Henry VI Comprehension
In 1421 Henry VI was born. His father was King Henry V of England. His mother was Catherine de Valois. The Valois family ruled France so Catherine de Valois’ father was King Charles VI of France.
France had been defeated by England in 1420. As part of the peace treaty Catherine de Valois had been given as a bride to Henry V. It was agreed that Charles VI could rule France as long as he lived. But when Charles VI died his kingdom would be ruled by Henry V. Henry V would be King of England and King of France. Charles VI was mentally ill. He was known as Charles the Mad. Charles VI believed he was made from a piece of glass. He had iron bars fitted to his clothes so if he fell over he would not shatter.
In 1422 Henry V died. Henry VI was proclaimed king at the age of nine months. As an infant he could not rule. A regency council was impaneled. His uncle the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester were to rule in his stead. The Duke of Gloucester was Lord Protector of the Realm. Bishop Beaufort was also part of the regency council.
Henry VI’s government effectually ruled most of France. He went to Paris and was crowned King of France at Notre Dame Cathedral. He is the only King of England to have been crowned in France as well. However, Henry VI had a French uncle called Charles VII. Charles VII controlled eastern France and did not accept that Henry VI was King of France.
Charles VII claimed to be the rightful King of France. His claim was based on several reasons. His father Charles VI had been king. The treaty said that Henry V would be king after Charles V but Henry V died first. Moreover, a mad man’s agreement does not count. Charles VII began to fight back against the English. He was aided by a 17 year old girl called Joan of Arc. This young woman claimed to have been divinely inspired. Astonishingly she was given command of the French Army. She lifted the Siege of Orleans. Joan of Arc was known as the Maid of Orleans. Joan of Arc was later captured by the Burgundians. Charles VII could have tried to rescue her but did not lift a finger to help her. He did like the military glory going to her. She was later sold to the English. They put her on trial for heresy in Normandy. She defended herself impressively. She did not fall into any of the traps set by the questions. Nonetheless the kangaroo court found her guilty. She was burnt at the stake. An English soldier made a cross for her to hold as the flames were lit. As she died he cried ”we have burnt a saint.” Almost 500 years later she was canonized.
As Henry VI grew to maturity he exhibited some unusual traits. He was exceptionally religious even for a deeply religious epoch. His religiosity shaded into insanity. His Majesty was also extraordinarily erudite. The king loathed bloodshed and he was also a man of his word. He was too good to be great.
In the 1430s the English started losing the war in France. Castle after castle fell to Charles VII. He retook Paris. His symbol was the Cross of Lorraine. It has a vertical bar with two horizontal bars.
Burgundy is an area in eastern France. In those days it was considered almost a separate country. The Burgundians had been on the English side at first. However, in the late 1430s they switched sides. This was a death knell to English rule in France. Henry VI paid little attention to the conflict. He was fixated with faith and learning. He wrote a Latin prayer which is now sung at Eton College. He also composed a verse in English.
In 1440 Henry VI founded Eton College. It was to produce leaders for the church and the state. The king set it up only two miles from Windsor Castle. It was modeled on Winchester College. The college was for 70 poor scholars. However, boys from the very poorest classes were excluded. This was an era when only a small minority of boys went to school. Very few girls went to school. The king was given some splinters of wood from the true cross to grant to Eton. Pilgrims came to Eton to gain indulgences. That meant that the person could have his or her relatives released from Purgatory. The boys of Eton College had to pray for the repose of the souls of Henry VI’s parents. The king believed this would assure that they went to heaven. The school was a prayer factory. The school was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1441 the king founded King’s College, Cambridge. King’s College is part of Cambridge University. It is perhaps the most magnificent of any Cambridge college. The idea was for boys from Eton to go on to King’s aged 14. It is notable that he was spending more time on educational policy and neglecting the war.
Henry VI married. He was not close to his wife. She came from a French aristocratic family.
In 1450 there was a large scale revolt led by Jack Cade. Cade’s Rebellion was put down only with great difficulty. Most of the army was in France. People were despondent due to years of foreign war and the heavy imposts required to fund the prosecution of the same.
In the 1450s Henry VI descended into insanity. Some surmised that His Majesty was afflicted by the same lunacy such as his maternal grandfather had suffered from. The king spent hours at prayer and refused to meet foreign dignitaries. Some historians speculated that he was not as spiritual as has been claimed. Saying ‘the king is at prayer’ was a convenient excuse to furnish to VIPs at the royal court when the king was so raving mad as to be unpresentable. He treated the birth of his only child, Edward of Westminster, with complete indifference.
In 1454 Henry VI recovered somewhat. He founded All Souls College, Oxford. This college was founded to commemorate all the souls of the people killed in the Hundred Years War. This was a series of wars between France and England. The college still exists and is for graduates only. It is the most eminent intellectual community in the Commonwealth.
In 1455 Henry VI faced a challenge to his kingship. This was the start of the Wars of the Roses. Henry VI was a descendant of Edward III. Edward III had five sons. The descendants of those five sons began fighting each other. The two sides in the Wars of the Roses were the Yorkists (White Roses) and Lancastrians (Red Roses). Henry VI was a Lancastrian.
The attempt to oust Henry VI found him out of sorts. His mental incapacity weakened his side. He had totally inapposite reactions. At the First Battle of St Albans he rolled on the ground laughing hysterically. Nevertheless his side was able to hang onto the Throne – for a while.
In 1460 Henry VI was deposed. As he was not compos mentis he does not appear to have grasped the gravity of the situation. He responded phlegmatically.
In 1470 the Lancastrians gained the upper hand once more. Henry VI was restored. In 1471 he was overthrown again. He was detained in the Tower of London. This was a royal castle like many others and not simply a place of imprisonment. It has since become notorious for its dungeon and as a place of execution. Henry VI’s son Edward of Westminster was a teenager and proving himself to be a consummate military commander. The Lancastrians suffered a crushing reverse at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Edward of Westminster was slain. That being done it was decided to terminate Henry VI’s life. He was killed in his cell. The Yorkists announced that the monarch had died of a broken heart on learning of his only son’s demise. However, this is widely believed to be fallacious. On 12 May, his anniversary, Eton College and King’s College Cambridge lay a red rose at the sight of his murder. In the decades after the king’s death people gathered at his tomb. Miracles were attributed to his intercession. Some wanted him to be beatified.
- In which year was Henry VI born?
- Who was his father?
- Who was his mother?
- Who was his maternal grandfather?
- What malady did Charles VI suffer from?
- When did Henry VI become king?
- How old was he when he became king?
- He was King of England and which other country?
- Who was Henry VI’s French uncle?
- Which of Henry VI’s uncles ruled England for him?
- What was Henry VI’s attitude to religion?
- Which school did he found?
- Which college did he found at Cambridge University?
- At which battle did the king laugh and roll on the floor?
- How did he react to the birth of his son?
- What was the name of his son?
- What relic did Henry VI give to Eton?
- What was the Wars of the Roses?
- In which year was Henry VI overthrown for the first time?
- When was he restored?
- When was he ousted for the final time?
- In which year did he die?
- How did he die?
- What is the date of his death?
- What were the major achievements of Henry VI’s reign? (five marks)
- What were Henry VI’s main failings? (five marks)
- What is meant by the description of this king ‘he was too good to be great.’? (five marks)
- What was the Wars of the Roses? (five marks)
- What is your overall assessment of Henry VI? (five marks)