King Henry VI (1422-1461), the last Lancastrian king of England, inherited the throne when he was less than a year old. His regnal year dates from 1 September to 31 August.
His reign can be divided into three periods:
- The Minority, 1422-1437, when others ruled in his name.
- Henry’s personal rule, from 1437 to his deposition in 1461 which saw the outbreak of the first phase of what is now known as the Wars of the Roses
- His exile from1461 to his death in 1471 when he was in hiding, in exile, and finally a prisoner in the Tower of London. These years belong to the reign of King Edward IV.
Three major modern studies of Henry VI have been published. Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI (1981) is the most important and detailed. Bertram Wolffe, Henry VI (1981) in the Yale series, is a critical study, and John Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (1996), is a thesis on political kingship.
Published sources for his reign are numerous but fragmentary. There is no systematic, chronological analysis of them. Four of the principle sources are brought together here and combined on a year-by-year basis, with references to other authorities, primary and secondary.
1. Chronicles of the Fifteenth Century
Excluding monastic chronicles, these fall into two categories: The London Chronicles and the various recensions of The Brut or The Chronicles of England. They are anonymous but the identity of their authors is less important than what they tell us about public knowledge and public beliefs whether true or false, at the time of writing. They frequently copy each other and date back to a lost or unknown source, although one chronicle will often offer details not found in the others. Those covering the reign of Henry VI were for the most part written, revised, or glossed under the Yorkist King Edward IV and have an anti-Lancastrian bias.
2. The Foedera
Thomas Rymer (1643–1713) , a seventeenth century antiquarian amassed a collection of historical documents relating to the history of England from the twelfth century. Known simply as the Foedera, his work was published in 20 volumes between 1704 and 1735. Its full title is Foedera, Conventiones, Literae et cujuscunque generis Acta Publica inter Reges Angliae et Alios . . . . [Treaties, agreements, letters and public acts whatsoever made or agreed between the kings of England and other Emperors, Popes, Princes or Communities]. But the Foedera incorporates numerous documents of purely domestic concern, with texts in Latin, French and English. Volumes X and XI cover the reign of King Henry VI.
Abbreviation in text notes: Foedera
3. The Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England 1386-1542
Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas (1799-1848) compiled and edited surviving minutes and records of the king’s Council in seven volumes published between 1834 and 1837. Volumes III to VI cover the reign of King Henry VI. They are an incomplete record of proceedings sometimes in the presence of the king, sometimes not, and at times with very few councillors present. Who was present at the meetings is not always recorded. They become very sparse in the final years of Henry VI.
Abbreviation in text notes: PPC
4. Letters and Papers Illustrative of the wars of the English in France during the Reign of Henry the Sixth, King of England
Joseph Stevenson (1806-1895) compiled and edited documents relating to the administration of the Duchy of Normandy and other parts of northern France by the English, begun under King Henry V and carrying on in the name of King Henry VI until their final loss in 1453. Published between 1861 and 1864 as 2 vols in 3, they are not, like the Foedera and the Proceedings in chronological order. They are sometimes misdated, and often confusing.
Abbreviation in text notes: L&P
The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, 1275-1504. Volumes X to XIII, translated into modern English, edited and introduced by Anne Curry. Her introductions to each parliament require no further elucidation.
Abbreviation in text notes: PROME
The Calendars of the Patent Rolls, the Fine Rolls and the Close Rolls published in English from the records held in the Public Records Office.
Abbreviations in text notes : CPR, CFR, CClR
Issues of the Exchequer . . . . King Henry III to King Henry VI extracted and translated from the original rolls of the ancient pell office . . . edited by Frederick Devon (1837).
These records are dated by regnal years (Easter and Michaelmas Henry VI) and record payments and assignments often long after the original order for payment had been issued. Their dates should be used with caution when establishing the actual dates of the events to which they refer.
A note on Money
The pound sterling was worth 20 shilling, the shilling was worth 12 pence. The mark was worth 13 shillings and four pence, two thirds of a pound. They were all money of account, there was no pound, mark or shilling coin.
The noble was a gold coin worth 6 shillings and 8 pence, the highest value coin in circulation. The crown, also a gold coin, was worth half a noble, 3 shillings and 4 four. The smallest gold coin was the quarter noble, worth 1 shilling and 8 pence.
Five silver coins were minted and used for most cash transactions. The groat, worth four pennies, the half groat worth two pennies, the penny, the half penny and the farthing, worth a quarter of a penny.
The salut, a gold coin first minted under Henry V for use in Lancastrian France, was worth about the same as a crown. The French écu, and franc were approximately the same value as the salut. The most common money of account in France was the livres tournois. Approximately nine livres tournois equaled one pound sterling.
The value of money is difficult to equate to modern terms, and of course, it fluctuated. A master craftsman, an archer, and a yeoman in the king’s household, usually earned 6 pence a day. The chronicles frequently report food prices, especially in years of dearth when prices rose.
Contact Bonita Cron at email@example.com.