Biography: King Henry VI

220px-King_Henry_VI_from_NPG_(2)(Born December 6, 1421- Died May 21, 1471). Son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois. Married to Margaret of Anjou. He had one son Edward of Westminster. Henry VI was a weak ruler who, combined with his bouts of mental illness and no desire to rule, led England to lose its lands in France and brought England into a 30 year civil war known as the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI was the only child of Henry V and his wife Catherine of Valois. He was born on December 6, 1421 and became king of England at the tender age of nine months when his father died on August 31, 1422. Six weeks later, he became king of France after his grandfather Charles VI died, which was agreed upon with the Treaty of Troyes. A regency council was called and Henry’s uncle John, duke of Bedford, became his first regent, and was charged with taking care of the French, led by the king that the French declared, Charles VI’s son Charles VII. Both Charles VII and John duke of Bedford kept the Hundred Years’ War dragging on. The English captured Orleans in 1427, but in May 1429, a young Joan of Arc led a siege on Orleans, which the French was able to reconquer. This led to French nationalism which allowed the French to drive the English out of the Loire Valley and Charles VII was officially crowned king of France in June 1429.

This made Bedford nervous so he quickly had Henry VI crowned king of England in November 1429 and crowned king of France in 1431.  He was the first English king who was also the king of France, but it did not last long. With the newly founded French nationalism, the English were losing their French lands that Henry V had conquered left and right. This made Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, an ally of the English, nervous, and so he signed the Treaty of Arras with Charles VII in 1435, which recognized Charles VII as the King of France. The Hundred Years’ War would continue for another 18 years until John Talbot, the earl of Shrewsbury was defeated at Castillon in 1453. The English lost all of their French territories, except for Calais.

John, duke of Bedford, was regent until his death in 1435. After Bedford died, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester became the protector, but he did not have the same control of the government that Bedford did. In 1437, Henry declared himself of age before his 16th birthday. Henry was a weak ruler who was not interested in ruling at all, so he allowed some of the least scrupulous people to control the government. One of these men was William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, who became the king’s steward in 1435. William was a peacemaker at heart, which led to the loss of France; his opponent at court was Humphrey of Gloucester, who wanted the war with France to continue. Suffolk was able to negotiate the marriage between Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1444, in exchange for Henry surrendering Maine to the French.  The couple was married on April 23, 1445. This was not a popular decision and Henry’s life was threatened so Margaret, Suffolk and Henry left London. Margaret and Suffolk convinced the king that Gloucester was plotting an uprising so Henry had him arrested and confined at Bury St. Edmunds in February 1447, where he would die a week later. The people were not satisfied with this and Suffolk decided to switch from peacemaker to warmonger and invaded Brittany in 1449. This brought Normandy into the middle of the Hundred Years’ War and Brittany was conquered by the French in 1450. This was the last mistake by Suffolk, who was arrested and banished, but his ship was intercepted at Dover and Suffolk was killed.

Suffolk’s allies were scapegoats for everything that was going wrong in France, which led to the revolution led by John Cade in May 1450. It was similar to the Peasants’ Revolt, however Henry VI was no Richard II and the revolt lasted for two months, until John Cade’s death. The purpose of this revolt was to purge the government, but the king did not live up to their expectations. Instead he polarized the government even further when he appointed Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset as his closest adviser. Somerset was a failure in France and he gained some notable enemies at court, especially Richard, duke of York, who was banished  to Ireland in 1447 for supporting Gloucester, but returned to England and to court in August 1450, demanding his place in the Council.

Somerset’s and York’s  rivalry simmered for several years, until  August 1453, when Henry VI had his first bout with mental illness. We are not sure what he suffered from but for weeks, he was unresponsive to everything. Some believe it was triggered by the loss of France. It affected him so much that he did not even acknowledge his only son Edward, believing that his son was born of the Holy Ghost. During this time, Richard Duke of York was made Lord Protector  in 1454 and had Somerset arrested. When Henry recovered, he restored Somerset and had York dismissed. This was the last straw for York. York and Somerset met on the battlefield at St. Albans on May 22, 1455, where Somerset was killed. This should have been the end of the conflict, however it was only just the beginning.

Henry was going to reconcile with York but another bout of mental illness hit Henry in November 1455 and York was made Lord Protector again; he was dismissed in February 1456. It was then that Margaret of Anjou took up her husband’s cause. She encouraged the new duke of Somerset Henry Beaufort to fight against York. The battlelines were being drawn. The Yorkists were led by Richard duke of York, Richard Neville earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville earl of Warwick. The Lancastrians were under Henry VI, but led by Margaret of Anjou, Somerset, and Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland. In 1459, at the battle of Ludlow, the Lancastrians won and sent the Yorkists into hiding; however the Yorkists came back with a vengeance at the battle of Northampton. In September 1460, Richard duke of York officially placed his claim to the throne to Parliament. In order to avoid more conflict, York was declared the heir to the throne, in place of Prince Edward.

