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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 12: King Henry IV's son and heir


King Henry IV's son and heir, King Henry V, was a soldier to his very core. Considering how his adolescent years were spent, it would be surprising if he was ever anything else. These martial instincts lead to the wars in France. Whilst highly successful in the military sense, Henry's conquests of a large part of France, and England's failure to hold them after his death, were one of the main factors which lead to the Wars of the Roses. As such, it is necessary to examine his life and reign, and the conquests themselves, in some detail.

Henry was born in the gatehouse of Monmouth Castle probably (the date is not certain) on 16th September 1387 as the first fruit of the union between Henry of Bolingbroke and Mary de Bohun who was only 17 at the time. Henry of Bolingbroke was hurrying from Windsor Castle to be with his young wife at this difficult time, and we are told that he first heard of the birth from the ferryman who conveyed him over the River Wye. So delighted was he that he is said to have flung his cap into the air and to have given the ferryman the right to keep for himself all the tolls and dues of the ferry for the rest of his life. Henry of Bolingbroke, attached as he was to his young wife and understandibly excited at the birth of a son and heir to the vast Lancaster estates which would one day come to him, had very little time to spare for his wife or his son. A very few weeks of happiness with the wife he adored and the infant that he treasured above all else was all that he could spare before he was called back into the maelstom of the politics of the time. September 1387 was a bare year after the momemtous events of the Wonderful Parliament which had bidden King Richard 11 to attend Parliament or be deposed, and a hardly more than two years since the Kings favourites, possibly with the complicity of the King himself, had plotted the downfall and death of the infants Grandfather, John of Gaunt, the great Duke of Lancaster himself. The reader who has read Chapter will understand the political turmoil of the time, and appreciate the threats which it posed even to the greatest in the land. If that were not enough, September 1387 preceeded only very briefly the even greater turmoil which lead to the Lords-Appellant taking up arms against their King, a rebellion which lead to the purging of the Royal Court by the Merciless Parlament in 1388., which even King Richard 11, with all the power and might of the Throne, was unable to prevent. [pages ] Henry of Bolingbroke may have been only 21 at the time, but he was destined to play a leading part. It was simply not possible for him to stand aside; if he had not played his part to the full, he would have being courting death and disaster for himself and his family.

Into this troubled world the future victor of the Battle of Agincourt was born. His father had only a few short weeks before he was called away again. It was not unusual for children of the time who were born into the families of the foremost in the land to see little of their fathers. The Great Nobles were often away on campaign, and even in times of peace when there was no fighting against the Scots or the French, they served the King in tasks which required their full time and attention, often far away from home. The Government of the Country rested with the King, but he needed the help of the Magnates, both temporal and secular, to carry out his task of government. They served him on his Council, or discharged one or other of the innumerable offices of State on his behalf. There was little time for their families. Even so, in succeeding years, Henry of Bolingbroke did manage a few periods of family life, brief and spasmodic as they may have been. Mary bore him three more sons and two daughters in quick succession. They were Thomas, the future Duke of Clarence in 1388, John, the future Duke of Bedford in 1389, Humphrey, the future Duke of Gloucester in 1390 or 1391, Blanche in 1392, and Philipa, possibly in 1393, before Mary died in 1394 to the inconsolable grief of her husband. She was only 24.

We know very little of young Henry's early years. The infant was reported to be sickly, and in need of constant attention. What these ailments were we do not know, and certainly there was no sign that they had any permanent effect on the energetic and robust adult that he grew to be. When he was a little older he was taught, as his father had been before him, the accomplishments of a young nobleman of his time, skill-at-arms, hunting, hawking, falconry, and other similar out-door persuits in which he was required to be proficient. Even though he had little time to enjoy these amusements in his adult life, young Henry had a passion for hunting of all kinds which he indulged to the very end of his days whenever his duties allowed.

Like all young noblemen, Henry was educated by a tutor. In his case the tutor was reputedly his uncle, Henry Beaufort, the future Bishop of Lincon and Winchester and the Chancellor of Oxford University. If this was so, then Henry was undoubtedly fortunate, Because Henry Beaufort was one of the foremost scholars of his time. Even though his formal education was cut short when he was only 12 years old, Henry was well and thoughroughly educated, and as an adult he displayed a comprehensive knowledge of Latin and French besides a knowledge of law. His doings as a King show a well trained and disciplined mind at work, well able to absorb and analyse information, to understand readily, and to put everything into its proper order before reaching a decision on what had to be done. Such a mind carried with it an ability to organise on a formidable scale.

