The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI

Pegasus. May 2019. 736p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781643131283. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781643131658. BIOG
Historian Johnson (So Great a Prince) aims to help readers interested in late medieval history better understand the life and political choices of Henry VI (1421–71), a complicated, contradictory, and psychologically troubled man. The author is clearly fascinated by the enigma of the so-called "shadow king," and why he demands our attention. An infant king, he was the only monarch to be crowned in both England and France. Despite his storied background, he was an ineffective ruler who lost England's French possessions during the Hundred Years War and saw his kingdom descend into the chaos of the War of Roses. Despite all this, Henry became a sainted figure following his mysterious death; he was almost certainly murdered. Using archival sources as well as printed primary and secondary materials, Johnson charts Henry's rise and fall, presenting him as an individual who struggled in extraordinary situations. Maps, genealogical tables, and explanatory notes assist in learning more about the religiosity of the period, royal lineage and succession customs, the workings of royal households, and even medieval medical practices and therapies.
VERDICT A complex, yet highly readable and immaculately researched biography for those interested in British royalty and medieval history.

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