Henry VI, Murder of
- (1471)The death of HENRY VI, which occurred under mysterious circumstances in the TOWER OF LONDON in May 1471, ended the direct male line of the house of LANCASTER and thrust the family’s claim to the Crown upon Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, the surviving male heir of Henry’s cousins, the BEAUFORT FAMILY.Confined to the Tower after his capture in July 1465, Henry remained there until October 1470, when Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, restored him to the throne (see Edward IV, Overthrow of).Warwick’s READEPTION government, in which the befuddled Henry (see Henry VI, Illness of) took no active part, collapsed in April 1471, when EDWARD IV returned from BURGUNDY to reclaim his Crown. As Edward neared LONDON, Warwick’s brother, George NEVILLE, archbishop of York, paraded Henry through the streets in an unsuccessful attempt to generate enthusiasm for the Lancastrian regime. Entering London on 11 April, Edward immediately secured possession of Henry, who embraced his rival and said:“Cousin of York, you are very welcome. I hold my life to be in no danger in your hands” (Wolffe, p. 345). Edward then had Henry travel under guard with the Yorkist army to the Battle of BARNET, where Warwick was killed on 14 April. After the battle, Edward returned Henry to the Tower and then marched west, where he defeated Henry’s wife, MARGARET OF ANJOU, and killed Henry’s son, Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER, at the Battle of TEWKESBURY on 4 May (see Edward IV, Restoration of).Edward returned to London on 21 May, and some time during that night, Henry died in the Tower. The HISTORY OF THE ARRIVAL OF EDWARD IV, a pro-Yorkist account, claims that Henry died of “pure displeasure and melancholy” (Three Chronicles, p. 184) at the news of Tewkesbury. WARKWORTH’S CHRONICLE, written in the 1480s, suggests that Richard, duke of Gloucester, Edward’s brother, was at the Tower that night and was responsible for murdering Henry. Gloucester’s involvement cannot be proven, but the widespread contemporary belief that murder had occurred was confirmed in 1910 when an exhumation of Henry’s body indicated violence to the skull.With the death of Prince Edward, a living Henry could serve only as a symbol to rally surviving Lancastrian malcontents. To prevent this, Edward almost surely ordered Henry’s death. The ex-king’s body was publicly displayed at St. Paul’s in London and then buried at Chertsey Abbey, where Henry’s reputation for saintliness led to pilgrimages to his tomb and claims of miracles worked in his name. Edward IV discouraged such devotions, but RICHARD III sought to benefit from them by removing Henry’s remains to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, where Henry lay across the altar from Edward IV. HENRY VII, first king of the house of TUDOR, who based his claim to the Crown on his relationship to Henry VI, went even further, appealing unsuccessfully to three different popes for Henry’s canonization.See also “Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI” (Blacman)Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Three Chronicles of the Reign of Edward IV, introduction by Keith Dockray (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1988);Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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