Revealed: The lacklustre love life of Henry VI
London - Few royals appear to have suffered from lack of privacy more than the current generation. When the Duchess of Sussex complained about the indignity of her private correspondence (with her father) being revealed to the world, it was hard not to be sympathetic.
Unpleasant though the intrusion was, the Duchess should be grateful she wasn’t born in the 15th century.
Then, every aspect of the Royal Family’s lives was monitored - including their most intimate moments, where they were surrounded by attendants, courtiers, priests and ministers.
Even the most reticent kings and queens had to conduct their sexual lives in front of onlookers. What they did, with whom, and how often was known to the entire court by the following morning.
The detailed retelling of every act of love-making was regarded not so much as salacious gossip, but constitutional business.
On a royal wedding night, the ritual of the bedroom was observed to ensure that the marriage had been consummated and was thus legally binding. As a monarch’s first duty was to provide an heir, any sexual failure had political consequences.
It was partly, of course, because royal marriages were largely dynastic and the begetting of a legitimate heir could save a country from bloody struggles of succession.
Never was this more perilous than during the reign of Henry VI, who succeeded to the throne in 1422 at the age of nine months, and was the only English monarch to have also been crowned king of France.
A virgin until he married at 24, he was also mentally unstable. Unlike his father who crushed the French at Agincourt, Henry loathed warfare and was timid and shy.
Yet his lack of passion for conquest and military success were unimportant when offset against his eight-year struggle to produce an heir. Without a successor, the kingdom’s future was in jeopardy. And it was for his endeavours - or lack of them - in the royal bedchamber that he was judged.
Historian Lauren Johnson has suggested that the court took matters into its own hands.
She has uncovered evidence in the National Archives and Royal Household accounts showing that when his wife, Margaret of Anjou, visited the king’s bedroom, they were sometimes joined by trusted attendants. "Was it because the famously chaste Henry didn’t know what he was doing?" Johnson asks.
"I think it’s entirely possible that it had reached a certain point where it perhaps became necessary to make clear to him what he should be doing."
Royal marriages were traditionally blessed with "bedding ceremonies" in which the newlyweds would be put to bed - the bride undressed by her ladies and the groom escorted to the bedchamber by musicians and priests.
Sometimes they demanded to see the couple’s naked legs entwined - an accepted sign of consummation. On other occasions the attendants did not withdraw until they heard the sound of passion.
The morning after, their bed-linen might be displayed as proof of the act, which in turn led the phrase "to air one’s dirty linen in public".
But what Henry and Margaret experienced was different.
"This was not just their wedding night, it was an ongoing thing," says Johnson, who suggests that Henry had a coach in his bed to teach him how to have sex.
She quotes the Ryalle Bok of court protocol that records how once the king was in bed, he would send for the queen.
Another witness described that when the king and queen lay together, his chamberlain lay "in the same chamber". Johnson says it is not clear when the attendants left, "leaving open the intriguing suggestion that they remained to make sure the marriage bed was properly used.
"The evidence that there are people staying in the king’s bedroom potentially some years after he is married . . . is very odd."
Her book, Shadow King: The Life And Death Of Henry VI, says the young sovereign’s inability to sire an heir undermined his masculinity and authority.
But eventually Henry did produce a son, Edward of Lancaster, who was killed during the Wars of the Roses - the only heir to the throne to die in battle.Daily Mail