By William E. Welsh Indolent, weak-willed, and prone to periodic fits of madness, King Henry VI had let England slide downhill since coming of age in 1437. Military defeat in France, civil unrest, and royal favoritism had been the shameful hallmarks of his nearly two-decade-long reign. These factors were fertile ground for an explosive rivalry that developed between Richard Plantagenet, the third Duke of York, the most powerful and wealthy noble in the realm, and Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, the king’s favorite minister. Henry VI Versus the Duke of York The only child of Henry V and Catherine Valois, Henry lacked his father’s sharp mental faculties and his martial abilities, and he had to depend on others to help him retain England’s possessions in France, which consisted of Normandy in the north and Gascony in the south. In 1446, Henry appointed Somerset to serve as Lieutenant of France, replacing York. His opposition to French-born Queen Margaret’s push for peace with France had made the Duke of York a powerful enemy at court, and Henry gave in to his wife’s wishes to rid the country of the troublesome duke. To do so, in 1447 Henry appointed York to serve as Lieutenant of Ireland. York correctly interpreted the appointment as banishment and stayed in England as long as he could before sailing to Ireland in 1449. Meanwhile, England’s grip on its French territories under Somerset’s leadership was rapidly slipping away. By August 1450, the French ha


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