Henry V

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The French and Desmond Seward are less enthusiastic about him, for Henry’s attempt to assert what he saw as his right to the French throne brought with it much suffering and devastation. Though he captured about a third of the country, including Paris, and was named heir to Charles VI, he never won the hearts of his conquered subjects; by 1450, Lancastrian France was only a memory, though it would prove a lingering and bitter one.

While Henry’s admirers believe that, had he not died at the age of thirty-four, he might have succeeded in linking the French and English monarchies or at least in establishing a permanent English presence in France, Seward disagrees. England, he claims, lacked the resources for such an enterprise, and French nationalism would never accept foreign occupation. Hence, Seward regards Henry’s achievement in France as impressive but futile. Moreover, the cost of the war sapped England’s resources and so lessened Henry VI’s chances of retaining the English throne, let alone the French. Seward regards Henry V’s legacy as the destruction of the Lancastrian dynasty and the enduring hostility of the French toward the English.

Just as Seward reinterprets Henry’s public self, so he dismisses the Shakespearean image of a jovial, madcap Prince Hal. Though devoting far less attention to the private man, Seward depicts Henry as a deeply religious, austere, even cruel ruler willing to execute his own brother for disobeying orders. This critical portrait of a revered figure is sure to provoke controversy.