Henry VI seemed to be okay with this arrangement, but Margaret was not about to let this insult stand. On December 30, 1460 at the battle of Wakefield, York was killed. Margaret continued her march to London when in 1461, she met with Warwick and defeated him at the second battle of St. Albans. Warwick fled and raised another army with York’s son Edward and marched into London on March 1461. Then, in the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses, Towton, the Lancastrian forces were defeated and Edward became Edward IV. Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland to seek aid from King James III. In exchange for the aid, Henry gave the Scots Berwick. After a few years, Henry was seen as an embarrassment to the Scots and so they returned him to northern England, where he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London by English forces in July 1465.

It looked like Henry’s days were numbered, but then on October 3, 1470, he was removed from the Tower and made king yet again. What had happened was that the earl of Warwick switched sides and fought for Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Warwick even had his daughter married to Henry’s son Edward to show his allegiance. However, Edward IV came back in April 1471 and killed Warwick and recaptured Henry VI. On May 4, 1471, Margaret’s forces faced off against Edward IV at the battle of Tewkesbury. It was a devastating loss for the Lancastrians as Prince Edward was killed and Margaret was imprisoned in the Tower. On May 21, 1471, King Henry VI was murdered. It is unknown who killed him, but many suspect that it was under the orders of  King Edward IV.

Biography: Catherine of Valois

Catherine_of_France(Born October 27, 1401- Died January 3, 1437). Daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Married to Henry V of England and Owen Tudor. Mother of Henry VI, Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor.

Catherine of Valois was the tenth child of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Her father suffered from mental illness and some believe that Catherine and her siblings were neglected by their parents. When Catherine was young, she was sent to the convent in Poissy to receive a religious education. From a young age, Catherine was on the marriage market. Her first potential groom was the son of Henry IV, the prince of Wales, but the king died before the negotiations could really get started. In 1414, a young Henry V re-opened the negotiations. In May 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed between England and France that made Henry V and his descendants the next heirs to the French throne. In order to cement this alliance, Henry V married Catherine of Valois on February 21, 1421.

Henry V went back to France to campaign a few months later, leaving a pregnant Catherine of Valois behind. Henry VI was born on December 6, 1421. Henry V would die from dysentery that he had contracted during the siege of Meaux on August 31, 1422. A few months later, Catherine’s father Charles VI died, leaving Catherine’s baby son both the king of England and France and it left Catherine a dowager queen at the age of 21.

Since Catherine was still young, there was a strong concern that she would marry again, especially to Edmund Beaufort, her late husband’s cousin. That is why Humphrey duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector and Parliament passed a bill in 1427-1428 that the queen could not get remarried without the king’s consent of her husband would lose everything, except their children would remain legitimate.

Catherine met and fell in love with a Welshman named Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur, also known as  Owen Tudor. Not much is known about his early life but in 1421, he was in service of Henry V’s steward Sir Walter Hungerford. He then became a member of Catherine’s household as either keeper of Catherine’s household or wardrobe. Sometime between 1428 and 1429, the couple is said to have gotten married, but there is no evidence to support this claim. In May 1432, Parliament granted Owen Tudor the rights of an Englishman. The couple had at least 4 children, at most 6; Edmund, Jasper, Owen, and a daughter Margaret who became a nun and died young. All of their children were born outside of court.

Catherine entered Bermondsey Abbey, possibly seeking a cure from an illness. Three days later, on January 3, 1437, she died. Catherine is buried at Westminster Abbey in Henry V’s Chantry Chapel. Catherine of Valois was the mother of Henry VI, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, as well as the grandmother of Henry Tudor, the first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty.

Questions About The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses, the dynastic battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters for the throne of England, last from 1455 at the 1st Battle of St. Albans until 1487 at the Battle of Stoke Field. This is one of my absolute favorite time periods to study because it not only marked the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, but it was also so complex and full of intriguing questions. I have decided to take the questions that you all sent me and answer them to the best of my ability to start off August, which I have dedicated to exploring this time period in honor of the Battle of Bosworth Field. I hope this will encourage more discussions about this series of wars that changed English history forever.

1.) How mad was King Henry VI and was his condition widely known in court, the country, and France? If Henry VI wasn’t mad would York still have rebelled?

