The Death of Henry VI: Did Edward IV Kill Henry VI?

by AlexandriaIngham

Henry VI died sometime between May 21 and May 22 1471. Many question whether Edward IV killed him, as his death was certainly suspicious. It's time to look into his death.

When Edward IV first took the throne, he never managed to keep Henry VI under lock and key. It led to Henry VI taking the throne back. However, six months after that Edward IV went back to war and this time Henry VI was captured. Sometime between May 21 and May 22, 1471, Henry VI died but the cause of death has never been confirmed.

There are many who suspect Edward IV for his predecessor’s death. If you have seen The White Queen, you know that Henry VI was killed by Edward and his two brothers, George and Richard. It was a way to ensure the Lancastrians had nobody to place on the throne and could not fight against the York House.

However, did Edward IV kill Henry VI?

The Official Word from Edward IV of England

Edward IV told the people that Henry VI's death was natural, but did anyone believe him?

Edward IV did not want people to think he killed Henry VIOn May 22, Edward made it clear that his predecessor had died. The official reason was from “purse displeasure and melancholy,” but very few believed this. After all, the Lancastrian King was behind bars in the Tower of London and there were plenty of people who wanted his dead. It worked in Edward’s favor for him to die.

The King of England hoped that the people would believe the cause of death. After all, Henry’s son and heir, Edward of Westminster, and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick were both dead. Margaret of Anjou was also locked in the Tower of London. There was very little the Lancastrian forces could do, and very few reasons to create a rebellion to remove Edward IV from power. Why would Edward even consider getting his hands dirty?

The Thoughts of the Milanese Ambassador

Many believed that Edward IV had something to do with the death of Henry VI, and ambassadors wrote about it.

The Milanese ambassador thought that Edward did have something to do with the convenient timing of the death of Henry VI. He wrote about how Edward did not want to keep Henry in his custody any longer. While he knew that there was little for the Lancastrian forces to fight for, he wanted to make sure that Henry was gone and not coming back. Killing him was the best choice.

Many others believed the same thing. This was something that kings before Edward had been accused of doing, and kings after him would be accused of the same thing. Henry IV deposed Richard II by force and locked him in the Tower. Shortly after Richard II died—and the rumor was that he was killed by Henry or his men.

Just over a decade later Edward’s own brother would be accused to killing Edward V and Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury. Years after that Henry VII would have Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warick executed, while Henry VIII would later have Margaret Pole executed. Each of these had some sort of claim to the throne that the ruling monarch (or wannabe monarch for those who believe Richard III did kill his nephews) viewed as a threat.

Exhuming the Body of Henry VI

What did people find when Henry VI's body was exhumed?

Henry VI's body was exhumed in 1910 to determine the cause of deathThe death of Henry VI and the question of whether Edward IV had something to do with it circulated for years afterwards. In fact, in 1920, his remains were exhumed, and there was still some hair attached to the skull. Parts of the hair were darker with dried blood, suggesting that Henry had been murdered with a swift blow to the head. The man who reported this was W.H. St. John Hope, an architect and a man who had no qualifications to determine if it was blood or not. Dr. A. Macalister was an anatomy professor and present for the exhumation but never mentioned this dried blood. However, there were broken bones in the head, which would suggest a blow to the head.

Of course, seeing the broken bones does not mean the death was violent. This was over 400 years after the body was buried, and the skull could have been broken during the moving of the body. His body had been moved in 1484 to Windsor from Chertsey Abby, so may have been damaged then.

But Did Edward IV Kill Henry VI?

This still doesn't answer the question of whether Edward IV killed Henry VI!

Whether Henry’s death was violent or not, it does not answer the question of whether Edward IV killed his predecessor. There are chances that someone else did it to make it easier for the king. There are even chances that his brothers George and Richard were involved to remove one more threat to the throne.

Richard was at the Tower at the time of the death, but many others were also there. It could have been anybody—or it could have been natural causes as the official statement said.

It is likely that Edward IV had something to do with the death of Henry VI, but that does not mean he killed him with his own hands. It is a mystery that will always remain that way. Whatever the reason, Henry VI was given the respect of a deceased king at least. That is very different to the way other kings and possible threats were treated before and after. The treatment could have been due to guilt for killing him, but it could have also been a sign that Edward IV didn’t kill his predecessor and viewed him respectfully has a peer.

Updated: 06/14/2014, AlexandriaIngham
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