Sunday, November 18, 2012

Henry VI

Henry VI was King of England from 1422 to 1461 (though with a Regent until 1437) and then from 1470 to 1471, and King of France from 1422 to 1453.
Henry was the only child of King Henry V of England and was his heir, and therefore great things were expected of him from birth. He was born on 6 December 1421 at Windsor, and he succeeded to the throne at the age of nine months on 31 August 1422, when his father died. His mother, Catherine of Valois, was then only twenty years old and as the daughter of King Charles VI of France was viewed with considerable suspicion and prevented from having a full role in her son's upbringing. Henry was eventually crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6 November 1429 a month before his eighth birthday, and King of France at Notre Dame in Paris on 16 December 1431. However, he did not assume the reins of government until he was declared of age in 1437—the year in which his mother died.
As a result of his successes in the Hundred Years' War, Henry V had left England in possession of considerable territories in France, but the momentum was lost on his death. Since Henry VI was still a child, and England was ruled by a regency government, much of the ground his father gained was lost. A revival of French fortunes, beginning with the military victories of Joan of Arc, led to the repudiation of Henry's title to rule France, and the crowning of the French Dauphin at Reims. Diplomatic errors as well as military failures resulted in the loss of most of the English territories in France.
Disaffected nobles who had grown in power during Henry's reign (most importantly the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury) took matters into their own hands by backing the claims of the rival House of York, first to the Regency, and then to the throne itself. After a violent struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York, (see Wars of the Roses), Henry was deposed on 4 March 1461 by his cousin, Edward of York
Henry VI was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was murdered on 21 May 1471. Popular legend has accused Richard, Duke of Gloucester of his murder, as well as the murder of Henry VI's son Edward of Westminster. Each year on the anniversary of Henry VI's death, the Provosts of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, lay roses and lilies on the altar which now stands where he died.
King Henry VI was originally buried in Chertsey Abbey; then, in 1485, his body was moved to St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by Edward IV, son of Richard, Duke of York.
Ironically for one so personally pious and peace-loving, Henry left a great legacy of strife and civil war. Perhaps his one lasting positive achievement was his fostering of education—he founded both Eton College and King's College, Cambridge.

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