Henry VI’s Mysterious Death: Where One War Ends, Another Begins

King Henry VI.
King Henry VI.

On the twenty first of May 1471, Henry VI died, probably by the hand of the Yorks. There are many versions of this. In some it is Richard who kills him while Henry VI bemoans his death and the destruction of his house, in others it is an unknown assailant sent by Richard.  The official story is something so outrageous and taken out of a fairy tale story that nobody believed it at the time. According to the Yorkists, Henry VI had taken the news of his son’s death “to so great despite, ire and indignation that of pure displeasure and melancholy he died”. Few believed this cock and bull story. Towards the end of his life, Henry VI had become paranoid. He railed about seeing a woman drowning a child and many other visions that his confessor and biographer, John Blacman, later recorded. Despite his delusions however, it is very hard to believe that he would just drop dead upon receiving the news of his dead son.
Everyone suspected of foul play. But regardless of the identity of his killer, whoever sent him would have been acting under the strict orders of Edward IV. It is illogical to think that someone would have just gone rogue and done away with the old King. Edward IV wanted Henry VI. Period. He didn’t spare his son in his battle and dragged Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and the others hiding at Tewkesbury Abbey for beheading two days later on May the sixth. His death marked the end of an era and the end of a threat. Or at least that is how it seemed.

Edward IV was too smart to know that killing Henry VI was the end of the Lancastrian threat. If history had taught him anything was that once one person was eradicated, another one could come to take his place. Especially if that someone came from the same House as he did. Henry Tudor was the descendant of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster’s eldest son by his third wife, Kathryn Swynford. Although King Richard II had legitimized their children, his successor, Henry IV had excluded them from the line of succession. But that was a minor concern for Edward IV. After all, he better than anyone, knew laws could be made or unmade. It was only a matter of power and money. So after Henry VI was murdered that morning between 11 and 12 0’clock, he began his next project: to capture Henry Tudor, the fourteen year old Earl of Richmond and his uncle Jasper Tudor who were hiding in Wales, at all costs.

Some historians view the destruction of the legitimate line of the House of Lancaster as the end of the wars of the roses; but the wars as we know now, was far more complex and far from over at this point. Where one war ended, another began.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence
  • Edward IV by Ross
  • Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster (1453-1471) by Susan Higginbotham
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Jones
  • The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
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