Henry V ruled England from 1413 to his death in 1422. His reign was largely centred around campaigns in the Hundred Years War, during which he famously defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt. Henry V’s life as a Prince and King have been popularised by the Shakespeare Plays, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. As a prince he had pressed for more involvement in state affairs and proven himself on the battlefield. It is his military successes that mark him out as a successful medieval monarch.
As Prince of Wales, Henry wanted to be more involved in the government of the country. This led to disagreements with his father. Instead, he was deployed as a young but capable military commander. The young Henry led men against Owen Glendower and he fought at the Battle of Shrewsbury. His fathers failing health led to the government being controlled by a small council of 3 men. Henry was one of these, his uncles Thomas and Henry Beaufort, the others. Henry was dismissed from this council in 1411 at a time when his fathers health was deteriorating. This may have been the result of political maneuvers to usurp his right to the throne.
When Henry IV passed away, Henry did succeed. He set about ensuring that England would be at peace. The remains of Richard II were reinterred. Lands and titles were reinstated to those who had, wrongly, been disinherited in the past. The squabbles that had caused problems in the past were addressed head on at the start of the reign. This extended to dealing with the religious extremism of the Lollard movement. Such views had contributed to the Peasants Revolt and were beginning to be heard again. Henry V acted to warn people against preaching in such a way, or following such preachers by having John Oldcastle burnt at the stake.
Henry’s succession wasn’t without challenge. In 1415 the Southampton Plot attempted to replace Henry as king with Mortimer. The Plot was unsuccessful and Mortimer, who was young, was no threat to Henry.
The bulk of Henry’s reign was spent in France. In 1415 he set sail to assert his claim to the French throne. His forces lay siege to the port of Harfleur and captured it. From Harfleur the army set off towards Calais. A larger French army intercepted it. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Henry defeated the French. The Battle of Agincourt became a massacre. The Longbows of Henry’s army wreaked havoc among French lines or knights who were bogged down in the mud of an October battlefield. In a large change from the traditions of the day, Henry gave the order for all captured French knights to be put to death. French attempts, with their Genoese allies, to relieve Harfleur failed. This allowed Henry time to conduct diplomacy that saw the Holy Roman Emperor become an ally of England. Henry also played a role in the reunification of the church as the Western Schism came to an end.
In 1417, Henry’s army resumed it’s campaigning. It arrived at the important city of Rouen and lay siege to it. The defenders, running low on supplies, sent the women and children through the gates. It was customary to not harm women or children in battle, so it was assumed that they would be allowed to make their way through the lines of the besieging army and off to safety. For a second time, Henry adopted a stance that put a stain on his reputation. He refused to allow anybody to leave the besieged city. The women and children were caught between the walls of Rouen and the lines of the English army. With no food or water and no change of heart from either side, they died of starvation.
When Rouen eventually fell, in January, 1419, the Norman commanders among the defenders received swift justice. Several were executed or sent to prisons in England. Henry now had a clear road to Paris. The French had no effective leadership. The king was crazed, his son was little better. French nobles squabbled in fear, several being assassinated as a consequence. In 1420, the French agreed terms. Henry V married the daughter of the French King. The succession to the French throne was altered, naming Henry as heir and identified him as being the Regent of France.
Henry never became King of France as had been agreed. In 1422, aged just 36, he died suddenly. In 9 years s King he had achieved domination of his ancestral lands in Normandy and successfully acquired the right to be King of France. He was succeeded by his young son, Henry VI.
|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 V
History Extra – Blog Post: 10 things you probably didn’t know about Henry V
History.com – History Channel biography
The History Press – Henry V, Cold hearted king or virtuous rule?
English Heritage – Henry V and his ‘Pleasance in the Marsh’