Henry VI

Henry VI

Henry VI was born in 1421, the only child of Henry V and Catherine of Valois. Henry came to the throne as an infant after the early death of his father. In name he was King of both England and France, but a protector ruled each realm.

The whole of Henry’s reign was involved with retaining both of his crowns, in the end he held neither. The wars with France continued, with the French gaining the upper hand in 1428 with the aid of the 17 year old Joan of Arc. By 1453 Henry lost his claim to all French soil except Calais.

The Wars of the Roses began in full during Henry’s reign. In 1453, Henry had an attack of the hereditary mental illness that plagued the French house of Valois. During this time, Henry’s headstrong wife Margaret alienated Richard of York resulting in Civil War. The House of York captured Henry and Margaret in 1465 and imprisoned them in the Tower of London. Henry’s only son Edward died in battle in 1470 and Henry died mysteriously the following day, ending the Lancastrian line.

To avoid riots, Richard’s son Edward IV had Henry buried well away from London. His body was taken up the Thames by barge and buried quietly in the Lady Chapel at Chertsey Abbey. The sudden death of such a pious and holy King meant he was soon seen as a martyr. Within months people were making the day’s journey from London to Chertsey to see Henry’s tomb. Henry’s alleged murderer became King Richard III in 1483. Worried that the tomb might become a focus for rebellion, Richard had Henry’s body moved to St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Richard’s successor, Henry VII, exploited his link by marriage to Henry. He organised a ‘pilgrim market’ in souvenirs, claiming miracles for Henry’s remains as true with the support of the Pope.