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King Henry V


Born on the 16 September 1386 at Monmouth Castle, Henry was the eldest child of Henry Bolingbroke and his first wife Mary de Bohun.

As the grandson of John of Gaunt, Henry was heir presumptive to the wealthy Duchy of Lancaster and his upbringing reflected his noble status.

He was well-educated being proficient in Latin, French and English.

He would have received instruction in swordsmanship and spent time hunting on the family estates.

In 1398 Henry’s father was sent into exile by King Richard II.

After the death of John of Gaunt in 1399 Richard seized his estates, prompting an invasion by Bolingbroke to reclaim his inheritance.

Henry had been in Ireland with King Richard at the time of his father’s invasion and the king had him imprisoned in Trim Castle.

Richard was forced to abdicate by the end of September.

Two days after his father was crowned King of England, Henry was invested as Prince of Wales.

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The Prince of Wales

Prince Henry played a central role in putting down the Welsh Revolt led by Owain Glyndwr.

He served under Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy at the six week siege of Conwy Castle in 1401.

In 1403 the Percy family rebelled against the king.

Sixteen year old Henry was noted for his bravery at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he refused to leave the battlefield after an arrow hit him in the face and lodged in his skull.

In 1406 he was given full command of the Welsh campaign.

Due to his father’s ill-health, in the parliament of 1406 it was decided that Prince Henry would head an executive council to rule in the king’s name.

Henry supported financial reform and brought in many of his own associates rewarding them with senior positions.

He took an active role in government and had considerable influence within the royal council.

In 1411 the king reasserted his authority, publicly dismissing his son and the council.

King Henry had been ill for several years.

Frustration at his father’s rule and his exclusion from government had led to personal and political tensions between them.

They clashed over policy in France and the favour shown to his younger brother Thomas.

Twice Prince Henry brought a large retinue of men with him to London as a show of force.

These tensions remained until King Henry IV died on the 20 March 1413.

Becoming King Henry V

Henry was crowned king at Westminster Abbey on the 9 April 1413.

Several accounts make reference to Henry changing his behaviour after his accession to the throne.

Later stories tell of Prince Henry’s misspent youth as characterised by Shakespeare’s Hal, but there is no evidence from the time that he really was like that.

Although the Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti written in the 1430’s and based on information from a high ranking member of Henry’s court does describe Prince Henry as “an assiduous pursuer of fun.”

Throughout his reign Henry took the responsibilities of kingship seriously.

He played an active role in government, taking a personal interest in the day to day running of the country.

He retained those of his father’s councillors that he trusted and similarly only elevated those of his associates he considered worthy of high office.

As king he did not give his patronage lightly, demanded loyalty from his subjects and was tough on law and order.

Religion played a key role in Henry’s kingship.

A pious man he gave generously to the Church.

He saw God as guiding his actions and attributed his military successes to divine will.

He involved himself in the governance of the Church and took a strong stance against Lollard heresy, believing he had a duty to protect the Catholic faith.

King Henry was the son of what is known as a usurper or someone who took the crown by force. So, he took steps to secure his throne.

Three days after his coronation he promised his nobles that he would rule for the honour of God and the kingdom’s prosperity.

They in turn swore oaths of allegiance to him. However, Henry’s rule was not entirely secure.

The Southampton Plot to put Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March on the throne was uncovered in July 1415 while Henry was at Portchester Castle preparing for his invasion of France.

Showing no mercy, the conspirators were summarily tried and executed.

Cry “God, for Harry, England and Saint George”

The French were in the midst of a civil war.

The King, Charles VI was frequently incapacitated by a mental disorder and the Burgundians and the Armagnacs were fighting each other for power.

Henry sent envoys to negotiate his marriage to the French king’s daughter, Catherine of Valois.

As well as wanting a substantial marriage dowry, Henry also demanded that the English lands in France granted to Edward III by the 1360 Treaty of Bretigny be returned.

In return Henry would put aside his claim to the French throne.

The English demands were rejected.

With the backing of parliament, Henry sailed from England on 11 August 1415 with an army of 12000 men.

King Henry closely supervised the deployment of his army and rigorously enforced military discipline.

There would be no pillaging or laying waste to the land as Henry intended to conquer and occupy France and for that he needed the local population to submit to his authority.

The siege of Harfleur dragged on much longer than expected with an outbreak of dysentery in the English camp adding to the losses.

With winter coming Henry decided to return to England via Calais.

Leaving a large garrison behind to defend Harfleur the English army, now about two-thirds of its initial strength, headed north with all speed.

Thirty-four miles south of Calais a large French army met the English in battle at Agincourt.

The English victory at Agincourt greatly enhanced King Henry’s standing both at home and on the continent and he was quick to exploit his success.

He returned to a hero’s welcome and a spectacular procession through London on the 23 November which ended at Westminster Abbey where Henry gave thanks to God for granting him victory over the French.

Henry was intent on resuming the war with France arguing it was necessary to force a peace.

He landed with an army on the 1 August 1417 and by the end of July 1418 had taken lower Normandy.

Rouen surrendered after enduring a six month siege in January 1419. Henry had chosen to starve them out and refused to let the civilians leave.

The rest of Normandy, with the exception of Mont Saint Michel, soon fell to the English.

On the 10 Sept 1419 John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy was assassinated by the Dauphin’s supporters.

With no hope of the country uniting against the English, the Burgundians sued for peace.

At Troyes on the 21 May 1420, King Henry V was formally acknowledged as heir to the French crown.

On the 2 June he married the French king’s daughter Catherine of Valois.

The Treaty of Troyes had not ended the war.

Allied with the Burgundians, the English army now fought against the disinherited Dauphin and his Armagnac supporters.

Two days after his wedding Henry left to lay siege to the town of Sens.

There was a sense of war weariness in England and Henry found it increasingly difficult to raise sufficient numbers of men to fight for him.

Parliament grew concerned by the king’s absence and frustrated, as despite being away in France Henry continued to want all matters of government referred to him.

He finally arrived back in England in February 1421 and went on a progress of the kingdom.

Catherine gave birth to their son, the future Henry VI, at Windsor on the 6 December 1421.

The king, however, had already returned to the war in France at the beginning of June.

In 1422 King Henry was taken ill with a serious intestinal disorder.

He died at Vincennes Castle on the 31 August, leaving the nine month old son he had never seen as heir to the thrones of England and France.

His body was returned to England and buried in Westminster Abbey.