Henry VI: England’s youngest ever king. At the age of seven, the youngest crowned King of England; and, aged only ten, crowned King of France in Notre Dame. His anointing at his coronations was a sign that his kingship was chosen by God and that he ruled with divine authority, making him king for all his natural life. But now, nearly thirty years later, with England’s continental European empire lost for ever, he is mad, incapacitated and soon to disinherit his only child.
Margaret of Anjou: Henry’s French consort, a warrior queen in defence of her son.
Richard, Duke of York: with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than the King’s, but nowin exile and nursing a deep sense of grievance. He is, by turns, distant and irresolute and then messianic and rash.
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury: for decades, the ultimate Lancastrian insider. Salisbury’s father had been richly rewarded by Henry IV, had married Joan Beaufort, the King’s half-sister and produced an enormous brood of children. Salisbury was to be, at one time or another, the brother-in-law or father-in-law of four dukes, one viscount and four earls. But in the 1450s there was a breach amongst the Beauforts and in 1460, as before, Salisbury stands behind his son and namesake.
Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick ‘The Kingmaker’: Salisbury’s eldest son. The son-in-lawof Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and his eventual successor. It was this Richard Neville’s vicious competition for the vast Beauchamp inheritance against Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, that had caused the Neville–Beaufort breach. Warwick is now York’s staunchest ally and, like York, is exiled from his vast estates. He is poised to invade from Calais – the last redoubt of the Anglo-Norman Empire in Europe – which he has made his own fiefdom through piracy and propaganda.
William Neville, Lord Fauconberg: Salisbury’s younger brother. Physically undistinguished and – a sign of Neville ambitions – married to a woman who had been insane from childhood so he could inherit wealth and title. He is an experienced and brilliant commander.
Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham: choleric commander of the Lancastrian armies. His Duchess, Anne, is the sister of York’s Duchess Cecily and of the elder Richard Neville. Buckingham is nowmaintaining Duchess Cecily under effective house arrest and, in the words of Gregory’s Chronicle, ‘with many a great rebuke’.
Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter: the closest male relative to Henry VI, but through the female line, and thus not his expected heir. Violent, reckless and short of means, he is York’s son-in-lawand hates both York and his Neville allies.
Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset; John, Baron Clifford; Henry, Earl of Northumberland: the heirs to men cut down in battle five years before, on Yorkist orders and against all accepted codes of chivalry. These Lords are closely allied to the Queen. They seek revenge.
Andrew Trollope: Somerset’s talented military adviser. A seasoned professional soldier and former second-in-command to Warwick at Calais. His eve of battle ‘betrayal’ of the Yorkists in 1459 led to their humiliation and to a desperate escape abroad.
Edward, Earl of March: eldest son of the Duke of York. As yet unproven in battle, this eighteen-year-old giant of a youth is with Warwick, his cousin, in Calais.
The Papal Legate – Francesco Coppini, Bishop of Terni: joins Warwick in Calais, Coppini is an unexpected but crucial ally of the Yorkists. But are he and England itself just minor pawns in the chess game of European politics? Are they being ‘played’ by Pius II, that most wily and most ruthless of Popes?
‘O that my death would stay these ruthful deeds!
O pity, pity, gentle heaven, pity!
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatal colours of our striving houses:
The one his purple blood right well resembles;
The other his pale cheeks’.*
Henry VI – Part Three, ACT II, SCENE v by William Shakespeare Speech by King Henry VI to one of the dead at Towton