Henry VI., eldest son of Henry V., was born at Windsor in 1421, and was titular king before he was a year old. The Regency was in the hands of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, but his great uncle Henry, Cardinal Beaufort, also exercised great influence. Another uncle, the Duke of Bedford, was entrusted with the conduct of affairs in France, where the centre of interest of the first period of the reign lies. Bedford maintained the alliance with Burgundy for some years, but was much hampered by the ambition of Gloucester. In 1420 Joan of Arc (q.v.) raised the siege of Orleans, and after this, though Bedford won a great victory at Verneuil in 1424, the tide turned against the English. Though Joan was captured and put to death in 1430, the Treaty of Arras healed French dissensions, and the wise leadership of Bedford was lost soon after. In 1444 a truce between England and France was made, and was followed by the marriage of Henry VI. to Margaret of Anjou, a niece of Charles VII. Two years later both Beaufort and Gloucester died, and the government fell into the hands of Margaret and of the Earl of Suffolk who had negotiated her marriage. Their conduct of the war was distrusted, and in 1449 Suffolk, was impeached and banished, but was beheaded on the high seas by a supposed pirate.
In 1450 Normandy was lost, the rebellion of Jack Cade against the misgovernment of the nobles took place, and Richard, Duke of York, began to be prominent. The queen's favourite, was, however, the Duke of Somerset, and York became Regent of Ireland. From thence he returned and insisted on a reform in the Council, which was granted. In 1453 Guienne was lost, and in the same year the king showing signs of mental weakness, a struggle for the Protectorate began between Somerset and York. The latter was appointed early in 1454, but the king soon recovered. Next year the Wars of the Roses began, and after his victory at St. Albans York became again Protector for four years. The struggle was renewed in 1459, and York was attainted at Coventry by a Lancastrian Parliament.
In the following year, however, he won a victory at Northampton, after which he claimed the crown; but the queen raised an army in the north, and at Wakefield the Duke was defeated and slain. The battle of Towton (March, 1461) put a period to the Lancastrian triumph, and Henry was dethroned and imprisoned. He was temporarily restored by Warwick ten years later, but after the final Yorkist victories of Barnet and Tewkesbury was put to death, as was popularly supposed, by the hand of the youngest son of the late Duke of York. [Beauport, Bedford, Cade, Gloucester, Joan op Arc, Warwick.]