The Coronation of Henry VI: Carrying the King

The Coronation of Henry VI: Carrying the King

Peggy M. Baker

A medieval manuscript, known as the Rous Roll, celebrates the achievements of the successive earls of Warwick. One of its more unusual depictions shows an earl of Warwick carrying the very young King Henry VI to his coronation. This was Richard Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick in Henry’s boyhood.

Richard Beauchamp was the first of two very distinct and very different earls of Warwick who influenced the life of King Henry VI.

The second, Richard Neville, known as the “Kingmaker,” was the earl of Henry’s manhood. The “Kingmaker,” who became earl of Warwick through his marriage to Richard Beauchamp’s daughter, is undoubtedly the much more famous (or infamous).

In the late 1440s and early 1450s, Richard Neville served Henry VI, taking up arms against the rebel duke of York. Then, in 1454, he turned against Henry and joined York in opposing the forces of the king. Neville was instrumental in the eventual “making” of a new Yorkist king, Edward IV, who was crowned in 1461. Feeling insufficiently regarded, however, Neville gradually turned (again!) against his king. In 1469, he actively rebelled, intending to place Edward IV’s younger brother (and his own son-in-law) George, duke of Clarence, on the throne. When it became clear that England had no interest in George as king, Neville abandoned that idea and gave his support once again to Henry VI. He was able to briefly return Henry to the throne. Richard Neville was, however, defeated and killed by Edward IV at the Battle of Barnet 14 April 1471.

Richard Neville’s career, with its dramatic swings in both fortune and allegiance, has overshadowed the altogether more steadfast career of his predecessor.

Richard Beauchamp, 13th earl of Warwick, Henry VI’s first earl of Warwick, was a different sort altogether. Principled, loyal, capable, trustworthy, experienced and esteemed, he was considered one of the most exemplary and illustrious knights of his generation. He was chosen, out of all England’s lords, to serve as a mentor, a model and “master” to the young fatherless King Henry VI.

The Beauchamps had inherited (by marriage) the lands and title of Warwick, an earldom first created by William the Conqueror, in 1268. Richard Beauchamp held great power, vast lands and far-reaching connections built and solidified over centuries.

Richard Beauchamp’s place in this family history is illustrated in the Rous Roll, a manuscript created in the 1480s and now held at the British Library. The Roll portrays the Warwicks one by one, from the legendary founder “Guthelinus” to Richard Beauchamp’s great-grandsons. Each has a coat of arms of increasing complexity, including not only the Beauchamps themselves but all the other noble families which whom they had intermarried – the Ferrers, the Mortimers, the Bigods, the deClares, the Warennes, the Beaumonts.

Arms of Richard Beauchamp

The arms of Richard Beauchamp, 13th earl of Warwick. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

As the Rous Roll clearly shows, Richard Beauchamp was born into a family with a long, long history of service – to England, if not always to its king.

William Beauchamp, the 9th earl, had fought beside Edward I in Wales. Guy, the 10th earl, was knighted by Edward I but later became an outspoken opponent of Edward II’s favorite, Piers Gaveston. He was among those responsible for Piers’ arbitrary execution. Fortunately for Guy, he died in his bed before Edward II could take his vengeance.

Guy’s son and heir, Thomas Beauchamp, eventually inherited his father’s title, and served as one of Edward III’s most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years War. His son, another Thomas, the 12th earl, followed in the footsteps of his grandfather Guy and opposed the arbitrary government of Richard II. Charged with treason and imprisoned, Thomas 2nd was only released when Henry of Bolingbroke, of the “House of Lancaster,” deposed Richard and was crowned as Henry IV in 1399. Thomas’ son, “our Richard,” was knighted on the eve of Henry’s coronation.

Richard Beauchamp was twenty years old when he succeeded his father as 13th earl of Warwick in 1401. He gave his fidelity and his service to each succeeding Lancastrian king: Henry IV, his son Henry V and his grandson Henry VI.

He fought for Henry IV in Wales, and was invested as a knight of the Garter. While on pilgrimage to Palestine in 1408, he also served as Henry’s ambassador, making diplomatic stops in Paris and Venice. There, he demonstrated elegance and finesse, linguistic ease and chivalry, participating in tournaments that showcased his prowess with horse and lance, all to England’s glory.

