Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 June 2017
In 1471, King Henry VI of England died in the Tower of London amid disputed circumstances. Between his death and Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 1530s, he was venerated as a saint and martyr. Modern historians have generally dismissed this cult as a political phenomenon, created and used by the Tudors as they sought legitimacy. While there is some truth in that assessment, political allegiance was only a part of the impetus for the participation of Henry’s devotees in the cult. Alongside carefully crafted (and perhaps, artificial) portrayals of Henry’s virtues lay something else his former subjects found compelling: his very real political failures, and more importantly the adversity that they engendered. Henry’s devotees used these royal adversities as the basis from which to imagine a sympathetic relationship between themselves and “good King Herre” in which he had great concern for their fatal and near-fatal emergencies. These neglected devotional aspects of Henry VI’s cult are the subject of this article.
1 For Henry’s biography and the political history of his reign, see Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London, 1981)Google Scholar; Watts, John Lovett, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI: The Exercise of Royal Authority, 1422–1461 (London, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gross, Anthony, The Dissolution of the Lancastrian Kingship: Sir John Fortescue and the Crisis of Monarchy in Fifteenth-Century England (Stamford, 1996)Google Scholar; Lander, Jack Robert, Henry VI and the Duke of York’s Second Protectorate, 1455 to 1456 (Manchester, 1960)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McKenna, John W., “Henry VI of England and the Dual Monarchy: Aspects of Royal Political Propaganda, 1422–1432,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes 28 (1965): 145–62.Google Scholar
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11 Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (New Haven, 1992), p. 407.Google Scholar
12 Griffiths, The Reign of Henry VI, p. 6.
13 Wolffe, Henry VI, p. 21.
14 McKenna, “Piety and Propaganda,” pp. 72–73.
15 Walker, Simon, “Political Saints in Later Medieval England,” in The MacFarlane Legacy: Studies in Late Medieval Politics and Society, ed. Britnell, Richard H. and Pollard, Anthony J. (New York, 1995), p. 91.Google Scholar
16 Walker, “Political Saints,” pp. 83–86.
18 Spencer, “King Henry of Windsor,” p. 238.
19 Bond, Shelagh M., ed., The Monuments of St. George’s Chapel Windsor Castle (Windsor, 1958), p. 98Google Scholar, offers a summary of changes to the monument over time.
20 For this information on the offering-box I am indebted to a kind gentleman who was working as a tour guide at St. George’s Chapel in the spring of 2000. Upon finding that I was visiting for purposes of this research, he led me around the rope barriers so that I could look at the offering-box, and pointed out the location of the quatrefoil, explaining that he himself had been in the room that afforded the view of the box. I am grateful for his generosity, but he slipped away before I could get his name.
21 Grosjean, ed., Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 103*–04*.
22 Several of the manuscripts clearly belonged to the nobility, and some to the highest ranks thereof. Notations in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gough Liturg. 19 (fol. 32v) show that it once belonged to the family of Sir John Iwardby of Hampshire; London, British Library, Harley 2887 (fol. 11v) is a manuscript so decorated as to require special supervision of readers; and Henry even appears in the Bohun Psalter (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS Addit. 38–1950 fol. ivv) which was commissioned by the Bohun family, later belonged to Henry VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is a major monument of fourteenth-century manuscript illumination.
23 On the location, function, and donation of rood-screens, Vallance, Aymer, English Church Screens: Being Great Roods, Screenwork & Rood-Lofts of Parish Churches in England and Wales (London., 1936), esp. pp. 34–36 and 63–65.Google Scholar On their reflection of popular religious sentiment, see Richmond, Colin, “The Visual Culture of Fifteenth-Century England,” in The Wars of the Roses, ed. Pollard, Anthony J. (New York, 1995), p. 192.Google Scholar
24 This may have been an early or a competing version of his iconography. The screen at York Minster, which was not originally intended for devotional purposes, shows him holding a book as well. It is probably a reference to his educational foundations at Cambridge and Eton.
25 Spencer, Brian, “King Henry of Windsor and the London Pilgrim,” in Collectanea Londiniensia: Studies in London archaeology and history presented to Ralph Merrifield, ed. Bird, Joanna, Chapman, Hugh, and Clark, John (London, 1978) p. 245.Google Scholar
26 Library, Bodleian, MS Univ. 8, fol. 88v: “beatum Henricum regem.” MS Univ.Google Scholar 8 is a fifteenth-century book of hours originally belonging to the Percy family. BL, MS Harley 5793, fol. 1v and MS Stowe 16, fol. 151r, and Bodleian Library, MS Gough Liturg. 19, fol. 32v: “beatus rex Henricus.” Harley 5793 is a breviary with prayers to Henry written on the flyleaf in a fifteenth-century hand. MS Gough Liturg. 19 is a late fifteenth-century prayer book containing a calendar, prayers, and psalms, which originally belonged to the Iwardby family.
