Friday, 8 August 2008

The Accord of 1460

The "madness" of King Henry lasted for two years. Eventually he was persuaded that he was suffering from fits of amnesia, and to admit the possibility that he had fathered Queen Margaret's child even though he could not remember doing so. That accomplished, the Queen and her allies lost no time in depriving the Duke of York of his position as Lord Protector on account of the King's recovery.

York's dissatisfaction with the restored Lancastrian government led to skirmishing between the rival parties for the next few years. The Earl of Warwick allied himself to York, and captured King Henry at Northampton in 1460, whereupon York came to London with the intention of becoming King. This move shocked even his closest supporters, Salisbury and Warwick, who feared to set a precedent of disorderly succession. York was descended from the fourth son of Edward III, whereas Henry was descended from the third so appeared to have the better claim. They were willing for York to be the effective head of government, but not for him to have the title of King. Appearances must be maintained. York, however, had prepared himself and pointed out to them that there had already been a disorderly succession, from the extinct line of the first son of Edward III to the line of his third son. The descendants of the second son had been passed over, and when the genealogies were examined it was discovered that the true heir to the throne by that line (through his mother) was none other than the Duke of York.

The nobles conceded that York had made a strong case, but try as they might they could not formulate a soundbite by which his intricate claim could be conveyed to the country at large, and so a compromise was agreed. Under the Act of Accord of 1460 Henry would reign for the rest of his life, but at his death the crown would pass to York. Henry had no regrets about disinheriting his son. Besides his nagging doubts about the boy's paternity, he reasoned that the lad would be much happier without the responsibilities of sovereignty. In Henry's view, retaining possession of England was not worth the trouble; his heart was fixed upon treasure in heaven. It puzzled him that his Queen did not share this view, as he confided in the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete.

Henry: Why is it that Queen Margaret is so determined to fight for position, with all the death and destruction that warring brings? It seems so unwomanly.

Waynflete: Your majesty, I perceive that women have an instinct to bring life. Perhaps when that appetite is not satisfied the instinct is somehow perverted in the fashion you describe?

Henry: Nonsense, Waynflete. If celibacy is good for bishops and priests I am sure that it must be good for kings and queens.

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