Henry VI. (England)

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Henry VI. from England. Anonymous portrait, circa 1540. National Portrait Gallery (London)
Signature of King Henry VI.

Henry VI. , English Henry VI , (born December 6, 1421 at Windsor ; † May 21, 1471 in London ) was the last King of England from the House of Lancaster (from 1422 to 1461 and from 1470 to 1471).


Henry was the only child and heir to King Henry V of England. He was born near Windsor , but his father died when he was only a few months old. His mother Katharina von Valois , who came from the French royal family of the Valois , was only twenty years old when he was born. She was systematically kept away from her child because of the great suspicion about her origin.

Henry VI. was crowned King of England on November 6, 1429 in Westminster Abbey . At the age of ten, he was coronated as King of France on December 16, 1431 in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris . For the first time a French king was crowned there - the established coronation church was the cathedral of Reims until then , which however could not be reached due to the complicated political situation. The Kingdom of England was administered by regents until Henry came of age. The most influential regents were his uncles Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester , and John, Duke of Bedford . John ruled in France and Humphrey in England. The Parliament limited Humphrey to the effect that he held the regency over England only in John's absence.

Seizure of power and military defeat in France

Coat of arms of King Henry VI.

In 1437 Heinrich VI took over. the affairs of state. His mother died that same year. The military successes of Henry V had significantly expanded the possessions of the English crown in France , which had been shrinking for around 200 years . In addition, internal disputes between the nobility in France ensured that England during the immaturity of Henry VI. did not have any serious military conflicts.

Shortly after he came to power, however, the situation turned. The flaring up French resistance, forever associated with the name of Joan of Arc , heralded the final collapse of English rule on French soil. Even after Joan of Arc's death the situation remained unfavorable for England. A major political setback was the failure of the peace conference in Arras in 1435 . The English ambassadors did not want to over the claim of Henry VI. negotiate on the French throne. With the failure of these negotiations, the alliance between England and Burgundy also fell apart . Thus England's military supremacy on the continent was finally broken.

For the time being, however, further deterioration of the situation could be stopped by the Peace of Tours in 1444. The marriage of Heinrich to Margarete von Anjou was an essential part of this contract . A secret clause provided for England to renounce the county of Maine .

When this clause became known at the English court, tensions that had previously built up openly broke out. Henry VI. had rallied a number of favorites who increasingly came into conflict with Gloucester and Bedford, the two former regents. In 1441 the court party succeeded in convicting Gloucester's second wife in a witchcraft trial. When Gloucester, popular among the nobility and people, openly spoke out against the secret clause of the peace treaty, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk and an important member of the court party, had him imprisoned in 1447. Gloucester died a few days later.

The end of the Hundred Years War and Henry VI's loss of power.

After a short break in the fighting, the defeats of the English continued in France. In 1450 Normandy was lost forever. In the same year, Henry VI. banish his confidante Suffolk at the urging of Parliament . On the crossing to France, he died under unexplained circumstances. A few weeks later, a peasant revolt led by Jack Cade and supported by sections of the landed gentry broke out in Kent , but collapsed in July 1450. Henry VI. psychologically suffered very badly from these defeats and the resistance which the English court met with ever greater strength. Because of his poor health, the king did not succeed in stopping these intrigues. The consequence of this was that around 1450 a group of nobles around Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, tried to take over the actual power of government in England.

The struggle for the fallow government

Because of Somerset's drive for power, Richard Plantagenet , Duke of York, began to become politically active. According to the English succession, Richard had a justifiable right to the English throne, whose claims match those of Henry VI. themselves were comparable. Henry VI's grandfather, Henry IV , had occupied the English throne, although his cousin Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March , had the greater right to heir to the throne. Richard Plantagenet was March's nephew and heir. Plantagenet now appeared as an opponent of the court party, especially against its most powerful leader, the Duke of Somerset. Richard Plantagenet had been governor of Normandy in the years before 1450 and had been very involved there personally and financially. But he was then replaced by Somerset, under which the area finally reverted to France. So the conflict between the two was also personal. In 1450 and 1452 York tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Somerset. It was not until 1453 that he was able to gain the support of the powerful and related noble family Neville, under whose protection he assumed the chairmanship of the Privy Council. This body became so powerful that it replaced Heinrich VI, who was now incapable of government . performed almost all official business.

