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.

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.

Biography: King Richard II

mw05302(Born January 6, 1367- Died on or about February 14, 1400). Son of Edward the Black Prince and Joan 4th Countess of Kent. Married to Anne of Bohemia and Isabella of Valois. He had no children.

Richard II was the second son of Edward the Black Prince, but when his older brother Edward died when Richard was three, Richard became second in line to the throne after his father. When Edward the Black Prince and Edward III died, Richard II became king at the tender age of 10. There was no formal regent that could help guide Richard II, but his uncle John of Gaunt did the best that he could, taking a more active political role.

Richard II and his government decided to start taxing the people with poll taxes to pay for the wars in France and the campaigns in Scotland. At first, they were tolerated, but then the people got mad. In June 1381, a man named Wat Tyler had enough and killed a tax collector and raised a force of around 100,000 to march against the king. When the two forces finally met, Wat Tyler was killed by the Lord Mayor of London William Walworth. Richard at the age of 14 stopped the Peasants’ Revolt by promising the people reforms that he, in the end,  did not fulfill the reforms.

He was the champion of England, but inside his court, things were more divisive. Richard II had two very close advisors, Robert de Vere earl of Oxford and Michael de la Pole. He granted favors upon the two men, causing anger in the court. Richard also sought military glory in Scotland, which ended up being a disaster. To top it all off in 1386, Richard made Robert de Vere duke of Ireland and Michael de la Pole was made a chancellor, without consulting Parliament first. This was the last straw for those who opposed Richard II. They decided to act. Five of his strongest opponents; Thomas duke of Gloucester,  the earl of Arundel, Thomas Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, Thomas Mowbray, and Henry Bolingbroke the son of John of Gaunt, became known as the Lords Appellant. They took over the country and they tried to convince Richard to give up his courtiers.

He did comply for a little while, until he became of age. His first wife Anne of Bohemia died in 1394 from the plague, leaving Richard heartbroken. He married his second wife Isabella of Valois as part of a peace treaty with France, strengthening his position in his own country. He went after the Lords Appellant. Most of them were killed, except for Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke. Mowbray was exiled for life while Henry was exiled for ten years. During his reign “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer was published and literature was on the rise.

In 1399, John of Gaunt died and instead of pardoning his son Henry Bolingbroke, Richard banished him for life. Richard left later that same year to quell the unrest in Ireland and Henry Bolingbroke took his chance to invade. Richard’s support dwindled and on August 19, 1399, Richard II forfeited to Henry and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The next in line for the throne, since Richard II had no children, was Edmund Mortimer earl of March, who was only 8 years old at the time. Parliament did not want a similar situation than the one that they were in, so they forced Richard II to abdicate and on September 29, 1399, Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV. Richard II was moved to Pontefract Castle and on or around February 14, 1400, he died. Some believe that he starved to death as there was no evidence of a physical murder.

With Richard II’s abdication and Henry IV’s accession came the rise of the House of Lancaster.

 

Biography: Katherine Swynford

(Born November  25, 1350 – Died May 10, 1403). Daughter of Payne de Roet. Sister of Philippa Chaucer, the wife of Geoffrey Chaucer. Married to Hugh Swynford and John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. Mother of the Beauforts as well as 3 children with Hugh Swynford.

Katherine was probably born on or around November 25, 1350 to Payne de Roet, a herald and later a knight. We don’t know much about her early life.  Katherine was appointed governess to watch over the children of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in 1365. In 1367, she married Hugh Swynford, a knight, and they had 3 children; Blanche, Thomas and Margaret Swynford.

Hugh Swynford and Blanche of Lancaster would both die in 1371, the same year that rumors began that Katherine and John were having an affair. John quickly silenced those rumors by marrying Constance of Castile later the same year. In 1372 Katherine’s position in John’s household got better and by 1373, their first child John, was born. They would have 4 children; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan.They would adopt the last name Beaufort in honor of their father’s lost of his lordship of Anjou.

During the 1380’s, Katherine left court so John could repair his reputation after the Peasants’ Revolt. When Constance died in 1394, everything changed for the couple. They were married in 1396 and their children became legitimate, however they were banned from the line of succession for the throne of England. John would die on February 3, 1399, leaving Katherine a widow yet again. Katherine would die on May 10, 1403.

