Henry V of England would become one of England’s greatest kings. He was born Henry of Monmouth on September 16, 1386. His father, Henry Bolingbroke, was a member of England’s royal family, the Plantagenets. As a descendant of the third son of King Edward III, Henry of Monmouth stood little chance of ever becoming king. However, young Henry’s life would change after his father was exiled from England.
Richard II’s Charge
In 1398, Henry Bolingbroke was banished from England by King Richard II. Henry and Richard had a strained relationship since Henry actively opposed the tyrannical king. Seeking revenge for a revolt Henry had participated in, Richard exiled him to France. Upon his father’s departure, Richard took custody of young Henry. Despite the animosity between Richard and Bolingbroke, the king treated his son very well. Under Richard’s care, young Henry received a fine education.
Henry wouldn’t remain in Richard II’s custody for long. In February 1399, Henry’s grandfather, John of Gaunt, died. Upon his death, Henry Bolingbroke expected to inherit his father’s dukedom of Lancaster. This dukedom was the wealthiest in England. Seeing an opportunity to enrich himself, Richard denied Bolingbroke his inheritance and claimed it as his own. In retaliation, an enraged Henry returned to England with an army.
While Richard II was in Ireland, Henry Bolingbroke made his way across England. As he traveled, Henry gained more alienated noble’s support. When Richard finally returned, Henry’s forces seized him. At this point, Bolingbroke decided that he not only wanted his dukedom back but Richard’s crown too. In late September 1399, Richard abdicated, and Henry Bolingbroke became King Henry IV, establishing the house of Lancaster as England’s new rulers.
Upon his father’s ascension, Henry of Monmouth became the Prince of Wales. (This is an English title associated with being the heir apparent). He was also granted the titles of the Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall. As the Welsh began to rebel against his father, Henry was given command of the English army in 1403. During his time fighting against the Welsh, Henry gained valuable military experience.
As Prince Henry got older, he gradually demanded more involvement in the Lancastrian government. An ailing Henry IV feared that his son was attempting to overthrow him. Due to this paranoid belief, the king stonewalled his efforts, frustrating the prince in return. Although there was never any credible evidence that Prince Henry coveted the crown, the relationship between both men remained strained. However, as King Henry lay dying in 1413, he gave his blessing to his son before passing.
King of England
On March 21, 1413, Prince Henry became King Henry V. At 25-years-old, the new king was well educated, a seasoned military commander, and had some political experience. Despite successfully inheriting a secure kingdom, there were still those who believed that he was a usurper. In 1415, English nobles Richard of York and Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham wanted a different man as king: Edmund Mortimer. After being warned of the conspiracy, the plot was swiftly crushed by the king and the two nobles were executed. With England firmly under his control, Henry turned his attention towards France.
For centuries, England had attempted to conquer France. The country had vast lands and wealth that the English envied. Ever since the dissolution of the Angevin Empire in 1214, English kings had attempted to regain the lands that they had lost. Henry V’s great-grandfather, King Edward III, had come the closest to achieving this goal. However, he was ultimately unsuccessful.
During the 1410s, a civil war gripped France. The French royal family, the Valois, fought amongst themselves over the right to rule. The French king, Charles VI, had a mental illness that regularly incapacitated him. France needed a strong regent since the king’s heir, Louis, was still young. Instead of uniting, the Valois chose to fight each other.
Like previous English kings, Henry V possessed a strong desire to reclaim lost English territory. He also wanted revenge against France for their support of the Welsh rebellion. Since the country was in a vulnerable state, the king saw a perfect opportunity to renew the Hundred Years’ War. Henry began by demanding the return of Aquitaine and other former Angevin lands. The king also wanted to marry Charles VI’s daughter Catherine too. In response, the French attempted to counter with a lower offer.
Henry V was unsatisfied with France’s counter offer. As a result, the negotiations with the French government ended in June 1415. Henry next established contact with France’s eastern enemy, Burgundy. After some negotiating, the king successfully made an alliance with its powerful duke. This would ensure that Burgundy won’t aid France against an English invasion.
In England, Henry V began making war preparations. He rallied his citizens to the idea of regaining past English glory in France. Henry’s appeal to national pride won him widespread support. As a result, Parliament agreed to finance his war. Having gained the complete support of his nation, Henry started meticulously planning for the invasion.
Invasion of France
After ensuring every last detail was in place, Henry V’s army finally invaded France in August 1415. In September, the English captured Harfleur. On October 25, 1415, Henry won his greatest victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt. During the battle, English forces overcame a larger French army with modern tactics and the English longbow. The longbow proved devastating, and many French soldiers fell to English archer’s arrows.
After the Battle of Agincourt, the war shifted in England’s favor. Henry V capitalized on this victory by conquering Normandy in 1417 and capturing Rouen in 1419. By May 1420, he was powerful enough to force the insane King Charles VI to sign a treaty. The Treaty of Troyes made Henry Charles’s heir while disinheriting the French king’s son. The English king also married Princess Catherine on June 2, 1420. With his position secured, Henry returned to England with Catherine in February 1421.
Return to France
After arriving in England, Henry V and his new bride toured the country. However, the king didn’t stay for long. Henry returned to France in June 1421 to once more lead his army. The capture of Meaux in May 1422 would be the king’s last victory. During the summer of 1422, Henry contracted dysentery. The illness proved fatal, and Henry’s health began rapidly deteriorating.
In August 1422, Henry V lay dying. Before he had departed England in June 1421, Queen Catherine had conceived a child. Fortunately for the English, Catherine had given birth to a son, Henry, in December 1421. Prince Henry ensured that the line of succession continued. Having made his final preparations, King Henry died on August 31, 1422. He was 34-years-old.
Henry V had risen to become one of England’s most renown kings. During his nine-year reign, Henry had secured his throne, united the English to a national cause, and had dominated the French both militarily and politically. He was on the cusp on conquering France but had died prematurely. Two months after Henry’s death, King Charles VI also died. In his father’s place, the English symbolically crowned the infant Henry VI as the new King of France.
Cawthorne, N. (2012). Kings & Queens of England: From the Saxon Kings to the House of Windsor. London: Arcturus.
Cheetham, A., & Fraser, A. (2000). The Wars of the Roses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Ross, C. D. (2019, August 29). Henry V. Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-V-king-of-England.
Good overview, though I’m beginning to wonder if Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ isn’t as much of a Lancastrian fiction as Richard III’s is Tudor fiction…