Richard Beauchamp, jouster

Richard Beauchamp, as portrayed in “The Beauchamp Pageant,” was a notable jouster.

He was friends with Henry IV’s son, “Prince Hal,” who was only five years his junior. Even when the prince and his father Henry IV disagreed, however, Richard remained a loyal and trusted servant of the king.

When “Prince Hal” was crowned as Henry V in 1413, Richard Beauchamp served as Lord High Steward. Henry appointed him Captain of Calais and then named him as one of England’s ambassadors to the Council of Constance, a great international convocation held under the aegis of Emperor Sigismund.

He then joined Henry V, fighting in France. He was one of the lords deputized to hammer out the Treaty of Troyes by which Henry was recognized as heir to the French throne and, in June 1419, given the hand of Catherine of Valois in marriage. Richard Beauchamp returned briefly to England with Henry and his new queen, and served as deputy steward at Catherine’s coronation. He then sailed back to France with Henry and was present at his deathbed at Vincennes on 31 August 1422.

Henry V’s death was unexpected, but not so sudden that he did not write a will. Henry’s son and heir, another Henry, was only nine months old and, obviously, far too young to rule. It was his father’s responsibility to ensure an orderly transition until his infant son could come of age.

Henry V named his younger brother John, duke of Bedford, as overall chief officer of his kingdoms, and specifically tasked him with serving as regent of France. Henry’s youngest brother, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was named regent of England under the authority of his brother Bedford.

Henry also named three guardians for his infant son. Two were his uncles: Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, and Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter. The third guardian was Richard Beauchamp, the steadfast and accomplished earl of Warwick. He alone was named purely for his merit.

The Beauchamp Pageant

Richard Beauchamp, as one of Henry VI’s guardians, is portrayed in “The Beauchamp Pageant” holding the young king.

For now, small Henry VI was left in the custody of his mother Catherine. Although he lived with her and traveled with her, he had his own nursery staff of six women, all under the authority of a “lady mistress of the nursery.”

As Henry neared the age of seven, marking the traditional transition from babyhood to boyhood, Henry was moved away from his mother and out of his nursery. Four knights and four esquires replaced Henry’s female staff.

Who would replace the “lady mistress”?

There was little doubt. It was universally recognized that no one was more capable, more wise, more well bred, more distinguished, or more perfectly suited to the all-important post of “master” of the boy king’s household, than Richard Beauchamp. Consequently, the earl of Warwick

“… was made master and governor unto the King during his nonage, and him to govern, teach and nourish, as ought to be done to such a worthy Prince, to his learning of all manner worthiness to good governance, discretion and reason” (from The Brut, or The Chronicles of England, Friedrich W.D. Brie, ed., London, 1906, p. 442).

Richard Beauchamp and Rous Roll

Richard Beauchamp’s service as master to Henry VI was recognized, in the Rous Roll, as his chief accomplishment. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Beauchamp did not teach Henry on a daily basis. He was responsible, however, for hiring tutors for the royal classroom. This was shared with a number of other noble boys, some Henry’s age, others in their teens. Beauchamp was also responsible for supervising all aspects of Henry’s training, for guiding him in appropriate actions and right ways of thinking, and for providing for his health and security.

Henry’s training in discipline and courtesy had begun in the nursery. Now, it was time to add reading, languages, courtly graces such as music and dancing, the art and craft of administration and statecraft, and the outdoor pursuits of riding, hunting and fighting. Beauchamp commissioned a small suit of armor and several miniature swords for Henry’s education and, it was hoped, delight.

The following year, when Henry was crowned on 6 November 1429, Richard Beauchamp carried him into Westminster Abbey. When Henry sailed to France for his second coronation, Beauchamp accompanied him.

Henry VI crowned

Henry VI, portrayed in “The Beauchamp Pageant, was crowned in Paris as King of France.

