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Henry VI

Reign

Early Years

The only son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, he became king of England when he was not yet nine months old. When his grandfather, Charles VI of France, died, Henry was proclaimed king of France by the English, in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Troyes (1420). The French, however, recognized the son of Charles VI as Charles VII.

During Henry's early years, England was under the protectorate of his uncles, John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, who was regent in France, and Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. Gloucester did not wield full authority, however, for much of the actual power resided in a council dominated by Henry Beaufort. After the English defeat by Joan of Arc at Orléans in 1429 and Charles VII's coronation at Reims shortly thereafter, the council attempted to protect English interests in France by crowning Henry king of France at Paris in 1431. After the death of Bedford in 1435 and the defection of Burgundy from the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, however, the English cause in France became hopeless.

Factional Struggles

From c.1435, Henry fell under the dominance of a faction headed first by Henry Beaufort and later by William de la Pole, 4th earl of Suffolk (see Pole, family), both of whom opposed continuing the war in France. Suffolk negotiated a marriage for Henry with Margaret of Anjou in 1445. This marriage was at first favorably received in England, but when Henry, now under the influence of his wife, surrendered Maine to Charles VII, Suffolk and the queen lost their popularity.

Suffolk was impeached in 1450 and mysteriously murdered at sea while on his way to France. The rebellion of Jack Cade, which broke out after Suffolk's death, was but one of many riots and uprisings indicating popular dissatisfaction with the government. The faction headed by Queen Margaret and Edmund Beaufort, 2d duke of Somerset, which dominated the king after Suffolk's death, was opposed by Richard, duke of York, the most powerful noble in the kingdom and heir presumptive to the throne. The struggle between these two factions developed into the dynastic battle between the Lancasters and the Yorks known as the Wars of the Roses.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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