"The reign of Henry VI has strong claims to be considered the most calamitous in the whole of English history."
- B. P. Wolffe.
Reigning 1422-71, Henry VI was the third and the last of the Lancastrian monarchs, he was the king of England and, for a time, France.
Henry VI's reign got off on a bad footing from the start because it began in 1422, in his early infancy. His formal coronation was in 1429, shortly after his eighth birthday. Despite efforts by the Duke of Glouvester to extend his influence during Henry's infancy, a strong council of 17 ruled for this period. This was to prove to be the most successful part of Henry's 'reign', as when he came of age in 1437, he proved inept for the duty of Kingship. Among the faults listed by his contemporaries were too much compassion to high-profile offenders, high levels of taxation, and favouritism to the ruling elite.
Henry was careless in his use of patronage, and showed favouritism in this regard to the dukes of Somerset and Suffolk, giving them titles, land and favours, while denying these things to other powerful families. Among these denied was Richard, Duke of York, a descendant of Edward III, who was viewed as the legitimate heir to the throne before the birth of Henry VI's son in 1453.
This favouritism to others and indifference to Richard of York, as well as the King's personal weakness resulted in rebellion - the Wars of the Roses. This was 30 years of on/off warfare that, in 1461, ended the reign of Henry VI and destroyed the Lancastrian dynasty.
Perhaps the worse crime of Henry VI was in undoing Henry V's greatest achievement - he lost most of the huge French Empire his father had gained in the victory in 1415 at Agincourt.
Henry VI became King of France upon the death of his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France. Charles VI's daughter, Catherine, had married Henry V in accordance of the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. Henry VI only made one boyhood visit to this troubled kingdom, and from 1429 onwards the spirit of French nationalism was threatening to drive the English out. In May 1430, both Henry and the recently captured Joan of Arc were in the English-held city of Rouen. Henry made his was to Notre Dame in Paris to be crowned King of France, while Joan, who was convicted of been a witch, stayed in Rouen to face execution by burning at the stake.
Henry's formal coronation as King of France was an attempt to counter the crowning of another French claimant, Charles VII, in the previous year. For 15 years, Charles was accepted only in the south and centre as King, while the English king retained Paris, Aquitaine and much of the north.
The English were eventually pushed out of Aquitaine and Normandy following two humiliating defeats in Formigny in 1450 and Castillon in 1453. By 1461 only a single outpost, Calais and its surrounding land remained. This was eventually surrended in 1558 in the reign of Mary I.
A short timeline:
- Born 1421.
- King 1422.
- Begins own rule in 1437.
- Engaged in 1444.
- Married in 1445.
- He went mad in 1453, and his son is born.
- A brief period of sanity in 1455.
- Usurped in 1461.
- Ruled again 1470-71.
- Murdered in 1471.