Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson - review by Anne Curry

Anne Curry

How to Lose Two Crowns

Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI


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The reign of Henry VI was long – hardly surprising, since when he came to the throne in 1422 he was nine months old, making him England’s youngest ever king. He was deposed in March 1461 but was briefly reinstated between October 1470 and April 1471, before being murdered in the Tower of London on 21 May 1471, just short of his fiftieth birthday. Lauren Johnson’s biography of him is also very long and is a marathon read. There is, though, a lot to say, since Henry’s reign is both interesting and significant, not simply from a domestic perspective but also from that of Anglo-French relations.

Henry VI was the only son of the better-known and undoubtedly more successful Henry V, who had forced the French to agree to the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420 as well as to his marriage to Catherine of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France. The treaty arranged for Henry V and his heirs to inherit the throne of France once Charles died. That death was expected to come soon, but as it happened it was Henry V who died first, on 31 August 1422. The infant Henry VI thereupon inherited the English throne. Seven weeks later Charles died and, in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes, Henry inherited the French throne too. In his small person he embodied the double monarchy of England and France envisaged by the treaty, which was intended to last forever and bring perpetual peace to the peoples of both realms.

It didn’t, even though Henry VI has the curious honour of being the only king of England ever to be crowned king of France, that singular event occurring on 16 December 1431, though in Notre-Dame de Paris rather than the cathedral of Reims, the customary crowning place of French kings.

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