Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Final Days of the House of Lancaster

The night of 15 August 1453 was thought to be like any other for those in attendance of King Henry VI of England. The King and his inner circle court were in the royal hunting lodge at Clarendon, near Salisbury in Wiltshire where Henry had learned of the shocking news of the defeat of Castillon and the defeat of the Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot. The King had been feeling unwell since the early days of the month and it seemed to grow worse upon the news of Castillon. That night the King complained that he felt unnaturally sleepy at dinner before standing to announced he was retiring for the night but asked his guests not end their revelry on his account. As the King exited the dining hall, his body started to spasm out of control and suddenly he fell forward and struck his head on a corner of a wooden table with a loud crack. The room erupted as noblemen, attendants, and most importantly the Queen rushed to check on the King. Henry VI lay on the floor unconscious with a large bruise swelling on a portion of his forehead.

Queen Margaret of Anjou, seven months pregnant, had to be restrained by several of the men as the King was taken to his bedchamber and physicians administered to him. The excitement resulted in Margaret going into labor the next day as Henry remained unconscious, the male child was stillborn and the Queen was beside herself in grief. The King’s condition and the death of his would-be heir was the source of much debate and consternation within high noblemen of Henry’s inner circle as they looked to the future especially concerning themselves. The chief amongst these noblemen was Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, the King’s right hand man and those close to him in the so-called “court faction.”

The Duke of Somerset was one of two heir presumptive to the throne in the event of the King leaving no living heir and attempted to keep the events occurring at Clarendon as secret as possible. However, other individuals in Henry’s court had looked towards the future of the realm and had been secretly sending news northwards to Ludlow Castle situated along the Welsh border. The castle was the residence of Richard Plantagenet, the 3rd Duke of York, the powerful magnate in England whose claim to the throne was better than even Henry VI had and who was the greatest opponent to Somerset’s “court faction.” As the news grew ever worse, York resolved to head south and with a large retinue headed for the royal lodge.

In the early morning of 21 August 1453, Henry VI of England passed away thus ending his 30 year and 355 day reign upon the throne. The King had been the last descendant, and only legitimate grandchild, of Henry IV who had founded the House of Lancaster when he had forced his cousin Richard II to abdicate in 1399. Thus Henry VI’s death not only represented an end to the 54-year reign of the House of Lancaster upon the throne, but also it’s complete extinction. And as a result the Crown lay on no man’s head.

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