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4 Death and Legacy
Henry was the only child and heir of King Henry V of England, therefore great things were expected of him from birth. He was born on December 6, 1421 at Windsor, but his father died when he was only a few months old. His mother, Catherine of Valois, was French and only twenty years old. Because of general suspicion of her nationality, she was prevented from having much to do with her son's upbringing, and regents ruled the kingdom on his behalf.
Henry's half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper, the sons of his mother's second marriage, were later given earldoms, Edmund being the father of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII of England.
Henry was eventually crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on November 6, 1429 at the age of eight, and King of France at Notre Dame in Paris on December 16, 1431. However he did not assume the reins of government until he was declared of age in 1437 - the year in which his mother died.
Early in the child king's reign, the most powerful of the regents were his uncles, John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The former died in 1435; the latter was disgraced, accused of treason and probably murdered in 1447.
ReignAs a result of his successes in the Hundred Years' War, Henry V had left England in possession of considerable territories in France, but the momentum was lost on his death, and, during his son's reign, most of the ground he had gained would be lost. Henry VI had proved to be a deeply spiritual man, lacking the worldly wisdom necessary to allow him to rule effectively. His wife, Margaret of Anjou, whom he married in 1445, was far more capable. By the time of the birth of their first and only child, Edward Prince of Wales, in 1453, the king had suffered a mental breakdown, and it was rumoured that the child was not his. After a violent struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York who contested the throne, Henry was deposed on March 4, 1461 by his cousin, who became King Edward IV of England.
Queen Margaret was determined to win back the throne on behalf of her husband and son, and eventually formed an alliance with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had fallen out with the new king. After marrying off his daughter to the Prince of Wales, Warwick returned to England, defeated the Yorkists in battle, and restored Henry VI to the throne on October 30, 1470. His return to power lasted a very short time. Warwick overreached himself by declaring war on Burgundy, whose ruler responded by giving Edward IV the assistance he needed to win back his throne by force. The Prince of Wales was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.
Death and Legacy
Henry VI was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was murdered some time during May of that 1471. Although legend has accused Richard, Duke of Gloucester of his murder, Richard is an unlikely suspect, having been only nineteen at the time.
He was succeeded by Edward IV, son of Richard, Duke of York.
Ironically for one so personally pious and peace-loving, Henry left a great legacy of strife and civil war. Perhaps his one lasting positive achievement was his fostering of education -- he founded both Eton College and King's College, Cambridge.
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