army nearby in Leicester. York felt that this was a trap and so assembled an army in Ludlow Castle, while York's ally the Earl of Salisbury marched his forces from Middleham Castle to Wales to re-enforce him. On the way Salisbury's men met with a Lancastrian army at Blore Heath on 23 September 1459. Salisbury defeated the larger army, evaded the main Lancastrian army nearby and rendezvoused with York and Warwick.

Again, the king issued a full pardon to everyone involved however the main Lancastrian army, reportedly 25,000 men, marched to Ludlow, from which the Duke of York, Salisbury and Warwick and Richard of York's son Edward Earl of March escaped. York fled to Ireland, where he was popular with the Irish court and people alike. The others fled to Calais where they raised a new army which in June 1460 landed in Kent. In July the Yorkists were cheered as they passed through London, heading north. The Lancastrian army in Coventry moved south to Northampton where the two armies met on 10 July 1460, a Yorkist victory. King Henry was discovered in his tent, where he was captured and taken to London. York called Parliament in Henry's name on 7 October 1460, but on 11 October Richard Plantagenet Duke of York marched through London wearing not his own coat of arms, but the coat of arms of England. Richard was now proclaiming himself king.

Parliament was stunned by this turn of events, and when Richard put his valid claim saying that he was the rightful heir as he was descended from a more senior line of the Plantagenet family than Henry VI, Parliament asked Henry VI to dispute this claim. Henry VI could not, and asked the House of Lords to refute the claim. The only reason they could find to dispute Richard's claim to the throne was that all Acts of Parliament since Henry IV deposed Richard II in 1399 would be declared invalid. On 21 October a compromise was proposed – Henry VI would stay king, but with Richard Duke of York, not Prince Edward, as his heir. This was accepted by Henry VI and York.

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain

Queen Margaret refused to accept this and promised to give Berwick-On-Tweed to Scotland in exchange for money to gather an army. In November 1460 Queen Margaret's supporters in Yorkshire, especially Clifford in Skipton Castle were harassing Richard Duke of York's lands at Conisbrough and Sandal. Richard, Duke of York marched North to Sandal Castle outside Wakefield with a small army of around 5,000 men to combat this. A larger Lancastrian army of at least 15,000 men was nine miles away at Pontefract. Richard Duke of York was expecting 8,000 men under the command of his ally Ralph Neville, 2nd Earl of Westmorland, that would mean that the Yorkist army would total around 13,000. Richard felt confident he could defeat the larger Lancastrian army. On 30th December 1460 a foraging party from Sandal Castle came under attack from the Lancastrian army led by “Bloody” Clifford. York saw the approach of Ralph Neville's force and believed that the Lancastrian force would be trapped between two fronts. He led a mounted charge down the hill from Sandal Castle to the south of the Lancastrian army, however, Ralph Neville had changed allegiance and attacked Richard of York's troops from behind.

Outnumbered roughly 23,000 to 5,000, the battle's result was inevitable. Richard, Duke of York died fighting. His head was chopped off and taken to York, where it was put on display wearing a paper crown. Lord Clifford also executed Richard Duke of York's 16 year old son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, despite having surrendered. Clifford murdered him, saying "Thy father slay mine so shall I slay thee." It was from this act that Clifford gained the name "Bloody" Clifford the Butcher, as chivalry dictated that women, children and non-combatant prisoners would be held for ransom and not slain. The Duke of Salisbury also was killed and, like the Duke of York and the Earl of Rutland, also had his head mounted on a pole in York.

War Of The Roses: The Next Generation

Meanwhile Richard's eldest son Edward, Earl of March assembled an army and defeated an experienced Lancastrian army in Wales at Mortimer's Cross on 3 February 1461. The main Lancastrian and Scottish army marched on London, meeting a Yorkist army led by the Earl of Warwick at St Albans on 17 February 1461. This, the second battle of St Albans, was won by the Lancastrians under the brilliant tactician Andrew Trollope. Although Warwick escaped, King Henry was recaptured by Queen Margaret and found sitting in his tent next to two minor Yorkist lords who had accompanied King Henry and been promised safe conduct by him. Despite this, the 7 year old Prince Edward ignored King Henry, his mother's husband, and ordered their decapitation, which was promptly carried out. While the Lancastrians celebrated their victory and pillaged and plundered St Albans, Edward Earl of March entered London and on 4 March 1461 was popularly proclaimed King Edward IV12.

