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In October 1452, an English advance in Aquitaine retook Bordeaux from the French and was having some success, but by 1453 Bordeaux was lost again leaving Calais as England’s only remaining territory on the continent. Upon hearing of the final loss of Bordeaux in August 1453, Henry VI of England experienced a mental breakdown and became completely unresponsive to everything that was going on around him for more than a year. He even failed to respond to the birth of a son and heir, who was christened Edward.

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Henry VI, King of England and Lord of Ireland

Henry may have inherited a psychiatric condition from Charles VI of France, his maternal grandfather, who was affected by intermittent periods of insanity during the last thirty years of his life. During his bout of insanity, Henry was attended by the surgeons Gilbert Kymer and John Marchall. Thomas Morstede had previously been appointed royal surgeon and died in 1450.

Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, (a leading English magnate, a great-grandson of King Edward III through his father, and a great-great-great-grandson of the same king through his mother) meanwhile, had gained a very important ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, one of the most influential magnates and possibly richer than York himself.

York was named regent as Protector of the Realm in 1454. The queen was excluded completely, and Edmund Beaufort was detained in the Tower of London, while many of York’s supporters spread rumours that Edward was not the king’s son, but Beaufort’s. Other than that, York’s months as regent were spent tackling the problem of government overspending.

Around Christmas Day 1454, King Henry VI regained his senses. Disaffected nobles who had grown in power during Henry’s reign, most importantly the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, took matters into their own hands. They backed the claims of the rival House of York, first to the control of government, and then to the throne itself (from 1460), pointing to York’s better descent from Edward III. It was agreed that York would become Henry’s successor, despite York being older. In 1458, in an attempt to unite the warring factions, Henry staged The Love Day in London.

Thereafter followed a violent struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York. Henry VIII’s was defeated and captured at the Battle of Northampton on July 10, 1460. The Duke of York was killed by Margaret’s forces at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, and Henry VI was rescued from imprisonment after the Second Battle of St Albans on February 17, 1461, allowing the Lancastrians to regain custody of Henry VI.

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Edward IV, King of England and Lord of Ireland

The Earl of Warwick and the the new Duke of York, Edward, met in London, where Edward was hastily crowned as King Edward IV before leading his army north. By then, however, Henry VI was suffering such a bout of madness that he was apparently laughing and singing while the battle raged. Henry VI was finally defeated at the Battle of Towton on March 29, 1461 but Edward IV failed to capture Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, who fled to Scotland. During the first period of Edward IV’s reign, Lancastrian resistance continued mainly under the leadership of Queen Margaret and the few nobles still loyal to her in the northern counties of England and Wales.