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The Verey Gallery at Eton College has recently opened a new exhibition about Henry VI, who founded Eton College in 1440 and is fondly remembered by the College every year with Founder’s Day on 6 December, which celebrates the late king’s birthday.

This new exhibition was curated by College Archivist Eleanor Hoare to celebrate a particularly special Founder’s Day on 6 December 2021, which marks the 600th anniversary to the day of Henry VI’s birth at Windsor in 1421. Members of the public are welcome to visit the exhibition on Sunday afternoons between 2.30pm and 5.00pm, and can also contact the College Collections if they have any queries or would like to arrange an appointment at a different time.

A catalogue from the new exhibition can be downloaded here.

On his death, Henry VI was treated as a saint and martyr. This exhibition seeks to explore Henry’s life and his achievements, using items largely from Eton’s Archives to map his life and focus on the foundation of Eton College. These historical artefacts include Eton’s foundation charter, the early statues and the final will of Henry V, written long before the foundation of Eton College.

Georgina Robinson, College Archivist, explains, “The texts from Henry V’s final will were thought lost, but they were rediscovered in the Archives at Eton in 1978… We now know exactly what we have in the Collections, that’s been quite an achievement and many decades of work by the College Archivists.”

Henry VI was King of England from 1422 to 1461, and again from 1470 to 1471, the last king of the Lancastrian dynasty. He has been described as weak-willed, easily-led, timid and averse to warfare – character traits not popular in a king in the 15th century. He is chiefly remembered for his apparent failures – the loss of Normandy, his illness, reliance on others and, ultimately, the devastating civil war that followed.  However, he was also gentle, devout and kindly, and left behind a legacy of educational foundations and cultural patronage.

Henry VI was deeply committed to education. He sought opportunities for his subjects to gain knowledge in the same way that he had enjoyed, and made provision for 70 poor boys, known as King’s Scholars, to be housed and educated at Eton free of charge. With Eton now offering over 100 fully-funded places and spending £8.7 million on financial aid in 2021, the tradition and ethos in Henry VI’s original charter remain just as important to Eton life today as they did in 1440.

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