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Henry VI

Henry VI

Bertram Wolffe
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkvnj
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    Henry VI
    Book Description:

    In this widely acclaimed biography, Bertram Wolffe challenges the traditional view of Henry VI as an unworldly, innocent, and saintly monarch and offers instead a finely drawn but critical portrait of an ineffectual ruler. Drawing on widespread contemporary evidence, Wolffe describes the failures of Henry's long reign from 1422 to 1471, which included the collapse of justice, the loss of the French territories, and the final disintegration of his government. He argues that the posthumous cult of Henry was promoted by Henry VII as a way of excusing his uncle's political failures while enhancing the image of the dynasty. This edition includes a new foreword by John Watts that discusses the book and its place in the evolving literature.Reviews of the earlier edition:"A brilliant biography that brings us as near as we are ever likely to come to this elusive personality."-Sunday Times(London)"A powerful, compulsively readable portrait."-Observer"Much learning, skillfully deployed as here, evokes pleasure as well as admiration."-R.L. Storey,Times Literary Supplement

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18399-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. x-x)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. FOREWORD TO THE YALE EDITION
    (pp. xiii-xxviii)
    John L. Watts

    In a poem, apparently from the early 1460s, the deposed King Henry VI is depicted wandering in the wild places of his realm and lamenting his fate. In a typical verse, he declares,

    Than sette I from my ryalte

    As angell dede from hevyn to helle;

    All crystyn kinges be war be me –

    God amend wikkyd cownsel!

    This vision of a mild and martyred king, led astray by wicked counsellors, would have been a familiar one to the poet’s audience. Only the tone of plangent complaint is perhaps untypical, since Henry was conventionally a man of few words...

  7. Part I THE MYTH OF THE ROYAL SAINT

    • Chapter I THE MYTH OF THE ROYAL SAINT
      (pp. 3-22)

      Of all the adult English kings from Richard II to Henry VII who cross the stage in Shakespeare’s historical plays, Henry VI alone has yet to receive a comprehensive modern biography. Indeed, since the mid-sixteenth century he has hardly been noticed at all by students of the past and remains today the most shadowy figure of all England’s post-Conquest kings. Most Englishmen and women take their history of the fifteenth century, in the first instance, from Shakespeare, and Henry’s lifespan from 1421 to 1471 covered half of it, yet even though Shakespeare devoted three plays,Henry VIParts 1, 2...

  8. Part II THE MINORITY

    • Chapter 2 AN INFANT KING
      (pp. 25-47)

      A fifteenth-century English king both reigned and ruled. For his subjects, great and small, his was the supreme authority on earth. He had to be seen by his people, be accessible to his people and, in the ultimate event, personally decide their disputes and determine their requests for favour. He was their personal champion in peace and war. On the personality of the king depended the tone and quality of the life of the nation.

      Undoubtedly the king of England had at his disposal to assist him in his task an apparatus of government which was impressive by any fifteenth-century...

    • Chapter 3 CORONATIONS
      (pp. 48-64)

      There was no English precedent to determine when a king who had succeeded to the throne in his cradle should be crowned. All previous royal minors, even the youngest – Henry III at the age of nine – had so far been considered old enough on accession to undergo the arduous ceremonies of recognition, oath-taking, anointing, crowning and homage, with all the processions, masses and feastings which constituted the medieval coronation. Indeed Henry III had had to undergo them twice, but it was not his extreme youth which had rendered the efficacy of the first time doubtful, only its partly improvised nature,...

    • Chapter 4 ROYAL ADOLESCENCE
      (pp. 65-84)

      Fifteenth-century kings were expected to grow up fast. After the ceremony and pageantry of the coronation years there would be only six more, 1432–7, before Henry was invested with the full responsibilities of kingship. These were years of indecision and inaction by those who still governed in his name, even of helpless waiting for the young king’s assumption of power. The boy himself looked forward eagerly to that inevitable event and just before his thirteenth birthday in November 1434 his councillors had to warn him that he was not yet competent to assume control. It was the unlooked-for death...

