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: Owen Tudor

Full name: Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur. (Born around 1400- Died February 2, 1461) Son of Maredudd ap Tudur and Margaret ferch Dafydd. Husband of Catherine of Valois.  Father of 4-6 children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor.

Owen Tudor was the son of Maredudd ap Tudur and Margaret ferch Dafydd. We do not know much about his early life. Owen’s father and his uncles were involved in the rebellion of Owain Glyn Dwr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, against the English. This rebellion was suppressed and Welshmen moved into England to find work. In 1421, he found work with Sir Walter Hungerford, the steward of King Henry V. In 1422, King Henry V would die from dysentery, leaving behind his 21 year old wife Catherine of Valois and their baby son, who was now King Henry VI. It was during this time that  it is said that Owen came to work in Catherine’s household.

Parliament passed a bill that stated that the dowager queen could not marry again unless she had the king’s permission. If she did marry without permission, her husband would lose everything, but their children would remain legitimate. It is said that the couple was married between 1428 and 1429. In May 1432, Owen Tudor was given the same rights as an English gentleman. The couple had at least 4 children; Edmund born in 1430, Jasper born in 1431, a son who is rumored to have become a monk, and a daughter who either died young or became a nun.

Catherine would enter Bermondsey Abbey to receive medical attention, where she died on January 3, 1437. Edmund and Jasper were sent to the Abbess of Barking to receive  their education while Owen dealt with the king’s Regency council. Owen was nervous about the council and so he sought sanctuary at Westminster Abbey; when he did arrive at the council, he was cleared of all charges and was allowed to return to Wales. However, he was captured by Lord Beaumont and sent to Newgate Prison.

In 1438, he managed to escape with the help of a priest and a servant; he was recaptured and held at Windsor Castle under the guardianship of Edmund Beaufort. In 1439, King Henry VI pardoned Owen Tudor, restored all of his lands, provided him a position at court, and made the Keeper of the King’s Parks in Denbigh. In 1442, Henry VI welcomed his half- brothers Edmund and Jasper to court with open arms. In November 1452, Edmund became the earl of Richmond and Jasper became the earl of Pembroke. On November 3, 1456, Edmund Tudor died from the plague, leaving his young son and wife in the capable hands of his brother Jasper Tudor.  Owen and Jasper would serve Henry VI by capturing Yorkist supporters for the king and in return gaining their estates, including John, Lord Clinton in 1459; that same year, Owen had a son with an unknown mistress named Sir David Owen, born at Pembroke Castle.

Owen joined his son Jasper’s army to raise an army in Wales in January 1461. On February 2, 1461, their army faced off against the Yorkist army at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. It was a devastating loss for the Lancasterian cause. Jasper Tudor escaped, but Owen was captured and beheaded under the orders of Edward Earl of March, later Edward IV, at Hereford.

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.

Biography: King Henry V

mw03074(Born September 16, 1387- Died August 31, 1422). Son of Henry IV and Mary de Bohun. Married to Katherine of Valois. He only had one son Henry VI.

Henry V was a soldier from birth. He did so much for his country, yet he died too soon, leaving his kingdom in the incapable hands of his baby son Henry VI.

At the age of fifteen, Henry V fought alongside his father against the Welsh rebels under Owain Glyn Dwr and the English rebels under Edmund Mortimer and Henry “Hotspur” Percy. Henry’s relationship with his father in the later years of Henry IV’s life was not great. The two argued about many issues, but it was mostly about the English involvement in France. Henry IV wanted to press his claim to the French throne while France was in the midst of a civil war between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs; Henry IV supported the Armagnacs while Henry V supported the Burgundians. This issue would never be resolved between them as Henry IV would die in 1413 and Henry V became king.

As king, Henry V desired to regain the lands in France that he believed was rightfully his, but unlike his father, he was able to get the full support of Parliament to do so. Henry V tried to negotiate with the French to regain all of the old Angevin Empire,  but when that failed, he invaded on August 11, 1415. On October 25, 1415, the Battle of Agincourt took place. Even though the French had the English outnumbered, the English had longbowmen. The French lost some 6,000 men whereas the English only lost 400 men.

Agincourt was a tremendous victory for the English, but the French refused to fall. Henry V gained support from Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor and John, duke of Burgundy and started a new campaign in August 1417. In the spring of 1419, Normandy fell to Henry V. In May 1420, Henry V signed the Treaty of Troyes with the Burgundians which recognized him and his heirs  as heir to the French throne. In order to cement this new alliance, he married the daughter of the French King Katherine of Valois.

