Thanks in part to Shakespeare's portrayal of him, Henry V is usually
remembered as a heroic warrior-king, admired for his charismatic leadership,
military and political genius, and extreme piety.
Henry's war with France was probably motivated more by the need to win
support and prove his legitimacy than by a belief in his right to the
But Henry's piety was genuine, zealous, and (as is often the case) to
some extent hypocritical. The extent to which he was guided by humanity
and compassion can be seen in his harsh suppression of the Lollards,
and in his ability to be ruthless at need* during the campaigns in France.
(The Lollards were early "protestants"; in 1417 Henry executed
their leader Sir John Oldcastle
A brilliant success?
Henry's remarkable territorial gains in France resulted from his exploitation
of a civil war in France, brought on by Charles VI's bouts of insanity,
who sometimes imagined himself made of glass and was overcome with fear
for his own fragility.
A visual celebration of Henry's conquest of Calais.
victories at Harfleur and Agincourt raised him to heroic status in England,
but the Treaty of Troyes (1420) was only achieved by a fortunate alliance
with Philip of Burgundy. According to the treaty, Henry was married
to Charles VI's daughter, became regent of France, and was named heir
to the throne. (Listen to a victory song* from the battle of Agincourt.)
Even so, Armagnac nobles ignored the treaty, making a third expedition
necessary--during which Henry became sick with dysentry and died, only
6 weeks before Charles' death would have made him king of France.
Most historians agree that Henry's goal of conquering France was far
beyond English resources. Thus, although Henry's premature death at
the height of his success assured personal glory, his short-sighted
ambitions left his son's administration burdens heavy enough to make
civil strife inevitable.
The cost of the war later bankrupted the Lancastrian government, and
territories were permanently lost which had been held securely for over
400 years. Much was made of these losses by the Yorkist kings and Tudor
Henry V, (August
9 or September 16, 1387 – August 31, 1422), King of England, son
of Henry IV by Mary de Bohun, was born at Monmouth, Wales, in September
1387. At the time of his birth during the reign of Richard II Henry
was fairly far removed from the throne, preceded by the King and another
preceding collateral line of heirs. By the time Henry died, he had not
only consolidated power as the King of England but had also effectively
accomplished what generations of his ancestors had failed to achieve
through decades of war: unification of the crowns of England and France
in a single person.
Upon the exile of Henry's father in 1398, Richard II took the boy into
his own charge, and treated him kindly. In 1399 the Lancastrian revolution
brought Bolingbroke to the throne and forced Henry into precocious prominence
as heir to the Kingdom of England.
From October 1400 the administration of Wales was conducted in his name;
less than three years later Henry was in actual command of the English
forces and fought against Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. It was there,
in 1403, that the sixteen-year-old prince was almost killed by an arrow
which became lodged in his face. An ordinary soldier would have been
left to die from such a wound, but Henry had the benefit of the best
possible care, and, over a period of several days after the incident,
the royal physician crafted a special tool in order to extract the tip
of the arrow without doing further damage. The operation was successful,
and probably gave the prince permanent scars which would have served
as a testimony to his experience in battle.
Role in government and conflict with Henry IV
The Welsh revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr absorbed Henry's energies until 1408.
Then, as a result of the King's ill-health, Henry began to take a wider
share in politics. From January 1410, helped by his uncles Henry and
Thomas Beaufort — legitimised sons of John of Gaunt — he
had practical control of the government.
Both in foreign and domestic policy he differed from the King, who in
November 1411 discharged the Prince from the council. The quarrel of
father and son was political only, though it is probable that the Beauforts
had discussed the abdication of Henry IV, and their opponents certainly
endeavoured to defame the prince. It may be to that political enmity
the tradition of Henry's riotous youth, immortalized by Shakespeare,
is partly due. Henry's record of involvement in war and politics, even
in his youth, disproves this tradition. The most famous incident, his
quarrel with the chief justice, has no contemporary authority and was
first related by Sir Thomas Elyot in 1531.
The story of Falstaff originated partly in Henry's early friendship
for Sir John Oldcastle. That friendship, and the prince's political
opposition to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps encouraged
Lollard hopes. If so, their disappointment may account for the statements
of ecclesiastical writers, like Thomas Walsingham, that Henry on becoming
king was changed suddenly into a new man.
Accession to the throne
Henry succeeded his father on March 20, 1413. With no past to embarrass
him, and with no dangerous rivals, his practical experience had full
scope. He had to deal with three main problems:
• the restoration of domestic peace,
• the healing of schism in the Church and
• the recovery of English prestige in Europe.
