england's greatest royal failure -- 11/20/18

Today's selection -- from Henry VI by James Ross. Henry VI is considered a failure, perhaps the greatest failure of any king ever to rule Britain. One of his most notable failures was losing a large territory in France that belonged to England:

"Few would disagree that Henry VI, son of Henry V and last king of the house of Lancaster, was one of the least able and least successful kings ever to rule England, although people continue to disagree, as they did during Henry VI's reign itself, about how and why this should have been so. Shakespeare, writing his history plays 150 years later, described Henry's England as a state of which 'so many had the managing, / That they lost France and made his England bleed'. The great playwright thus neatly encapsulated the disasters of the loss of Henry V's French conquest and the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses in the last few years of Henry VI's reign, while emphasizing the common perception that Henry was dominated by the personalities around him. ...

King Henry VI

"The most devastating view [of Henry VI] was that of one of the greatest of late-medieval historians, K. B. McFar­lane, writing in the 1930s, for whom in Henry, 'second childhood succeeded first without the usual interval'. ...

"Henry reigned for thirty-nine years until his deposition in 1461, was in exile or captivity for a further nine, and resumed his royal power in 1470 for seven months until his murder. He succeeded his father as king at only nine months, and the first half of his reign was dominated by the latter phases of the Hundred Years War, which finally ended in catastrophic defeat for the English in 1453. Con­flict shifted from foreign war to civil war, while one faction then another sought to dominate the governance of Eng­land, as Henry failed to supply the requisite royal leadership to lead to successful war or domestic stability. Eventually he was dethroned by the first Yorkist king, Edward IV, after the bloody Battle of Towton in 1461. His cause seemed hopeless, especially after his capture and imprison­ment in 1464, and was only revived by splits in the Yorkist regime, though Edward IV ended these with his victory at the Battle of Barnet in 1471; a few weeks later, Edward's victory at Tewkesbury saw Henry's son killed and his last chance to remain king ended. Henry was put to death in the Tower of London a few days later."

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James Ross


Henry VI: A Good, Simple and Innocent Man


Penguin Books


Copyright James Ross, 2016


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