Military history


An Absent-Minded King

With the fall of Suffolk’s household government there was a vacuum at the centre of the polity. With whom would power reside? Might the King at last intervene? He was by this time approaching thirty – almost twice the age at which illustrious predecessors such as Edward I and his own father had taken a major, if not crucial, role in governing the country.

It could not happen. Henry’s total mishandling of the challenge posed by Cade had shown that. It is doubtful whether Henry ever fully considered the nature of his kingship but, as will be seen, he had an alternative approach, one that Suffolk had been happy to indulge.

Henry’s divergence from his expected role was not due to any lack of instruction: his tutor, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, had been one of the most learned men of the age. Nor was it for lack of ongoing supplication by his subjects. Their expectations were clearly laid out in The Mirror for Princes, presented to the King with all tact and deference in the late 1440s.1 Such Mirrors were common in the courts of Europe at this time. They were designed to outline the nature of good kingship and, of course, how well the recipients of the Mirror were conforming to these precepts. Henry’s own Mirror, written by a learned churchman, was designed to be the King’s own personal spiritual guide to his Christian quest for personal salvation in the face of the worldly temptations of ‘a great and powerful King’. In describing the challenges Henry faces, the author praises the King’s peace initiatives, but says that if Henry’s French subjects and followers do rebel then he should lead a well-trained army to the battlefield. He goes on to stress the dignity of a prince and his responsibilities: to heed the law in order to preserve peace; the imperative of maintaining justice; of being advised by wise and experienced councillors; and of pursuing a non-partisan distribution of patronage. But this is a distinctly one-dimensional piece of work: it details what all kings were expected to do, but cannot furnish examples featuring Henry. Although in no way would this book have been designed to be critical but – and here is the nub – it does make it very clear that the ultimate salvation of Henry’s soul would depend upon the faithful exercise of these duties. For him, as for all medieval kings, mere godly devotion and prayer were not enough.

At least the author of the Mirror did not have the embarrassment of having to pen a eulogy to the King at the time of Cade’s rebellion. This was the problem faced by John Capgrave, an Augustinian friar from the wealthy port of King’s Lynn. His Book of the Illustrious Henries can be almost exactly dated, as it expresses the hope that ‘London will spew out her foulness and welcome Henry back’.2 Adulatory of Henry VI’s predecessors, the section on the reigning King is merely lukewarm; indeed, the Victorian editor of the book, wishing to know more of the reign and person of Henry VI, is moved by the banality of the section to remark: ‘it is not a little provoking that the writings of a contemporary Historian should throw little or no light upon it’. Like the Mirror, the Book of the Illustrious Henries is full of hopes. Though it describes many noble deeds, there is none performed by Henry himself. Beneath the formulaic eulogy, its summary of Henry’s accomplishments is stark: personally devout; marriage to Margaret; founding of King’s College, Cambridge, and of Eton College.

Even these last two great institutions, dedicated to him as founder though they are, were largely finished by later monarchs. The resulting edifices were but pale imitations of what Henry himself had originally intended. These – Eton in particular – were the King’s own great projects: ‘the primer notable work purposed by me after that I … took unto myself the rule of my said Realms’.3 Many are amused by the popular perception that Eton was founded as a school for poor scholars, but in reality provision for the poor scholars was just a small part of Henry’s plans for the great cathedral of Eton. And Henry had a multitude of plans; constant change and amendment led the works to be started then rejigged and even pulled down – seven years’ worth of construction in one instance – as Henry’s enthusiasm was channelled by Suffolk’s clique into a right royal medieval equivalent of a construction project from Hell. With all of the clique closely involving themselves in the project – Suffolk himself, Moleyns, Ayscough, Fiennes et al4 – chaos on a grand scale ensued. In the Domesday Book of 1085, William the Conqueror had managed to establish an inventory of the ownership, extent, value, population and stock in all but his four most northern counties.5 Henry VI’s grand project advanced without accurate measurements for the country’s largest existing cathedrals! As these were subsequently and sporadically established, the building at Eton had to be continually re-planned, first to make it as long as Lincoln Cathedral, then as wide as York Minster. For Eton was to be the largest church edifice in the kingdom and, even more importantly, letters written to Rome show that it was intended to have a greater power to grant indulgences for plenary remission of sins than any of the King’s other churches in England or France. In short, it was to be the most important ecclesiastical building in the realm, to eclipse even the glorious Westminster Abbey itself, which had been largely rebuilt at near ruinous cost by Henry III.

