Henry V

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Henry V (1387-1422), King of England (1413-1422), eldest son of Henry IV became embroiled in his country’s politics from an early age. Becoming Prince of Wales in 1400; within three years, at seventeen, he was fighting Owen Glendower and the powerful Percy family in his father’s name and was wounded at Shrewsbury in the battle that crushed the rebellion.

For most of the last few years of his father’s reign he was the effective ruler of England as the king’s health declined. Whilst not always agreeing with his father’s politics, especially as regards France, he succeeded to the throne with widespread baronial support; although needing to defeat an assassination plot by those still unforgiving of Henry IV’s treatment of Richard II – and crushing a major Lollard uprising – in his first year as king.

In 1415 he went to war with France over king Charles VI’s refusal to return the old Plantagenet lands of Normandy and Anjou as part of the dowry for his proposed marriage to Charles’ daughter, Catherine. His campaign in France climaxed with the celebrated Battle of Agincourt. Further campaigns during 1417-19 brought him to the walls of a starving Paris; and the Treaty of Troyes in 1420 made Henry heir to the French throne. The next year Catherine gave birth to a son, the future Henry VI.

In 1421 he was forced back to France, campaigning against the Dauphin who, understandably, refused to accept Henry’s claim to the French throne. During a siege in 1422, he contracted dysentery, and died. His body was returned to England and buried in Westminster Abbey beneath his saddle, shield and helmet.

Henry’s martial exploits are the stuff of legend – Shakespeare’s treatment only reinforces the national notion of the man as a leader of men and an inspiration for English endeavour. He was in the thick of every battle he fought. He proposed to settle the dowry business by personal combat with the Dauphin. He was described as tall, clean shaven, sinewy and agile; but, perhaps strangely, more clerical than military in appearance. He was well educated, a patron of the arts, a scrupulous administrator and piously orthodox. He was the first king of England since the Norman Conquest who used English as his native tongue.

In hindsight, knowing the turbulence that would strike the country during his son’s lifetime, his early death can be considered to be even more of a tragedy now than it was at the time.

Henry V has been notably portrayed in William Shakespeare's play, The Famous Life of King Henry V. Shakespeare also added facts to Henry's youth in the first and second parts of King Henry IV, including the popular, but fictional character, Sir John Falstaff.


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