Henry VI King of England and King of France.


He became king at the age of nine months. King of England that was. Henry VI was the progeny of Henry V of England and Catherine de Valois. Catherine de Valois was a French princess, the daughter of Charles VI of France. Two months after Henry VI became King of England his maternal grandfather Charles VI died. Charles VI was also called Charles the Mad on account of his mental ill-health. Henry VI inherited mental illness from this grandfather of his.

Henry VI’s regent was his paternal uncle John the Duke of Bedford. Another one of his English uncles Duke Humphrey was also prominent in the reign. Duke Humphrey founded a splendid library at Oxford University. His half uncle Henry Beaufort was an archbishop and another key figure in the administration.

Henry VI was crowned at Westminster as King of England. When he was 12 he went to France to be crowned King of France in Paris. Traditionally French kings were crowned at Rheims. However, by this time Henry VI’s maternal uncle Charles VII had begun to claim the Crown of France in his own right and fought for it. Henry VI could not make it to Rheims since this was in the hands of Charles VII.

Charles VII claimed that the Treaty of Troyes was void on a number of counts. The Treaty of Troyes, agreed in 1420, made peace between England and France. It ruled that Charles VI would be king till the end of his days but upon the hour of his demise the royal title to France would pass not to his son, Charles VII, but to his son-in-law Henry V. Of course as we known Henry V predeceased his father in law by two months. Charles VII arged that the Treaty was null for the following reasons. Charles VI was insane when he made the agreement. The agreement was extracted under threat. Henry V had died before Charles VI so the crown went to Charles VII and not to Henry VI. The duress argument is specious since peace treaties are necessarily extracted by force. This argument would annul all peace treaties.

Nevertheless Henry VI was the only man to effectively rule England and France although many claimed both titles.

Henry VI was a man of exceptional piety. His religiosity stood out even in an intensely spiritual epoch – the High Middle Ages. He would spend hours a day in prayer and neglect his regal duties. His spirituality shaded into insanity. He was too gentle and otherworldy to be an effectual monarch. He wrote poems. One of them is known at Eton as the Founder’s Prayer – calling on God who has created one and made one what one is to treat one as he will.

Some historians say that his religiosity is overblown. Some days he was too depressed to get out of bed. On other occasions he was so raving made that he was not fit to be seen. When ambassadors or other distinguished personages called on him courtiers had to explain why the king was not appearing. The most convenient explanation was that he was at prayer.

Henry VI was aware of Winchester College founded under Richard II to produce leaders in church and state. In reality the leaders of the twain were often the same. Henry VI at the age of 19 founded a school called the College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor. It was supposed to be for 70 poore scholars. A choirmaster and some priests were to be engaged there. The school was for boys aged 10 to 14. Therefater they were to proceed to King’s College Cambridge which Henry VI founded a year later. The two institutions have almost the same coat of arms. Eton has the white lily of the virgin Mary on its coat of arms. It also has the three gold fleur-de-lys of France (lily flowers) on w midnight blue background. It also has a gold lion of England on a red field. The college was given some fragments of the true cross and thorns from the crown of thorns. It was allowed to grant indulgences. That is to say it could let people skip Purgatory and get into heaven straight after their death. The indulgences were granted at the Feast of the Assumption – i.e. 15 August. This is the festival for when Mary was supposedly absorbed into heaven without dying because she was so holy.

IN 1441 HE founded King’s College, Cambridge. The King’s Scholars of Eton would go on to King’s College, Cambridge.

In 1453 he founded All Souls College Oxford.

Henry VI at one point wandered the roads as a tramp. He had gone walkies and the king could not be located for weeks. In the 1440s he went ever more off the rails. By 1453 he was patently insane. His French wife Margaret was very unpopular. She brought courtiers with her from France and they were appointed to high offices. Their occupation of these plum jobs caused much ill-will. When Henry VI’s son was born – Edward of Westminster – His Majesty the King reacted with supreme indifference. He was neither glad nor regretful nor angry.