Henry tackled them all together, and gradually built on them a wider
policy. From the first he made it clear that he would rule England as
the head of a united nation, and that past differences were to be forgotten.
The late king Richard II of England was honourably reinterred; the young
Mortimer was taken into favour; the heirs of those who had suffered
in the last reign were restored gradually to their titles and estates.
With Oldcastle Henry used his personal influence in vain, and the gravest
domestic danger was Lollard discontent. But the king's firmness nipped
the movement in the bud (January 1414), and made his own position as
ruler secure. Save for the abortive plot in favour of Mortimer, involving
Henry Scrope and Richard, Earl of Cambridge (grandfather of King Edward
IV of England) in July 1415, the rest of his reign was free from serious
trouble at home.
Henry could now turn his attention to foreign affairs. A writer of the
next generation was the first to allege that Henry was encouraged by
ecclesiastical statesmen to enter into the French war as a means of
diverting attention from home troubles. For this story there is no foundation.
The restoration of domestic peace was the king's first concern, and
until it was assured he could not embark on any wider enterprise abroad.
Nor was that enterprise one of idle conquest. Old commercial disputes
and the support which the French had lent to Glendower was used as an
excuse for war, whilst the disordered state of France afforded no security
Campaign in France
Henry may have regarded the assertion of his own claims as part of his
kingly duty, but in any case a permanent settlement of the national
quarrel was essential to the success of his world policy. The campaign
of 1415, with its brilliant conclusion at Agincourt (October 25), was
only the first step. Two years of patient preparation followed.
The command of the sea was secured by driving the Genoese allies of
the French out of the Channel. A successful diplomacy detached the emperor
Sigismund from France, and by the Treaty of Canterbury paved the way
to end the schism in the Church.
So in 1417 the war was renewed on a larger scale. Lower Normandy was
quickly conquered, Rouen cut off from Paris and besieged. The French
were paralysed by the disputes of Burgundians and Armagnacs. Henry skilfully
played them off one against the other, without relaxing his warlike
energy. In January 1419 Rouen fell. By August the English were outside
the walls of Paris. The intrigues of the French parties culminated in
the assassination of John of Burgundy by the dauphin's partisans at
Montereau (September 10, 1419). Philip, the new duke, and the French
court threw themselves into Henry's arms. After six months' negotiation
Henry was by the Treaty of Troyes recognized as heir and regent of France
(see English Kings of France), and on the June 2, 1420 married Catherine,
the king's daughter. Following his death, Catherine of Valois would
secretly marry a Welsh courtier, Owen Tudor, grandfather of King Henry
VII of England.
Henry V was now at the height of his power. His eventual success in
France seemed certain. He shared with Sigismund the credit of having
ended the Great Schism by obtaining the election of Pope Martin V. All
the states of western Europe were being brought within the web of his
The headship of Christendom was in his grasp, and schemes for a new
Crusade began to take shape. He actually sent an envoy to collect information
in the East; but his plans were cut short by death. A visit to England
in 1421 was interrupted by the defeat of Clarence at Baugé. The
hardships of the longer winter siege of Meaux broke down his health,
and he died of dysentery at Bois de Vincennes on August 31, 1422. Had
he lived another two months, he would have been crowned King of France.
Final words and legacy
Henry's last words supposedly expressed a wish that he might live to
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This ideal was founded consciously on
the model of King Arthur, a model which was becoming outdated. Yet Henry
was not reactionary. His policy was:
• a firm central government supported by parliament;
• church reform on conservative lines;
• commercial development;
• and the maintenance of national prestige.
His aims in some respects anticipated those of his Tudor successors,
but he would have accomplished them on medieval lines as a constitutional
ruler. His success was due to the power of his personality. He could
train able lieutenants, but at his death there was no one who could
take his place as leader. War, diplomacy and civil administration were
all dependent on his guidance.
"His dazzling achievements as a general have obscured his more
sober qualities as a ruler, and even the sound strategy, with which
he aimed to be master of the narrow seas. If he was not the founder
of the English navy he was one of the first to realize its true importance.
Henry had so high a sense of his own rights that he was merciless to
disloyalty. But he was scrupulous of the rights of others, and it was
his eager desire to further the cause of justice that impressed his
French contemporaries. He has been charged with cruelty as a religious
persecutor; but in fact he had as prince opposed the harsh policy of
Archbishop Thomas Arundel, and as king sanctioned a more moderate course.
Lollard executions during his reign had more often a political than
a religious reason. To be just with sternness was in his eyes a duty.
So in his warfare, though he kept strict discipline and allowed no wanton
violence, he treated severely all who had in his opinion transgressed.
In his personal conduct he was chaste, temperate and sincerely pious.
