Monday, 5 March 2012

Murder Most Royal – Part IV


Henry VI murdered 21st May 1471

 Henry came to the throne in 1422, as a nine month old baby; following the death of his hero father Henry V, while on campaign in France. Henry was afflicted by the madness inherent in the French royal dynasty through his mother, Katherine. At the age of eleven months he became king of France, upon the death of his grandfather, Charles VI, as agreed in the 1420 Treaty of Troyes. The treaty was drawn up after the success of the battle of Agincourt (Azincourt in France). Henry’s senior Regent was his uncle John Duke of Bedford, who was in charge of the ongoing war in France. The Duke of Gloucester, Henry’s other uncle was appointed Protector & Defender of the Realm. The earl of Warwick was appointed Henry’s tutor in 1428.

Jeanne d'Arc
In 1429 the French armies were energised by the leadership of the Maid of Orleans, Jeanne ‘dArc. Her victories led to the crowning of Charles de Valois as king of France in Reims cathedral on 17th July 1429. The English were stung into action. Henry was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6th November 1429, It took a further two years to arrange his coronation as King of France at Notre Dame on 16th December 1431[i]. By then Joan had been captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English & burnt at the stake for heresy in May 1431.

In 1440 Henry founded Eton College, as a charity school to provide free education for poor boys. The following year he founded King’s College in Cambridge. A man who preferred religion over politics, Henry favoured making peace with the French, a position that was not acceptable to most of the nobility. 

Henry moved into the camp of his father’s half brother, Henry Beaufort, Cardinal Bishop of Winchester. Henry was persuaded to marry Marguerite d’Anjou, a niece of Charles VI’s wife. For the privilege of marrying Marguerite in April 1445, Henry gave the counties of Maine & Anjou back to the French, a secret part of the Treaty of Tours, the details of which became known in 1446 and created much public bitterness.
In 1447 Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was arraigned on the charge of treason and was placed in custody in Bury St Edmunds, where he died. Richard, the Duke of York, now Henry's heir presumptive, was sent to govern Ireland away from the centre of power; while his opponents, the Earls of Suffolk and Somerset were promoted to Dukes[ii]. The new Duke of Somerset was sent to France conduct the war, which was going badly for the English. By 1450 the French had retaken Normandy.

The monarchy was becoming increasingly unpopular due to:

·         a breakdown in law and order, caused in the main by the return of unpaid troops from France

·         the increase of corruption

·         the distribution of royal land to the king's court favourites, which exacerbated  

·         the troubled state of the crown's finances

·         the steady loss of territories in France.

In 1447, this dislike of the regime resulted in a Commons campaign against the Duke of Suffolk, the most unpopular of the King's entourage and viewed as a traitor. Henry had to send him into exile, but Suffolk's ship was intercepted in the English Channel and his body was found on the beach at Dover.

In 1450 Jack Cade led a popular rebellion in Kent, the rebels ending up occupying London after ambushing the king’s army at the battle of Solefields. The Londoners themselves re-possessed their city and the rebellion fizzled out after the battle at London Bridge. Despite promised pardons & reforms many of the rebels were declared traitors; Jack Cade was killed in a skirmish on the 12th July.
In 1451 Guyenne was lost to the English and the following year the Duke of York returned from Ireland, having been persuaded to do so to regain his place on the king’s council. He raised an army at Shrewsbury, and marched them to London where the king’s army was based. York demanded the arrest of Somerset, to which Henry originally agreed. He was over-ruled by Queen Margaret.

By the following year Somerset’s ascendancy was again paramount & the queen announced that she was pregnant. Prince Edward was born in October 1453, three months after the news of the loss of Bordeaux brought on the first of Henry’s bouts of madness. This first bout lasted over a year, during which the Duke of York was named Regent, following an alliance with Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. Henry’s sanity was restored on Christmas day 1454, but York had made good use of his time as Regent and now had many supporters, who believed that he should take the throne.

For the following six years the country was divided on sectarian lines, some supporting the king – known as the Lancastrians & others supporting the Duke of York and his ally the earl of Warwick – the party of the Yorkists. The lines were drawn up for the Wars of the Roses, referring to the emblems of the two parties – the red rose of Lancaster & the white rose of York.   

Edward IV
In July 1460, after capture at the battle of Northampton by the Duke of York, Henry VI was forced by the Yorkists to disinherit his son by the Act of Accord. Queen Margaret was not prepared to accept her son’s disinheritance & the War of the Roses spiralled on. Richard, Duke of York was killed at the battle of Wakefield in December & was succeeded by his son Edward. Margaret took Prince Edward to France seeking support from her cousin Louis XI of France; while Henry was kept prisoner in the Tower of London. The new Duke of York, now Edward IV, reigned in his stead.

For eleven years this remained the status quo, but on 13th October 1470 Henry was restored to the throne by the earl of Warwick, following Edward’s flight into exile as a result of the rebellion organised by Warwick. Queen Margaret had married Prince Edward to Warwick’s daughter, following Warwick’s falling out with Edward. Warwick then declared war on the Duke of Burgundy, who responded by assisting Edward to reclaim his throne.
The earl of Warwick dies at Barnet

The earl of Warwick died at the battle of Barnet on the 14th April and Prince Edward died at the battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. Three weeks later his father was murdered in the tower, as the last direct heir of the Lancastrian dynasty. Margaret was imprisoned at Wallingford and then the Tower of London. Her cousin King Louis XI ransomed her in 1475.

In an era when strong, not good or nice, was a characteristic viewed as essential for kings by the people, Edward II, Richard II & Henry VI were not seen by the English as having the necessary strength to defend the country. Their successors felt the need to remove the ‘fallen’ kings from the scene, in an attempt to avoid rebellion.

If William Rufus was indeed murdered then the reason behind the killing was to secure the throne for his brother Henry, who had been left with a financial inheritance; rather than the kingdom or dukedom left to his brothers. 


The Wars of the Roses – John Gillingham, Wiedenfeld & Nicholson 1990

The Reign of King Henry VI - RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing 1998

[i] All kings of France are crowned in Rheims, at the time in French hands.
[ii] A title normally reserved at the time for members of the royal family

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