Colin Firth as Henry VI
Henry VI was only 9 months old when his father died (Henry V), but even at an early age, he wasn't quite as kingly as his subjects thought he would be.
Jean Plaidy, in her book, "The Queen's Secret," tells a story how an infant Henry was inconsolable for days, but when he passed a church, he calmed. Religion, it seemed, soothed his soul.
As a young child growing up, he leaned toward a pious, religious life. In fact, his education was given mostly by monks. He had little to no exposure to worldly issues. At a critical point in his life, as a boy becomes a man, his monk tutors, specifically, the Bishop of Salisbury, William Ayscough, taught him sex was for procreation, not pleasure. His dealings with the opposite sex after that were very modest. One Christmas a guest brought Henry a troupe of topless dancers. Henry was shocked and left the room in a huff. Bashful was an understatement.
In 1437, when he was 16, he took the responsibility of the government onto himself after a successful regency. Things went all right for a couple of years until 1445.
In 1445, Henry was 24. He was shy and very pious, yet when he heard reports of Margaret D'Anjou's stunning beauty, he knew this was the woman he wanted to marry. I suspect no matter how pious he was, he couldn’t fully tame his hormones. Quite simply, he wanted Margaret as his wife. Love? Hormones? Desire? Perhaps all three are in the mix.
The king's advisors, Cardinal Henry Beaufort and The Earl of Suffolk, William de la Pole, convinced Henry it would be advantageous to marry Margaret, thus obtaining peace with the French. Henry VI was a peaceful guy, after all.
Margaret was drop dead gorgeous. She was passionate and proud and well educated. She had a very strong personality and strong will, traits many said that Margaret shared with her mother.
Margaret's uncle was the French king, Charles VII. Crafty soul Charles was, he told Henry: "Sure you can marry my niece, BUT don't expect a dowry. IN FACT, I want the Maine and Anjou. (English held land in France won by Henry's father, Henry V.)
Henry agreed. A young man in love? Well…. That in itself might have been a tip that something wasn't right with Henry. Actually, Henry knew such an agreement would be unpopular in England, but the architects of the agreement would take the brunt of the backlash. After all, they should have had enough common sense to advise Henry against such preposterous terms.
Ultimately, Henry went through with the marriage and the terms of it were kept secret for a year. Margaret was 15.
Did Margaret love Henry? Did Henry love her?
I submit Henry did love Margaret because he was willing to endure the unpopularity the marriage was to bring. A thing to consider though – Henry had exhibited signs of paranoia, grandiose, and of being indecisive. Taken individually, they are seen as character traits. Taken as a whole, they should have been signs of a "deeper" problem.
Did Margaret love Henry? I submit she had affection for him, perhaps more so that he was the King of England than for the man himself. Certainly, she must have been stunned by his "character traits." I can't imagine that being the pious man he was, that he lit a fire in the marriage bed. Lovemaking, I'm convinced, must have been very perfunctory for him and disappointing to Margaret.
In 1447, the Heir Presumptive to the throne was Richard, Duke of York, since Henry didn't have an heir. Due to Henry's ineffective rule, law and order broke down, corruption spiked, and the king, being a "nice" guy, made sure his court favorites were rewarded with land. The English lost further land in France including Caen, Guyenne, and Bordeaux between 1450-1453.
Richard returned to the King's Council in 1452, but Margaret saw him as a threat. (Probably because he was sane and had common sense.) Due to Richard's influence, the Duke of Somerset was arrested for corruption. Margaret intervened with Henry and the Duke was released, frustrating York. Clearly, Henry was putty in Margaret's hands. And Margaret had to step up. Her husband was weak, a "nice" guy, and ineffectual. But why?
In August 1453 at the age of 31, Henry had a complete mental breakdown upon hearing the English had lost Bordeaux. Interestingly, Margaret gave birth to a son, Edward, in October 1453. That would make his conception in January 1453. Surely, Henry had to have known his wife was pregnant in July when she was six months pregnant. Back then as soon as the queen was expecting, she was separated from sleeping with the king so as not to harm the child. Surely, they were separated from the marriage for that reason?
What am I getting at? History says Henry did not recognize his son when he was born. Of course he wouldn't! He was having a mental breakdown and unresponsive.
Rumors were rife that the young Prince's father was one of Margaret's favorites, but I submit the baby was indeed Henry's. There is no other proof one way or the other that Henry did or did not father him. While it is possible Margaret might have been unhappy or frustrated in her marriage to a schizophrenic, there is no conclusive proof that she was ever unfaithful to her husband.
In hindsight, the symptoms Henry presented are consistent with schizophrenia. Henry's grandfather, Charles VI of France suffered from schizophrenia as well, though there were no signs that Henry's mother, Katherine of France, did.
Can you imagine what Margaret had to deal with in her marriage? A man tormented by the onset of schizophrenia? After Henry recovered, he wasn't himself. He was apathetic often, his drive and self care deteriorated. He had hallucinations, and would often raise his eyes in a trance.
That left Margaret to fight for the rights of her son since her husband wasn't capable of it.
Schizophrenia ruined Henry's life, robbed him of his crown, his wife, and his son.
In 1454, Richard of York was named Regent as well as Protector of the Realm, due to Henry's mental illness. Margaret felt very threatened by this. Convinced Richard of York would usurp her infant son's rights, the headstrong queen set into motion the events of the Wars of the Roses. There could be no doubt Margaret loved her son very much.
Henry and Margaret's story has a sad ending. In 1471, Henry died in the Tower of London. Foul play was suspected. Margaret fought a final, decisive battle with French troops in 1471 with her 17 year old son, Edward. Edward died in that battle and Margaret fled to France, dying widowed, alone, and after relying on the generousity of her French relatives.
NEXT: #7 – Edmund Tudor, the king's half-brother marries Margaret Beaufort.
#8 – Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.