Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Henry VI (1421-71) 

Late 16th Century English School 

Portrait of King Henry VI (1421-71), Late 16th Century English School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
22 ½ x 17 ¼ in (57.2cm x 43.6cm)
Collections of the Viscounts Hereford.
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Henry VI reigned during one of the most turbulent periods of English history, when bitter disputes at court poised just as great a threat to the crown than the imposing French, eager to regain what they lost to Henry’s father only a generation before.

Born in 1421, Henry was the only son of the celebrated Agincourt victor King Henry V (1386-1422), and, following his father’s death, was immediately announced heir, succeeding to the throne on 31st August 1422 at only nine months old. As a result of the death of his grandfather Charles VI (1368-1422) and the Treaty of Troyes, the young Henry was also announced King of France.

Henry’s legitimacy to the French throne was immediately questioned by the French house of Valois, some recognising the validity of the Treaty whereas others disagreeing in reflection of the apparent insanity of Charles VI when it was signed. His agitated son, Charles VII (1403-61), therefor crowned himself French King in Reims Cathedral (an area still under the control of the Valois) in 1429. Henry VI responded by holding a coronation in occupied Paris a few months later, when he crowned himself King of France.

In order to maintain peace in France and retain his lands, a marriage to Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), the niece of King Charles VII, was decided upon and the pair were married in April 1445. The internal conflicts at his court however, combined with a series of failed military campaigns including the loss of Guyenne in 1451 and Bordeaux a year later, ultimately led to a divided court, with a number of powerful nobles supporting the rival House of York. This division culminated in the Wars of the Roses, a series of battles which saw Henry VI deposed and exiled by Edward IV and then, with the help of the very nobles who turned against him initially, returned to the throne. One of these nobles, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1428-71), who in effect ruled in Henry VI’s old age, soon declared war on Burgundy who in turn provided support for Yorkist Edward IV to once again take back the English throne. Henry was imprisoned in the tower of London where he died in 1471.

Although it is thought that one did exist, there is at present no known authentic portrait of King Henry VI from life, and the King’s iconography, therefore, is largely derived from a number of copies of a single composition, the earliest and therefore most reliable perhaps being a panel in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, dateable to the late Fifteenth Century. In the Windsor work, and as seen here, Henry is shown to waist with his hands together resting on a ledge, and in terms of detailing, the present work follows the Windsor panel quite faithfully, with only a few minor alterations including the absence of rings on Henry’s right hand as well as the design on his collar.
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