Everything seemed right in Henry’s kingdom, but he still wanted to gain more French land. In 1421, he went back to France and was able to gain control of the Dauphin’s stronghold of Meaux in May 1422. Unfortunately, in the winter of 142, Henry V fell ill from dysentery and died on August 31, 1422. He left his kingdom in the hands of his infant son Henry VI. Even though Henry V’s reign was one of the shortest of any English king since the Norman Conquest, it was one of the most successful. England was in a position of power on the world stage thanks to the actions of Henry V.

Biography: King Henry IV (aka Henry Bolingbroke)

(Born April 3, 1367- Died March 20, 1413). Son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of mw03072Lancaster. Married to Mary de Bohun and Joan of Navarre. He had 7 children with Mary, including the future Henry V. He was the 1st king from the house of Lancaster.

Henry was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster and was born at Bolingbroke Castle on April 3, 1367. Early in his life, he became one of the Lords Appellant who were opposed to the rule of Richard II. He stepped down from this role in 1389 and in 1390, went on his first adventure, journeying with the Teutonic Knights to Lithuania. Two years later, he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During this time, he visited numerous courts in Europe and was held in high regards. He was a handsome young man, but it was early in life where Henry’s ill health that plagued him during his reign started to appear.

Henry was a good person to help the king, however the only one who failed to realize this was Richard II. He banished Henry in 1398 for ten years, but when John of Gaunt died the following year and Henry became the next Duke of Lancaster, Richard II took all of his lands and banished him forever. This was the last straw for Henry. While Richard was occupied with unrest in Ireland, Henry took his chance and invaded England, forcing Richard to abdicate. The next one in line to the throne was Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, but he was only eight years old, so Parliament agreed that Henry would be a better choice to be king. His reign as Henry IV began on September 30, 1399.

However, not everyone was happy with Henry as king. Henry IV’s first rebellion that he had to deal with was by the earls of Kent, Salisbury and Huntingdon, just a month after he became king. Henry took care of this rebellion quickly and violently. It is also believed that this was around the same time that Henry ordered the death of Richard II. A few months after the first rebellion, Henry IV had to deal with a second rebellion in Wales, where Owain Glyn Dwr was declared Prince of Wales in September 1400. This revolt was quickly put down, but Owain evaded capture for several years, leading to guerrilla style warfare.

Owain’s supporters grew not only amongst Welsh barons, but English ones as well, including the Mortimers who were upset that Henry was king and not Edmund, who was Owain’s son in law after he married Owain’s daughter. Another supporter was Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the son of the earl of Northumberland who believed that he did not get the recognition that he deserved after he fought against the Scots. These forces came together and fought against Henry at the battle of Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403, where Henry defeated Hotspur easily and killed him. Henry was not going to let the rebel army get away and by 1408, they were all but eliminated.

Two years before this, in 1406, Henry IV took James I of Scotland hostage and his young heir was sent to France. James was in the English court for 17 years as a hostage and for that time, the relationships between England, Scotland and France were good. Things were looking up for Henry IV, except for his health. Starting in 1406, his health was in decline and there was a serious concern for his life. He tried to govern, but he became more reliant on his Parliament. In 1409, Henry’s son Prince Henry was made chancellor over Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury. Arundel returned in 1411 when Henry and his council were debating if he should step down in favor of Prince Henry, which Henry refused to do. Henry died in 1413 from some sort of wasting disease at the age of 45. His son Prince Henry would succeed him as Henry V.

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir

911GmwfEpdLThe Wars of the Roses was a series of wars from 1455 until 1487 for the throne of England. It is traditionally taught that it was between the houses of York and Lancaster, yet there were a lot more players involved than these two families. In fact the conflict started much earlier with the children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The Lancasters were the descendants of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster while the Yorks were descendants of Edmund of Langley Duke of York. This was a series over the question of who had the strongest claim to the throne. This question and the series of wars that would try to answer it is explored in depth in Alison Weir’s book “The Wars of the Roses”.

Alison Weir explains the struggle of studying this time period and what she is trying to accomplish in her book:

Sources for this period are meagre and often ambiguous, yet much research has been done over the last hundred years to illuminate a little for us what is often described as the twilight world of the fifteenth century. Many misconceptions have been swept away, yet even so the dynastic conflict still confuses many. My aim has been throughout to eliminate that confusion and try to present the story in chronological sequence, clarifying the problems of the royal succession in an age in which no certain rules of inheritance applied. I have also tried to bring the world of the fifteenth century to life by introducing as much contemporary detail as space permits, in order to make the subject relevant to any read, academic or otherwise. Chiefly, however, I have tried to re-tell an astonishing and often grim story of power struggles in high places that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English history. (Weir, xix).

