Henry the sixth, (Harry to his friends and one of our most misunderstood kings) has been popping up in all my books this year so I thought we should remember his birthday. His mum, the beautiful Queen Catherine of Valois had just turned twenty. Her husband, King Henry V was far too busy to come home from the siege of Meaux outside Paris, so mother and baby had to spend their first Christmas without him.
Fortunately for Catherine, she had good company, including Countess Jacqueline of Hainault and her lady-in-waiting, Lady Eleanor, the subject of my latest novel The SecretDiary of Eleanor Cobham. Countess Jacqueline actually held young Harry at the font for his christening—but sadly his dad never saw him, as he died from dysentery and never returned from France.
Young Harry became king at the age of nine months, so it was just as well he had Lady Eleanor’s husband, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, to look after him. Equally lucky for Queen Catherine was the timely arrival of the hero of my current work in progress, Owen Tudor. He was the closest thing to a father Harry ever had (and was equally caring for the dowager queen but that’s another story.)
So how did it all end? King Henry VI is shown by Shakespeare and others as weak and ‘pious’ because he lacked the killer-instinct of his father. He was well educated and sensitive, with an enquiring mind (at least until he fell into a catatonic coma.) The hero of another of my novels, Warwick:The Man behind the Wars of the Roses, Sir Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (otherwise known as the Kingmaker), took care of King Henry during his later years. (Actually he nearly killed him and made him ride into London tied to a donkey.)
No one really knows who did it but examination of Harry’s skull shows he died from severe trauma to the back of his head. One theory is that he was hit with a hammer or similar whilst saying his prayers. Anyway, let’s remember him as the only King of England and France, who always wished for peace.