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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Henry V of England


Henry was born in the tower above the gatehouse of Monmouth Castle in the Principality of Wales on August 9, 1387.

His father was Henry of Bolingbroke, later Henry IV of England, and his mother Mary de Bohun, who died in 1394  giving birth to her last child, a daughter, Philippa of England.

Henry was the great-grandson of Edward III of England.

At the time of his birth, Richard II of England, his cousin once removed, was king. Upon the exile of Henry's father in 1398, King Richard took the boy into his own charge and treated him kindly. In 1399 Richard II was overthrown by the Lancastrian usurpation that brought Henry's father to the throne, and Henry was recalled from Ireland into prominence as heir apparent to the Kingdom of England.

Henry's riotous youth, immortalised by Shakespeare, was partly due to political enmity. His record of involvement in war and politics, even in his youth, disproves this tradition.

As Prince Of Wales Henry was kept busy dealing with the rebellion of Owen Glendover.


After Henry IV died on March 20, 1413, Henry V succeeded him and was crowned on April 9, 1413 at Westminster Abbey in London. The ceremony was marked by a huge snowstorm.

Henry came home from his victory at Agincourt a conquering hero and he was greeted by cheering crowds at Blackheath Common.

After another successful military campaign, the 1520 Treaty of Troyes recognized Henry as the heir and regent of France.

King Henry V from National Portrait Gallery Wikipedia Commons

Henry was the most influential ruler in Europe at the time of his death.


Intense, courteous, pious. Henry was adored by his soldiers.

A brilliant soldier (Shakespeare immortalized him as the “warlike Harry”), at the age of 15, Henry took part in the Battle of Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403. The battle was waged between an army led by the Lancastrian King, Henry IV,  which defeated a rebel army led by Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy from Northumberland.

Battle of Shrewsbury, an illustration from Pennant's 'A tour in Wales', 1781

Henry was injured at Shrewsbury when an arrowhead lodged in his cheekbone. His father's surgeon, John Bradmore, washed the wound with honey which acted as a disinfectant over a period of several days, then used a metal device like an oversized corkscrew to pull out the arrowhead using a rawplug technique. The wound was then flushed with white wine, which again acted as a disinfectant. Six weeks later the prince’s face had healed, but it left Henry with permanent scars, evidence of his experience in battle.

By 1411 most of the British territory in France had been lost. Due to his insecure hold on the English throne, Henry decided to put forth his claim to the French throne and renewed the Hundred Years War.

Henry defeated the French at the famous Battle of Agincourt, which was fought on October 25, 1415. The French lost 6000 men to about 1600 English casualties. His victory at Agincourt made Henry the foremost leader in Europe and hastened the end of the heavily armored knight.

His epic speech before the Battle of Agincourt lacked the stirring language Shakespeare would give the king. Henry “bade them all be of good cheer, for they should have a fair day” and a gracious victory over all their enemies.

Henry himself fought alongside his men on foot in the center of the fray. He personally rescued his younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, in victorious hand to hand fighting, though Henry’s crown was knocked off his head and his helmet was dented with a battle-axe.

The famous Agincourt song was written in defiance of Henry's wishes who had requested there would be no official songs gloating over the victory.

Fearful of rebellion amongst the French prisoners after Agincourt, Henry slaughtered the prisoners. Fewer than 50 were spared and almost an entire generation of French aristocracy were wiped out.

Henry was the only English king in history to enter Paris in triumph.

After two years of patient preparation following the Battle of Agincourt, Henry renewed the war on a larger scale in 1417, Lower Normandy was quickly conquered, and Rouen was cut off from Paris and besieged. The six month siege cast a dark shadow on the reputation of the king as he refused to allow 12,000 non combatants through his line and watched them all  perish in front of him.

By 1419, the English were outside the walls of Paris and the French were forced into signing the Treaty of Troyes on May 21, 1420. The treaty agreed that during the insane King Charles VI of France's lifetime Henry would act as regent and would succeed to the throne through marrying Charles' daughter.

Ratification of the Treaty de Troyes, 21 May 1420


Henry was very tall (6ft 3 in), with had a long straight nose and full lips set on an oval ruddy face. He was clean shaven with dark hair cropped in a ring above the ears.

Henry married the defeated French King, Charles VI's daughter, the beautiful 18 year old, elegant Catherine Valois (1401-37). They tied the knot on June 2, 1420 at Troyes Cathedral, 100 miles east of Paris as part of the post Agincourt agreement,

Late 15th century depiction of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Valois

They had only one son named Henry on December 6, 1421 at Windsor Castle. Catherine bore him whilst Henry was away in France and he died without ever seeing his son.

After Henry's death, Catherine married a courtier, Owen Tudor and gave birth to the house of Tudor.

According to Shakespeare, Henry was friends with a fat knight called Fallstaff. The story of Falstaff originated partly in Henry V's relationship with Sir John Oldcastle, a controversial 14th-15th century rebel and Lollard who was hanged and burned for heresy and treason in 1417. He was seen by some of Shakespeare's contemporaries as a proto-Protestant martyr.


Deeply religious as a child when he attended Mass every day, Henry believed God had a destiny for him. He prepared for war in France in 1415 by going on a pilgrimage to a shrine. On the morning of St Crispens day he rose at dawn and took Mass three times. He then fought at Agincourt. Victory at Agincourt he felt was his divine seal of approval.

Henry's early friendship with Sir John Oldcastle, the leader of the reformist Christian movement The Lollards, encouraged their hopes. However on becoming king he was apparently changed his attitude towards them and Henry robustly suppressed the Lollards as well as executing Sir John Oldcastle.


Henry was prematurely aged due to living the hard life of a soldier. He caught dysentery at the Siege of Meaux in May 1422. His health steadily deteriorated in the following months.

He died on the morning of August 31, 1422 at the Chateau of Bois de Vincennes in France of dysentery leaving as heir his nine month old son Henry.

Had Henry lived another two months, he would have been crowned King of France.

Henry's tomb at Westminster Abbey was stripped of its splendid adornment during the Reformation. The shield, helmet and saddle, which formed part of the original funeral equipment, still hang above it. The head has now been replaced.

The Battle of Agincourt by Michael Drayton from his 1607 collection Poemes Lyrick & Pastorall,. opens with the famous line, “fayre stood the winde for France”

Shakespeare's Henry V was filmed in 1944 with Laurence Olivier as Henry (it earned Olivier a special Oscar). A masterly film made at the height of the German blitz of England, at the time of its release it was England’s most expensive picture.

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