Henry V of England
Henry V, (August 9 or September 16, 1387 – August 31, 1422), King of England (1413-1422), son of Henry IV by Mary de Bohun, was born at Monmouth, Wales, in August or September 1386 or 1387. At the time of his birth during the reign of Richard II Henry was fairly far removed from the throne, preceded by the King and another preceding collateral line of heirs, and the precise date and even year of his birth are not definitely recorded; the September 1387 date appears most commonly quoted. By the time Henry died, he had not only consolidated power as the King of England but had also effectively accomplished what generations of his ancestors had failed to achieve through decades of war: unification of the crowns of England and France in a single person.
Upon the exile of Henry's father in 1398, Richard II took the boy into his own charge and treated him kindly. In 1399 the Lancastrian usurpation brought Bolingbroke to the throne and forced Henry into precocious prominence as heir to the Kingdom of England. He was created Duke of Lancaster on 10 November 1399, the third person to hold the title that year.
From October 1400 the administration was conducted in his name; less than three years later Henry was in actual command of the English forces and fought against Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. It was there, in 1403, that the sixteen-year-old prince was almost killed by an arrow which became lodged in his face. An ordinary soldier would have been left to die from such a wound, but Henry had the benefit of the best possible care, and, over a period of several days after the incident, the royal physician crafted a special tool in order to extract the tip of the arrow without doing further damage. The operation was successful, and probably gave the prince permanent scars which would have served as a testimony to his experience in battle.
Role in government and conflict with Henry IV
The Welsh revolt of Owain Glyndŵr absorbed Henry's energies until 1408. Then, as a result of the King's ill-health, Henry began to take a wider share in politics. From January 1410, helped by his uncles Henry and Thomas Beaufort — legitimised sons of John of Gaunt — he had practical control of the government.
Both in foreign and domestic policy he differed from the King, who in November 1411 discharged the Prince from the council. The quarrel of father and son was political only, though it is probable that the Beauforts had discussed the abdication of Henry IV, and their opponents certainly endeavoured to defame the prince. It may be to that political enmity the tradition of Henry's riotous youth, immortalized by Shakespeare, is partly due. Henry's record of involvement in war and politics, even in his youth, disproves this tradition. The most famous incident, his quarrel with the chief justice, has no contemporary authority and was first related by Sir Thomas Elyot in 1531.
The story of Falstaff originated partly in Henry's early friendship for Sir John Oldcastle. That friendship, and the prince's political opposition to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps encouraged Lollard hopes. If so, their disappointment may account for the statements of ecclesiastical writers, like Thomas Walsingham, that Henry on becoming king was changed suddenly into a new man.
Accession to the throne
With no past to embarrass him, and with no dangerous rivals, his practical experience had full scope. Upon his accession, he had to deal with three main problems:
- the restoration of domestic peace,
- the healing of schism in the Church and
- the recovery of English prestige in Europe.
Henry tackled all of the domestic policies together, and gradually built on them a wider policy. From the first he made it clear that he would rule England as the head of a united nation, and that past differences were to be forgotten. The late king Richard II of England was honourably reinterred; the young Mortimer was taken into favour; the heirs of those who had suffered in the last reign were restored gradually to their titles and estates. With Oldcastle Henry used his personal influence in vain, and the gravest domestic danger was Lollard discontent. But the king's firmness nipped the movement in the bud (January 1414), and made his own position as ruler secure. Save for the Southampton Plot in favour of Mortimer, involving Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham and Richard, Earl of Cambridge (grandfather of King Edward IV of England) in July 1415, the rest of his reign was free from serious trouble at home.
Henry could now turn his attention to foreign affairs. A writer of the next generation was the first to allege that Henry was encouraged by ecclesiastical statesmen to enter into the French war as a means of diverting attention from home troubles. This story seems to have no foundation. Old commercial disputes and the support which the French had lent to Owain Glyndŵr were used as an excuse for war, whilst the disordered state of France afforded no security for peace. The French king, Charles VI, was prone to mental illness, and his eldest son an unpromising prospect.
