Henry VI was the son of King Henry V of England, and succeeded to the throne in 1422 at the age of eight months (supposedly presiding over Parliament from his mother's lap) after his father's death. He was officially crowned king of England just before he turned 8, and two years later also crowned king of France due to the treaty Henry V had gotten the French to sign. However, his English regent died and French nationalist movements such as that led by Joan of Arc ate away at English control of France until in 1453 only the city of Calais was really in English hands.

Henry VI suffered from periods of insanity (just like his grandfather, Charles VI of France) and during these times his cousin Richard the Duke of York took charge. Henry married a determined woman, Margaret of Anjou and had a son, Edward. When Henry was not having obvious mental problems, Margaret and Edmund, Duke of Somerset, were the powers behind the throne. These two were on the side of the House of Lancaster, whose emblem was supposedly the red rose; the Duke of York's emblem was the white rose, and hence the fighting between these two sides which broke out by 1455 is known as the Wars of the Roses. (NinjaPenguin tells me that "The War of the Roses was actually a misinformed title; the red rose was actually a symbol for the Tudors, not the house of Lancaster. The name was given by Longfellow, but I since learned that it isn't too accurate.")

In 1460 Henry was captured by Yorkists and forced to make the Duke of York heir to the throne rather than his own son. Queen Margaret led the Lancaster forces and freed her husband in February 1461, but a month later the Yorkists defeated the Lancasterians and put the son of the now-late Richard, Edward the Duke of York, onto the throne of England as Edward IV. Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland.

In 1464, Henry and company returned to England and tried to force a coup d'etat, but failed and Henry was imprisoned for six years. In October 1470 the Earl of Warwick managed to engineer a real coup and put Henry back on the throne, with Edward fleeing to Burgundy. Edward came back to England the next April and regained the throne. Henry was reimprisoned and died "from pure displeasure and melancholy" in 21 May 1471, while his son Edward was killed at the Lancastrian defeat at the battle of Tewkesbury. (Quote from David Williamson's The Kings and Queens of England; it's in quotes there but he doesn't give the source.)

"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.

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