by Susan Flantzer
The last great warrior king of the Middle Ages, King Henry V of England, was the eldest son of King Henry IV of England, known as Henry Bolingbroke before he became king, and his first wife Mary de Bohun, who died before her husband became king. He was born at Monmouth Castle in Wales on September 16, 1386. The powerful John of Gaunt, third surviving son of King Edward III of England, was his paternal grandfather. The king at the time of his birth was King Richard II, his father’s first cousin, the only child of Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) who had predeceased his father King Edward III.
Henry had five younger siblings:
- Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence (1387–1421), married Margaret Holland, no issue
- John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford (1389–1435), married (1) Anne of Burgundy, no issue (2) Jacquetta of Luxembourg, no issue
- Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390–1447), married (1) Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut and Holland, no issue (2) Eleanor Cobham, no issue
- Blanche of England (1392–1409) married Ludwig III, Elector Palatine, had issue
- Philippa of England (1394–1430) married Eric of Pomerania, King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, no issue
The year after Henry’s birth, his father participated in the rebellion of the Lords Appellant, a group of nobles who wanted to restrain some of the King Richard II’s favorites from the power they held. The Lords Appellant were successful for a time until John of Gaunt’s support enabled Richard to regain power. In 1394, when Henry was nearly eight years old, his mother died giving birth to his sister Philippa. In 1398, Henry’s father quarreled with Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, who accused him of treason. The two men planned to duel, but instead, King Richard II banished them from England. During the time his father was in exile, Richard II took charge of the 12-year-old Henry. When Richard made a trip to Ireland, Henry accompanied him.
On February 3, 1399, Henry’s grandfather John of Gaunt died and Richard confiscated the estates of his uncle and stipulated that Henry Bolingbroke would have to ask him to restore the estates. Henry Bolingbroke returned to England while his cousin Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland and began a military campaign of his own, confiscating land of those who had opposed him. King Richard II eventually was abandoned by his supporters and was forced by Parliament on September 29, 1399, to abdicate the crown to his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. King Henry IV was crowned in Westminster Abbey in London, England, on October 13, 1399. Richard was imprisoned at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, England where he died on or around February 14, 1400. The exact cause of his death, thought to have been starvation, is unknown.
Henry was now the heir to the English throne. At his father’s coronation on October 13, 1399, Henry was created Prince of Wales. A month later, he was created Duke of Lancaster. His other titles were Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, and Duke of Aquitaine. During 1399, Henry had spent time at The Queen’s College, Oxford, under the supervision of his uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester and the Chancellor of Oxford University.
In 1403, at the age of 16, Henry got his first taste of battle. Owain Glyndŵr‘s fight for Welsh independence had started in 1400 and continued until 1415. Henry was in command of part of the English forces—he led his own army into Wales against Owain Glyndŵr. In other conflicts, the Percy family, led by Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur), and their supporters made three attempts to overthrow King Henry IV. At the Battle of Shrewsbury fought on July 21, 1403, which pitted an army led by King Henry IV against a rebel army led by Sir Henry Percy, Henry was hit in the face with an arrow during the fighting, sustaining a terrible wound. He later recovered due to the skilled treatment of court surgeon John Bradmore using honey, alcohol, and a specially designed surgical instrument. Henry was left with a permanent scar, evidence of his battle experience.
In 1410, King Henry IV’s poor health obliged Henry to take a share in running the government along with his uncles Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter. However, Henry’s policies differed from King Henry IV’s and when the king recovered somewhat, he dismissed his son from the council.
On March 20, 1413, while in prayer at the shrine of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey, King Henry IV suffered a fatal attack, possibly a stroke. He was carried to the Jerusalem Chamber, a room in the house of the Abbey’s abbot, where he died at age 45. King Henry V’s coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on April 9, 1413, in a snowstorm.
In the first years of his reign, King Henry V benefited from a royal treasury that, for the first time in a long time, had more money than it spent. England’s longtime enemy France was ravaged by civil war, so it temporarily became less of a threat. Henry V began a reconciliation policy. King Richard II was rehabilitated as a former king and buried in Westminster Abbey. The noble families of York, Mortimer, Percy, and Holland, who had rebelled repeatedly against King Henry IV, had their titles and lands restored.
As things began to settle down domestically, Henry V devoted more time to foreign affairs. A renewal of the war of France also had a domestic benefit and it would divert the attention of the great nobles. King Charles VI of France suffered from some kind of mental illness (he thought he was made of glass) and his son was not a great prospect as king, and so the old dynastic claim to the throne of France, first pursued by Edward III of England, was renewed. Henry V demanded the complete restoration of the Angevin Empire, including Normandy, to England.
In the summer of 1415, the negotiations with France failed due to Henry’s demands. In August of the same year, an English invading army composed of approximately 12,000 soldiers landed on the Normandy coast. Diseases, minor skirmishes, and long marches in rainy weather weakened the English army. Nevertheless, because of defensive tactics and the use of the English longbow, the English won a decisive victory over a numerically much superior French opponent at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. The battle is the centerpiece of the play Henry V by William Shakespeare in which the character of Henry V gives the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech before the battle. The historical Henry V did give a brief speech to the English army before the Battle of Agincourt emphasizing the right of his claim to the French throne and recalling the previous victories the English had over the French. According to Burgundian sources, he concluded the speech by telling the English longbowmen that the French had boasted that they would cut off two fingers from the right hand of every archer, so they could never draw a string again.
In 1419, Henry V lay siege to Rouen, the capital of Normandy, where he herded 12,000 people into the moat surrounding the city and left them there to die of starvation and exposure. By August 1419, the English army had reached the walls of Paris. Negotiations for peace resulted in the Treaty of Troyes, an agreement that King Henry V of England and his heirs would inherit the throne of France upon the death of King Charles VI of France. The treaty also arranged for the marriage of Charles VI’s daughter Catherine of Valois to Henry V and the disinheritance of the Dauphin of France (the future King Charles VII of France) from the French succession. On June 2, 1420, King Henry V married Catherine of Valois in Troyes, France.
Catherine went to England with Henry and was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey on February 23, 1421. In June 1421, Henry returned to France to continue his military campaigns. Catherine was already several months pregnant and gave birth to a son:
- King Henry VI of England (1421 – 1471), married Margaret of Anjou, had one child Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales who died at the Battle of Tewkesbury
King Henry V never saw their child. The warrior king, the victor against the French at the Battle of Agincourt, determined to conquer France once and for all, succumbed to dysentery, a disease that killed more soldiers than battle, on August 31, 1422, at the age of 35, leaving a nine-month-old son to inherit his throne. King Charles VI of France died a couple of months after Henry V, making the young Henry VI king of England and king of France. Henry VI was crowned at Westminster Abbey on November 6, 1429. Two years later, on December 16, 1431, he was crowned King of France at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Before Henry VI came of age, English rule in France had begun a steady decline with Joan of Arc‘s campaign in support of Dauphin of France, later King Charles VII of France. By 1453, only Calais remained of Henry V’s French conquests.
King Henry V’s body was dismembered, boiled, and then brought back to England for burial in Westminster Abbey. His tomb was damaged during the Reformation and at some time the head of the effigy disappeared, but it was restored in 1971.
England: House of Lancaster Resources at Unofficial Royalty