27 Trevelyan, Walter C., “Extracts from an ancient Bede-Roll. Communicated by W. C. Trevelyan, Esq., in a Letter to John Adamson, Esq., FAS etc., Secretary,” Archaeologia Aeliana 4 (1855): 2: “Gaude princeps populorum / Dux et decus Britanorum / Rex Henrice nomine.…” and 3: “O rex Anglicorum / Gubernatorque Francorum.…” See also Durham, University of Durham, Palace Green Library, MS V. III. 7, fol. 97v: “…Atque coronatus in Westmynster veneratus / et post ffran-corum rex es de iure creatus.…”Google Scholar
28 BL, MS Harley 5793, fol. lv and MS Stowe 16, fol. 151r, and Bodleian Library, MS Gough Liturg. 19, fol. 32v call him “Tuum sanctum militem.” MS Stowe 16 is a fine illuminated book of hours originally belonging to George Rotherham. BL., MS Harley 423, fol. 72r and MS Royal 13.c.viii, fol. 1v each contain a hymn that begins “Salve, miles precióse.” The hymn in Trevelyan, “Extracts,” 3, addresses him as a “miles Dei virtuosus.” Harley 423 is a sixteenth-century miscellany that included a hymn to Henry VI and a portion of his miracles. Royal 13.c.viii is the complete manuscript of the miracles of Henry VI, later annotated by papal investigators as they sought to verify his miracles.
29 BL, MS Harley 423, fol. 72T and MS Royal 13.c.viii, fol. lv: “Salve flos nobilitatis.…”
30 Blacman, John, Henry the Sixth. A Reprint of John Blacman’s Memoir with Translation and Notes, ed. and trans. James, Montague R. (Cambridge, 1919), p. 25; 3Google Scholar: “De praenobili ejus prosapia, quo-modo scilicet ex nobilissimo sanguine & stripe regia antiqua Angliae secundum carnem progenitus erat, et qualiter in duabus regionibus Angliae s. & Franciae, ut verus utriusque regni heres fuerat, tacere curavi….”
31 On sacral kingship, see Goff, Jaques Le, “Le Roi dans l’Occident médiéval: Caractères originaux,” in Kings and Kingship in Medieval Europe, ed. Duggan, Anne J. (Exeter, 1993), pp. 1–40Google Scholar; Bloch, Marc, The Royal Touch, trans. Anderson, J. E. (New York, 1989)Google Scholar; and also Walker, “Political Saints,” p. 87. On the relationship between nobility and sanctity, see Vauchez, André, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, trans. Birrell, Jean (Cambridge, 1997), p. 173.Google Scholar
32 Bloch, The Royal Touch, p. 38.
33 Celletti, Maria Chiara, “Edmondo, re dell’Anglia Orientale, santo, martire. Iconografia.” Biblioteca Sanctorum 13 vols. (Rome, 1964), 4Google Scholar: col. 918.
34 See, for example, Bodleian Library, MS Univ. 8, fol. 89r: “beati Henrici Regis et martyris…” and fol. 88v: “…Henrici martyris almi…,” and “alme Dei mártir Henrice.…” Or Trevelyân, “Extracts,” 2: “…beatum Henricum regem et martyrem.…”
35 Walker, “Political Saints,” p. 95, also briefly noted this facet of the cult.
36 Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI, p. 249.
37 Wolffe, Henry VI, p. 9.
38 Blacman, Henry the Sixth, p. 28; 6: “…quasi continue coram libro genua flectans, oculis et manibus erectis, missalia, oracula, epistolas, euangelia intends visibus promere gestibat cum celebrante.”
39 Trevelyan, “Extracts,” 2: “…frequentasti ieiunare…;” Bodleian Library, MS Bodl. Don. e. 120, fol. lr and MS Bodl. 939, fol. 45v, as well as Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS Addit. 38–1950, fol. ivv: “Hie vir mundum despiciens et terrena triumphans divitias celo condidit ore manu.” See also Bodleian Library, MS Bodl. Don. e. 120, fol. 3v: “Ave tutor ecclesiasticorum / Utens norma religiosiorum / Respuens vana mundanorum.” Don.e.120 is a mid-fifteenth century Flemish book of Hours originally owned by the Pudsay family, with prayers to Henry written in a front flyleaf. Bodl. 939 is a late fifteenth-century prayer-book. It was originally compiled for a woman named “Aleanora,” who may have been Eleanor, the Baroness Poynings, a granddaughter of John of Gaunt. MS Addit. 38–1950 is the Bohun Psalter, a famous specimen of fourteenth-century illumination created for Humphrey de Bohun and later owned by John Stafford, the archbishop of Canterbury, as well as Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.
40 See, for example, Trevelyan, “Extracts,” 2: “Artem lenae repuisti / fructum carnis amisisti.…”
41 Blacman, Henry the Sixth, p. 29; 7: “Non etiam ad praefatam suam conjugem effrenate, vel more impudicorum, haere solebat accessum dum insimul commanserunt: sed tantummodo ut ratio et rei necessitas, servata semper inter eos honeste conjugan et cum magna gravitate.”
42 Blacman, Henry the Sixth, pp. 30–31; 7–8.
43 Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI, p. 251.
44 Blacman, Henry the Sixth, p. 31, 9: “Sed ad pauperas omnino liberalis erat, eorum inopiam sublevando. Alios etiam quamplures largitate ditabat donorum, aut officiorum, vel saltem omnem ab eis egestatem amovebat. Nequáquam suos opprimebat subditos immoderatis exationibus, ut ceteri agunt principes et magnates: sed tamquam pius pater inter filios conversatus, eos decentissime ex suis relevans, propriis contentas maluit sic juste inter eos vivere quam ipsi deficerent egestate, sua supressi crudelitate.”
45 BL, MS Harley 5793, fol. lr, MS Stowe 16, fol. 151r, and MS Harley 2887, fol. llv: “Beatas Rex Henricus pauperum et ecclesiae defensor ad misericordiam promis, in caritate fervidus…;” “Deus, qui beatum regem Henricum Tuum sanctum militem ecclesiae defensorem et pauperum amicum.…” Harkey 2887 is a highly-illuminated book of hours of the late fifteenth century.
46 See Trevelyan, “Extracts,” 2: “Offendentes remisisti…” and Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Don.e.120, fol. 4r: “Was never man cam beforne thy face / Rebellion or oder yn adversité / Off they compassion commanded them go free.…”
47 Blacman, Henry the Sixth, p. 40; 18–19.
48 BL, MS Harley 5793, fol. 1r and MS Stowe 16, fol. 151r, and Oxford, Bodleian, MS Gough Liturg. 19, fol. 32v: “…in omnibus adversis perfectae caritatis amore decorasti.…”
49 BL, MS Harley 423, fol. 72r and MS Royal 13.c.viii, fol. lv: “Vi oppressis vel turbatis / mestis atque desolatis / Scola paciencie.” For a similar sentiment, see BL, MS Harley 5793, fol. 1r and MS Stowe 16, fol. 151r, and Bodleian Library, MS Gough Liturg. 19, fol. 32v: “praesta quaesimus ut eius exempla sequentes tam in mundi prosperis quam in eius adversis perfecto corde tibi servia-mus.…”
50 Walker, “Political Saints,” pp. 95–96.
51 Reinburg, Virginia, “Praying to Saints in the Late Middle Ages,” in Saints: Studies in Hagiography, ed. Sticca, Sandro (Binghamton, N.Y., 1996): pp. 278–81.Google Scholar
52 Bodleian Library, MS Don.e.120, fol. 4r.
53 BL, MS Harley 423, fol. 72r and MS Royal 13.c.viii, fol. lv: “Salvus et salvator omnium in te credencium, piissime Domine Jesu Christe, qui dilectum famulum tuum regem Henricum varus tribulacionum pressuris opprimi voluisti, ut ex eius paciencie innocentissime vite mentis quasi quibusdam botris uberrimus copiosa tue gracie dulcedo per miraculorum gloriam distillaret in ple-bem.…” For a similar sentiment, see the last two verses of the English hymn appended by the editor to Blacman, Henry VI, pp. 50–51.
54 Madan, Falconer, in the Summary Catalog of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford vol. II (Oxford, 1922)Google Scholar, calls it “the Bible, in Wycliffe’s later version,” and cites a date for the woodcut of 1496. In the sixteenth century, someone wrote in the rear of the bible that “Hie liber erat quondam Henrici Sexti, qui postea donabantur domui Cartusiensium quae Londinum contigua est.” It was donated to the Bodleian collection in 1604 by Sir George More.
55 On the rigorous examination of this testimony, see Aviad M. Klienberg, “Proving Sanctity: Selection and Authentication of Saints in the Later Middle Ages,” Viator 20(1989): 201–03. For further information on the marginalia, see Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 74*-104*.
56 Knox and Leslie, ed. and trans., The Miracles of King Henry VI, p. 62; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 61–64. Spencer, in “King Henry and the London Pilgrim,” p. 243, has identified this figure with Helen Barker, who slit her own throat, but Helen’s story does not include a knife actually stuck in her neck; she was found with her throat slit from ear to ear (Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, p. 163; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 203–05). Joan, who fell on the knife and lodged it in her body, is a better candidate.
