The Last Will of Henry V & the Inheritance of an Empire

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Henry V was not supposed to die on August 31, 1422. Not when he was only his 30s, not when his son was than a year old, and not when England was establishing a dual empire inclusive of France. The death itself was a national tragedy, one which would have had a huge impact on the health and viability of his successor’s reign regardless, but it was it was his final will and last-minute codicils that first drew the battle lines against which England found itself fighting for the next 60+ years.

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1452 Was a Hell of a Year

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Two weeks ago we took a look at the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, noting that his unpopularity was wrapped up in the humiliating losses in Normandy under the command of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. His death in March 1450 was swiftly followed by the first serious rebellion in Henry VI’s reign – that of a man under the moniker “Jack Cade,” who led an uprising that swept the countryside that summer. It was suppressed and its participants put to death, but an uneasy pallor settled over Henry’s court.

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Anjou: The Last Years of Henry VI’s Queen

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Marguerite of Anjou, consort of Henry VI, dominates England’s history through the first half of the Wars of the Roses and ends abruptly in May 1471. The Battle of Tewkesbury that took place that month brought about the death of some of her greatest supporters, not least of whom was her beloved son, Prince Edward. The House of Lancaster was effectively destroyed – Henry VI was quietly put to death, loyalists fled abroad or pledged allegiance to the House of York and Edward IV reigned safely for the next 12 years.

Her husband and son dead, Marguerite had no further connection to England. Last mentions of her often note that she was held in the Tower of the London and then eventually returned to France, where she died 11 years later. And yet, while her utility to a nation’s history might have evaporated, she did in fact keep living. The last decade plus of her life is made of vaguer stuff than what we have been left from her years in power, but it is still illuminating.

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