It is difficult to disagree with Bertram Wolffe that Eton, just across from Henry’s birthplace at Windsor Castle, was planned by the King to be his own magnificent final place of rest.6 It requires only a further small step of the imagination to surmise that the lasting impression left on the seven-year-old boy by his Westminster coronation – reinforced by the second ceremony in Notre Dame – was a bastardized merging of the spiritual and the material. The duties and responsibilities listed in his coronation oath, the symbolism of his ritualized Saxon-style election to kingship as the leader of the noble class as a whole, and his role as the protector of his people, all seem to have passed him by.7 It is as though, when prostrate before the ornate tomb of St Edward the Confessor in the Saint’s own abbey, he had started to imagine an even greater destiny for himself.8

The Eton College chapel of today is based on just the choir of the original projected building – and aptly named in comparison – so Henry failed in this, as in just about everything else. However, an understanding of what appears to be a singular focus amidst a more general lack of focus is the key to an understanding of him. The effort given to these projects by Suffolk and co. – at a ruinous cost that was condemned by Parliament in 14519 – is extremely instructive. In order to maintain the continuing trust of the King, and thus their control over him, his revenues and patronage, Suffolk’s clique closely assisted him in his ‘primer notable work’ – or what might otherwise be described as his hobby.

Henry’s enthusiasm for the project can be charted through his constant enquiries to his secretary, Bishop Thomas Beckington, as to whether papal bulls had been published granting rights and indulgences; and through the acts of gratitude when they were. Fortunate indeed were Thomas Carver in 1444 and Gloucester’s bastard son Arthur in 1447, when their horrendous executions were commuted as part of the celebrations of good news from Rome.10 In a personal monarchy, the personality of the king is everything. If one accepts that Henry had any control over his destiny, then it might be argued that a prefix of ‘vain’ should be added to Bruce McFarlane’s famous summing up of Henry as inane and then insane.11 However, whether vanity could be ascribed to someone who not only lacked control of events but increasingly appeared to be losing control of himself is a moot point.

For, as to the last part of McFarlane’s conclusion, in August 1453, coincidental with the final loss for all time of England’s French empire and a schism in the English nobility, Henry did go insane. To the divinely anointed and intensely religious King, these setbacks, following so closely on the disasters of 1450, represented nothing less than a personal rejection by God. Henry’s breakdown was total. He was deprived of movement and speech, a condition that lasted for a period of seventeen months.

Historians have traditionally skirted around the root causes of Henry’s madness: both his great 1980s biographers Ralph Griffiths and Bertram Wolffe believed that the evidence of his symptoms was insufficient and that we must judge him purely by his actions.12They felt that to understand him we must look to the King’s administrative behaviour as shown by the vast wealth of documents bearing his seal and, sometimes, his signature. But over the past twenty years, Henry’s notional administrative role has become more shadowy, because, as John Watts has shown, this was a king whose public actions really can be attributed to his ministers.13 As with the later ‘denunciations’ of York and the Nevilles at St Albans, the words of the administrative record are not necessarily those of Henry himself.

Henry was still, however, a public ceremonial figure. He was closely observed by his contemporaries: by foreign diplomats who had a duty to send detailed reports to their masters; and by churchmen with close access to him, one of whom wrote a particularly useful memoir. Even the observations about the King in the parliamentary record and court documents reporting slanderous words against him can prove revelatory.

These detailed descriptions indicate types of behaviour that can be better interpreted today. Over the past two generations, psychiatric understanding has progressed so markedly that it provides the analytical tools for leading psychiatrists to make a more definitive judgement on Henry’s condition. In the view of Dr Trevor Turner and Dr Nigel Bark of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, expressed both personally and in their published articles, Henry, as described by contemporaries, exhibited symptoms that are substantially indicative of schizophrenia. Doctors Turner and Bark, with many years of practice between them, Dr Turner in the UK and Dr Bark in the US, illustrate this conclusively in their respective articles – ‘Schizophrenia as a permanent problem: some aspects of historical evidence … ’14 and ‘Did schizophrenia change the course of English history? The mental illness of Henry VI’.15

The identification of schizophrenia is of primary and central importance in understanding Henry’s character, and even more so for appreciating the nature of his kingship. That Henry’s illness was schizophrenia would explain the nature of his complete mental breakdown in 1453, as well as illuminating the cause and effect of his own actions and of those with whom he came into contact throughout his entire life.

