Henry V - King of England

Henry V - King of England
Henry V - King of England

Henry V of England and Agincourt was the son of Henry IV Bolingbroke, from the House of Lancaster, and Mary de Bohun, the daughter of the seventh earl of Hereford. At the age of 12, King Richard II knighted him as duke of Lancaster. In that same year he became heir to the throne of England when his father imprisoned Richard and had himself crowned as his successor.

By 16 years of age Henry was engaged in crushing revolts alongside his father. Provoked by economic discontent and unjust laws, the welsh, led by Owen Glendower, self-proclaimed prince of Wales, revolted against the English Crown. So did the Percys of Northumberland, who had helped Bolingbroke to remove Richard from power, and who were now displeased by the fact that the Cumbrian lands Bolingbroke had promised them were instead given to their rivals.

Though Henry was seriously wounded in the face by an arrow in 1403 at the Battle of Shrewsbury, the confrontation resulted in the death of Harry Hotspur, the leader of the Percy revolt. Much of the success in ending these rebellions had to do with Henry’s military abilities.

By 1410 Henry had gained almost complete control of the English government, as his father, who would live for another three years, suffered from a severe skin condition believed to have been either syphilis or leprosy, and possibly also epilepsy, which prevented him from fulfilling his royal obligations.

Bolingbroke died in March 20, 1413, and Henry officially succeeded him as king of England. Henry immediately took actions to gain the support of his people. He pardoned his father’s enemies and restored their lands, including Edmund Mortimer, fifth earl of March, whom the childless Richard II had named heir apparent to the English throne and whom Bolingbroke had imprisoned when he took the crown. Henry also had Richard II’s body exhumed and reinterred at Westminster cathedral.

His second funeral included all the royal honors he had been denied earlier. With this Henry appeased Richard’s supporters. He was also responsible for introducing English as the language of government instead of Latin and French, which had been used in official documents for centuries. With this, he encouraged the notion of England as an individual nation, with traits distinct from others, including its language.

Upon taking the throne Henry was faced with both domestic and foreign issues. On the domestic front, the Lollards, a heretic religious sect that considered the Catholic Church to be corrupt and who denied the authority of priests, revolted (1413) when Sir John Oldcastle, Henry’s close friend, was brought to trial for professing Lollard beliefs.

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415
King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415

Oldcastle escaped and led an uprising against Henry. The rebellion failed, and Oldcastle was recaptured and executed. In retaliation, Henry stepped up the persecution of the Lollards, which had begun in the early years of the 15th century.

In 1415 Henry again had to deal with a plot devised against him—the Southampton Plot, meant to murder Henry and replace him with Edmund Mortimer. The plot was discovered, and its leaders—Edmund’s brother-in-law Richard Conisburgh, third earl of Cambridge; Sir Thomas Grey of Heaton; and Henry Scrope, baron of Masham—were executed.

On the foreign front Henry had his eye on the conquest of France. The French king Charles VI suffered from bouts of mental illness, and his kingdom was dealing with strife between the nobles of Armagnac and Burgundy, weaknesses that Henry rightly believed would work to his advantage. Henry played the two factions against each other to achieve his goal. In 1415 he engaged in war against the French, winning the decisive victory at Agincourt.

In 1417–1419 he conquered Normandy and Rouen and in 1420 he forced the French to sign the Treaty of Troyes, which recognized him as heir to the French throne and regent of France and gave him the hand of Catherine of Valois, Charles VI’s daughter. With this union Henry legitimized his claim to the French crown.

The Armagnacs however rejected the treaty and Henry continued his campaign against France. In 1422 during the Siege of Meaux, Henry became seriously ill with dysentery. He died at Bois de Vincennes in August of that year without attaining the French crown. His infant son, Henry VI, eventually succeeded him as king of England, while the French crown went to Charles VII of France, Charles VI’s son.

The twists and turns of Henry V’s life inspired William Shakespeare to write his play Henry V two centuries later. The opinion of historians regarding Henry’s submission of France into signing the Treaty of Troyes is anything but flattering, as is their view of Henry as a cruel and fanatical ruler. However Henry demonstrated great valor in battle and had strong political skills, the ability to forge alliances to appease his opponents, and the intelligence to strategize against his enemies to attain his goals.