  9. Part III MAJORITY RULE

    • Chapter 5 THE ATTAINMENT OF POWER
      (pp. 87-92)

      From 13 November 1437 the full powers of personal kingship in England were formally and fully restored and vested in Henry of Windsor, albeit he was still scarcely sixteen years old. This has been disputed by some historians, who believe that the council of the minority were determined to cling to power as long as they possibly could. The official records of the event and subsequent detailed workings of government show that this was not so. By November 1437 Henry had already undergone a two-year period of initiation into the conduct of affairs of state, begun soon after the death...

    • Chapter 6 THE ROYAL ENTOURAGE
      (pp. 93-105)

      The governance of England from 1422 to 1437 had been vested in the council and was static, conducted from one centre, the Star Chamber in Westminster Palace. Even a few council meetings held in Cardinal Beaufort’s lodgings had been sufficient to draw protests from Duke Humphrey, as evidence of his uncle’s unlawful usurpation of power. But from 1437 the centre of government became the household of a peripatetic king, moving from palace to palace with royal officers, clerks and seals in attendance as required.¹ Henry’s main residences proved to be Windsor castle or the principal lodge in the park there,...

    • Chapter 7 PATRONAGE, FACTION AND INJUSTICE IN ENGLAND, 1437–1450
      (pp. 106-134)

      The royal entourage had great opportunities to exert influence on the king in their own and their adherents’ interests. The surviving evidence of Henry’s personal acts, done in this entourage which surrounded him from 1437, displays an open-handedness in the dispensation of patronage which might, at first, have been seen as largely inevitable in a good-natured boy of sixteen, set in the supreme seat of power after an upbringing uniquely sheltered and elevated right from birth. But it must soon have begun to disturb those great officers about him who were themselves bound by the responsibility of office to see...

    • Chapter 8 THE FOUNDER OF ETON AND KING’S
      (pp. 135-145)

      The story of the two royal institutions of Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, is obviously very germane to a biography of Henry VI. The terms of their foundation, and their history during the period while their founder exercised personal control over them, can tell us much about the nature and purposes of the man who chose to devote a major part of the resources of the English crown to their creation. They belong to the early stages of his personal rule and the earliest documents of Eton College reveal that, far from shrinking from affairs of state as he...

    • Chapter 9 WAR AND PEACE: THE PROBLEMS OF NORMANDY AND GASCONY, 1437–1443
      (pp. 146-168)

      When Henry entered fully and without opposition into his peaceful and secure English inheritance in 1437 the problems facing his French inheritance were many, and its future uncertain. His uncle Bedford and the councils of the minority had perforce kept all alternatives for future action there open to him: war or peace, resolute defence of English Normandy, Calais and Gascony, or sustained military effort to complete the conquest; insistence on his title to the French throne and arms, or their relinquishment in return for somequid pro quo,perhaps the English-held lands in France in complete sovereignty, or even in...

    • Chapter 10 MARRIAGE AND TRUCE, 1443–1445
      (pp. 169-183)

      Somerset’s grandiose campaign, launched so belatedly in August 1443, had been planned because of the apparently total failure of peace through negotiation on which Henry had pinned his hopes in 1440, when he had released his prisoner, the premier Valois prince of the blood royal, Charles duke of Orleans. After 1439 Charles VII took no part in peace negotiations which continued between England and Burgundy only and led finally to a separate perpetual truce between them, signed by the duchess Isabel and Richard duke of York at Dijon on 23 April 1443.¹ The French king’s antipathy towards Henry’s former ally,...

    • Chapter 11 SURRENDER AND DEFEAT, 1445–1450
      (pp. 184-212)

      At Tours the English conditions for a final peace were possession of Normandy and Gascony in complete sovereignty in return for the abandonment of the title to the French throne. These were spurned by Charles VII¹ who had other ideas; as he himself declared,² he personally employed himself with all his heart to further the Angevin marriage by which Henry was absorbed into the Valois family. This was to be the means by which peace would be achieved and it should be followed by a short truce to allow time for the achievement. Consequently, as the members of the French...

