Henry VI, son of the heroic Henry V was a very different kind of man. He was gentle and good-natured, but was simple-minded to an extent that several of his contemporaries thought he was mad. It was his misfortune to be king during the darkest days in England for many generations.
Henry came to the throne when he was just nine months old. His uncle John, Duke of Bedford was made Regent of the English territory in France and proved to be an able and efficient governor. The boy-king’s other uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was regent in England but proved himself to be unreliable and arrogant.
Henry came of age in 1438 just in time to lose most of his French lands after defeat at the Battle of Formigny. In England the mighty nobles were arguing with each other. Cardinal Beaufort and his nephews Somerset and Suffolk led the Lancastrian party supported by Margaret, Queen to the simple Henry VI. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard, Duke of York, led the Yorkists with the support of the wealthy Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. For many years the Lancastrians dominated the government by bullying poor Henry VI to sign acts in their favour, and they even organised the murder of Gloucester.
In 1455 the Lancastrians summoned a council of nobles on the pretext of protecting the king against traitors. They did not, however, invited the Duke of York or the Earl of Warwick. Realising that they were the supposed traitors, York and Warwick called on their supporters and soon had a force of 3,000 men mustered at St Albans. They were met by 2,000 Lancastrians and a savage street battle broke out. York and Warwick won the day and captured the king. It was just the first of many battles in what became known as the Wars of the Roses, for York had a white rose for his badge and the Lancastrians adopted a red rose.
The Duke of York took over the government and ruled in Henry’s name. York struggled to impose some form of order and honesty on a government for too long dominated by corrupt and self-seeking noblemen. He also tended to favour the new, rising class of merchants and tradesmen over the old landed aristocracy. This angered many powerful nobles, who began to speak in support of Queen Margaret.
It was only the first round...