42 Secret Facts About Henry VI, The Mad King Of England

September 24, 2019 | Christine Tran

42 Secret Facts About Henry VI, The Mad King Of England

As the last Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England was an easy man to like but a hard one to follow. Peaceful and pious, he was also prone to long spells of mental disassociation. The spells sometimes lasted for more than a year—an untimely quality for a king to have during the Wars of the Roses.

It looks like history will mostly remember Henry as just another “Mad Monarch,” but one doesn’t become King of England and France as a baby (and then lose it all) without a few awesome stories. There’s a surprising amount of hand-holding and would-be miracle cures. Check out of reality and into these 42 furtive facts about Henry VI, the Feeble King of England.

Henry VI Facts

42. From the Cradle to the Crown

Inheriting the crown at nine months old, Henry remains the youngest person to become King of England. But one crown was not enough for this baby. Following the death of his maternal grandfather just a few months later on 21 October 1422, Henry also claimed the French throne (in name, at least). To this day, he is the only English monarch to also be crowned King of France. What did you accomplish while still in diapers?

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

41. Daddy Issues

Ironically, the gentle Henry VI’s father is one of the most famous warrior kings in history. This daddy, Henry V, immortalized himself in the One Hundred Years’ War against France (Shakespeare’s plays also helped). Unfortunately, the battling took its toll: while on campaign, the 36-year-old Henry V died of dysentery and left behind just one infant child, our Henry VI, to take his place.

Henry VI facts Wikimedia Commons, -AHCd_53Kwff3Q

40. Moms Need Not Apply

Henry’s mother, Catherine de Valois, was only 20 years old when she was widowed. As a French princess, Catherine wasn’t trusted by the English people. She was therefore not allowed a close role in her son’s upbringing.

Henry VI facts Wikipedia

39. A Second Chance at Family

After his father’s death, Henry’s mother famously embarked on an affair with her Welsh household servant, Owen Tudor. Although “official” record of their marriage is very tenuous, the young King Henry proved generous towards the resulting half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. He later granted earldoms to both of them, effectively helping them found the House of Tudor.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

38. She’s Not Worth the Price of Admission

Henry’s marriage was considered a “loss” for the English people. In 1445, the 24-year-old Henry VI married the 16-year-old Margaret of Anjou, niece to the French King. Instead of bringing a dowry to her husband like a normal royal bride, Margaret actually cost the English money. Upon the marriage, Charles VII of France received Maine (the province in France) from England in exchange for peace. This deal was so controversial, it was actually hidden from the general population (not like they’d notice a big chunk of the country missing, right?). Unfortunately, this move enraged the dukes of Gloucester and York, paving the way for conflicts that would trigger the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI facts The Hollow Crown, Neal Street Productions

37. If You Want To Be Our King, You Can’t Get With Your Friends

Henry’s chosen allies made him very unpopular with the people. One of the nobles in his clique, the Duke of Suffolk, was so hated that Londoners called regularly for his blood. Instead, the king met the people halfway and settled for Suffolk’s exile. Unfortunately, the duke’s ship was intercepted, and his body was found murdered on the shores of Dover. This goes to show how little the king’s will was respected by 1450.

Henry VI factsWikipedia

36. The Doctor Will See You Now

Henry VII, the first Tudor king and Henry VI’s nephew by his half-brother Edmund, encouraged a posthumous cult around his uncle as part of anti-Yorkist propaganda. As a result, a number of miracles are attributed to Henry VI, including his “cure” of a little girl who was allegedly afflicted with a disease known as the King’s Evil (known today as scrofula). The girls’ parents refused to let her get the touch from a traitor Yorkist king, so Henry VI did the job.

Henry VI facts Wikimedia Commons

35. Try VapoRub Next Time

In another story of Henry’s alleged “miracles,” the king saved an innocent man from hanging by placing his royal hand between the man’s windpipe and the rope. The man came back to life just as they were carrying him off for burial.

Henry VI facts Wikimedia Commons

34. Unfired Cannons

As late as the reign of Henry VIII, there were still plans to canonize Henry VI as a saint and martyr. Unfortunately, that thing called “the English break with Rome” got in the way and this canonization was permanently put on hold.

Henry VI facts Wikipedia

33. Maybe We Just Like to Blame Women?

Henry once fell into a year-long catatonic state, and some people thought that it the result of shock after learning his wife was pregnant. This has clearly been debunked because Margaret was about seven months pregnant at the time he fell. Even before the advent of ultrasound, Henry would have gotten a heads up.

Others used this tale to leverage rumors that either (1) Henry had fallen ill from the shame of breaking his vows of chastity (with his own wife) or (2) Henry’s wife had strayed, and he had fallen ill from being a cuckold. The latter story worked well for the House of York…

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

32. Who Needs a Painkiller When You Have a Hat?

A hat belonging to Henry was kept as a sacred artifact up until the English Reformation. It was said to cure migraines.