There are a lot of theories about King Henry VI and what exactly his “madness, but the leading theories are that it was either catatonic schizophrenia or a severe case of depression. Catatonic schizophrenia limits a person’s movements, which would explain why he is also known as the “sleeping king”. Compared to normal people, Henry VI would seem rather mad, but compare him to say someone like Charles VI of France, the father of Katherine of Valois who believed that he was made out of glass and couldn’t remember his wife and children, Henry VI’s madness doesn’t seem that bad. Margaret of Anjou and others close to the king kept his secret very close so at the beginning, his madness was only known in the court. As the Wars of the Roses progressed and seditious propaganda was made against Henry VI, I think the common people would have learned about his madness. As for the country of France, I am not sure if they knew about Henry VI’s madness because they do offer Margaret of Anjou aid to restore him back to the throne.

I believe that York would still have rebelled because it wasn’t just Henry’s madness that made him a less than average ruler. Henry was a pious, religious man who didn’t really like fighting. He didn’t have the courage that was needed in order to be a medieval ruler of England. I believe that York knew this and decided to act. At first, he might have only been fighting his enemies in court, but I think he believed that his bloodline had a better claim to the throne and he wanted to make England better, so he rebelled against Henry VI. It wasn’t because he was mad, but because he was a weak ruler, that York rebelled.

2.) Why did Lord Stanley, who was a staunch supporter of Richard III, switch sides and support Henry Tudor during the Battle of Bosworth Field? He would not have benefitted from supporting  Henry anymore than he had Richard and all of his wife’s estates were declared forfeit to himself. So couldn’t have been for financial gain?

This was the biggest switch during the Wars of the Roses, and ultimately it is what established the victory for Henry Tudor. Richard believed that he had Lord Stanley on his side, but the morning of the battle, Lord Stanley faked being sick to avoid fighting. Lord Stanley and his son Lord Strange sat on the sidelines during the battle. Then, when all hope seemed lost for Henry Tudor, Lord Stanley and Lord Strange come to the rescue. Lord Stanley broke his own oath Sans Changer (Without Changing)to help a young man, who was virtually unknown, become King of England and helped create the Tudor Dynasty.

So the question is why did he do it. Why did Lord Stanley switch sides? I believe he might have switched because he saw how much his wife Margaret Beaufort believed in her son’s cause. Think about it. She risked everything to make sure he was safe. Even when she had lost everything, Margaret was still funding his rebellion. Even though Lord Stanley saw favor from Richard III, it must have been disheartening for him to see Richard III’s closest allies being either killed or exiled. I think this must have freaked Lord Stanley out. He wanted to make sure that he would have survived so he took a risk and bet on the young man Henry Tudor.

3.) Do you think Edward IV regretted marrying Elizabeth Woodville instead of going with a foreign bride which could have given him an alliance and back up during the war?

I don’t think Edward IV ever regretted marrying Elizabeth Woodville. I believe he loved her very dearly. In the Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV. in England and the Finall Recouerye of His Kingdomes from Henry VI (which is a very interesting read that I recommend if you want to study the Wars of the Roses), there is a moment where Edward IV returns to his throne in 1471 and sees his family again after being in exiled. He is described as having tears in his eyes as he embraces his wife and children. I believe that this passage, whether it was embellished a bit or not, shows Edward IV never regretted marrying Elizabeth Woodville. Sure a foreign bride may have established an alliance and back up during the war, but Edward was popular with the English people, even if his wife wasn’t popular with the people. Even with his numerous affairs, Edward IV’s true love was Elizabeth Woodville.

4.) Had Elizabeth (Woodville)Grey not gone into sanctuary before Richard III’s coronation, would she have survived his purge of her family members?

I really don’t think that Elizabeth (Woodville) Grey was in danger of being killed. Sure Richard III disliked the Woodvilles, but I don’t think he would have killed a woman, even if she was indeed the cause of his hatred towards one family. Richard III may have slandered his mother’s name, but I don’t think he would have murderous intentions towards women. I believe that she would have survived the purge of her family members.

5.) What was the nature of the relationship between Elizabeth of York and Richard III? Was it more than uncle and niece?

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was the niece of Richard III and there are some who say that he was planning on taking her as his wife after Anne Neville died. I believe that Richard III and Elizabeth of York had a normal uncle and niece relationship. We must remember that the Wars of the Roses was not only a series of wars that were fought on the battlefield, but also through propaganda. What better way to defame Richard III a bit further than claim that he had a relationship with his niece? There is no evidence that they had a relationship other than that of an uncle and niece.

6.) Was Edward IV a usurper?

A usurper is anyone who takes a position of power through force or illegal means. By this definition, Edward IV was indeed a usurper. He won his crown first at the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, and then again at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. He took the crown of England twice. However, just because Edward IV was a usurper does not mean that he was a bad ruler. Henry VII was also a usurper and he was able to establish the Tudor dynasty, thus ending the Wars of the Roses and brought back a time of peace and prosperity to England. Edward IV did something similar while he reigned from 1471 until his untimely death in 1483. England had a strong and stable ruler, the opposite of what Henry VI was,  with Edward IV even though he was a usurper.