Henry IV usurped the throne from his cousin, Richard II, in 1399. It was an action that reverberated through English Politics for the next century. As King, Henry was hugely successful. He won each of the battles in which he participated, defeated the Welsh rebellion of Glendower, captured and imprisoned the King of Scotland, survived and suppressed numerous rebellions and left his succession in no immediate doubt.
Henry is the only King of England to have set foot in Jerusalem, having done so on Crusade. He is also the only English monarch to lead an army into battle against a force armed with English longbows: the Battle of Shrewsbury, a victory for Henry’s army. His approach was the opposite of his cousin. He negotiated, gave positions based on rank and merit rather than favouritism and ensured that justice was fair: Henry’s opponents were not routinely executed as had happened to the Lords Appellant.
Shakespeare has immortalised Henry IV and given a view of him that is not entirely based on evidence. Much of what is remembered about Henry is that he usurped or stole the English throne. In doing so he is sometimes portrayed as being in the wrong. This view has been challenged, Dr Ian Mortimer writing that:
As soon as we start to understand Henry’s situation during Richard’s reign the scales fall away from our eyes. Richard was not Henry’s victim; quite the opposite. Henry was persecuted by his cousin. Richard believed kingship permitted him absolute authority; Henry believed it entailed responsibilities. Richard could neither joust nor sire a son; Henry’s jousting was internationally famous and he sired four boys within five years. Richard bullied and threatened his subjects; Henry negotiated with his enemies in a level-headed manner, and more often than not forgave them. Henry was everything a king was expected to be while Richard was the opposite. The problem was that Richard was the one on the throne. (Ian Mortimer, Promotional Article for ‘The Fears of Henry IV’)
Henry’s reign was reasonably short, he died in 1413. His latter years saw him in ill-health. He developed a serious skin condition which some believe could have been leprosy. He also suffered from convulsions which may have been a form of epilepsy. As a result of these conditions his eldest son, the future Henry V, grew in importance in the last 5 years of Henry’s reign.
|Henry II||Richard I||King John|
|Henry III||Edward I||Edward II|
|Edward III||Richard II|
|House of Lancaster|
|Henry IV||Henry V||Henry VI|
|House of York|
|Edward IV||Edward V||Richard III|
|Murder of Thomas Becket||Magna Carta||Ten Facts about the Black Death|
|Edward I's Conquest of Wales||Madog ap Llywelyn||Causes of the Peasants Revolt|
|Timeline of the Peasants Revolt|
|Sources and Interpretations|
|Paston Letters||John Rous|
BBC – Biography of Henry Bolingbroke
Stories from History – pupil friendly biography of Henry IV
Medievalists.net – The Usurpation of Henry IV, his quest for Legitimacy