From his grandfather Charles VI, Henry inherited both the Kingdom of France and the illness which would overwhelm him. In Charles’s case, it was episodic, came in an acute paranoid form, and manifested itself in a particular delusion that was little known in the Middle Ages and is even less well-known today: Charles believed that he was made of glass. He was terrified by the approach of other people and of himself knocking into hard objects and his body shattering. This was reflected in the abnormal behaviour he showed and in the postures he adopted in order to protect himself.

In Henry’s case, the seventeen-month breakdown that incapacitated him in 1453 was catatonic. As the contemporary chronicler Abbot Whethamstede reported, Henry had no sense of time nor memory from the onset of the attack. With no control over his limbs, he could neither stand upright, nor walk, nor indeed move unaided from one place to another.16 These symptoms lasted, to a greater or lesser degree, from August 1453 to Christmas 1454 and are, as described, completely commensurate with the symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia.

The King’s residual faculties were minimal: he could drink and eat – or rather, he could be fed – and he could stare. For those around him, it must have been acutely disturbing to see the King remain mute and contorted for hours on end, staring fixedly yet completely devoid of facial expression or emotion. It would have seemed extraordinary that they were unable to elicit any recognition from those staring eyes, even when his baby son of two months was presented to him during the Christmas and New Year period of 1453–54, the only sign from Henry being a single flickering eye movement.

In an age when medical treatment was still based on the ancient Greek principle of balancing the four humours of blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile, there was no separate psychological focus. As for the ultimate cause of his condition, at the time it would have been seen as an act of God. Those around him might try to keep his true condition secret, first at the hunting lodge near Salisbury where he was initially afflicted and then at Windsor Castle, but this was to prove an impossible task.

One eyewitness account came from a delegation of peers and bishops that called upon the King, after the death of Cardinal Kemp, on 22 March 1454. They urgently needed Henry to nominate successors to both Kemp’s pivotal roles: as Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. Without a chancellor the basic administration of the country could not function; and with an adult monarch on the throne only he could nominate a successor. There was no precedent for this situation nor any other conceivable course of action: some sign of the King’s intent had to be gained by any means possible. Thus only three days after Kemp’s death, ten senior clerics and peers, including the Bishops of Winchester, Ely and Chester and the Earls of Warwick and Shrewsbury arrived at Windsor. Keen that it should be seen that they had done everything to gain a decision from the King, they made a report to Parliament. This, in modern translation, is an extract of what was placed on the parliamentary record:

And then considering that it pleased the king’s highness not to give any answer to the articles, the said bishop of Chester, by the advice of all the other lords, declared and pronounced the other matters contained in the said instruction to the king’s highness; to which matters, or to any of them, to any prayer or wish, doleful encouragement or exhortation, nor any thing that they or any of them could do or say could they get any answer or sign, to their great sorrow and distress. And then the bishop of Winchester said to the king’s highness that the lords had not dined, but they would then go to dinner and wait upon his highness again after dinner. And so after dinner they came to the king’s highness in the same place where they were before; and there they moved and roused him by all the ways and means that they could think of in order to have an answer of the aforesaid matters, but they could obtain no answer; and from that place they willed the king’s highness to go into another chamber, and so he was led between two men into the chamber where he lies; and there the lords moved and roused the king’s highness a third time, by all the means and ways that they could think of in order to have an answer of the said matters, and also desired to be informed by him if it should please his highness that they should wait on him any longer, and to have answer at his leisure, but they could obtain no answer, word or sign; and therefore with sorrowful hearts they came away. And the said bishops of Winchester, Ely and Chester, the earls of Warwick, Oxford and Shrewsbury, Viscounts Beaumont and Bourchier, the prior of St John, lords Fauconberg, Dudley and Stourton, and each of them, prayed that the said instruction and this their report might be enacted in this high court of parliament on record.17

They could not rouse him because Henry was catatonic. The paralysis of the monarch now aptly mirrored that of his monarchical authority.

This attempt to pinpoint the exact nature of his illness is not prurient. If he was not in any way ill before 1453, there can be no mitigating explanation for his previous negligence of his duties. Yet modern medical research gives us such an explanation. Traditionally, schizophrenia has been viewed as an illness initiated by a sudden crisis, without antecedents. That opinion has been revised under the influence of research conducted over the past half-century, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The research findings derive from detailed interpretation of statistical analysis of large groups in the UK and of close observation of smaller numbers in the United States. The former is based on three UK birth cohorts – 1946, 1958 and 1970 – with, to date, detailed examination of the first two;18 the latter on a form of study unavailable until the last fifty or so years, involving observation through viewing US home movies of the childhood years of people who were later diagnosed as having schizophrenia.19 Both types of study show that those with later-onset schizophrenia can exhibit antecedent signs when young; abnormal movements and expressions in comparison to those of their classmates and siblings; and abnormal behaviour showing an anxiety for acceptance that can lead at crucial stages – such as the ages of seven and eleven – to ungovernable hostility on sensing rejection, to be followed by an increasing sense of social withdrawal, so that they appear as anxious bystanders at events. Richard Beauchamp’s call for greater powers to control Henry at the age of eleven is indicative of such behaviour in Henry: there is no contradiction that he should be so aggressive then and so passive later. Most importantly, the children in these studies can be described as ‘psychologically thin-skinned’, so that situations of extreme hostility and conflict may hold lasting terror for them and cause them, in later life, to protect themselves from similar scenarios. In this context, one can see why the viciousness of the vendetta between Gloucester and Beaufort, played out before Henry as an infant, child and minor, could have had a lasting impact on him: how it could have led to a desire to avoid all conflict; how it would mean that, on achieving his majority, he would give everything to anyone who asked, rather than suffer a moment’s discord. It also explains why he would wish, indeed would need, to be protected by an inner clique based in his household and with privileged access to him. For it would be they who would carry out the administration of government on his behalf, first under Suffolk and then under Somerset.

It would also explain why that clique, in order to maintain this vital contact with him, were all involved in his one central area of focus: religion and the building projects connected with it. An intense interest in religion, even reaching the level of what some might now consider to be religious mania,20 was completely normal, indeed lauded, at the time: an exemplar being the King’s father, the great Henry V, who was remembered as ‘Henry the Pious’. But the personal piety of a ruler, as epitomized by Henry V, was supposed to inspire and inform active government of his country. His personal piety was just one part of his good kingship. A dereliction of duty in one ruling with divine authority might be seen as both an offence against man and, ironically, against God.

In this context, Henry VI’s acute religiosity from the moment he achieved his majority, both needs and has another explanation: it is that an unusually intense interest in religion during the later teenage years can be a classic indication of what is described as ‘prodromal’ or incipient schizophrenia. Indeed the religious belief can develop to a point where the sufferer from schizophrenia has, in his own mind and separated from all around him, a unique relationship with his god. The only difference in Henry’s case being that a unique relationship with God was exactly what a medieval king was expected to have. Given Henry’s position, it would have been remarkable if his illness had not engendered an acute religiosity. Auditory hallucinations would naturally be interpreted as the ‘voice of God’, supporting ‘the delusion’ of a unique relationship.

Henry’s religiosity is honoured in a precious memoir of the King by a man who knew him well. Its title sums it up: A Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI Gathered by Master John Blacman, Bachelor of Divinity and afterward monk of the Charterhouse of London.21Blacman was a fellow of Eton from 1443 to 1454. He was also Warden of King’s Hall, Cambridge before resigning the wardenship and his other livings in 1457–8 and becoming a monk. Most importantly, the bulk of the memoir covers Henry’s life between 1443 and 1452, i.e. during the years immediately before his breakdown. It is a singular and crucial work, the only extended contemporary account of the King’s personality, and comes from someone who both had repeated access to Henry himself – as a priest to the King22 – and also to advisers very close to him. In addition to Blacman’s own observations, it features those of royal chaplains and, importantly, of Bishop Ayscough.23 Most significant are the impressions of Blacman’s own patron, William Waynflete, who was Provost of Eton between 1442 and 1447 and Bishop of Winchester, for he was, ‘of all Henry’s bishops, perhaps the one closest personally to him’.24

Blacman’s own prime consideration, as his final monasticism showed, was not this world and the duties of kingship but the contemplation and preparation for the next. He offers Henry as a paragon in this respect. But the lasting importance of the memoir is in ways that Blacman could never have intended. In seeking to portray Henry’s extraordinary religiosity, Blacman demonstrates the King’s complete abandonment of his kingly duties and also unwittingly offers a compelling description of a man exhibiting the symptoms of incipient schizophrenia.