57 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 181–82; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 237–39. Spencer, “King Henry and the London Pilgrim,” p. 243, has identified the two figures of men with arrows through their chest and throat respectively, without distinguishing between them, as Scarborough and Richard ap Merideth. Merideth was pierced through the stomach with a sword or spear (Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 56–57 and Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 38–40). The second figure, however, clearly sports an arrow in the throat, and seems to represent neither Merideth’s story nor any others in the extant collection. However, Knox and Leslie point out that at least 271 miracles were eliminated from the original collection by the compiler of the final volume, so it is possible that such a story may have circulated, but was not preserved (The Miracles of King Henry VI, p. 19).
58 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 89–98, 149–56; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 106–12, 185–90. Spencer, “King Henry and the London Pilgrim,” p. 243, assigns him the identity of Thomas Fuller.
59 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 57, 121, 127, 128; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 41–44, 72, 74, 75.
60 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 76, 122, 135; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 72, 95–96, 172. Spencer, “King Henry of Windsor and the London Pilgrim,” p. 243, attributes them to Acke.
61 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, p. 177; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, p. 223. Spencer, “King Henry and the London Pilgrim,” p. 243, concurs.
62 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, p. 41; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, p. 25: “…ei scilicet apud Wynsore oblaciunculam suam iterum devovendo.”
63 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, p. 78; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, p. 99: “…unus inter ceteros electior ictu patrarie percussus obruitur, immo venus perforato corpore iam tunc putabatur oppoetere.” Spencer, “King Henry and the London Pilgrim,” p. 243, calls this votive a “boy-figure” and relates it to the tale of John Lincoln (Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 62–63; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 60–61), whose parents left a wax effigy of their son in thanks for the cure of his unspecified illness; but the effigy, when examined closely, does actually appear to have a large hole through the torso.
64 The remaining case, which exists in epitome only, does not provide enough information for the reader to determine when the miracle occurred.
65 Sumption, Jonathan, Pilgrimage: An Image of Medieval Religion (Totowa, N.J., 1975), pp. 81–84.Google Scholar
66 Vauchez, Sainthood, p. 447.
67 Finucane, Ronald C., Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England (London, 1977), pp. 69–70.Google Scholar
68 Vauchez, Sainthood, p. 470.
69 Finucane, Ronald C., The Rescue of the Innocents: Endangered Children in Medieval Miracles (New York, 1997), pp. 158–63.Google Scholar
70 Ibid., p. 98.
71 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 51–52; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, pp. 35–36: “Siquidem puella quedam triennis dum coetaneis comitata suaptim lusitantibus sub stasse non modica focalium resideret, casu precipiti et infausto truncus ingens ex stasse proruens, tactam in pectore vel stomacho earn obruit, stratamque resupinam in lutum tanto pondere compressit, ut vitalem ex ea spiritum protinus effugaret. Neque enim possibile erat toto corpora conquassato, in ea remanere vite spiraculum. Extitit quippe tantillus truncus ille, ut vix a duobus adultis potuisset ammoveri. Facti igitur horrore turbata, socialis illa turba infancium continuo dispergitur, segregatìque extemplo atque hinc inde cursìtantes, vel ululato fortasse vel fuga ipsa, non verbis, rem aliquam inopinatam contigisse significant. Quo fortassis ammonitus pater ocurrit, cupiens quid actum sit agnoscere, prospiciensque eminus prostratam suam sobolem agnovit Bea-tricem. Attonitus igitur non modicum accelerava gressum. Porro cum appropriasse!, cernens infan-tulam tam immani mortis genere iam defunctam, palluit vulto, cordeque concussus doloris spiculo…”
72 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 100–02; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, p. 118: “…simplices utique ambo ac bone opinionis viri, opibus licet satis tenues, utputa qui extrema rura colentes vix multo sudore sibi suisque vite necessaria procurabante.…
73 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 100–02; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, p. 119: “…et ad nubes usque tam ingentis timoris excucientes horrorem.…”
74 Knox and Leslie, The Miracles of King Henry VI, pp. 116–17; Grosjean, Henrici VI Angliae Regis Miracula Postuma, p. 142: “Siqidem, et plus fletibus vel horrore incompositi clamoris quam verbis sensum facientibus, convicaneos e suis evocat sedibus et vicinos. Ut quid igitur plura referam? Irruit extemplo in domum utriusque sexus haud modica multitude Plangunt universi mestissime marris miseriam.…”
75 See Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims, pp. 156–59; also Sigal, Pierre-André, L’homme et le miracle dans la France médiéval (xie-xiie siècle) (Paris, 1985), pp. 182–88.Google Scholar
76 Walker, “Political Saints,” p. 86, mentions this later direction of the cult; see an example in the compilation Horae Beatae Mariae of c. 1527, Columbus, Ohio State University Library BX 2080. A3 S3 RARE fol. 82r, wherein Henry appears alongside St. Roche as a plague-saint.