Henry VI of England

Henry VI
King Henry VI from NPG (2).jpg
King of England
Reign (I)1 September 1422 – 4 March 1461
Coronation6 November 1429
PredecessorHenry V
SuccessorEdward IV
Regents
Reign (II)3 October 1470 – 11 April 1471
PredecessorEdward IV
SuccessorEdward IV
King of France
Reign21 October 1422 – 19 October 1453
Coronation16 December 1431,
Notre-Dame de Paris
PredecessorCharles VI
SuccessorCharles VII
RegentJohn, Duke of Bedford
Born6 December 1421
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Died21 May 1471 (aged 49)
Tower of London, London
Burial12 August 1484
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Spouse
IssueEdward of Westminster
HouseLancaster
FatherHenry V of England
MotherCatherine of Valois
SignatureHenry VI's signature
English Royalty
Second House of Lancaster
John, Duke of Lancaster
Henry IV
Henry V
Henry VI

Henry VI (6 December 1421 – 21 May 1471) was King of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471, and disputed King of France from 1422 to 1453. The only child of Henry V, he succeeded to the English throne at the age of nine months upon his father's death, and succeeded to the French throne on the death of his maternal grandfather Charles VI shortly afterwards.

Henry inherited the long-running Hundred Years' War (1337–1453), in which his uncle Charles VII contested his claim to the French throne. He is the only English monarch to also have been crowned King of France (as Henry II, in 1431). His early reign, when several people were ruling for him, saw the pinnacle of English power in France, but subsequent military, diplomatic, and economic problems had seriously endangered the English cause by the time Henry was declared fit to rule in 1437. He found his realm in a difficult position, faced with setbacks in France and divisions among the nobility at home. Unlike his father, Henry is described as timid, shy, passive, well-intentioned, and averse to warfare and violence; he was also at times mentally unstable. His ineffective reign saw the gradual loss of the English lands in France. Partially in the hope of achieving peace, in 1445 Henry married Charles VII's niece, the ambitious and strong-willed Margaret of Anjou. The peace policy failed, leading to the murder of one of Henry's key advisers, and the war recommenced, with France taking the upper hand; by 1453, Calais was Henry's only remaining territory on the continent.

As the situation in France worsened, there was a related increase in political instability in England. With Henry effectively unfit to rule, power was exercised by quarrelsome nobles, while factions and favourites encouraged the rise of disorder in the country. Regional magnates and soldiers returning from France formed and maintained increasing numbers of private armed retainers, with whom they fought one another, terrorised their neighbours, paralysed the courts, and dominated the government.[1] Queen Margaret did not remain unpartisan, and took advantage of the situation to make herself an effective power behind the throne.

Amidst military disasters in France and a collapse of law and order in England, the queen and her clique came under accusations, especially from Henry VI's increasingly popular cousin Richard of the House of York, of misconduct of the war in France and misrule of the country. Starting in 1453, Henry had a series of mental breakdowns, and tensions mounted between Margaret and Richard of York over control of the incapacitated king's government, and over the question of succession to the throne. Civil war broke out in 1455, leading to a long period of dynastic conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry was deposed on 29 March 1461 after a crushing defeat at the Battle of Towton by Richard's son, who took the throne as Edward IV. Despite Margaret continuing to lead a resistance to Edward, Henry was captured by Edward's forces in 1465 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Henry was restored to the throne in 1470, but Edward retook power in 1471, killing Henry's only son and heir in battle and imprisoning Henry once again.

Having "lost his wits, his two kingdoms, and his only son",[2] Henry died in the Tower during the night of 21 May, possibly killed on the orders of Edward. Miracles were attributed to Henry after his death, and he was informally regarded as a saint and martyr until the 16th century. He left a legacy of educational institutions, having founded Eton College, King's College, Cambridge, and (together with Henry Chichele) All Souls College, Oxford. Shakespeare wrote a trilogy of plays about his life, depicting him as weak-willed and easily influenced by his wife, Margaret.

Child king

Henry VI, aged nine months, is shown being placed in the care of the Earl of Warwick

Henry was the only child and heir of King Henry V. He was born on 6 December 1421 at Windsor Castle. He succeeded to the throne as King of England at the age of nine months on 1 September 1422, the day after his father's death;[3] he was the youngest person ever to succeed to the English throne. A few weeks later, on 21 October 1422, in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes of 1420, he became titular King of France upon his grandfather Charles VI's death. His mother, Catherine of Valois, was then 20 years old. As Charles VI's daughter, she was viewed with considerable suspicion by English nobles and was prevented from playing a full role in her son's upbringing.

On 28 September 1423, the nobles swore loyalty to Henry VI, who was not yet two years old. They summoned Parliament in the King's name and established a regency council to govern until the King should come of age. One of Henry V's surviving brothers, John, Duke of Bedford, was appointed senior regent of the realm and was in charge of the ongoing war in France. During Bedford's absence, the government of England was headed by Henry V's other surviving brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was appointed Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm. His duties were limited to keeping the peace and summoning Parliament. Henry V's half-uncle Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester (after 1426 also Cardinal), had an important place on the Council. After the Duke of Bedford died in 1435, the Duke of Gloucester claimed the Regency himself, but was contested in this by the other members of the Council.

From 1428, Henry's tutor was Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, whose father had been instrumental in the opposition to Richard II's reign.

Henry's half-brothers Edmund and Jasper, the sons of his widowed mother and Owen Tudor, were later given earldoms. Edmund Tudor was the father of Henry Tudor, who later became Henry VII.

In reaction to Charles VII's coronation as French King in Reims Cathedral on 17 July 1429,[4] Henry was soon crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6 November 1429,[5] aged 7, followed by his own coronation as King of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 16 December 1431, aged 10.[5] He was the only English king to be crowned king in both England and France. It was shortly after his crowning ceremony at Merton Priory on All Saints' Day, 1 November 1437,[6] shortly before his 16th birthday, that he obtained some measure of independent authority. This was confirmed on 13 November 1437,[7] but his growing willingness to involve himself in administration had already became apparent in 1434, when the place named on writs temporarily changed from Westminster (where the Privy Council met) to Cirencester (where the King resided).[8] He finally assumed full royal powers when he came of age at the end of the year 1437, when he turned sixteen years old.[9]