That this should be so is explained by the acutely ‘mystical’ nature of the religion that Blacman and Henry shared. This was strongly Carthusian, influenced by the ‘Devotio Moderna’ from the late 14th century, with its renewed emphasis on the importance of the contemplative life. It also owed much to the religious writings of Richard Rolle, a hermit – albeit an exceedingly well-to-do and well-connected one – who fell victim to the Black Death in 1349. In the early fifteenth century Rolle’s writings circulated among educated people. Indeed, he was read more widely than any other vernacular writer of the period.25 Rolle, following in the footsteps of St Paul, extolled the sensory and mystical experience of God’s love, of ‘a warmth’, a ‘sweet smell or taste’, and ‘the angelic chorus of the saved in heaven’.26 He also praised the ways of the hermit, of one cut off from social interaction. In Rolle’s own words: ‘Let nobody deny that one who continues to sit in solitude for the sake of charity will be seized, not by a bodily singing but surely by a singing in the spirit livelier than I will be able to preach.’27 In an age when death of family members, friends and neighbours was a near everyday occurrence and when, as with the plague that took Rolle himself, it could come suddenly and with extreme virulence, then a belief in the confirmation through individual physical experience of a loving God and a better world everlasting must have been exceptionally comforting to the vast majority of believers. But for Henry and a tiny minority, there was an additional element of comfort: this was that the physical, sensory nature of the religion provided a relieving outlet for both prodromal and developed symptoms of schizophrenia.

It is totally understandable why the very intensity of Henry’s religious expression appeared so ‘saintly’ to Blacman. Witnessing that Henry ‘was wont almost at every moment to raise his eyes heavenward like a denizen of heaven or one rapt, being for the time not conscious of himself or of those about him, as if he were a man in a trance or on the verge of heaven’,28 he interpreted this as confirmation of the King’s true piety.

Without Blacman’s mystical religious starting point, Henry’s behaviour was viewed very differently by others. But descriptions of it demonstrate the same fundamental problem of untreated incipient schizophrenia. For instance, Henry greatly confused foreign embassies in the 1440s and early 1450s, a time when he still received them. The observations of a French embassy in 1445 were of a king who seemed to have done little more than dress in various opulent costumes, ‘grinning broadly and crying “Saint Jehan, grant mercis!”’ whenever Charles VII’s name was mentioned, and then, when the ambassadors wanted to leave, crying out ‘no’, but just continuing to grin, saying nothing.29 Here Henry would seem to have demonstrated schizophrenic symptoms of ‘formal thought disorder’, an inability to think coherently. Individual elements of this include: ‘thought block’ – a sudden halt to conversation; ‘thought insertion’ – where speech would begin again in an unrelated way, as if suggested by another source; and ‘thought broadcast’ – where the sufferer of the illness would not feel the need to speak because others could read his mind. Here, Henry seems to have shown all three.

Henry was less expansive to Hans Winter, the Prussian agent in London in 1450, who, having recently met the now nearly thirty-year-old King, described him as ‘very young and inexperienced and watched over as a Carthusian [monk]’.30 The ‘Carthusian’ characterization is telling, as Henry V’s two successful foundations, for the Carthusians at Sheen and the Bridgettines at Syon, were both enclosed, sealed off from the outside world. Blacman would have approved of the description, as he himself wrote of Henry: ‘Even when decked with the kingly ornaments and crowned with the royal diadem he made it a duty to bow before the Lord as deep in prayer as any young monk might have done.’31 But Blacman gives us far more in his accounts of Henry. He describes what might be taken to be hallucinations and ‘passivity experience’, of Henry feeling that an outside presence was controlling his actions and feelings. Once again, these accord with classic symptoms of incipient schizophrenia.