He delighted in sport and all manly exercises. At the same time he was
cultured, with a taste for literature, art and music." This is
now regarded as a rather old-fashioned and prejudiced view of Henry's
Henry lies buried in Westminster Abbey. His tomb was stripped of its
splendid adornment during the Reformation. The shield, helmet and saddle,
which formed part of the original funeral equipment, still hang above
it. The head has now been replaced.
b. 1386/1387, Monmouth
Castle, Monmouthshire, Wales 
d. 31 Aug 1422, Bois de Vincennes, France
Title: Dei Gracia Rex Anglie et Francie Dominus Hibernie (By the Grace
of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland) [20 Mar 1413
- 21 May 1420]
Dei Gracia Rex Anglie Heres et Regens Regni Francie Dominus Hibernie
(By the Grace of God, King of England, Heir and Regent of the Kingdom
of France, and Lord of Ireland) [21 May 1420 - 31 Aug 1422]
Term: 20 Mar 1413 - 31 Aug 1422
Chronology: 20 Mar 1413, succeeded his father, Henry IV (regnal years
counted from 21 Mar 1413)
9 Apr 1413, crowned, Westminster Abbey
21 May 1420, assumed the title of "Heir and Regent of the Kingdom
of France" according to the Treaty of Troyes
31 Aug 1422, deceased
Names/titles: Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester
[from 15 Oct 1399]; Duke of Aquitaine [from 10 Nov 1399]
The eldest son of Henry Earl of Derby, young Henry was created Prince
of Wales after his father acceded to the throne of England as King Henry
IV. Prince Henry gained his first war experience in 1403 when he commanded
the troops against the Welsh rebels. By the end of his father's life,
Henry acquired a strong influence in the king's Council, but his disagreements
with the ailing king resulted in his discharge.
Henry succeeded his father on 20 Mar 1413 and soon faced an abortive
Lollard rising (1414) and a conspiracy (1415) in favor of the Earl of
March. Not content with the lands ceded by the French at the Treaty
of Calais (1360), Henry prepared for a long war laying claim to Normandy,
Touraine, Maine and other territories. Having appointed his brother,
John duke of Bedford, as lieutenant of the kingdom (11 Aug 1415), Henry
invaded France and won a brilliant victory at Agincourt (25 Oct 1415).
He returned to England in triumph and made a treaty of alliance with
the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund (1416). In 1417 Bedford was again entrusted
with the lieutenancy and the war was renewed on a larger scale. Henry's
armies occupied Lower Normandy and advanced to Rouen, which capitulated
in January 1419. The murder of Jean Duke of Burgundy by the partisans
of Dauphin Charles (later King Charles VII), helped Henry build the
Anglo-Burgundian alliance. Unable to organize resistance to the English
invaders, the French court and mentally deranged King Charles VI agreed
to sign the Treaty of Troyes (21 May 1420), in which Henry V was recognized
"heir and regent" of France. Henry also married Charles VI's
daughter Catherine (2 Jun 1420), but the Dauphin opposed the treaty,
which deprived him of his hereditary right, and the war continued. In
1422 Henry V contracted dysentery and died at the siege of Meaux. [2;
Sources and notes:
 There is no absolute certainty about the date of Henry's
birth, although either 9 August or 16 September always features. The
year, however, remains unresolved: was it 1386 or 1387. The
uncertainty stems from the different ways of expressing it chosen by
writers of the time: (a) a clear date, e.g., 16 Sep 1386 (John Rylands,
University of Manchester Library, French Ms 54); (b) Henry is said to
have been in his 26th year (i.e. he was 25 years old) when he was crowned
on 9 Apr 1413 ("Titi Livii Foro-Juliensis Vita Henrici Quinti Regis
Angliae", ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716, p. 5); (c) Henry's death
on 31 Aug 1422 occurred in a particular year of his life - e.g. in the
36th year of his age - i.e. he was 35 years old ("First English
Life of King Henry the Fifth", ed. C.L. Kingsford, Oxford, 1911,
p.182). If he was born on 9 August, this gives the year as 1387, if
on 16 September (the feast of St Edith, as some contemporaries pointed
out), Henry must have been born in 1386. See C.L. Kingsford, 'The early
biographies of Henry V', English Historical Review 25 (1910), 62; (d)
writing in 1896, J.H. Wylie chose August 1386 ("History of England
under Henry the Fourth", 4 vols, London, 1884-98, iii, 323-4).
W.T. Waugh, author with Wylie of "The reign of Henry the Fifth"
(3 vols, Cambridge, 1914-29, iii, 427), claimed 16 September 1387 as