Henry V (Dictionary of World Biography: Renaissance)
Article abstract: Henry V gave England justice and stability at home, while his military and political genius enabled him to proceed in the conquest of France and claim to its crown. He left England a strong power in European affairs.
The man who would become Henry V, King of England and Regent of France, was born on September 16, 1387, at Monmouth Castle in western England (this date of birth is sometimes given as August 9). He is familiar to modern readers and audiences as the Prince Hal of William Shakespeare’s plays, but his contemporaries knew him in his youth as Henry of Monmouth. His father, Henry, Duke of Lancaster, was similarly known from his birthplace as Henry Bolingbroke and was the cousin of the reigning monarch, Richard II.
Henry was well educated; the records for the Duchy of Lancaster show early payments for his books, a harp, and a sword. Unverified tradition says that he was educated at Oxford. Whatever his background, during his reign he showed considerable ability in a variety of fields, from the military (he was an outstanding general) to the musical (he composed several pieces of church music).
In 1389, Richard II exiled Henry Bolingbroke, whose sons were taken into the court, partly as kinsmen, partly as hostages. Richard displayed real affection for the younger Henry, taking him in May, 1399, on an expedition to Ireland, where the king himself knighted the youth. In August of that year, however, Bolingbroke returned to England in revolt; Richard rebuked his young relative, but Henry seems to have had no forewarning of his father’s actions.
Bolingbroke was quickly able to depose Richard, largely because the king’s erratic and willful actions had seriously undermined his support among the nobility. In October, Henry IV was crowned in London; his son participated in the ceremony and two days later was created Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, and Prince of Wales. He was soon after given the title of Duke of Aquitaine, the English possession on the Continent, and Duke of Lancaster, his father’s former title.
From 1400 until 1408, Henry was occupied in subduing rebellion in his princedom of Wales. First, as figurehead of a council of nobles, and later on his own, he planned and led raids and skirmishes against the Welsh. In 1403, this struggle was interrupted by the conspiracy of the powerful Percy family of northern England. Henry IV and his son combined their forces to defeat the Percys at the Battle of Berwick (July 21, 1403), during which the prince was wounded in the face but continued in the fight.
By 1408 the Welsh had been hammered into submission, and Henry was more active in London and in the king’s council. In 1409, he was made Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover, both important military posts. He was also taking a larger part in the government, partly because of Henry IV’s steadily weakening condition, caused by an unknown but disfiguring disease. It is likely that by 1410 the prince was ruling in his father’s name, aided by his relative Thomas Beaufort, the new chancellor. The Beauforts were to be valuable servants during Henry V’s reign. In 1410, Henry was also given the vital post of Captain of Calais, England’s stronghold in France.
An attempt to have the king abdicate in favor of his son led to the removal of Beaufort as chancellor and the temporary withdrawal of Henry from the court and council, but on March 20, 1413, Henry IV died and his son, at age twenty-six, became King of England.
There are several contemporary descriptions and portraits of Henry V, and they generally agree that he struck an appropriately kingly figure. He was above medium height, with a slender, athletic body, and was known as an exceptionally swift runner. His hair was smooth, brown, and thick; he had a cleft chin and small ears. The feature most noted by Henry’s subjects was his eyes, which were said to be those of a dove in peace but a lion’s when he was angered.
Henry V was crowned on April 9, 1413 (Passion Sunday), in an unusual spring snowstorm. Equally unusual, and commented upon by his contemporaries, was the marked change in his character, which immediately became more somber and regal. The total reversal is heightened, however, in Shakespeare’s Henry V (1598-1599), for dramatic emphasis; Henry’s youth had been spent largely in camp and council, rather than in taverns and the streets.
One of the complaints voiced in Henry’s first parliament, in 1413, was the weakness of royal power during his father’s last years. The son moved decisively to counter this and appointed such skilled and experienced officers as his kinsman and new chancellor, Henry Beaufort. Throughout his reign, Henry was well served by his officers and officials.
In December, 1413, Henry had the remains of Richard II, the monarch deposed and perhaps ordered killed by his father, reburied with royal pomp at Westminster. This action was an indication both of Henry’s affections for the man and of his allegiance to the ideal of kingship as a station partially sacramental in nature.
Henry was noted for his orthodoxy and concern for the unity of the Church, and he was greatly concerned with the growing Lollard movement in England, which threatened both ecclesiastical and social stability. The Lollards, a form of early protestants, were led by Sir John Oldcastle, who was arrested in September, 1413, and interrogated by numerous officials, including the king himself. Oldcastle escaped and early the next year devised a plot to seize the king and his brothers. Acting with his customary decisiveness, Henry surprised the rebels as they gathered at St. Giles’ Field outside London, and crushed the revolt. Sir John escaped again but was later captured and executed in 1418 while Henry was campaigning in France.
France was the dominant theme of Henry’s reign. English kings had held territory in France, and Henry was determined to reconquer that which had been lost; he also sought the crown of France itself. In the Parliament of 1414, Henry’s claims were asserted, and support was given for a military expedition.
The English asserted title to the provinces of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Maine, and Ponthieu, as well as...
(The entire section is 2607 words.)
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Henry V (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
Article abstract: Military significance: Henry’s strategy against France was to systematically capture the great towns and fortresses and turn them into headquarters for English garrisons. This enabled the English to impose taxes and help defray the cost of war.
Raised in his uncle Richard II’s household while his own father, Henry IV, was exiled, Henry V was knighted during Richard’s Irish expedition in 1399. Upon Henry IV’s usurpation of the crown, Henry was made prince of Wales and took command of the fight against the Welsh rebels who were led by Owen Glendower (1402-1409). Henry was a brave warrior at Shrewsbury in 1403. He suppressed both the Lollard Revolt (1413-1414) and that of the Percys (1403-1408).
Henry’s most famous exploits were against the French in the Hundred Years’ War. Determined to revive English dominion over France, he declared war in 1415, besieging and capturing Harfleur and attacking Calais. Almost trapped near the Somme at one point, he escaped and eventually led a force of 6,000 to victory at Agincourt, killing 3,000 French and capturing 1,000 more at minimal cost to his own side. His French adventure culminated in an alliance with Burgundy, the Treaty of Troyes in May, 1420 (whereby he became heir to Charles VI), and the siege and capture of Meaux (1421-1422). Weakened by exertion, however, he contracted camp fever and died before his French designs were completed.
Allmand, C. T. Henry V. London: Methuen, 1992.
Earle, Peter. The Life and Times of Henry V. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972.
Harris, G. J., ed. Henry V. London: Sutton, 1993.
Knight, Paul, and Mike Chappell. Henry V and the Conquest of France, 1416-1453. New York: Osprey, 1999.