Henry V of England

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Nov 30, 2023

Table of Content


Henry of Monmouth (Monmouth, August 9 or September 16, 1387) was king of England from 1413 until his death. Although he reigned for only nine years, the political-military action exercised by Henry V was quite remarkable on the European chessboard, so much so that he became one of the most popular rulers of the Middle Ages. Henry, in fact, was able to bring the Kingdom of England once again among the leading European powers thanks to the brilliant victory he achieved at Azincourt over the French, as a result of which he succeeded in being named heir to the throne of France.

A skillful politician and expert administrator, Henry was also credited with recomposing, through his uncle Henry Beaufort, the Western Schism, entering into the Treaty of Canterbury with Emperor Sigismund. The figure of the ruler, however, was eternalized by William Shakespeare in the play of the same name, in which his affable, noble and deeply religious spirit is remarked upon.

Origin and youthful years

Henry V was born at Monmouth Castle on August 9, 1387, the eldest male child of Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby and Duke of Lancaster, and Mary of Bohun. Young Henry, raised by housekeeper Johanna Waring, was later educated by his uncle, clergyman and Oxford University chancellor Henry Beaufort, in a range of disciplines unusual by the standards of the time: music, literature and the English language. It is uncertain whether Henry actually studied at Queen's College, while it is known that he was knighted by King Richard II.

As for the rest of Henry's childhood, there are insufficient sources attesting to his character, higher studies and private life. The dissolute life and subsequent repentance narrated by Shakespeare in the historical drama of the same name are, in all likelihood, unsubstantiated. They certainly were not easy years because of the political disagreements between his father and Richard II and because of the grief suffered following the sudden loss of his mother.

The year 1399 was a pivotal one in young Henry's life: his father Henry, having returned to England after being exiled by Richard II, banded together with a group of dissatisfied nobles, deposed the Plantagenet king and proclaimed himself king under the name Henry IV. As a result, his son Henry of Monmouth, who was sent with his brother Thomas to Trim Castle during his father's rebellion, immediately launched a military career. Little more than 16 years old, Henry, as prince of Wales, commanded the military forces occupied with stamping out the 1403 rebellions led by Owain Glyndŵr, keeping him occupied until 1408. Military efforts, however, did not only target the Welsh: some nobles (including members of the Percy family) Robert III of Scotland himself allied with the rioters to attack England, taking advantage of the fall of the main branch of the Plantagenets and the rise of the cadet branch of the Lancastrians. In 1403 Henry was pierced in battle at Shrewsbury by an arrow to the face that entered his skull, but he was miraculously saved after two surgeries, the dart having injured neither arteries nor the brain, medulla oblongata or encephalic bulb, by a few millimeters. Experienced surgeon and craftsman John Bradmore, after the failure of several court physicians, managed to extract the arrow with a metal tool of his own invention, after disinfecting the wound with honey and wine, and the prince also overcame the infection remaining only partially disfigured but recovering.

Henry, in this five-year period of turbulent events, demonstrated his innate military skills by contributing to victory over Henry Percy (who in the dynastic line was the true heir to the throne) at the Battle of Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403. Having defeated the former and killed the latter, Owen Glydnwr was left with nothing but the sluggish support of Charles VI of France, who soon abandoned the Welsh insurgent to his fate (1409).

By virtue also of these merits in the field, the young prince was appointed president of the Privy Council of the crown in 1410, increasingly assuming a position of dominance because of his father's ill health. In that post he distinguished himself, thanks to the support of his uncles Henry and Thomas Beaufort, in a lively opposition to the policy of the king his father and his chancellor, Archbishop Thomas Arundel: Monmouth disagreed with his father's policy toward France and his surrender to Arundel. This disagreement aroused the king's disapproval, a hostile feeling that grew when some nobles in Parliament proposed that he abdicate in favor of the heir to the throne. This prompted his swift dismissal from office as early as 1411. But on September 23, 1412, Henry of Monmouth arrived in London with a large retinue and stood alone before the king, who embraced and forgave him: the future Henry V was judged and fully acquitted. Henry IV died at Westminster, March 20, 1413, and Henry of Monmouth ascended the English throne the next day, later being crowned at Westminster Abbey on April 9.

