The Minority of Henry VI

As a child the guardianship of Henry VI fell upon his uncles; Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and John Duke of Bedford. While Bedford continued the war in France Gloucester entertained a desire to become Protector of the Realm. His ambitions to become regent were continually blocked by the Royal Council and in particular by Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester.

In December 1436 Henry VI signed his first royal warrant. He was fifteen years old. A year earlier a twenty four year old Richard of York had been appointed Lieutenant and Governor of France and Normandy, replacing John Duke of Bedford who had been killed at Rouen. Although Richard had some success in France he was later replaced and posted to the Lieutenantship of Ireland by Beaufort.

In 1441 Gloucester's wife was convicted of practicing sorcery against the young Henry VI, charges having been brought by Beaufort. Beaufort now took full control of the guardianship aided by his nephew Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.

In 1444 Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou (see picture) but continued to allow Somerset and Suffolk to control his affairs. With a string of defeats in France, Somerset and Suffolk became increasingly unpopular. They had never been trusted by the commons, and when Margaret became allied to them her own popularity fell. In 1447 Humphrey Duke of Gloucester temporarily reappeared in opposition but was arrested and soon after died. Henry Beaufort also died a few weeks later. Suffolk was impeached and murdered on his way to exile in Flanders. Somerset stubbornly held on to power. In 1448 the fortunes of the Woodvilles took another turn.

Richard Woodville, First Earl Rivers (Ryvers)

Son of Richard Woodville, Constable of the Tower. Richard had followed his father and continued to serve Henry VI. He was knighted by Henry VI at Leicester in 1426. He had also served the Duke of Bedford in France and eventually married his widow Jacquetta of Luxembourg amid a great deal of scandal. He gained further royal favour and distinguished himself in France and the tilt-yard. On 9th May 1448 Richard was created Baron Rivers by Henry VI. He then gained the lucrative Lieutenantship of Calais.

Meanwhile the Duke of Somerset remained unpopular. Anger at his influence reached breaking point in 1450 with Jack Cade's rebellion. A confrontation between Henry VI and Cade's rebels ended without battle. However, Richard of York now stepped forward as the head of active opposition to Somerset and his court faction. With the support of the Neville family (Richard Earl of Salisbury and Richard Earl of Warwick) he attempted to impeach Somerset and instigated two armed demonstrations. He was arrested in 1452 but agreed to abandon opposition in order to fight in France. With defeat at Castillon in July 1453, France was lost.

Armed Conflict Begins

Conflict was now fermented by a number of events. In August 1453 a skirmish took place at Stamford bridge between two powerful families, the Percies and Nevilles. Conflict between the magnates had begun. Henry VI then took ill with a bout of 'insanity' and paralysis lasting sixteen months. Margaret gave birth to a son and heir in October. York returned and Parliament attacked Somerset's power. York was declared Protector of the Realm. He imprisoned Somerset, but he returned to power on Henry's recovery in December 1454. York retired to his seat at Ludlow and gathered his allies.


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