Queen Margaret retreated to the north and was pursued by King Edward IV, with their armies meeting at Towton. The Yorkist army won, Margaret, Henry, Prince Edward and the Duke of Somerset fled to Scotland and Lancastrians 'Bloody' Clifford and Sir Andrew Trollope were killed. King Edward IV and Warwick entered York and had their fathers' heads taken down and replaced with Clifford and other Lancastrian lords.

Edward IV Ruling Britain, Henry In Exile

Edward was crowned on 28 June 1461 at the age of 19. Meanwhile Queen Margaret travelled to France. There she promised to give Louis XI the new king of France Calais in exchange for troops. She was given 300 mercenaries, all of whom promptly drowned or were captured when their ship wrecked on the journey to Northumberland on 25 October 1462. Margaret escaped to Scotland unharmed. King Edward headed north with his army, but was struck with measles and confined to Durham over Christmas, but his army besieged several Lancastrian strongholds in the north. In the spring of 1463 Queen Margaret led her forces including a Scottish army into the north of England, and after several skirmishes and sieges little was achieved.

Henry, meanwhile, was hiding in Scotland and northern England and discovered in July 1465. Henry was captured by the Earl of Warwick and taken to the Tower, where he stayed in reasonable comfort for five years, no longer known as King Henry VI but instead simply referred to as Henry of Windsor. Margaret and Prince Edward, meanwhile, were living in France.

War With Warwick

'I was the chief that raised him to the crown

And I'll be chief to bring him down.

...Not that I pity Henry's misery

But seek revenge of Edward's mockery.

– Warwick in Henry VI Part III by William Shakespeare

In 1467 King Edward IV alienated his brother George, Duke of Clarence, the heir to the throne and Warwick. Warwick, an ambitious man wishing to be the real power behind the throne, desired a king he could dominate and control, just as Margaret dominated and controlled Henry, and realised that Edward would never be a puppet. Warwick felt Clarence would be the perfect replacement king.

Warwick and Clarence united with Lancastrians and rose against Edward. King Edward shrewdly surrendered to the Archbishop of York, George Neville, and the protection of the church. Warwick was now unable to kill him, yet unsure what to do next. King Edward, meanwhile, promised that Warwick's brother Montagu's son George Neville would marry Lady Elizabeth in exchange for Edward's freedom and restoring Lord Percy to the Earldom of Northumberland, which would be exchanged for a rank of Marquis. With a Percy restored in the north the Neville family's power was checked, and George Neville, as Edward's son-in-law, would be a potential heir to the throne, although this marriage never actually occurred.

In spring 1470 Warwick and Clarence secretly raised an army and organised a rebellion to distract the king. The plot failed, and on 14 April Edward issued a proclamation declaring Warwick and Clarence traitors. Warwick, Clarence and Isobel fled to France. Warwick was now tiring of Clarence, and decided to see if he could put Margaret's son, Prince Edward, on the throne instead, if Edward married his daughter Anne. Queen Margaret consented to the marriage and Warwick promised to help King Louis of France capture Burgundy in exchange for military aid against England.

In 1470 the Duke of Somerset led an army back to England that included Jasper Tudor and Warwick. King Edward's army was commanded by Marquis Montagu, but he defected to his brother's side. King Edward and some loyal men including his brother Richard were forced to flee to Burgundy, while the pregnant Queen Elizabeth claimed sanctuary in Westminster. Warwick and Clarence freed King Henry VI from the Tower and Henry was recrowned at St Paul's Cathedral on 13 October, 1470, although all the king's men wore the bear and staff emblem of Warwick, now the King's Lieutenant. Warwick began to move his men into positions of power while Queen Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Edward, in Westminster. England now had two crowned kings, Henry VI and Edward IV, two heirs in Edward of Lancaster and Edward of Westminster, not to mention Clarence who Warwick declared to be Richard Plantagenet's oldest legitimate son, claiming that King Edward was the son of an affair.

'Once more we sit on England's Royal Throne.'

– Edward VI in Henry VI Part III by William Shakespeare

In late 1470 Warwick began to raise an army to help Louis of France invade Burgundy while Louis sent his army to attack Flanders in December. This act prompted Duke Charles of Burgundy to supply Edward with money to raise an army to reclaim England. By March 1471 Edward's army was in England, Warwick was outnumbered and awaited the force of his ally, Edward's brother Clarence. Edward's youngest brother Richard persuaded Clarence to ally with Edward. Edward was re-crowned in London and he met with King Henry VI, who said 'Cousin Edward, I am right glad to see you. I hold my life in no danger from your hands.'

