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Henry VI

official pardon
by lisby1

Article by Lorraine Jane

Henry V died unexpectedly in 1422 and his son, King Henry VI of England, ascended the throne as an infant only nine months old. After the death of his uncle, John, Duke of Bedford in 1435, he was surrounded by mostly unpopular regents and advisors. In addition to Henry’s surviving paternal uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who deliberately courted the popularity of the common people for his own ends, the most notable of these were Cardinal Beaufort and William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, who were blamed for mismanaging the government and poorly executing the continuing Hundred Years’ War with France. Under Henry VI, virtually all English holdings in France, including the land won by Henry V, were lost.

Suffolk eventually succeeded in having Humphrey of Gloucester arrested for treason. Humphrey died while awaiting trial in prison at Bury St Edmunds in 1447. Some authorities date the start of the War of the Roses from the death of Humphrey. However, with severe reverses in France, Suffolk was stripped of office and was murdered on his way to exile. Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset succeeded him as leader of the party seeking peace with France. The Duke of York, who had succeeded Bedford as Lieutenant in France, meanwhile represented those who wished to prosecute the war more vigorously, and criticised the court, and Somerset in particular, for starving him of funds and men during his campaigns in France. In all these quarrels, Henry VI had taken little part. He was seen as a weak, ineffectual king. In addition, he suffered from episodes of mental illness that he may have inherited from his grandfather Charles VI of France. By 1450 many considered Henry incapable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a king.

In 1450, there was a violent popular revolt in Kent, Jack Cade’s rebellion. The grievances were extortion by some of the king’s officials and the failure of the courts to protect the local property-owners of all classes. The rebels occupied parts of London, but were driven out by the citizens after some of them fell to looting. The rebels dispersed after they were supposedly pardoned but several, including Cade, were later executed.

Two years later, Richard of York returned to England from his new post as Lieutenant of Ireland and marched on London, demanding Somerset’s removal and reform of the government. At this stage, few of the nobles supported such drastic action, and York was forced to submit to superior force at Blackheath. He was imprisoned for much of 1452 and 1453 but was released after swearing not to take arms against the court.

The increasing discord at court was mirrored in the country as a whole, where noble families engaged in private feuds and showed increasing disrespect for the royal authority and for the courts of law. The Percy-Neville feud was the best-known of these private wars, but others were being conducted freely. In many cases they were fought between old-established families, and formerly minor nobility raised in power and influence by Henry IV in the aftermath of the rebellions against him. The quarrel between the Percys, for long the Earls of Northumberland, and the comparatively upstart Nevilles was one which followed this pattern; another was the feud between the Courtenays and Bonvilles in Cornwall and Devon. A factor in these feuds was the presence of large numbers of soldiers discharged from the English armies that had been defeated in France. Nobles engaged many of these to mount raids, or to pack courts of justice with their supporters, intimidating suitors, witnesses and judges.

This growing civil discontent, the abundance of feuding nobles with private armies, and corruption in Henry VI’s court formed a political climate ripe for civil war. With the king so easily manipulated, power rested with those closest to him at court, in other words Somerset and the Lancastrian faction. Richard and the Yorkist faction, who tended to be physically placed further away from the seat of power, found their power slowly being stripped away. Royal power also started to slip, as Henry was persuaded to grant many royal lands and estates to the Lancastrians.

In 1453, Henry suffered the first of several bouts of complete mental collapse, during which he failed even to recognise his new-born son, Edward of Westminster. A Council of Regency was set up, headed by the Duke of York, who still remained popular with the people, as Lord Protector. York soon asserted his power with ever-greater boldness (although there is no proof that he had aspirations to the throne at this early stage). He imprisoned Somerset and backed his Neville allies (his brother-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury, and Salisbury’s son, the Earl of Warwick), in their continuing feud with the Earl of Northumberland, a powerful supporter of Henry.

Henry recovered in 1455 and once again fell under the influence of those closest to him at court. Directed by Henry’s queen, the powerful and aggressive Margaret of Anjou, who emerged as the de facto leader of the Lancastrians, Richard was forced out of court. Margaret built up an alliance against Richard and conspired with other nobles to reduce his influence. An increasingly thwarted Richard (who feared arrest for treason) finally resorted to armed hostilities in 1455.

About the Author

Lorraine Jane website’s: Shower Dispenser, Drake Hotel Chicago, Singles Cruise, AndRotary Cheese Graters.

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