By the time Richard Beauchamp and Henry VI returned from France in early 1432, Henry had become far less biddable. Perhaps he had been influenced by having two crowns set on his head or perhaps he was simply chafing against restraint as he approached his teens. Beauchamp was concerned enough to ask the royal council for specific and additional power over the young king’s actions. The problem was that Henry had grown, not only “in stature of his person,” but “in conceit and knowledge of his high and royal authority” (as quoted in Henry VI, by Bertram Wolffe, p. 69). Henry was, it seems, neglecting his studies, holding audiences and granting requests without consultation with Beauchamp or his other senior officials, and resisting all authority.

In order to bring Henry back to a realization both of his responsibilities and his youth and inexperience, Richard Beauchamp asked for a united front, from the council and from the king’s uncle Gloucester (who did love to cause trouble). The request was granted. The council spoke to the king, and at least one of the older noble boys in his entourage was dismissed.

This was, however, a sign of things to come. As was only natural, Henry continued to push against the fences built around him. In 1435, he turned fourteen – an important milestone, marking the time when he could expect to gradually exert more authority. The council now began to include him in its consultations. In May 1436, Richard Beauchamp resigned his post as Henry’s master. He was not replaced.

The king and council, however, could not afford to lose Richard Beauchamp’s services. The following summer, he was named lieutenant of Normandy and France. Richard briefly protested. He was old, he said, and tired, and this new position was

“… full far from the ease of my years, and from the continual labour of my person at sieges and daily occupation in war” (as quoted in Conquest: The English Kingdom of France, by Juliet Barker, p. 260).

Nevertheless, Richard Beauchamp – as always – answered the call. He died at Rouen on 30 April 1439 at the age of fifty-seven. As he had wished, his body was returned to England and laid to rest in the Warwick church of St. Mary. The elegant marble tomb has a gilt effigy of Richard himself on top, set within the open framework of a hearse.

tomb of Richard Beauchamp

The tomb of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick.

Richard Beauchamp’s effigy close-up

Richard Beauchamp’s finely crafted effigy.

Richard Beauchamp had married twice. By his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley, he had three daughters: Margaret, who married John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury; Eleanor, who married Thomas, Lord Ros, and then Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset; and Elizabeth, who married George Neville, Lord Latimer. After his wife Elizabeth’s death in 1422, Richard married Isabel Despencer, the 22-year-old widow of the earl of Worcester. Richard and Isabel had two children: Henry, the long-awaited male heir, and Anne, who married Richard Neville, son of the earl of Salisbury.

Richard was succeeded as earl of Warwick by his son, Henry. Henry died only six years later, in 1445. His only child died three years later. The court determined that the Warwick estate and title should now pass to Earl Henry’s sister, Anne, to be held by Anne’s husband, Richard Neville. The husbands of Richard Beauchamp’s daughters by his first marriage were most unhappy. Years of litigation ensued, but the determination was clear: the inheritance came from Earl Henry, not from Earl Richard, and Henry’s closest relation was his full sister.

Richard Neville, therefore, became the 15th earl. As “Kingmaker,” his record of self-serving treachery was far different from the integrity demonstrated so consistently by his father-in-law.

After Richard Neville’s death, his widow Anne Beauchamp commissioned an extraordinary manuscript, known as the Beauchamp Pageant. The Pageant was a celebration not of Anne’s husband, but of her father, Richard Beauchamp. In this work, the only known illustrated biography of a medieval English lord, Richard Beauchamp’s life springs forth vividly. Now held at the British Library, it purpose was probably to inspire Anne’s young grandson Edward, the 17th earl of Warwick, to emulate his great-grandfather’s character and deeds.

Edward, however, had no chance to live up to his heritage. Henry VII saw him as a threat and a rival to his new Tudor dynasty. Ten-year-old Edward was imprisoned in the Tower of London and, in 1499, executed. His title died with him.

That title has been recreated three times since. In each instance, the numbering began again with a new “1st earl of Warwick.” The current earl, Guy David Greville, holds title as the 9th earl of Warwick, in a line that stretches from 1759.

Suggested Reading

Conquest: The English Kingdom of France, 1417-1450, by Juliet Barker

From Childhood to Chivalry, by Nicholas Orme

Henry VI, by Bertram Wolffe

The Reign of King Henry VI, by Ralph A. Griffiths

The Royal Minorities of Medieval and Early Modern England, edited by Charles Beem

Warwick the Kingmaker, by Michael Hick

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