Henry VI facts Flickr

31. Bittersweet Sixteen

At the age of 16, Henry was declared of age and received full rights to rule on his own in 1437—the same year that his absent mother died. He could have used all the guidance he could get.

Henry VI facts The Hollow Crown, Neal Street Productions

30. My Heroine

Henry’s knight in shining armor was his own wife, Margaret of Anjou. On 10 July 1460, the king got himself captured the Battle of Northampton by the Duke of York. Luckily, it only took his loving queen’s forces eight months to rescue him.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

29. Sometimes You Have No Choice But to Laugh

After his wife rescued him from captivity, Henry had entered another bout of mental instability. Given to singing and laughing, Henry kept this up as fighting continued in the background.

Henry VI facts Flickr

28. I’ll Be Back

Not many kings lose their crown twice, but Henry VI was never ordinary. His first brush with bare hair was at the Battle of Towton. In March 1461, the Duke of York’s son, now Edward IV, defeated the Lancastrian King and took the throne.

Henry VI facts Wikimedia Commons

27. A Prince Pause

Henry spent the first part of Edward’s reign hiding with allies in Northern England and Scotland. His wife, Queen Margaret, remained the brains of the operation and continued to lead the Lancastrian resistance.

Henry VI facts PxHere

26. Poems and Prison Bars

In 1465, the king formerly known as Henry VI was recaptured by Edward IV’s forces. As a prisoner in the Tower of London, Henry passed his time by composing poetry.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

25. The Devil’s Rejects

Edward’s familial losses were Henry’s gain. By 1470, the Yorkist King Edward IV had fallen out with his two closest supporters, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick and Edwards’ own brother, George, the Duke of Clarence. The king’s unpopular decision to marry for love, to Elizabeth Woodville, combined with general dissatisfaction with his tax and foreign policy decisions, were the perfect conditions for Warwick and Clarence to defect to the side of Henry VI.

Henry VI facts The Hollow Crown, Neal Street Productions

24. Long Distance Murder?

According to Sir Thomas More’s History of Richard III, it was Richard III—then just the Duke of Gloucester—who delivered the killing blow to Henry VI. The only problem? Richard wasn’t even in town when the old king died. Chalk that up to more Tudor propaganda.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

23. Accept Substitutions

The retaking of Henry’s throne was engineered, as with many things, by his wife Margaret. She hammered the deal with Warwick and Edward IV’s brother, the Duke of Clarence. Should Henry and Margaret’s only son, Edward of Westminster, die without heirs, Clarence would be next in line for the throne. The deal was sealed by wedding Westminster to Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville.

Henry VI facts Wikimedia Commons, VeteranMP

22. Easy Come, Easy Go

Henry retook the throne but only held onto it for six months. It’s largely accepted that Warwick and Clarence were running the show anyways. Unfortunately, this means Warwick had the power he needed to wage war with Burgundy. Following the whole “the enemy of mine enemy is my friend” thing, Burgundy promptly sided with Edward IV in 1471 and helped the Yorkist king retake the throne.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

21. The Prodigal Son Doesn’t Return

Henry’s son, Edward of Westminster, is the only English heir apparent in history to die in battle. At the age of 17, he predeceased both his parents on 4 May 1471 in the Battle of Tewkesbury. This deciding battle threw our Henry VI off the throne for good.

Henry VI facts Flickr

20. Better Him Than Someone Good

Upon King Edward’s return, Henry VI was imprisoned for a second time in the Tower of London. However, he was kept alive. Some speculated the Yorkists did not want to leave the Lancastrians with a more formidable leader that wasn’t prone to year-long catatonic states.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

19. The Lap of Luxury and Love

Despite their many political difficulties, Henry and his wife Queen Margaret had a tender relationship. The couple once kicked off New Year celebrations by receiving their gifts in bed, where they lay in their PJs and pillows all morning and thereby beat John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s celebrity staycation honeymoon by some centuries.

Henry VI facts The Hollow Crown, Neal Street Productions

18. Never Nude

Henry never took a mistress. Maybe Henry loved no one but Margaret, but others have suggested he had a (rumored) phobia of naked bodies.

According to one chronicler, King Henry literally ran away in distress after a lord brought a gang of topless ladies to a Christmas celebration as a ribald joke. The king also couldn’t stand the sight of naked men in the medieval-typical setting of a bathhouse. To Henry’s credit, naked strangers are scary.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

17. It’s Me!

In his more lucid years, a young Henry greeted his bride by disguising himself as a squire and “unmasking” his royal identity to her later in a show of courtly love and pageantry.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

16. Beat By a Broken Heart (and Skull)

Henry VI of England’s “official” death took place on 21 May 1471 by the cause of “melancholy.” Reportedly, he learned of his son’s death and fell into a devasting and irreparable grief. However, it was also widely rumored that the king was murdered on Edward IV’s orders. He was 49 years old.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

15. Kingly Heights

According to his skeleton, Henry stood at five feet and nine inches. That’s fairly tall for a medieval man.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