Warwick and his brother Montagu marched south, met Edward's army at Barnet on 13 April 1471, where both Montagu and Warwick were killed. Margaret and Prince Edward of Lancaster and his bride Anne Neville returned to England with an army to rendezvous with Warwick, before learning of his defeat. Somerset chose to lead them to Wales to join with Jasper Tudor. Edward pursued them, racing to intercept them before they reached Wales. The two forces met at Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471. Prince Edward of Lancaster was killed, Somerset was captured, put on trial by Richard of Gloucester and executed and three days later Queen Margaret and Lady Anne Neville were captured. King Edward and his brothers George Duke of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester re-entered London on 21 May 1471. That night, King Henry VI died in the Tower, almost certainly murdered.

King Edward IV had finally triumphed over his enemies, and avenged the death of his father, Richard of York. King Henry VI was dead, and was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor, near where Edward IV would later be buried.

'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.'

Richard III by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Henry VI

King Henry VI appears in five of William Shakespeare's plays. These are:

  • Henry V – King Henry VI is briefly mentioned in the concluding epilogue.
  • Henry VI Part I – also known as The First Part Of Henry The Sixth – This concerns the loss of France.
  • Henry VI Part II – also known as The First Part Of The Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster with the Death of the Good Duke Humphrey – This concerns the events of 1445-1455 including the power struggle between York, Gloucester, Suffolk and Somerset. A key scene for King Henry VI is Act 2 Scene 5, where he is portrayed as a saintly, well-intentioned but foolish man.
  • Henry VI Part III – also known as The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York and the Death of Good King Henry the Sixth, with the whole Contention between the two Houses Lancaster and York. This concerns the events of 1456-71
  • Richard III – Although Henry VI is well and truly dead when this play is set, this does not stop his corpse from appearing in Act 1 Scene II, the love scene between Richard and Anne Neville, and he also appears as a ghost in Act 5 Scene V.

These are not historically accurate. Among the many inaccuracies are that Joan of Arc is portrayed as a witch who fought in a battle in 1451, 20 years after she died. The Dukes of Somerset are understandably merged into one character to avoid confusion. Warwick is portrayed as being in France, and not Reading, when he discovered Edward's marriage and Richard III takes an active role fighting in both the Battle of Saint Albans and the Battle of Wakefield although in real life he was only three and eight when these took place.

The Wars Of The Roses

Other Monarchs Of England and Britain

1Henry VI described by Lady Anne.2This name was first used by Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish novelist and poet (1771-1832).3Edward III of Windsor (1327-1377) was the sixth king of England called Edward after Edward the Elder (899-924), Edward the Martyr (975-978), Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), Edward I Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots (1272-1307) and Edward II of Caernarfon (1307-1327).4Henry VI later crowned Henry Beauchamp King of the Isle of Wight in 1444 so that he would be his equal. Henry de Beauchamp died in 1446.5These included Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond, father of the later Henry VII.6This law is still in force today. In 1536 Henry VIII made it Treason to marry, become engaged to or 'deflower' a member of the Royal Family without written permission from the King. Although this act was repealed by Edward VI, this did not stop Elizabeth I from enforcing it by imprisoning in the Tower those who married her distant relatives without permission. The Royal Marriages Act 1772, still in force today, prevents any member of the Royal Family or descendant of King George II from marrying without the reigning monarch's permission, or if denied, the permission of the Houses of Parliament. The Queen gave her consent to the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton on February 9, 2011.7In common with most of his royal relatives, Charles VII would also go mad. In 1461 he starved himself to death rather than risk eating food in case it was poisoned.8Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy's father, Duke John the Fearless, was murdered on the orders of the Dauphin. It was for revenge of his father rather than support of England which motivated his support of Henry VI.9Indeed Parliament was later forced to pass several Acts of Resumption returning Crown property, and all future gifts from Henry VI then had to have the approval of the Royal Council and Keeper of the Privy Seal.10Peculation is similar to embezzlement, but usually applies to people entrusted with public funds.11At the time of the marriage, Anne was only nine and Richard was six. Anne's half-sister, Eleanor Beachamp, was Edmund 2nd Duke of Somerset's wife. The Duke of Somerset never forgave Richard and Anne for inheriting all the Warwick estate which he coveted.12Edward IV was the seventh king of England named Edward.

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