Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Richard Beauchamp and the Upbringing of Henry VI

In May 1428 a Great Council appointed Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick as governor of the six-year-old Henry VI. Warwick was in effect given responsibility for the king's upbringing and education and, like Dame Alice Butler, the governess who had preceded him in the role, was given formal authority to chastise and correct his young sovereign when necessary.

Beauchamp was in many ways an ideal choice. He was certainly one of the leading warriors of the era and had a reputation for chivalry. He had been a close friend of the King's father and ranked high in the English nobility. His appointment continued the policy of separating the care and control of the young King's person from the executive arm of the government, although Warwick naturally had a place on the Council. His (second) wife was Richard, Duke of York's first cousin, Isabelle Despenser.

However, whether, in human terms, a rather serious soldier like Warwick was the ideal person to bring up someone as devout and ascetic as Henry VI is perhaps another question. Henry was provided with a small suit of armour and a sword at around this time, and we may reasonably suppose that his military education began, presumably in company with the other young wards that were kept about the place.

Henry was not meek and mild, and before very long Warwick was complaining to the Council about the King's reluctance to be ruled by him. In 1432 he reported that the King was grown 'in conceyte and knoweleche of his hiegh and royale auctoritee and estate' and was grumbling about Warwick's punishments - probably physical ones given the earl's specific authority to inflict them. There was also concern about unsuitable companions distracting the King from his studies, and it was ordered that a household knight should always be present to supervise the King's interaction with others.

By May 1436 Warwick had evidently had enough of managing the troublesome King, and he resigned the job. He was not replaced. One legacy from Warwick's time supervising the King was the close friendship between Henry VI and Warwick's son, Henry, Lord Despenser - later Henry, Duke of Warwick. The early death of Henry Beauchamp (he was only 21 at the time) removed a major prop from the young King, and in retrospect was to prove disastrous for his reign.

Whether Henry VI had a similar brotherly relationship with Warwick's daughter, Anne, later wife of the Kingmaker, is less certain. According to Griffiths the young King made a point of shunning the company of women, and declared at an early age that he intended not to have sex except with his wife. This was unusual - say the least - but was in line with Henry V's attitude to the same subject after he became king. It is probably fair to see it as a sign of extreme conventional piety, and a measure of the influence that the priestly caste had over Henry VI.

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