King Henry V is generally reckoned to have been a ‘Good King’, best remembered for winning the Battle of Agincourt and for getting some of Shakespeare’s best lines –
‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’,‘Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George’,‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’,
and all that. Henry’s son, also called Henry, became King Henry VI. He should have been a ‘Good King’ too, because he was a kindly, pious man, but throughout his life he was dogged by periods of mental instability.
|The boy King Henry VI|
He became King of England when he was only nine months old, making him the youngest-ever English monarch to succeed to the throne, and during his childhood his father’s brothers, John and Humphrey, acted as regents on his behalf. In 1437, when Henry was sixteen years old, he took power in his own right, although his court was dominated by favourites. Henry was the great-grandson of King Edward III, and another of Edward’s great-grandsons, Richard, 1st Duke of York, was named as Henry’s heir presumptive, although York was sent to govern Ireland and excluded from life at Henry’s court. In 1445, Henry married the fifteen-year-old Margaret of Anjou, a political match intended bring a peaceful conclusion to the Hundred Years War between England and France, and in 1453 their only son, Edward, was born.
|King Henry VI|
Two of Henry’s favourites, the Dukes of Somerset and Suffolk, caused particular unrest in the country and the reputation of the monarchy was greatly diminished; Suffolk was very unpopular and a Commons campaign against him forced Henry to send him into exile, although his ship was intercepted in the English Channel and Suffolk’s murdered body was washed ashore at Dover. Somerset mishandled the military campaign in Normandy and lost all the land gains made by Henry V, leaving Calais as the only English territory on the continent.
|The Houses of Lancaster and York|
In 1452, Richard, Duke of York, returned from Ireland with the intention of putting an end to the corruption in Henry’s court and after setbacks, he was named regent and Protector of the Realm in 1454, when a bout of Henry’s insanity had rendered him unable to rule. York gained a powerful ally in Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and when Henry regained his sanity late in 1454, Warwick and other disaffected nobles backed the House of York’s claim to the throne.
|Richard of York giving Battle in Vain|
Thus began the War of the Roses, with the first action, the First Battle of St Albans, resulting in victory for Richard of York, who captured Henry VI and committed him to the Tower of London, together with the deaths of some of the leading Lancastrian nobles. I won’t go into the details of the War of the Roses just now, but York never became King, although he was named as Henry VI’s successor, in spite of being older than him. Richard married Cecily Neville and they had eight children, and their eldest surviving son, Edward, was declared King Edward IV soon after his father had been killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460.
|Margaret of Anjou|
Margaret of Anjou took refuge in Scotland and planned to regain the throne for her husband and son, and when Edward IV argued with Warwick and with his younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence, Margaret allied herself with them, and after Warwick’s daughter, Anne, had been married to her son, Edward of Westminster, Margaret backed Warwick’s campaign against the Yorkists.
|Warwick killed at the Battle of Barnet|
In 1470, Edward VI was forced into exile and Henry VI was returned to the throne, with Warwick and Clarence effectively ruling on his behalf, as his insanity had relapsed. Queen Margaret and Anne remained temporarily in exile in France and returned to England in 1471, only to learn that Edward IV had been reconciled with his brother, Clarence, and that Warwick had been killed at the Battle of Barnet. Margaret and her son, Edward, fought against the Yorkists at Tewkesbury, where Edward was killed, the only heir presumptive to die in battle. Henry VI was returned to the Tower of London and Edward IV resumed his reign; Henry died in prison in 1471, some say of melancholy when he heard of the death of his son, Edward, at Tewkesbury, others say he was murdered on the orders of Edward IV, others yet think he was killed by Edward’s brother, Richard.
|The Tomb of Henry VI|
This Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, later married Anne Neville (widow of the same Edward of Westminster), to whom he had once been betrothed. When Edward IV died, this brother Richard committed Edward’s sons, Edward and Richard, to the Tower of London (the Princes in the Tower), usurped the throne and was declared King Richard III.
|Murder of the Princes in the Tower|
Now, if you’re finding it difficult following all these assorted Henries, Richards and Edwards, you’re probably not alone, so just for a bit of a break, I’ll take a look at another of Richard of York’s sons already mentioned, thankfully called George.