14. Patron Prince of Nerds

Contrary to his legacy as a witless king, Henry left a lasting legacy on English education. During his life, the king was heavily invested in the development of universities. He founded famous institutions such as Eton College, King’s College in Cambridge, and All Souls College in Oxford. To this day, the Provosts of Eton and King’s honor his life by laying white flowers (Yorkist emblems) at the place where he was allegedly murdered while kneeled in prayer.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

13. Creative License

William Shakespeare wrote a trilogy of plays documenting Henry’s life. We know these plays collectively as Henry VI. However, the Bard makes zero reference to Henry’s struggles with mental illness. Instead, Henry is more portrayed as too easily influenced by his wife and too concerned with the Bible to be a practical ruler.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

12. Finishing Dad’s Work

Henry didn’t have much in common with his warrior father, but they at least shared an investment in architecture. Henry VI completed his father’s work in the foundation of the famed Syon Abbey.

Henry VI facts Getty Images

11. Bet The House on This House

According to one chronicle, Henry VI predicted that his nephew, Henry Tudor, would inherit the throne when the future king was just a young boy. Presented with the child at court, Henry VI apparently looked at him for a long time and then told all the courtiers, “This truly, this is he unto whom both we and our adversaries must yield and give over the dominion.” Maybe he was being nice to the little kid, but what a lucky guess.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

10. See the Error of My Ways

In the early 16th century, Henry’s shrine was a hugely popular stop for pilgrimage. According to one story, a man cursed “Saint Henry,” only to go blind soon after. He only regained his sight after taking a pilgrimage back to the shrine and making amends with the dead king.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

9. Save on Your Own Sainthood

Henry VII found it just too expensive to have his uncle officially canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. To save money, the Tudor king simply had Henry VI reverently buried and enshrined at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.

Henry VI facts Flickr

8. Return Policy

Henry’s reign marked the humiliating loss of England’s territories in France. Most notably, England lost the Duchy of Aquitaine in 1451—a legendary holding that had been in England since the days of Henry II. With the final loss of Bordeaux (after a brief retaking) in 1453, the puny city of Calais was England’s only holding in France.

Henry VI facts The Hollow Crown, Neal Street Productions

7. Entering Sleep Mode

Upon learning about the loss of Bordeaux, England’s last important holding in France, Henry VI had a full mental breakdown. He remained unresponsive—basically catatonic—for more than a year.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

6. A Baby Is Not an Alarm Clock

During his year-long mental breakdown in late 1453, Henry welcomed his only child, Edward of Westminster. Unfortunately, not even the birth of an heir could snap the king out of his zombie-like state.

Henry VI facts Wikimedia Commons, John Cassell

5. An Illness of One’s Own

It’s been speculated Henry suffered from schizophrenia. Certainly, he had the genetic disposition for it; his mother’s father, Charles VI of France, spent the last thirty years of his life with periodic bouts of instability and hallucinations. However, others have noted that Charles manifested very distinct symptoms from Henry, so no one can say for sure.

Henry VI facts Pixabay

4. What Did I Miss?

By Christmas 1452, Henry finally came out of his mental breakdown. Unfortunately, he woke to the worst possible news: his relatives had enough of the bad governance and humiliating loss of French territory. Nobles began to back the Duke of York’s claim to the throne, taking the government and then setting sights on the crown itself. Thus began the “Cousins War,” or what is better known as the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI facts The Hollow Crown, Neal Street Productions

3. I Bring You Love

In the early days of the Wars of the Roses, Henry opted for “Love” over “War.” In fact, he declared 25 March 1548 to be “Loveday.” For real. The celebrations forced the combatants from both sides of the war—the Yorkists and the Lancastrians—to literally hold hands and walk in pilgrimage with each other to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Naturally, the handholding didn’t last more than a day; all parties promptly (and I bet rather awkwardly) returned to the business of trying to overthrow their kin pretty fast. If every civil conflict could be solved with TLC, the world would be a better place…

Henry VI facts Pixabay

2. I Wanna Hold Your Hand

When Henry VI retook the throne in 1470, it’s said he had to be led by the hand through London like a child. At this point, he was still too unstable to rule on his own.

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

1. Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But So Can Cousins

Centuries after his death, Henry’s corpse was dug up. His light hair was covered in blood and he had damage to his skull. This strongly suggests his death was perhaps less “melancholic” and more “murder-y.”

Henry VI facts Shutterstock

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Dark Family Secrets

Dark Family Secrets Exposed

Nothing stays hidden forever—and these dark family secrets are proof that when the truth comes out, it can range from devastating to utterly chilling.
April 8, 2020 Samantha Henman

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

Madame de Pompadour Facts

Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
December 7, 2018 Kyle Climans

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

These People Got Genius Revenges

When someone really pushes our buttons, we'd like to think that we'd hold our head high and turn the other cheek, but revenge is so, so sweet.
April 22, 2020 Scott Mazza

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Catherine of Aragon Facts

Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but very few people know her even darker history.
June 7, 2018 Christine Tran

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.