In France Henry VI’s dominion grew feeble.

Joan of Arc was born in Domremy – a village in what we would not call eastern France. The Dauphin (Charles VII) renewed the fight against Henry VI. In Domremy half the people supported Charles VII and half supported the Duke of Burgundy. Burgundy is what we now call eastern France. Back then it was a distinctive entity – almost a nation. The Duke of Burgundy was a nominal vassal of the king of France but vassals sometimes revolted against their rightful overlords. Burgundy still survives as the French region – Bourgogne. However, Burgundy in the 15th century was much bigger than the modern region.

The Burgundians were then allies of the English. Some people in France proper were still loyal to Henry VI as King of France.

Joan of Arc was religiously obsessed. She thought she saw and heard the Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael appear and speak to her. These are auditory hallucination and visual hallucinations. These are surefire signs of mental illness. In those days these signs were regarded as the mark of a prophetess.

She went to see Charles VII. The idea of a 17 year old girl leading an army now is seen as daft. Back then it was beyond unimaginable. Charles VII at first scorned her. She guessed which colour eggs he ate that morning. She was able to identify him in a room never having met him before – he had swapped his regal robes with someone else to confuse her. Of course she could have heard of his physical description.

Joan of Arc was able to lead the army of Charles VII against the English. She lifted the siege of Orleans. For this she was known as the Maid of Orleans. This turned the tide of the Hundred Years War.

Charles VII had been down in the dumps but as Joan of Arc led his forces to victory he was inspired to fight on.

Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians. Charles VII could have rescued her but he chose not to lift a finger. He did not like the fact that his new-found success was down to a peasant girl. If she really was god’s instrument then god would free her. The Burgundians sold her to the English.

At Rouen she stood trial before English bishops for the crime of heresy. She wanted to be tried by French bishops. She was tried with heresy for saying that god was on her side. The trial was full of theological pitfalls. The erudite clerical lawyers tried to trip her up. Does God hate the English? No she said, he only wants the English Army out of France. Are you in a state of grace? If she said no that meant she was evil. If she said yes this was a grave presumption and a sin. She said if she was may God keep her there and if she was not may god put her into a state of grace. The trial was unfair. Canon law also stated that she could only be tried by the bishop of her diocese.

The verdict was a forgone conclusion. She was found guilty as charged. She was condemned as a witch. Religious crimes were the most severely punished. In this case it was by burning. Burning is a means of killing that results in utter destruction of the remains and was seen as a cleansing.

She was tied to the wooden stake in the centre of Rouen. The faggots were lit. An English soldier took pity on her and fashioned a cross for her to hold and handed it to her as the flames leapt up. Of course it is the smoke not the fire that killed the victims. Dry wood burns better and kills the person quicker. Green and damp wood takes longer. As the flames consumed her someone shouted, ”God forgive us – we have burnt a saint.” These were prophetic words indeed. She was a symbol of French national pride in the Great War. The Roman Catholic Church made her a saint in the 1920s. Her cross of Lorraine was a symbol of the French Resistance in the Second World War.

Joan of Arc was 19 when she died.

Henry VI neglected his duties and was increasingly insane. His lucid episodes were shorter and less frequent. He showed no interest when his son Edward of Westminster was born.

By 1453 the Hundred Years War is reckoned to be over. The bookend dates are debatable. However, they are generally held to be 1337 to 1453. Therefore the conflict lasted 16% longer than its name suggests. On the other hand there were long period of peace during the conflict. It was in fact a period of several separate wars. The name was not thought up until the 1800s.

Henry VI uncles urged him to fight on. The king recognised that the war was unwinnable for the English, Welsh and Irish. Even if we could win the price would be too high to be worth it. Very few Frenchmen wanted him as king. The French had learnt better tactics and found some formidable commanders. France was certainly winning. Crucially, the Burgundians had changed sides to back the French. If the war dragged on the English risked not only losing Calais. Scotland could conquer northern England. The French could easily invade England as they had done before. The war was deeply unpopular in England. It caused high taxes and heavy casualties. Henry VI was mentally ill but ending the Hundred Years War was the sanest thing he ever did. He was hailed as a peacemaker. His uncle Beaufort was pleased.