Her children with John of Gaunt, the Beauforts and their children, would change English history forever.

Biography: John of Gaunt

gaunt(Born March 6, 1340- Died March 15, 1399). Son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.  He had three wives, Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castile, and Katherine Swynford. He was the 1st Duke of Lancaster, the Duke of Aquitaine, King of Castile, and one of the wealthiest men of his time. His children would become the House of Lancaster, the Beauforts, the monarchs of Portugal and Castile, and the Hapsburgs.

 

John of Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III. He wasn’t supposed to be as wealthy or influential as he became but he achieved prestige by marrying well. With his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was able to become the first Duke of Lancaster. Blanche of Lancaster would die in 1369 and John would marry Constance of Castile in 1371. She was next in line for the throne of Castile and for years John fought for her crown against the Spanish. The problem was that they were also fighting the French as the Hundred Years’ War was just starting.   After his brother Edward The Black Prince’s death in 1376, John took John Wycliffe under his protection as he now had more of a political influence.

When Edward III died, John of Gaunt’s nephew Richard II became king and John was his right hand man. There was a lot of mistrust with the nobility and the common folk which lead to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which was quickly and brutally taken care of. John went  back to Castile try to take the throne, but as soon as he left, England almost fell into civil war because of how poorly Richard II ruled. John gave up his claim to the Castilian throne to help bring England back to some stability.

 

He would also help sponsor  Geoffrey Chaucer, who was his brother in law since Chaucer married the sister of John’s third wife and long time mistress, Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine met while he was married to Constance and had 4 children out of wedlock. After they were married in 1396, their children were made legitimate and given the name “Beaufort”. There was one catch, they were not allowed to inherit the throne, although their half- brother Henry IV allowed them to have some royal status. John of Gaunt died  of natural causes on March 15, 1399 with Katherine Swynford by her side. He would later be buried by his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster.

Biography: King Edward III

mw02027(Born November 13, 1312- died June 21, 1377. Reigned from January 1327 until June 21, 1377).Son of Edward II and Isabella of France.Married to Philippa of Hainault. They had 13 children including Edward “The Black Prince”, Edmund Duke of York, and John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster.

Edward III was the king who started The Hundred Years’ War with France. His sons Edmund Duke of York and John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster would be the founders of the Houses of York and Lancaster respectfully.

To say the early part of Edward III’s reign was turbulent would be an understatement. His mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer had his father Edward II disposed and placed Edward III on the throne at the tender age of 14. A few years later after a terrible campaign in Scotland, Edward III had Mortimer executed.

Edward III had to deal with Scotland and France throughout his entire reign. He overthrew his brother in law David II King of Scotland for Edward Balliol, but it did not last long. Unfortunately before Edward III could really start a war with Scotland, he had to declare a truce with them as France was becoming a bigger headache. While the English were dealing with the Scots, the French had raided English coastal towns because Scotland and France had an alliance. Edward had a claim to the throne of France and so he decided to fight the French for what he believed was rightfully his, starting the Hundred Years’ War. Edward was able to capture Gascony, Calais, and other colonies in France for England.

Edward III modeled his court after that of King Arthur. It was a time that chivalry was becoming popular. Edward III established the Noble Order of the Garter, which is still active today, and his son Edward The Black Prince, was among the first members. However, the prosperous times would not last long as the Black Death of 1348 consumed all of Europe, including England, killing off a third of the population. In 1356, Edward The Black Prince won an important victory against the French at the Battle of Poitiers. The French king and his son were captured and it looked like England had won, but Edward III would sign the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, which renounced his claim to the French throne, but allowed the English to keep its French territories.

Edward III relied on the military strength of his sons, especially Edward The Black Prince and John of Gaunt. In 1369, Philippa of Hainault died of what seems like dropsy. Edward was distraught and he decided to take a mistress Alice Perrers, who held too much power at court and was banished in 1376. Also in 1376, Edward The Black Prince passed away. Edward III would die the following year from an apparent stroke. He left the throne to his grandson Richard II.