First Protectorate

(1454–1455)
   Lasting from March 1454 until February 1455, the first protectorate was an attempt to solve the constitutional crisis created by the mental illness of HENRY VI (see Henry VI, Illness of). Realizing that the king was unable to govern for the foreseeable future, and being unwilling to name Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU regent, the English PEERAGE, acting through PARLIAMENT, vested limited royal authority in the king’s cousin, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York. Named protector of the realm and chief councilor,York, supported by a COUNCIL of nobles, assumed temporary control of the royal administration on the same terms granted to Henry’s uncles during his minority in the 1420s and 1430s. Although York’s appointment restored his political position, which had been damaged by the failure of the DARTFORD UPRISING in 1452, it also saddled him with the undying enmity of Queen Margaret, whose efforts to protect the future of her infant son promoted the political factionalization that helped fuel the WARS OF THE ROSES.
   In November 1453, after three months of royal incapacity, the king’s COUNCIL summoned a great council of nobles to meet at Westminster. Acting for York, John MOWBRAY, duke of Norfolk, accused Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, Henry’s chief minister and York’s chief rival, of treasonously mishandling the war in FRANCE. With no king to protect him, Somerset was arrested and imprisoned in the TOWER OF LONDON, although no attempt was made to try him. Hoping that the king would improve, or that York and the queen would come to some accommodation, the Lords postponed Parliament for three months. However, by March, Henry was no better and the appointment of a royal stand-in could no longer be delayed. To discourage the view that his new office implied any challenge to the house of LANCASTER, York demanded that the parliamentary act creating the protectorate clearly declare that he assumed the position only at the request and on the authority of the Lords. The act also specified that York served at the king’s pleasure or until Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER came of age, a clause that protected the prince’s position as heir.
   York tried to rule with the support of a broad-based coalition of magnates; however, his position as leader of a faction of nobles who had opposed the former regime was incompatible with his new responsibility to maintain order throughout the kingdom. When he intervened in local disputes, he could not avoid charges of being biased in favor of his own supporters. Thus, when the duke involved himself in the NEVILLEPERCY FEUD, he appeared to back the NEVILLE FAMILY, while intervention in the COURTENAY-BONVILLE FEUD made him seem a partisan of William BONVILLE, Lord Bonville. Feeling aggrieved, the Percies and the Courtenays approached the queen, who began forming her own faction around York’s personal and political foes.York also made enemies by using his powers of patronage to appoint his ally, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, lord chancellor, and to take for himself the important captaincy of CALAIS, an office that had belonged to Somerset and that gave York control of England’s only standing military force.
   Henry’s sudden recovery at Christmas 1454 led to York’s formal resignation of his protectorship in February 1455. The king’s resumption of power gave the queen and York’s enemies their chance to retaliate. Somerset was released from the Tower, and York’s charges against him were rejected, while new appointments filled the council with the queen’s friends. Feeling themselves threatened, York, Salisbury, and Salisbury’s son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, who had also quarreled with Somerset, armed themselves, an action that raised political tensions and led in May to the first military encounter of the civil wars, the Battle of ST.ALBANS.
   See also Second Protectorate
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Johnson, P. A., Duke Richard of York (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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