Chapter 3 : Storm Clouds
In August 1453, Henry VI fell into a catatonic stupor, failing to recognise anybody or respond to any stimulus. This left a huge void in a state reliant on personal rule. The obvious choice, in his own mind at least, for the role of Protector or Regent was Richard, Duke of York. Unfortunately the factionalism of the previous 15 years meant that he was by no means unanimous choice. In particular Queen Marguerite, who was delivered of a son in October 1453, and her close associate, Somerset, rejected the idea. Jasper however seems at this time to have had a good relationship with York and to have been willing to work with the Duke.
Jasper attended a meeting of the Council on 21 st November 1453 at which York had petitions to free imprisoned men of his affinity accepted and at which his associate, the Duke of Norfolk, presented a bill complaining about the incompetence of Somerset. Jasper was also present at another Council meeting in December which put forward York as Protector. But, since the Council was not complete it did not have sufficient authority to install him.
Despite the best efforts of Queen Marguerite and his doctors, Henry could not be restored to health – even failing to respond when he was presented with his newborn son. By February 1454 the King’s health could no longer be hidden. Parliament resumed and considered petitions from both York and Queen Marguerite, who claimed the Regency on behalf of her son.
Although there were precedents in European countries for Queens to act as Regent, no English Queen had been Regent for a minor child, and with Marguerite herself being so unpopular it was unlikely that the experiment would be tried on this occasion. Parliament appointed the Duke of York as Protector of the Realm in April 1454. As far as can be ascertained, Jasper was in favour of this decision. York did not have free rein, but was constrained to act within certain limits.
Over the next few months, York seems to have made a genuine effort to exercise his protectorate impartially, with the exception of the imprisonment of the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter. Exeter had once been York’s ward, and was married to his eldest daughter, Anne, but there was no love lost between the two men. Jasper was present at a number of the Councils called during the year 1454 by York to improve administration and presumably took part in debate and discussion.
At Christmas 1454, Henry VI made a sudden recovery. Subsequent events suggest that, although he recovered his senses insofar as regaining his memory and his ability to function in day-to-day terms, his mental acuity was severely damaged. From this time forward he was even more dependent on his wife.
Orders were immediately given for the Duke of Somerset to be released from the Tower of London. The officials that York appointed – his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury as Chancellor, and the Lord Treasurer, John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, were replaced with allies of the King and Queen and the captaincy of Calais which York had taken for himself, was granted to Somerset in an act which appears deliberately provocative. In defence of Queen Marguerite we should bear in mind that she genuinely feared York that sought to displace her son.
Lines were now being drawn – York’s closest allies were Salisbury and the latter’s son, the Earl of Warwick, but the vast majority of the nobility still retained its loyalty to Henry VI. Jasper swore a new of allegiance to the King and, despite having supported York’s government and attempted to reconcile the parties, he now firmly nailed his colours to Lancaster.
It impossible to know the specific considerations that led any of the protagonists to support one side or the other when they were all closely related, and well-known to each other, but we can perhaps believe that Jasper felt gratitude, loyalty and affection for his half-brother, even though he knew him to be an inadequate King. No doubt Jasper hoped that the young Edward, Prince of Wales, might be a more effective ruler when his time came.