In 1421, King Henry V and his wife, Catherine of Valois, had a son, who was very soon to become King Henry IV of England and the only English monarch to also be crowned King of France. Pious and scholarly, Henry was a great supporter of education and eventually founded both Eton College and King's College in Cambridge. Like a number of monarchs that shared these qualities, however, he was a rather poor leader.
Henry's Early Years
Just 9 months after the young Henry was born, his father died of battlefield dysentery, leaving the infant Henry not just the English throne but, after the death of his French maternal grandfather, the French throne too.
He was the youngest person ever to succeed to the English throne. At just 9 months old, Henry was, of course, not able to rule England himself. Instead, a regency council was established to do the job during the king's early years. There was no shortage of noblemen ready to take charge of the country and the council included some of the most important among them. For the most part, they governed England fairly. Towards the end of the regency, however, tensions arose and arguments broke out over the continuation of the Hundred Years' War with France.
The Hundred Years' War
Henry VI took over the running of England in 1437, at which point the country was in a difficult position. England had lost momentum in its war with France after Henry V died but had continued amassing great war debts. There were also deep divisions in the country's nobility.
Henry VI's gentle temperament certainly wasn't suited to any kind of war. In fact, he earned himself a reputation for weakness. He was shy, deeply religious and scholarly, but he lacked the passion for war and was averse to violence. He wanted peace with France. A great number of nobles fought for the war to continue, not least the Duke of Gloucester and Richard, Duke of York, who was not only his cousin but also the most powerful duke in the realm.
By 1445, England's hold on France was quickly deteriorating. Ever one for peace and love rather than war, Henry tried to achieve peace between the countries by marrying Margaret of Anjou, the niece of Charles VII.
The First Fall of King Henry VI
With mounting debts, unfair distribution of lands to the king's favourites and the increasing English losses in France, the monarchy was becoming more and more unpopular. In 1452, the court saw a slight rise in popularity when Queen Margaret announced she was pregnant. In 1453, however, with Bordeaux lost and only Calais remaining as an English territory in France, King Henry VI suffered the first of his mental breakdowns.
To the disgust of Queen Margaret, who believed she should be in charge of running the country whilst her husband wasn't able to, it was Richard, Duke of York, who was appointed Lord Protector.
Not long after, Margaret gave birth to a son, Edward of Lancaster and later, in 1454, the king regained his senses and truly saw his new son for the first time.
With the king and queen back in charge, the Duke of York was dismissed. But he was worried, having made an enemy of the now-powerful queen. He gathered allies, most notably Richard, Earl of Warwick, and began what proved to be a violent struggle between the House of York and the House of Lancaster (the monarchy). It was this war that became known as the War of the Roses – a nod to white rose of the House of York and the red rose of the House of Lancaster.
The War of the Roses
In 1460, Henry VI was captured in the Battle of Northampton. Later, in December of the same year, the Duke of York was killed by Margaret's forces. The king was rescued from imprisonment in February 1461, but he was already suffering bouts of madness. He was defeated in March 1461 by the Duke of York's son, Edward, who took to the throne and became King Edward IV.
Henry VI and Margaret were able to flee to Scotland. They continued to resist Edward IV's reign under Margaret's leadership, but, in 1465, Henry was recaptured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. As strong-willed and determined as ever, Margaret continued to fight for the throne for her husband and son. By this time, the Earl of Warwick had fallen out with King Edward IV and formed an alliance with Margaret through the marriage of their children. Together, they forced Edward IV into exile.
By 1470, Henry was restored to the throne but it didn't last long. Edward returned to England in early 1471 and the York faction finally won a decisive victory in the Battle of Tewkesbury where Henry and Margaret's son was killed. With news of the death of his son, Prince Edward, and the defeat of Queen Margaret's forces, Henry VI died in the Tower of London. Some say he died from melancholy, some say he was murdered.
His death left Edward IV once again as King of England.