King Henry V

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Henry V (1386 –1422) was King of England from 1413 until his death. Henry was described as "very tall (6ft 3 in), slim, with dark hair cropped in a ring above the ears, and clean-shaven". His complexion was ruddy, the face lean with a prominent and pointed nose. Depending on his mood, his eyes "flashed from the mildness of a dove's to the brilliance of a lion's". Henry features in three plays by William Shakespeare. He is shown as a young scapegrace who redeems himself in battle in the two Henry IV plays and as a decisive leader in Henry V.

Henry was born in Monmouth Castle and called Henry of Monmouth, son of Henry of Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. Upon the exile of Henry's father in 1398, Richard II took charge of him and treated him kindly. The young Henry accompanied King Richard to Ireland 1399. The Lancastrian usurpation brought Henry's father to the throne and Henry was recalled from Ireland as heir to the kingdom of England. He became Prince of Wales at his father's coronation. Henry was given command of part of the English forces—he led his own army into Wales against Owen Glendower and joined forces with his father to fight Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury in 1403, where the sixteen-year-old prince was almost killed by an arrow in the face. Henry came into political conflict with the increasingly ill King Henry IV. For eighteen months, in 1410–1411, Henry was in control of the country during his father's ill-health and he took full opportunity to impose his own policies, but when the king recovered he reversed most of these and dismissed the prince from his council.

It may be to such political enmity that the tradition of Henry's riotous youth, immortalized by Shakespeare, is partly due. 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 in Henry's early friendship with Sir John Oldcastle, a supporter of the Lollards. Shakespeare's Falstaff was originally named "Oldcastle", following his main source, The Famous Victories of Henry V. However, Oldcastle’s descendants objected and the name was changed. Henry’s friendship, and the prince's political opposition to the Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps encouraged Lollard hopes. Their disappointment may account for ecclesiastical writers, like Thomas Walsingham, saying that Henry on becoming king was changed suddenly into a new man. Where Henry saw a grave domestic danger, he acted firmly and ruthlessly - such as the Lollard discontent in January 1414, including the execution by burning of Henry's old friend Sir John Oldcastle.

After his father's death, Henry rapidly assumed control of the country and embarked on war with France. A writer of the next generation alleged that Henry was encouraged by ecclesiastical statesmen to enter into the French war as a means of diverting attention from home troubles. On 11 August 1415 Henry sailed for France, where his forces besieged the fortress at Harfleur, capturing it on 22 September. Afterwards, Henry decided to march with his army across the French countryside towards Calais, despite the warnings of his council. On 25 October 1415, on the plains near the village of Agincourt, a French army intercepted his route. Despite his men-at-arms being exhausted, outnumbered and malnourished, Henry led his men into battle, decisively defeating the French who suffered severe losses. The Battle of Agincourt saw him come close to conquering France. After months of negotiation with Charles VI of France, the Treaty of Troyes recognized him as regent and heir to the French throne, and he was subsequently married to Charles' daughter, Catherine of Valois. Catherine was said to be very attractive and when Henry first met her at Meulan he became enamored. Following his sudden death in France of dysentery, he was succeeded by his infant son, who reigned as Henry VI.

[Data courtesy of Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License]

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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond