On the 9th of April, 1413, the second and probably the most important monarch in the Lancaster Dynasty was crowned on Passion Sunday on Westminster Abbey.
“The weather was said to presage a reign of cold severity. There can be no doubt that Henry V was driven by a sense of divine right as well as of duty.. All was changed. He abandoned his youthful pursuits and almost overnight, according to the chroniclers, became a grave and serious king. He acquired a reputation for piety and for the solemn observance of ceremonies; until his marriage, seven years later, he remained chaste.” (Ackroyd)
Unlike his father whose reign had triggered a crisis of legitimacy and been plagued with financial problems and Baronial rebellions, his son’s ascension was widely welcomed because he was, Dan Jones notes “king by right rather than conquest” and in the coming years, he had united all of England under a common cause.
“His reign was notable for success in almost every area of government and warfare. Early on he made significant gestures of reconciliation, offering forgiveness to rebels of his father’s reign, and exhuming Richard II from his burial place in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, and transferring his remains to the tomb Richard had commissioned, alongside his first wife, Anne of Bohemia in Westminster Abbey. The central mission of his reign was to harness his close relations with his leading nobles to lead a war against France. In this he had been wildly successful. In less than two years of fighting Henry had pushed English power father into the Continent than at any time since the rule of Richard the Lionheart more than two centuries before.” (Jones)
Best remembered for his military conquest, he was also a pious and an intellectual person. He was interested in good government and was very involved in the administration since his father’s government. In fact, far from being the rowdy and rebellious youth in Shakespeare’s play, he was an intelligent man who often challenged his father in government and showed he had a better understanding of court politics and enjoyed more popularity (both with the commons and magnates) than his father. He was rebellious however in terms of the way government should be run and was often outspoken about it, as soon as he became King however, a change was noted with Walsingham stating that “he changed suddenly into another man, zealous for honesty, modesty and gravity, there being no sort of virtue that he was not anxious to display”.
In spite of his great administration, his reign was stained with blood long before the start of the war with France. In the autumn of that same year that he was crowned, he began a mass (and ruthless) persecution unlike any ever seen of Lollards. Among the many people imprisoned and burned at the stake was his longtime friend and chaplain, Oldcastle who had rebelled against him after he escaped imprisonment. After a failed attempt to assassinate the King in 1414, he and the other Lollard rebels were captured and burned as heretics. The following year he began his French campaign, one of the greatest ever seen in English history. In an unlikely turn of events, he defeated the French forces in a town called Azincourt, known today as Agincourt.
Henry’s victories however can’t be simply attributed to his military genius. They were many factors involved, one of them was the long time divisions in the kingdom of France which had been brought about by the incompetence of their psychotic King, Charles VI who was also known as the “mad King”. The country was divided in two political factions, the Armagnacs and the Burgundians. Initially Henry V acted as the neutral party and a mediator, claiming he wanted to bring peace to that kingdom. It soon became aware however, that the King’s true intentions were to take control of France. Instead of uniting against a common foe, French politics were so bad that the Burgundians sided with Henry V against the Armagnacs. The end result was Henry V winning the French throne, deposing the Armagnacs with the help of the Burgundians and negotiating a treaty with the mad King’s maligned consort, Isabel of Bavaria in which it was agreed that Henry would become King of France on Charles VI’s death and his union with his daughter, Princess Katherine Valois would help cement his claim for himself and his future offspring.
He and Katherine Valois were married on the parish church of St. Jean au Marche in June 1420. The following year in December 6, 1421 she gave birth to their only son, Henry VI. Henry V’s hunger for order in his conquered territories had a downside effect which led to his death in the last day of August in 1422. His son became king when he was not even a year old with his uncle Gloucester being named his protector under the will of his father. The glory and fear that Henry V had brought to their great House would be gone under his son’s reign.
- Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
- Foundation: The History of England from its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
- Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
- Cecily Neville Mother of Kings by Amy Licence