  10. Part IV THE AFTERMATH OF DEFEAT

    • Chapter 12 PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION AND POPULAR RISINGS, 1449–1450
      (pp. 215-238)

      During the first half-century of its existence, to 1449, the Lancastrian dynasty had had remarkably little trouble from its parliaments. With the exception of an awkward initial five or six years, the frequent assemblies which it called, thirty-seven in all, had served it well, cooperating obediently in royal policies. Fifteenth-century parliaments were still intermittent bodies, summoned and dissolved entirely at the king’s will to give effect and authority to royal policies throughout the shires of England. They were his cash-producing, legislating and publicity agencies. Nevertheless, parliament, when assembled, was a well-established institution with recognized powers, privileges and procedures. During Henry’s...

    • Chapter 13 THE FRUSTRATION OF RICHARD DUKE OF YORK, 1450–1453
      (pp. 239-266)

      Some two weeks after the rebels dispersed from London with their pardons Henry regarded it as safe to return south and took up the discarded reins of government once more at a great council meeting, summoned to meet him at St Albans on 24 July.¹ He re-entered the capital on the 28th and was honourably received there, in spite of his cowardly desertion of a month before. He offered at St Paul’s and would have proceeded to Eton to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, but was prevented by the multitude of destitute and disorderly soldiers coming from Normandy.² Fear...

    • Chapter 14 MADNESS, 1453–1455
      (pp. 267-286)

      The early summer of 1453 thus saw Henry as a stronger and more active king than he had ever been before in all his previous fifteen years of personal rule. Indeed, he seems suddenly to have become an altogether more virile person, even begetting an heir after seven years of fruitless marriage. The reason he gave for proroguing parliament at Reading on 2 July was that he wished to be free to undertake another of his successful judicial perambulations. He had spent twelve months countering the effects of York’s rebellion by exemplary punishment of his rank and file supporters in...

  11. Part V CIVIL WAR

    • Chapter 15 THE FIRST BATTLE OF ST ALBANS AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
      (pp. 289-312)

      Whatever York, as Protector, had done in his own interests his protectorate had undoubtedly maintained and enhanced the royal power. But his imprisonment of Somerset and attempt to secure the office of Captain of Calais for himself had meant undoing decisions which had been Henry’s own. Henry thus quite fittingly marked his resumption of royal power by taking this disputed office into his own hands, releasing Somerset and declaring him innocent of the charges against him. Forthwith restoring him to the Calais command was equally an act of legitimate royal authority, though perhaps an unwise one. The release of the...

    • Chapter 16 THE LOSS OF THE THRONE
      (pp. 313-332)

      Foreign policy, the relations between monarchs, were matters for kings and princes alone in the fifteenth century and the renewal of diplomatic activity between England and France in 1458 after a lapse of nine years might be taken as good evidence that Henry was himself once more ruling, particularly as this represented a reopening of negotiations for peace. There had been indications, during a lucid period early in 1456, that this would represent his wishes. At that time the would-be French traitor Jean II duke of Alençon was trying to promote a new English invasion of Normandy. His overtures had...

    • Chapter 17 THE LAST TEN YEARS
      (pp. 333-348)

      When Henry crossed the border to Scotland in April 1461, ten years of exile, concealment in his own realm, captivity and a final, brief, nominal restoration to the throne, in which he personally played no part, still lay ahead before his murder in the Tower on the night of 21–22 May 1471. Previously deposed kings of England, whose mere survival was dangerous to their supplanters, had not survived their depositions by as many months. By her treaty of Lincluden and her final stand near enough to the border to make flight to safety possible, Queen Margaret had secured for...

  12. Part VI APOTHEOSIS

    • APOTHEOSIS
      (pp. 351-358)

      The ‘variable and divers fortune of king Henry the Sixt’¹ is not yet entirely told, for well within ten years of his death the ‘sillie weake King’² had become the popular saint, embarked on by a burgeoning career of miracle working which, for the next fifty years, at least equalled, if it did not exceed, that of St Thomas of Canterbury. Long years of passive endurance and the violence done to the Lord’s anointed at the end provided fertile ground for an image of innocent martyrdom. Although no Chaucer appeared to immortalize him, forbidden pilgrimages of gratitude for his ghostly...

  13. Appendix: ITINERARY OF HENRY VI, 1436–1461
    (pp. 361-374)
  14. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 375-384)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 385-404)