Weir begins her book by explaining  what England in the fifteenth century was like before diving into the history of Edward III and the Plantagenets in the late 1300s. This may seem a little complex since there were many sons of Edward III, but the throne first went to Richard II, but when he was forced to abdicate, the throne went to Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford had children who would become known as the Beauforts. They would become important later on.

Henry IV’s son would become Henry V who was married to Katherine of Valois. When Henry V died, their son Henry VI became king; he was a baby. His mother would remarry a Welsh man named Owen Tudor and they would have a few children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Richard Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edmund of Langley, would have a son with his wife Anne Mortimer named Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. He would marry the “Rose of Raby” Cecily Neville and they would be the parents of Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

This all may seem a bit complex, but it is important to understand how all of the players in the Wars of the Roses were connected. Henry VI was a weak king who was known for his madness and so someone had to lead the government. Richard Duke of York believed that he should have been Lord Protector, however Margaret of Anjou and her party at court had other ideas. The beginning of this conflict was a battle between court factions, but eventually it escalated rather quickly into a full on rebellion by Richard Duke of York. This was now a battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters. When Richard Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, his son Edward took on the Yorkist cause and would become king after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil. After Towton, it was a battle between Edward IV and those who supported Henry VI, until 1471 when Edward IV ultimately won, thus ending the conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Weir chooses to end her book here at 1471 even though the Wars of the Roses will pick back up with the death of Edward IV in 1483 when his brother Richard becomes Richard III. Weir truly brought this time period to life. I have been studying the Wars of the Roses for a few years now and I have to say this book really simplified this complex family struggle in a way that makes sense. I love this book and I have read it several times. If you really want a great book that explains the causes of the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend this book, “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir. It is a fantastic introduction to this tumultuous time period.

Book Review: “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy” by Tony Riches

Medieval knightOwen Tudor, the second husband of Catherine of Valois and the father of Edmund and Jasper Tudor. His affair with Catherine changed English history forever, yet not much is known about his past before he met Catherine. Was he married before  he met Catherine and after she died? What must have been like for him as the Wars of the Roses began to take hold of England and everything he worked hard for began to fade away. The man who started as a Welsh servant turned step- father to King Henry VI and the grandfather of King Henry VII, the patriarch of the Tudor Dynasty, this is the protagonist in Tony Riches’ book, “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy”.

Tony Riches explains his fascination with Owen Tudor:

I was born near Pembroke Castle and recently visited the small room where the thirteen- year old Margaret Beaufort gave birth to Henry Tudor. I also stood on the pebble beach at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, imagining how Jasper Tudor would have felt as he approached with Henry and his mercenary army to ride to Bosworth- and  change history. These experiences made me wonder about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who began this fascinating dynasty. I felt a responsibility to research his story in as much detail as possible and try to sort out the myths from the facts. There are huge gaps in the historical records, which only historical fiction can help to fill. As well as there being no surviving record of Owen’s marriage, no  reliable image of him exists….I would like to remember Owen , not as a victim of the Wars of the Roses, but as an adventurer, a risk- taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants. (Riches, 168).

Tony Riches starts his book with Owen’s entrance into Catherine of Valois’ household as the Keeper of her Wardrobe after the death of her first husband, Henry V. Owen tries to focus on his job, and not on Catherine, but he cannot help it. He loves Catherine and she loves him. They decide to marry in secret and they have 3 boys; Edmund, Jasper, and a third son who joined the church. The happiness that Catherine and Owen had living in the countryside would not last long. Catherine dies shortly after giving birth to a daughter and their secret relationship is revealed. Owen is thrown in jail while his sons Edmund and Jasper are raised to be the step-brothers of King Henry VI.

Eventually, Owen is released and is allowed to live a good life as a commander in France while his sons are given titles and land. Owen helps escort Margaret of Anjou to England to marry Henry VI and he helps walk his daughter in law Margaret Beaufort down the aisle. Unfortunately, the wheel of fortune is always turning and the happiness is soon replaced with tragedy yet again. Edmund Tudor dies shortly before the birth of his son Henry Tudor and the Wars of the Roses tears the country apart. Owen is killed before he could see his family triumph as the new dynasty in England.

This is the story of Owen Tudor. I found Tony Riches’ book “Owen” a thrilling read. I have always been fascinated by the life of Owen Tudor and his sons and Tony Riches was able to write a story that made me want to study more about Owen Tudor and his life. Riches was able to combine the historical facts that we know about Owen with fictitious elements, including two other women that Owen fell in love with and a friend named Nathaniel, into a cohesive and engaging book. I did not want to stop reading this book. This was my first time reading a book by Tony Riches and I loved it. His writing style is engaging and very easy to read. I look forward to reading more books by him in the future.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Owen Tudor and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.