I believe that Henry VI’s weakness as a king directly led to the outbreak of war in 1455. By the 1450’s England was taking steps back after the leaps forward in welfare and expansion made by his predecessors Edward III and Henry . This was nearly fully due to Henry VI’s weak personality, which resulted in poor political control, which directly led to the over mighty nobles, who had the military and financial power to challenge even the king himself. So as a direct result, due to Henry VI’s weak and uninspiring reign, incredible powerful nobles could, and felt they needed to change the regime by force.
The first strong factor towards the outbreak of war was that Henry VI was an extremely weak king. He didn’t possess any of the qualities a good strong King should have, such as Chivalry, a grasp of politics and commanding talent. So at the beginning of his Reign he was already at a disadvantage and was easily manipulated by other nobles in his council, who were already very independent and powerful “By 1255 Henry VI had become a pathetic puppet of faction”. This essentially means that he made very little decision about the kingdom himself, which shows his weakness, that he relies on other to decide for him. Also considering that as of my knowledge right now, I know not of any battles he personally took part in or commanded, and got other to fight and organize the recruiting of armies for him, such as his wife Margaret of Anjou. This to me is his biggest weakness as it means he isn’t deciding his own fate, but is relying on people who are suppose to be less powerful and blessed, do his dirty work.
Moreover, due to his political incompetence, he let the nobility fight amongst themselves, which ended up backfiring terribly, as when his kingship was threatened by the York’s, many of the powerful nobility felt betrayed by their King for not intervening in feuds, and therefore didn’t come to his aid. Arguably the King did possess good qualities that many people say were ahead of his time, for example, he hated war and preferred to avoid conflict. Which granted, nowadays may be seen as good qualities, but in the 1400 they were extremely looked down upon, as a leader of a nation HAD to be decisive and strong, both mentally and physically if he was to keep the country in check. Seeing as he didn’t posses traits that were considered fit for a King, nobles had a lack of respect for him, and considering the Nobilities increasing private power, was very dangerous, this is summed up by McFarlane, “Only a undermighty ruler had anything to fear from over mighty subjects”.
Finally to add to the weakness of Henry VI, he had a mental collapse in the form of catatonic schizophrenia, effectively leaving him unable to speak, let alone rule a country. This was the final straw, in the direct link between Henry VI weakness and the outbreak of war, as it left the kingdom totally exposed, as it was without a functioning king, which gave the Nobility an easy way to force themselves into political power. Due to this almost gold rush of power hungry nobles and with no authority to stop them, war broke out as Families fought for their place in the hierarchy of English Society, and all the wealth and power that came with it.
The second influential factor that contributed towards the outbreak of war in 1455 was the political ambition of Richard of York. He was one of the noblemen who took advantage of Henry VI weakness in order to elevate himself, to the point of demanding to be anointed King. However Richard of York wasn’t only fuelled by ambition, he also had several grudges towards Henry VI, which went back a long way, giving some insight to why he wanted Henry VI’s position. One of these events was Richard’s father Richard of Conisbugh, who challenged Henry V ( Henry VI’s father) for the throne, and was then executed for treason, to which Richard of York must have hated Henry VI for. However this was another generation, and wouldn’t have been Richard’s main grudge against Henry VI, but unfortunately for Henry, during his reign he angered Richard of York several times. For example in 1447 Richard of York was removed from the Normandy Command and sent to Ireland, which was an act by Henry VI to suppress Richard.
Furthermore Richard of York’s old position of Command in Normandy was given to his arch-rival, Duke of Somerset, which on top of the humiliation of losing his post in France, was a cruel final slap in the face for Richard. What must have killed him most of all was the denial to come to the aid of Normandy under the Command of Somerset, which as a result fell into French hands. So the King denied him the ability to save the land where he had help secure and keep safe for many years. Due to Richard’s increasing resentment towards the Henry VI, the King tried to satisfy/pacify York for good, by giving him the Welsh Marshes.
This backfire astronomically, as due to its location being far away from Westminster, fewer feudal taxes were collected, which allowed Richard of York’s profits to soar, effectively making him the second wealthiest man in England. This combined with his dynastic claim to the throne, proved a powerful combo, as it gave him the resources and the backing of the law in his quest for Kingship. This along with his increasingly tight alliance with the Neville family ( One of the most financial and militarily strong families of the time) only added to his confidence of success towards ascension to the throne, as combined with the Neville’s, he effectively became more powerful than the King himself. So while this is without doubt a significant factor in the outbreak of war, even this point boils down to Richard’s hatred and feeling of betrayal that was a result of Henry VI incredible weak reign.
The third significant factor which contributed to the outbreak of war was the increase in the power and influence of the nobility, also known as the “Overmight Nobility”. Which started with Edward III’s policies of granting extra powers to nobles, due to him being a very strong and powerful King, it had no effect towards his respect among nobles, and his power. However it was a very different case with Henry VI who wasn’t a strong and powerful King, quite the contrary, and due to this the system was exploited and put to destructive uses. Henry VI didn’t help the situation by in fact increasing powers given to the nobles such as granting extra lands and promoting Nobles into Royal Marriages. However the most catastrophic power that Henry VI used to widely, was Retinue by Indenture, which allowed nobles to amass huge private armies who held more loyalty to their landlord, than to the King. Due to this, Nobles began to have incredible military power, and essentially could amass an army that could challenge entire cities, which in turn gave the Nobles such as Warwick, the confidence they needed to feel that they had the ability to overthrow a monarchy. However as previously said, although a factor in the outbreak of conflict, the reason the Nobilities power arose, was due to Henry VI terrible grasp of politics.
The Fourth and final factor towards the outbreak of war throughout England, was the Loss of Normand in 1450. Essentially it turned the nobility and public against the King, this was due to several repercussions of the event. One of these repercussions was the effect on the honour and prestige of the men who had fought there through generations, what was once regarded as a chivalrous quest, had ended and exposed how weak England was to the public. Secondly it left the English economy crippled, as the crown owed money to hundreds of bitter Noble’s who fought in France, yet they could not pay them as they had run dry. What further upset the Nobles was the loss of land; many of them had invested in the land which was now in enemy hand, thus cutting of many a source of income, which annoyed the Nobility further. So due to this loss of valuable territory, it shook the faith towards the King, which may have been the reason towards the inclination, to go against the crown in the wars to come. The whole Loss of Normandy can be put on Henry VI, considering he hired weak military generals, and didn’t fund the forces and defences properly, instead spending a large portion of money on funding Eton College, leaving the French boarders weak and vulnerable.
To conclude, considering the four factors, it is crystal clear that Henry VI weakness as a King directly led to the outbreak of war in 1455. He was unable to understand politics, military priorities and the nations finance, and as a result spelt the beginning of the end of his reign. He put England into consistent decline, with the loss of Normandy, huge economic debt to “Overmighty Nobles” who as a result came back to bite him and allowing feuds among the Nobility without intervention, this all combines gave reason towards the outbreak of war in 1455 as the military powerful Nobles lost all faith in their King, and had the resources to do something about it, war.