“Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI”

(Blacman)
   An account of the character and personal life of HENRY VI ostensibly written by the king’s chaplain John Blacman, the “Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI” is the basis of later depictions of Henry as a holy and innocent man, whose neglect of government was a result of his great piety and sanctity.
   John Blacman was associated with two of Henry VI’s educational foundations, being a fellow of Eton in the 1440s and warden of King’s Hall, Cambridge, in the 1450s. Blacman may also have served as Henry’s chaplain or confessor during these decades. The date of Blacman’s death is uncertain, as is his authorship of the “Compilation,” which may simply have once been in his possession. The manuscript was unknown until 1919, when it was discovered and published by M. R. James, the provost of Eton College. The “Compilation” is a collection of first-person anecdotes that illustrates the saintly nature of Henry VI. The hagiographic tone and certain internal evidence suggest that the manuscript was written about 1500 at the court of HENRY VII, who was then attempting to persuade the pope to canonize his Lancastrian uncle.
   Any campaign to make a saint of Henry VI, and thereby transform him into an illustrious forebear of the house of TUDOR, could not base its argument on the quality of Henry’s kingship. However, by relating a series of stories that illustrated Henry’s otherworldliness, simplicity, and lack of deceit, and that made no mention of his mental illness, a case could be made for his canonization (see Henry VI, Illness of). The “Compilation” turned Henry’s well-known failings as a king into the virtues of a saint. For instance, after describing Henry as much given to prayer and private meditation, the compiler related the king’s annoyance when he was roused one day from his devotions by a duke demanding an audience. The anecdotes also displayed Henry’s high morals, recounting his shock at seeing men enjoying the waters of Bath in the nude and at women appearing at COURT bare breasted. Besides his own firsthand knowledge, the compiler also claimed to have interviewed others who knew the king, including Henry’s chamberlain, Sir Richard TUNSTALL, who lived until 1492 and would have been present in the early Tudor court, and Henry’s friend, Bishop William WAINFLEET, who died in 1486. Whatever the origins of the “Compilation,” which Polydore Vergil probably consulted for his ANGLICA HISTORIA, it could not have appeared before 1485, when such a laudatory account of Henry VI would have been considered treasonous by the ruling house of YORK. The work must therefore be used with caution as a source for Henry VI’s reign and personality.
   Further Reading: James, M. R., ed., Henry the Sixth: A Reprint of John Blacman’s Memoir (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1919); Lovatt, R.,“John Blacman: Biographer of Henry VI,” in R. H.C. Davis and J. M.Wallace-Hadrill, eds., The Writing of History in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), pp. 415–444; Lovatt, R.,“A Collector of Apocryphal Anecdotes: John Blacman Revisited,” in A. J. Pollard, ed., Property and Politics: Essays in Later Medieval English History (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1984), pp. 172–197;Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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