Henry VI of England

This article is about the English king. For the plays by Shakespeare, see Henry VI, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Henry VI
King Henry VI from NPG (2).jpg
King of England (more...)
1st reign 31 August 1422 – 4 March 1461
Coronation 6 November 1429,
Westminster Abbey
Predecessor Henry V
Successor Edward IV
Regents
2nd reign 3 October 1470 – 11 April 1471
Predecessor Edward IV
Successor Edward IV
King of France (disputed)
Reign 21 October 1422 –
19 October 1453
Coronation 16 December 1431,
Notre Dame de Paris
Predecessor Charles VI
Successor Charles VII
Born 6 December 1421 (1421-12-06)
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Died 21 May 1471 (1471-05-22) (aged 49)
Tower of London, London
Burial Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Consort Margaret of Anjou
Issue Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales
House House of Lancaster
Father Henry V of England
Mother Catherine of Valois
Religion Catholicism
Signature

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 grandfather Charles VI shortly afterwards. Henry inherited the long-running Hundred Years War (1337–1453), where Charles VII contested his claim to the French throne. Henry married Charles's niece, Margaret of Anjou, partially in the hope of achieving peace in 1445, but the policy failed, leading to the murder of William de la Pole, one of Henry's key advisors. The war recommenced, with France taking the upper hand; by 1453, Calais was Henry's only remaining territory on the continent.

Henry experienced a mental breakdown after the failure of the war, with Richard of York taking control of the government as regent until his recovery the following year. Civil war broke out in 1460, leading to a long period of dynastic conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry was taken prisoner by Richard of York at Northampton on 10 July 1460 but was rescued that December by forces loyal to Margaret. He was deposed on 29 March 1461 following the victory at Towton by Richard's son, who took the throne as Edward IV. Henry suffered another breakdown and, despite Margaret continuing to lead a resistance to Edward, he was captured by Edward's forces in 1465 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, restored Henry to the throne in 1470, but Edward defeated Neville and retook power in 1471, imprisoning Henry in the Tower once again.

Henry died in the Tower during the night of 21 May 1471, possibly killed on the orders of Edward. He was buried at Chertsey Abbey, before being moved to Windsor Castle in 1484. 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 All Souls College, Oxford. William 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 upon his father's death on 31 August 1422; 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. 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 Valois' coronation as French King in Reims Cathedral on 17 July 1429, [1] Henry was soon crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6 November 1429, [2] followed by his own coronation as King of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 26 December 1431. [3] [4] [5] It was not until 13 November 1437, shortly before his 16th birthday, that he obtained some measure of independent authority, [6] but his growing willingness to involve himself in administration became apparent in 1434 when the place named on writs temporarily changed from Westminster (where the Privy Council was) to Cirencester (where the king was). [7] He finally assumed full royal powers when he came of age. [8]