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King Henry IV

(r.1399 -1413)

Henry was born in the spring of 1367 at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, England.

He was the only son of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster.

His father was the third surviving son of King Edward III, while his mother was heiress to the Duchy of Lancaster.

Henry’s mother died of plague in 1368 although by this time Henry and his sisters were already in the care of their great-aunt Lady Wake.

John of Gaunt remarried, firstly to Constanza of Castile and then in 1396 he married his long term mistress Katherine Swynford.

In 1377 Henry’s cousin Richard came to the throne.

Henry’s father John of Gaunt was heavily involved in government throughout the reign of King Richard II.

During the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 Henry narrowly escaped death when the rebels stormed the Tower of London.

He was saved by a John Ferrour of Southwark, who is said to have hidden him in a wardrobe.

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What was Henry like?

Henry was described as being of average height, stocky and with a thick russet beard.

He was educated, able to read and write in English and in French and was a patron of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

Like all young nobles he was keen on riding and hunting but he was also a very accomplished jouster.

On St George’s Day 1377 he had been knighted by his grandfather Edward III and admitted to the Order of the Garter.

In 1390 he joined the Teutonic Knights on crusade in Lithuania. A pious man, Henry went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1392.

In 1381 Henry married Mary de Bohun and their first child, the future Henry V, was born in September 1386. Mary died giving birth to their sixth child in 1394.

Relationship with his cousin, King Richard II

In 1387 Henry joined the Lords Appellant and was with them when they entered parliament in February 1388 to bring charges against several of King Richard’s closest associates.

In 1397 King Richard took his revenge. The three senior Lords were declared traitors.

Henry and Thomas Mowbray were pardoned and Henry was given the title Duke of Hereford.

However, the following year Henry made allegations of treason against Mowbray and both men were banished from the realm, Mowbray for life and Henry for ten years.

Henry went into exile in Paris.

Taking the Crown

At the beginning of February 1399 John of Gaunt died.

King Richard stripped Henry of his inheritance, seizing the estates for himself.

Henry left France with a retinue of around 100 men and landed at the mouth of the Humber on the 4 July while Richard was in Ireland.

Henry was joined by many northern lords including Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland and his son Henry ‘Hotspur’.

The people of England were so appalled by Richard’s reign of terror that Henry’s invasion met with little opposition.

King Richard arrived back in England at the end of July to find virtually the whole country turning against him.

On the 2 September Richard was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He abdicated on the 29 September, the official record stating he had given up his crown willingly in favour of his cousin.

The following day Henry gave a speech in Westminster Hall.

He claimed the crown for himself as a descendant of Henry III stating that it was God’s grace which had sent him his friends and kin to help him recover the throne and bring an end to the misgovernment of the realm.

He was crowned on the 13 October 1399 and became the first king of the House of Lancaster.

Richard was taken to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire and was dead by the second week of February 1400, having most likely starved to death.

King Henry IV

As a usurper, someone who had taken the crown, King Henry spent the first years of his reign legitimising his right to the crown and putting down rebellions.

On the 15 October 1399 his eldest son Henry was invested as Prince of Wales.

To secure his position Henry’s Lancastrian supporters were rewarded with lands and annuities which led to a huge increase in the cost of the royal household.

Henry needed the support of parliament to legitimise his rule and to provide him with money so he was forced to make several concessions to them.

In 1401 it was agreed that parliament did not have to grant any taxes until the king had adequately addressed their grievances.

Soon after Henry’s coronation there were plots against him and his household from those still loyal to King Richard, but they failed to gain popular support.

Revolts and Rebellion

The Scottish and French kings refused to acknowledge Henry’s title to the English throne.

On the 14 August 1400 King Henry invaded Scotland with a large army of around 15000 men.

They met little resistance in what was a brief and inconclusive campaign and were back in England by the end of August.

In France, England’s territories came under threat with Aquitaine invaded by French forces in 1403.

Henry sought to strengthen his position on the continent with advantageous political marriages for his two daughters Blanche and Philippa and with his own marriage to Joan of Navarre in 1403.

The Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy and his son Henry ‘Hotspur’ had been principal supporters of Henry’s usurpation in 1399, but in 1403 they rose up against King Henry.

They met in battle near Shrewsbury on the 21 July 1403 where Henry ‘Hotspur’ was killed.

The Earl of Northumberland led another unsuccessful rebellion in 1405 and again in 1408 when he was killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor.

A greater threat to the realm and to Henry’s crown came from the Welsh Revolt.

On the 16 September 1400 Owain Glyndwr declared himself Prince of Wales.

The uprising spread and the revolt soon became a bid for Welsh independence supported by the French and the Scots.

Glyndwr allied himself with the Earl of Northumberland and Edmund Mortimer whose nephew the Earl of March had a claim to the throne as a descendant of Edward III. They planned to oust Henry and divide the realm between them.

King Henry showed the Welsh little mercy and led several punitive expeditions against them.

The later military campaigns were left to others to command and his son Prince Henry played a big part in subduing the revolt.

The hostilities with Wales dragged on for several years becoming a serious economic drain and adding to Henry’s financial difficulties.

By 1407 the tide began to turn in England’s favour, with full control restored in 1415.

Henry’s Government

Throughout his reign Henry was constantly short of money.

The parliament of 1406 was dominated by the need for financial reform and to rein in Henry’s household expenditure.

The Welsh Revolt, hostilities in France and piracy in the Channel were all a drain on the country’s finances.

It was during this parliament that Henry’s health deteriorated.

Seventeen councillors were appointed to help the king govern the realm.

A list of thirty-one articles was drawn up to control expenditure.

A smaller council would be appointed to act as an executive body ruling in the king’s name, headed by Prince Henry.

King Henry was not deprived of all his authority but his ill-health and the increasing prominence of his son limited his participation in government.

In time this led to tensions within the council as Prince Henry brought in more of his own supporters to fill senior positions.

The king and Prince Henry clashed over policy in France and it was even suggested that the king should abdicate in favour of his son.

King Henry reasserted his authority during the parliament of 1411, reinstating his own favourites to key positions in the council.

Henry had been in ill health for several years suffering from debilitating fits and a disfiguring skin disease, which greatly affected his ability to rule.

The tensions between Henry and his eldest son continued until Henry’s death on 20 March 1413.

King Henry IV was buried at Canterbury Cathedral.