Succeeding to the throne of England at the age of only nine moonths, Henry VI was arguably one of the unluckiest and unhappiest of England's monarchs.Domninated by factions and his strong-willed wife, Henry was known more for his saintliness than for his ability to govern. Despite his sordid murder in the Tower Henry left his Kingdom the lasting legacies of Eton and King's College Cambridge.
Henry was born at Windsor, the only child of Henry V and Catherine of Valois. During the campaign in France in the winter of 1421/1422, Henry V contracted an illness, probably dysentery, which he was unable to shake off. He died at the Bois de Vincennes on August 31st. Thus at nine months his son succeeded to the throne of England as Henry VI. During his minority a council appointed by parliament ran the kingdom. The new king's uncle, John, Duke of Bedford, governed France and another uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was Protector of England. In 1428 Henry was placed in the care of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick who had been one his father's most trusted lieutenants.
Henry was crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey on November 6th 1429 and on December 2nd the following year he was crowned King of France at St Denis in Paris. He was the only sovereign to have been crowned in both England and France.
However, ever since the French, inspired by Joan of Arc, raised the siege of Orleans in 1429, English power in France went into a steady decline. Bedford died in 1435 and the French recovered Paris in 1436. By 1450 Normandy had been lost and in 1453 the English were expelled from all of France except Calais.
In 1445, Henry married the fifteen year old Margaret of Anjou, who was possessed of a much stronger will than her husband. In 1447 she colluded with the Beaufort party to have Gloucester arrested for treason. He was found dead in his bed five days later. There were strong suspicions that he was poisoned by Suffolk but there has never been any proof that he was murdered. However, the loss of Normandy provoked a furious reaction against Suffolk who was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. Impeached by his peers he was banished from the Kingdom for five years. However, on May 4th 1450 he was brutally murdered on his way to exile. The murder of Suffolk provoked a revolt by the commons and the lesser gentry of Kent who were led by Jack Cade. The rioters got temporary possession of London but were soon captured and executed.
Then in 1453 Henry went mad. Taken ill at Clarendon Palace, he was transferred to Windsor castle where, for a year and a half he was totally unaware of his surroundings and had to be fed and nursed night and day. The illness then was mysterious but it is now thought to have been a case of catatonic schizophrenia. In February 1454 parliament appointed Richard of York as "Protector of England." As a descendant of the third son of Richard III, York's claim to the throne was stronger than Henry's and when the latter recovered at the end of 1454 he levied an army in an attempt to hold on to power. At St Albans in 1455 he defeated the king's forces and Henry was taken prisoner. This was the first battle in the long feud known as The Wars of the Roses
A return of Henry's illness say York's second Protectorate in 1455-1456. On his recovery Henry tried in vain to maintain the peace between the factions in his council. York claimed the crown but the magnates shied away from the constitutional implications and only recognised him as the heir. The implied disinheritance of Henry's young son, Prince Edward was too much for Margaret and she began to raise an army in the north. York was determined to frustrate her and marched north with his army. The two met at Wakefield on December 30th 1460 where the superior Lancastrian forces won the day and killed York. Following up her advantage, Margaret repossessed Henry after the second Battle of St Albans in February 1461. But she failed to take London and in 1461 York's son was proclaimed King Edward IV.
In 1465 Henry was captured and committed to the Tower. He remained a prisoner until Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, rescued him in 1470 and restored him to the throne. The restoration was to be short lived however. In May 1471 Edward defeated the Lancastrian forces at Tewkesbury, killing Henry's son, Prince Edward, and capturing Margaret. Edward arrived back in London on May 21 and on that night, between eleven and midnight, Henry VI was executed. His body was displayed for all to see at St Paul's the following morning and he was later buried in the Lady Chapel at Chertsey Abbey. Known more for his saintliness than for his ability to govern, Henry VI was the founder of Eton and King's College Cambridge.