When Henry of Bolinbroke was banished in 1398, his son Henry was kept at Court by King Richard 11. There was no doubt that he was a hostage for the good behaviour of his father. Yet Richard was very attached to the boy, no doubt seeing in him the son he had never had himself. He took young Henry with him to Ireland in 1399, and there he dubbed him knight. They were at Castle Trim when the news of Henry of Bolingbroke's landing at Ravenspur reached Richard. "Henry my boy, see what your Father hath done to me"said the King"through these unhappy things thou wilt perchance lose thein inheritance." This was a cryptic remark, as Richard had already dispossessed the Father and with him the son as well. Young Henry answered boldly that he knew nothing of his Father's doings, and was not answerable for them. "I know"said the King in a kindly fashion and nodded. Clearly the matter was not going to rest there, and young Henry was now in some peril.

Young Henry was left behind at Castle Trim when Richard returned to Wales, and thence to capture and to abdication. As soon as he was assured that he would be King, Henry of Bolingbroke sent for his son, and he was present at the coronation of his father at Westminster on 13th October 1399. On the night before the ceremony, he was knighted once again, this time by his father, when he and his three brothers were promoted to the newly founded Order of the Bath.

At the tender age of 12, young Henry, now Prince of Wales, was required to lay aside childish things and take a hand in the affairs of State. If he ever had any illusions that this would be anything other than a rough experience, they were soon shattered in a rude fashion. In January 1400, a bare three months after the coronation, he, his father, and his three brothers had to ride for their lives to the safety of London to escape assassination at Windsor.

[page ]. Besides being a terrifying experience, this was an object lesson that King Henry IV's gentle policy towards the nobles whose sympathies could have been expected to lie with the deposed Richard was a dangerous one. Indeed King Henry IV had very little support on which he could unhesitatingly rely, and was anxious to be conciliatory even to those who were unlikely to be reconciled to him. Of those few on whom he could place the utmost reliance were his three half brothers, the issue of his father and Katherine Swynford. The eldest was John Beaufort who, as Marquis of Dorset, had been in very risky correspondence with Henry of Bolingbroke during his exile [page ]. At this time he was Earl of Somerset. After John's death in 1410, his widow Margaret married King Henry V's brother, Thomas, Duke of Clarence. The second brother was Henry Beaufort, at this time Bishop of Lincoln [later to become Bishop of Winchester in 1405 and eventually Cardinal Beaufort in 1426], and young Henry's tutor. Then came Thomas Beaufort, who became Earl of Dorset in 1412 and Duke of Exeter in 1416. Their sister was Joan Beaufort, who at this time was married to Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. All were vigourous, intelligent and determined men and women of the resiliant Beaufort family, which played such a big part in the Wars of the Roses, mostly on the Lancastrian side. Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a stauch supporter, as was his nephew, also Thomas, Earl of Arundel, whose father Richard had been beheaded by King Richard 11 in 1397 [page ]. Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick could be counted among this number of trusted supporters, as could Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, married as he was to Joan Beaufort. In 1400 the Percys could be numbered amongst King Henry IV's closest supporters (although all were shortly to betray him), Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, his son, the famous Harry Hotspur, and Henry's brother, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester. All were formidable soldiers of great experience. For the rest, they might have supported Henry of Bolingbroke when he became King and have shouted for him in Parliament, but would they remain constant when, as Monarch, he had to use the Royal discipline in ways that might offend them? They might not have taken kindly to Royal firmness from the Throne wielded by a mere usurper. Among those where loyalty was never an absolute virtue, John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon, his nephew Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey, John Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, and Thomas, Lord Despenser, all died at the hands of the mob following the assasination attempt in 1400.[page ] There were plenty of others still living whose reliability could be regarded as being suspect. Among these were to be numbered the rather ineffectual Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who had only come over to Henry of Bolingbroke's side when he saw that it was likely to be successful, and his son Edward, Earl of Rutland, who had been one of King Richard 11's favourites. It is true that Edward was to die a hero's death on the Battlefield of Agincourt and to go down in history as a valient soldier who had died in the service of his King. By 1400 however, Edward had turned his coat so often that he was then regarded as a shifty and unreliable character. In short, King Henry IV and his four sons were surrounded by potential enemies. Really they were like wild animals, playful and friendly one moment, deadly and dangerous foes the next. 

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003