Facts about King Henry VI
King Henry VI Biography
The reign of King Henry VI was marked by losses to France and a battle over the English throne known as the War of the Roses.
Henry was the son of England’s King Henry V and Catherine de Valois, daughter of France’s King Charles VI. In 1422, when young Henry was 9 months old, his father died and he became King of England; soon after, Charles VI died and Henry inherited the French throne as well, before his first birthday.
The power behind the throne rested for years with Henry’s uncles and cousins, and even after Henry came of age, he had little interest in the business of ruling. During his reign, France regained much of the territory that had been conquered by Henry V, and the popularity and forces of Jean of Arc meant that Henry’s coronation as King of France in 1430 was an empty gesture at best.
Back in England, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, fought for the king’s power, and the 1450s were dominated by the War of the Roses, between the houses of York (Richard’s side) and Lancaster (Henry’s side, which was represented more vigorously by his wife, Queen Margaret). The Duke of York was killed in battle, and his son, Edward, led Yorkist forces against the Lancastrians, running them out of England. Having thus beaten the reigning king, he crowned himself Edward IV in 1461.
By 1463, Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London and Margaret was in France with their only child. But fortunes changed and Margaret conspired with the Earl of Warwick (who had previously been on the side of the Yorks) to put Henry VI back on the throne in 1470 — as a puppet.
It didn’t last long. By March of 1471, Edward IV was back, and Henry VI was once again imprisoned. His son and only heir, Edward, died at the Battle of Tewkesbury soon afterward (aged 17) on May 4, 1471, meaning Henry VI was the last of the Lancaster line. Henry was dead by the 21st of May — the official explanation being that he succumbed to severe melancholia. The chroniclers of the time say nobody believed that story; the popular notion was that Edward IV had Henry VI killed, and Richard III was commonly blamed for the murder. To this day, however, there is no conclusive evidence about how Henry VI died.