As part of the peace deal the king married Margaret of Anjou. She was a member of the French royal house – the Valois family.

The war party was disappointed. Yorkists used this against him. They said that Henry VI was a weakling and a loser.

In 1455 the Wars of the Roses broke out with the First Battle of St Albans. Richard of York attempted to overthrow his cousin and claim the Crown. Henry VI forces carried the day. Henry VI was present at the battle on one of the main streets in St Albans. Henry VI had an attack of mental illness. He chortled and quipped as the battle raged within plain view. He was not frightened, exhilarated, nerved or even curious about the battle.

The key figure in all this was Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. The Earl of Warwick was known as kingmaker. Whichever side he supported won.

Henry VI was descended from John of Gaunt – one of the sons of Edward III. However, John of Gaunt had an elder brother Lionel. Lionel’s line had a stronger claim to the throne than John of Gaunt’s seed. John of Gaunt’s descendants had been a hardy race including the warrior kings Henry IV and Henry V. But Henry VI was away with the fairies. Lionel’s descendant the Earl of March kept his head down during the reign of his pugnacious cousins Henry IV and Henry V. He sagely did not assert his claim to the Crown. But when Henry VI was going soft in the head John of Gaunt’s descendants began to show an interest in claiming their birthright. Edward IV made an attempt on the throne. As we know initially it was defeated.

In 1460 Henry VI was deposed. He was imprisoned by was rescued. He fled to Scotland. His unpopular wife Margaret of Anjou led his forces because he was incapable of doing so. Edward IV reigned until 1470. Then Henry VI was restored. He reigned until 1471. Then he was deposed. His son Edward of Westminster led Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Tewkesbury. But the Lancastrians were bested and Edward of Westminster was slain.

Henry VI has already been taken prisoner. He was taken to the Tower of London. The building wherein he was incarcerated is called the Wakefield Tower. It had no sinister reputation back then. That 21 May he died . The Yorkists announced that he had died of grief upon hearing of the death of his son. Henry VI was so mentally ill that he did not have a normal emotional reaction to news. Therefore this explanation is highly improbable. In any case dying of a broken heart is scarcely credible for anyone. It is probable that he was murdered. Legend has that he was stabbed to death whilst at prayer. Edward IV has his rival hastily buried. The small and rushed funeral was because he wished to do no honour to his enemy. If many people had seen the corpse they probably would have seen stab wounds. Moreover, the obsequies could turn into a Lancastrian demonstration.

At Eton on the anniversary of the slayings a ceremony is held. ”They were most foully done to death in memory whereof I lay this rose.” The rose is red – red for Lancashire as Henry VI held the title the Duke of Lancaster.

Henry VII had Henry VI reburied in Windsro Castle.

People began to gather at his tomb and pray. They begged him to intercede for them with God. Some people reported miraculous cures after saying their orisons at his final resting place. He was commonly regarded as a saint though never canonised.









About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

3 responses »

  1. thank-you for your article it has piqued my interest in Henry VI and the period.
    The absorption of an immortal Mary into heaven is of course tosh and unsupported by any historical evidence. However, to assert as fact that visions from God, as Joan of Arc claimed with her encounter with angels Gabriel and Michael `are surefire signs of mental illness’ undermines the academic credibility of an otherwise good short paper. You seem to apply your own prejudice. Was it not remarkable, nay even more than that (you imply this strongly) that Joan would rise to such prominence and leave such a legacy?

    • You say I apply my own prejudice. I have never experienced hallucinations like her nor do I personally known anyone who has. I have heard of others who have experienced this. Call me prejudiced if you like but there is a large body of psychiatric opinion that says that those who hear voices in their heads or see things that are not there are disturbed. You can find such people in any mental hospital. It is possible to be mentally ill and achieve great things. Genius comes with madness and all that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s