The king of England

The first problems he faced were domestic political: in early 1414, Henry showed remarkable resolve in suppressing the Lollard heresy, inspired by Hussism and spreading in England during the reign of Richard II. Because of their opposition to Arundel, the Lollards thought the Prince of Wales was a sympathizer of their movement, but they understood Henry's orthodoxy only when he ascended the throne. Sir John Oldcastle, Henry's old friend and leader of the Lollards, tried to rally his brethren at St Giles in the Fields on January 7, 1414, but the king himself dispersed them, destroying their home front.. Then, in April of the same year, the parliament meeting in Leicester passed very harsh new measures against the heretics.

The Lollard Rebellion, despite being struck down early in Henry's reign and eradicated by 1417 (when Oldcastle was captured in the Midlands and then hanged), would continue to exist in clandestine form until the Anglican Reformation, when it resurfaced with the collapse of the Catholic Church on English soil.

In July 1415, the king suppressed a conspiracy known as the "Southampton Plot" hatched by followers of Edmund Mortimer, heir of Richard II. In July 1415, Edmondo was made aware of a conspiracy led by his cousin and brother-in-law, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, of the House of York, who aimed to place Edmondo on the throne in place of Henry V. Edmondo, seized by a severe sense of guilt, ran to report this to the king, who pardoned Edmondo but sent Richard to the gallows.

In economic policy, the adversarial relationship with the Hansa continued. Between 1418 and 1420, in fact, a commercial incident occurred between the city of London and the merchants of the League who resided there: the municipal council of the English capital, in fact, imposed a tax (the scot and lots) on all foreign merchants, an act that aroused the protests of the Hansa. Henry V, for his part, quietly exploited this to damage the powerful trading league, doing nothing concrete to oppose the degenerating relations and writing only vague letters of renewed friendship with the Hansa leader.

The resolution of domestic problems was the necessary prodrome so that the young ruler could concentrate on his real goal: the subjugation of France, a politico-military action favored through the recovery of old dynastic rights championed, almost a century earlier, by Edward III. In fact, as early as September 1413, Henry V embarked on an audacious foreign policy: taking advantage also of the serious rift between the Armagnac and Burgundian parties, the English ruler pretended to want to renew the peace treaty, with the real intention of keeping the evolution of French domestic politics in check. The leader of the Burgundians, Duke John Fearless, was the English ruler's main interlocutor, so much so that marriage negotiations were held between 1413 and 1414 between the young king and a daughter of the Duke of Burgundy.

The alliance between the two stipulated that should Henry attack France, John would remain neutral and recognize him as king if Henry had the upper hand. On the other front, Henry V, probably as early as the end of May 1414, officially claimed the throne of France, asking for Catherine, the daughter of Charles VI, in marriage, a proposal that was rejected because of the titles advanced by the king of England. On May 31, 1415, taking advantage of the degeneration of events within the Kingdom of France, Henry V went back on the offensive, making unacceptable territorial demands: Normandy, Ponthieu, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Poitou and, finally, Aquitaine in its extension in the aftermath of the Treaty of Bretigny of 1360, with the addition of Provence. The French envoys, knowing full well that France was not ready for open conflict with England, sought to counter by granting Aquitaine "legal" lordship rather than its "direct sovereignty." Henry, finding this counteroffer too meager, responded by declaring war on France.

After he left his brother John, Duke of Bedford, as lieutenant of the kingdom, Henry V set out for Normandy in August 1415. On the 13th of that month, the English fleet (1500 vessels strong) docked near Le Havre, and a few days later the English army besieged Harfleur, which fell on September 22. Henry, aware of how his army had been decimated by disease and starvation and how the summer was rapidly coming to an end, thought it wise to reach the port of Calais whence he then returned to England, but upon arriving in Picardy he was confronted by the French army, at least three times the size of his own. The French army could have been even larger had John Fearless' offer of help been accepted, which was rejected because of diatribes between the Duke of Burgundy and Constable Charles d'Albret, leader of the Armagnacs.

Despite poor weather conditions and muddy terrain, around 10 a.m. on October 25, 1415, St. Crispin's Day, the French led by D'Albret engaged battle near the village of Azincourt. By four o'clock in the afternoon, the battle had ended in French disaster: compared to the 500 dead on the English side, between 7,000 and 15,000 men died on the French side, including John Fearless' two brothers, Anthony, Duke of Brabant and Philip, Count of Nevers, while the Duke of Orleans, Charles, fell prisoner. The extraordinary victory achieved by the English over a much larger army was due not only to the meteorological impediments mentioned earlier, but also to the different organization of the two armies. In fact, if the French army was composed mainly of the fearsome heavy cavalry, an expression of the feudal aristocracy, the English army could count on greater mobility thanks to the infantry and archers, prepared after long and hard training. The latter were crucial to victory: the darts shot from their bows at great distances could not be avoided by the French cavalry, which was therefore decimated.

After returning to London in November, Henry, bolstered by popular support for the victory he had won, prepared for the resumption of hostilities, and through successful diplomatic activity first broke the alliance between the French and Emperor Sigismund through the stipulation of the Treaty of Canterbury, dated August 15, 1416. With this diplomatic act, Henry supported the diplomatic action carried out by Sigismund at the Council of Constance to end the Western Schism; for his part, Sigismund agreed to recognize the legitimacy of the war undertaken by Henry himself. On October 8, the Lancastrian ruler strengthened his alliance with John Fearless by meeting him in Calais, where it appears that John was willing to recognize Henry V as king of France. France, meanwhile, was sinking deeper and deeper into complete anarchy: the naval defeat suffered at the mouth of the Seine on August 15, 1416, the failure of diplomatic negotiations to avoid coalition with Sigismund, and the death in April 1417 of the dauphin of France, John, all contributed to the demoralization of the French court. With a mad king, the perennial threat of the Duke of Burgundy and the French army annihilated, Henry could claim the crown of France, given the young age of the new dauphin, 14-year-old Charles.

In the summer of 1417 hostilities resumed. Henry V, having obtained funding from Parliament, landed at Trouville with 12,000 men on August 1 and, after conquering Normandy in less than a year, appeared before Rouen on July 29, 1418, besieging it.

At the same time John had advanced on Paris, where he was welcomed as a liberator on July 14, two months after the citizens of the capital killed Bernard VII d'Armagnac. The Duke posed as the king's protector and unofficially took command of operations against the English, but did nothing to prevent the surrender of Rouen on January 20, 1419. Now Normandy was all English, with the exception of Mont-Saint-Michel, and Henry, throughout the two-year period 1419-1420, was able to move freely in northern France, conquering Pontoise (a town on the outskirts of Paris) on July 30.

During 1419, Duke John Fearless had approached Dauphin Charles again to counter the English presence in France. During the negotiations, however, John was assassinated at Montereau (Sept. 10), and the new duke, his son Philip III, accused Charles (who was also his brother-in-law), of plotting his father's murder, coming to the conclusion that an alliance with the English was preferable for the Burgundians to an alliance with the Armagnacs. Meanwhile, Charles VI's wife, the scheming Isabella of Bavaria, beseeched Henry to avenge the murder of Duke John, punish the alleged murderer, and reach Paris. By this time the war was over: the Treaty of Troyes (May 21, 1420) recognized Henry, who had been adopted by the French royal family, as regent of France and heir to Charles VI in place of the rightful heir, Dauphin Charles. The agreements also provided for marriage between Henry and Catherine of Valois, daughter of the French ruler, a marriage that was celebrated on June 2, 1420.

France thus found itself split in two, the one controlled by the Burgundians and the English, and the one under the control of the Dauphin and the Armagnacs. Although the Armagnacs did not intend to recognize the Troyes clauses and the new line of succession, by the dawn of 1421 Henry had become not only the virtual master of the French kingdom but also the arbiter of European politics, thanks to agreements with Sigismund. In 1421, the defeat (and death) of his brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence, at the Battle of Baugé induced Henry V to descend again to the continent, from where he learned of the birth of his son and heir Henry on December 21. The king, however, would never have the opportunity to see his son again, as he died of typhoid fever on August 31, 1422 near Vincennes.

His body, after being embalmed, was transported to Rouen, whence it was finally transferred to England and buried, after a solemn funeral on November 7, in Westminster Abbey in London. In 1422, in addition to Henry V, Charles VI also died, so the new king of France, as well as king of England, was his young son Henry, entrusted to the guardianship of a regency council consisting of Henry Beaufort, John, duke of Bedford, and Umfredo, duke of Gloucester.

Historiographical considerations

The figure of Henry V has been the subject of a policy of mythmaking by the English historiographical and literary tradition, making the Lancastrian ruler one of the most shining symbols of patriotism and the prototype of the medieval hero because of his chivalrous mentality. Undoubtedly, Henry's successes were extraordinary: the meteoric stabilization of the realm, the tactical genius and the political skill he demonstrated vis-à-vis France, the Empire and on the occasion of the recomposition of the Church were the fruit of his innate qualities. The political-military power that England achieved under his scepter, consequently, fostered the emergence of a largely favorable historiography of Henry V, which can already be seen under his reign from the chronicles coeval to him.

Historian Tyler James Endell (1789-1851), in his important work reconstructing the figure of Henry V (the essay Henry of Monmouth, published in 1838), examined the written accounts of the Lancaster king's contemporaries and sketched an extremely positive and virtuous profile of him:

Endell, to sketch such a virtuous picture of Henry V, read the accounts of the Ypodigma Neustriae by the monk Thomas Walsingham (dated around 1419 and dedicated to the sovereign), and those of the writings of the poets John Lydgate and Thomas Occleve, extolling his military exploits in France. Consulting such unabashedly biased sources prevents a clear historiographical assessment among contemporaries, which may be belied, however, by the confidence with which Henry V implemented his ambitious foreign policy. In fact, the sovereign's full attunement with the expectations of the English people are a tacit indication of the popularity the ruler enjoyed in broad strata of the kingdom. Another important contemporary historical record, which would later be used by Shakespeare for his Henry V, are the Henrici Quinti Angliae Regis Gesta. The same French chroniclers contemporary with Henry V's French campaign, such as Waurin, Jean Chartier and Chastellain, acknowledged that "although he had been their enemy, he was indeed a great character."

Under the Tudor dynasty (especially by Henry VIII, who dreamed of emulating his predecessor's war exploits) the memory of Henry V was the subject of genuine patriotic propaganda. Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, first published in 1577 in the reign of Elizabeth I, profoundly influenced the historical theater of William Shakespeare, who crystallized the figure of Henry V into the virtuous, affable, and pious ruler that the historiographical tradition of the modern age has not challenged.

Henry V in literature and film

As mentioned earlier, on the character of Henry V William Shakespeare centered his historical drama of the same name, where the ruler appears as the purest hero of the national epic. Already in Henry IV, Shakespeare had introduced the figure of the then prince of Wales (called in the play by the nickname Hal), delineating him as a young man in the midst of psychological evolution, at first extremely impulsive and given to revelry, only to mature toward the end of the play. Having become a ruler, Henry embodied in himself all those virtuous traits that distinguished the chivalric ethos: a strong sense of justice, great religiosity, steadfastness and confidence in his actions. A manifest example of this strong personality is evidenced by Henry's speech to the troops on the evening before the start of the Battle of Agincourt, a masterpiece of patriotic and national rhetoric. The theatrical re-enactment that Shakespeare produced, however, was modeled on precise political-ideological needs peculiar to Elizabethan England: the figure of Henry V, in fact, rose to that of the symbol par excellence of the national unity of the English people united under the monarch's command.

Three films and a television series have been made from the Shakespearean play:

In addition, in a scene in the film Anonymous (2011) he is seen acting out part of the play.

On June 2, 1420, in Troyes, France, Henry married Catherine of Valois, daughter of French King Charles VI and Isabella of Bavaria. Catherine bore Henry an only son, Henry VI of Windsor, king of England.


  1. Henry V of England
  2. Enrico V d'Inghilterra
  3. ^ La data di nascita non è sicura. Si ritiene che Enrico sia nato in una data imprecisata sul finire dell'estate o del 1386 o del 1387, come riportato in (EN) Henry V, su history.com. URL consultato il 17 giugno 2015.«Henry was born in August of 1386 (or 1387)»
  4. ^ (EN) C.D. Ross, Henry V, su britannica.com, Encyclopedia Britannica. URL consultato il 17 giugno 2015.«Henry V, (born Sept. 16?, 1387...»
  5. Henry V, [w:] Encyclopædia Britannica [online] [dostęp 2017-07-25]  (ang.).
  6. Derek Leebaert, Zuchwali zdobywcy. Warszawa 2010, s.141.
  7. ^ Ross, C. (28 July 1999). "Henry V, king of England". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  8. Принц Генрих по имеющимся сведениям не был ответственен за гибель Хотспура, это, судя по всему, выдумка Шекспира.

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