Shortly after the birth of his first and only child Edward on October 13, 1453, the king, who had previously been a withdrawn person, had a nervous breakdown, which was followed by an initial prolonged period of insanity . Rumors were spread that the Duke of Somerset was Edward's real father. The king's popularity, which had previously been bad because of his monastic demeanor, his aversion to riding and carrying arms, and because of his trust in unpopular advisers, continued to decline.

The beginning of the Wars of the Roses

While the health of the now utterly powerless king temporarily improved, Somerset fell in the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This battle is widely regarded as the beginning of the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York .

Richard Plantagenet did not try after the success of St Albans at first to enforce his claim to the throne, as he did not yet have the king in his power. While in exile in Ireland in 1460 , however, his ally, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick , seized the king at the Battle of Northampton . Only now did Richard Plantagenet want to assert his claim to the throne, but failed both with the plan to be installed as king by parliament by acclamation as well as with a formal legal procedure. Finally, the following regulation was made: On October 31, 1460, Heinrich VI, who had become a pawn, appointed. Richard Plantagenet as his heir and successor in place of his own son Eduard. In addition, he immediately received the title and rights of Prince of Wales . Henry VI. was imprisoned in the Tower of London .

Queen Margaret's resistance and the deposition of Heinrich

Queen Margaret took over the leadership of the House of Lancaster in the battle against the House of York for her husband and son imprisoned in the Tower of London. As early as December 30, 1460, the Lancaster troops managed to surprise Richard Plantagenet near Sandal Castle in the battle of Wakefield , which fell in this battle. Richard Plantagenet's second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland , was slaughtered on his escape, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury and Warwick's father and Richard Plantagenet's brother-in-law, executed a day later. Their three heads were then displayed in Micklegate Bar in York .

Eduard, Earl of March , then 18 years old , took over the management of the House of York in place of his fallen father. The House of Neville, under Richard, Earl of Warwick, still supported the claims of the House of York. But this first had to accept a defeat at St Albans against the army of Queen Margaret. However, Eduard was able to defeat the troops of the Lancaster family on February 2, 1461 at Mortimer's Cross and on Palm Sunday at the Battle of Towton . With this victory the reign of Henry VI. initially ended. On June 28th, Edward of March was crowned King of England as Edward IV .

Another gain in power and the end

On the same night that Edward IV moved into London, Henry VI. murdered in the Tower.

The House of Lancaster went into exile in Scotland and France under the leadership of Queen Margaret of Anjou . She and her son Edward , Prince of Wales, gathered troops to counterattack the reign of Edward IV. The time had come when Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick , switched from the York family to the Lancasters in 1470. Edward IV was briefly forced into exile and Heinrich VI. put back on the English throne.

Edward IV returned to England at the beginning of 1471. First, Richard Neville was defeated and killed at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471 . The decisive battle between the troops of the noble families York and Lancaster took place on May 4th at Tewkesbury . Not least because of the military inexperience of Heinrich's only 18-year-old son Edward, the battle turned into a devastating defeat for the House of Lancaster. The prince himself was slain while fleeing. Other Lancaster commanders were executed after a show trial. Henry VI. got into the captivity of Edward IV. On the same night in which Edward IV moved into London, Henry VI. murdered in the Tower. The male line of the House of Lancaster was thus obliterated. Heir to the Lancastrian claim to the throne was Henry Tudor, who descended through his mother Margaret Beaufort from a branch line of the Lancaster (also extinct in the male line). In 1485 he ascended the throne as Henry VII .

King Henry VI. was first buried in Chertsey Abbey , later his body was transferred to Windsor Castle and finally buried in Westminster Abbey .


Modern fiction


  • Keith Dockray: Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses. A source book . Sutton Books, Stroud, Gloucestershire 2000, ISBN 0-7509-2163-3 .
  • Ralph A. Griffiths: The Reign of Henry VI . Sutton Books, Phoenix Mill 1998, ISBN 0-7509-1609-5 .
  • Bertram Wolffe: Henry VI. Yale University Press, New Haven 2001.

Web links

Commons : Henry VI.  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Henry V. Duke of Cornwall
Edward of Westminster
Henry V. King of England
Lord of Ireland
Edward IV
Henry V. Duke of Guyenne
French crown domain
( Charles VII. )
Edward IV King of England
Lord of Ireland
Edward IV