Campaigns in France
Henry may have regarded the assertion of his own claims as part of his kingly duty, but in any case a permanent settlement of the national quarrel was essential to the success of his world policy.
Diplomacy and command of the sea
The command of the sea was secured by driving the Genoese allies of the French out of the Channel.(His flagship, Grace Dieu – 1420) A successful diplomacy detached the emperor Sigismund from France, and by the Treaty of Canterbury paved the way to end the schism in the Church.
So, with these 2 allies gone, and after two years of patient preparation since Agincourt, in 1417 the war was renewed on a larger scale. Lower Normandy was quickly conquered, Rouen cut off from Paris and besieged. The French were paralysed by the disputes of Burgundians and Armagnacs. Henry skilfully played them off one against the other, without relaxing his warlike energy. In January 1419 Rouen fell. By August the English were outside the walls of Paris. The intrigues of the French parties culminated in the assassination of John of Burgundy by the dauphin's partisans at Montereau (September 10, 1419). Philip, the new duke, and the French court threw themselves into Henry's arms. After six months' negotiation Henry was by the Treaty of Troyes recognized as heir and regent of France, and on June 2, 1420 married Catherine, the king's daughter. Following his death, Catherine of Valois would secretly marry or have an affair with a Welsh courtier, Owen Tudor, grandfather of King Henry VII of England.
Final words and legacy
Henry's last words supposedly expressed a wish that he might live to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This ideal was founded consciously on the model of King Arthur, a model which was becoming outdated. (It also referred back to his father's death in Jerusalem - actually the Jerusalem Chamber in the home of the Abbot of Westminster). Yet Henry was not reactionary. His policy was:
- a firm central government supported by parliament;
- church reform on conservative lines (including church foundation innovating in the late Gothic or Perpendicular style, as at Syon Abbey - a trend continued by his son);
- commercial development;
- and the maintenance of national prestige.
His aims in some respects anticipated those of his Tudor successors (as did his modelling himself on King Arthur - Henry VII's eldest son was, of course, named Arthur), but he would have accomplished them on medieval lines as a constitutional ruler. His success was due to the power of his personality. He could train able lieutenants, but at his death there was no one who could take his place as leader. War, diplomacy and civil administration were all dependent on his guidance.
The following is now regarded as a rather old-fashioned view of Henry's reign:-
- "His dazzling achievements as a general have obscured his more sober qualities as a ruler, and even the sound strategy, with which he aimed to be master of the narrow seas. If he was not the founder of the English navy he was one of the first to realize its true importance (as witnessed by his flagship, Grace Dieu - 1420). Henry had so high a sense of his own rights that he was merciless to disloyalty. But he was scrupulous of the rights of others, and it was his eager desire to further the cause of justice that impressed his French contemporaries. He has been charged with cruelty as a religious persecutor; but in fact he had as prince opposed the harsh policy of Archbishop Thomas Arundel, and as king sanctioned a more moderate course. Lollard executions during his reign had more often a political than a religious reason. To be just with sternness was in his eyes a duty. So in his warfare, though he kept strict discipline and allowed no wanton violence, he treated severely all who had in his opinion transgressed. In his personal conduct he was chaste, temperate and sincerely pious. He delighted in sport and all manly exercises. At the same time he was cultured, with a taste for literature, art and music."
Henry lies buried in Westminster Abbey. His tomb was stripped of its splendid adornment during the Reformation. The shield, helmet and saddle, which formed part of the original funeral equipment, still hang above it. The head has now been replaced.
He was succeeded by his infant son, Henry VI.
Almost two hundred years after death, Henry became the subject of a series of famous plays by William Shakespeare. First as heir to the throne Hal. See Henry IV, Part 1,Henry IV, Part 2.Then later as king. See Henry V (play),
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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