And for the much devotion which he always had to God and His sacraments, it seems not unsuitable that he should often have been enlightened by heavenly mysteries and comforted thereby in his afflictions. He is reported by some, in his confidence, to whom he was used to reveal his secrets, to have often seen the Lord Jesus held in the hands of the celebrant and appearing to him in human form at the time of the Eucharist. Again when he was at Waltham he told someone privately (though others also standing behind him heard it) of a repeated revelation from the Lord vouchsafed to him three years running at that feast of St Edward which falls on the vigil of the Epiphany, of the glory of the Lord appearing in human form, of His crown, and of a vision of the assumption of the Blessed Mary both corporal and spiritual.32

Blacman applauded Henry’s eschewal of regal behaviour: ‘This pious prince was not ashamed to be a diligent server to a priest celebrating in his presence, and to make the responses at the mass … He did so commonly even to me, a poor priest.’33

Also at the principal feasts of the year, but especially at those when of custom he wore his crown, he would always have put on his bare body a rough hair shirt, that by its roughness his body might be restrained from excess, or more truly that all pride and vain glory, such is apt to be engendered by pomp, might be repressed.34

Although Blacman obviously approved of a king who acted according to his own monkish precepts: ‘a diligent and sincere worshipper of God was this king, more given to God and to devout prayer than to handling worldly and temporal things’,35 he unintentionally reveals far more to us of Henry’s state of mind.

He shows us a king who had absolutely no interest in the business of government. Consider, for instance, an incident that occurred at Eltham in the period before the King’s breakdown:36

The Lord King himself complained heavily to me in his chamber at Eltham, when I was alone there with him employed together with him upon his holy books, and giving ear to his wholesome advice and the sighs of his most deep devotion. There came all at once a knock at the king’s door from a certain mighty duke of the realm, and the king said: ‘They do so interrupt me that by day or night’ with hardly ‘a moment to be refreshed by reading of any holy teaching without disturbance’.37

Bishop Ayscough, before his murder early in 1450, was both Keeper of the Privy Seal and, unusually for a bishop, Henry’s confessor. It was this which made him such a major figure within Suffolk’s regime. Blacman would have been well known to Ayscough and the priest inadvertently shows the success of the Bishop’s guidance of Henry, political as well as spiritual, in the revelatory observation from the King himself, that: ‘The kingdom of heaven, unto which I have devoted myself always from a child, do I call and cry for. For this kingdom which is transitory and of the earth I do not greatly care.’38

Abbot Whethamstede of St Albans, a chronicler who had known the King from the cradle and thus was well placed to comment on Henry’s development, came to the same conclusion, though he expressed it more cruelly. For even his prudent praise of Henry in the late 1450s, as a simple and upright man, was tempered with ‘chidings that he could not resist those who led him to unwise decisions and wasteful prodigality’;39 this becoming, within a couple of years when the Abbot’s circumstances changed, the much more trenchant ‘his mother’s stupid offspring, not his father’s, a son greatly degenerated from the father, who did not cultivate the art of war … A mild-spoken, pious king, but half-witted in affairs of state.’40 It was the contemptuous judgement on a priestly king by a very secularly minded priest.

Though many of the contemporary chroniclers might justifiably be accused of having a Yorkist bias, their criticism of Henry is consistent. They are united in describing his childlike foolishness, even when the King was well into his twenties. The same accusation was levelled by a growing number of commoners. Thomas Carver, the bailiff of Reading, preached a sermon to an audience which included the King himself in 1444, along the lines of ‘Woe to thee O land when the king is a child’; and almost paid for it with his life. Such criticism began to spread in the late 1440s and Henry’s government was extremely sensitive to it. Documents from the King’s Bench record the case of a London draper who said that Henry was ‘not in his person as his noble progenitors have been, for his visage was not favoured’, that he had a face like a child and ‘is not steadfast of wit as other kings have been before’,41 Indeed ‘men as far apart as Cley in Norfolk and Brightling in Sussex in 1449 and 1450 expressed opinions that Henry was a natural fool and no fit person to govern’.42

The schizophrenic nature of Henry’s breakdown in 1453 and his inability to govern afterwards has been posited for some time. But now we are able to explain his incapacity before the breakdown. The research work into the formative years of those who later have fully developed schizophrenia shows a disease that is debilitating even in terms of its childhood antecedents. It is now well established that young modern-day sufferers are particularly sensitive to what psychiatrists describe as ‘high emotional expression’, to situations of great stress produced by a family environment of extreme conflict. They tend to withdraw from social engagement, to distance themselves from the cause of conflict and from all but a few trusted, calming people. Henry VI’s behaviour exhibits all these symptoms and from this we can see a tragic situation unfold, for Henry himself and for his country. Here was a boy damaged by being forced to witness the vicious vendetta of those closest to him. Here was a man trapped in a position for which he was totally unsuited, but from which he could not escape. Most importantly of all, here was a king expected to rule his country, who never, at any stage of his life, had the capacity to do so.

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