Henry V (king of England)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Henry V (king of England)

Henry V, 1387–1422, king of England (1413–22), son and successor of Henry IV.

Early Life

Henry was probably brought up under the care of his uncle, Henry Beaufort. He was knighted by Richard II in 1399 and created prince of Wales when his father usurped the throne in the same year. With his father, with Sir Henry Percy, and later by himself, he led armies against Owen Glendower in Wales and there gained valuable military and administrative experience. Although wounded, he figured largely in the royal victory over the Percys at Shrewsbury (1403).

Henry began (c.1409) to work actively in the privy council, which he and his friends dominated in 1410–11. In favoring the Burgundians rather than the Armagnacs in France (see Armagnacs and Burgundians), he disagreed with the king, and a suggestion by his followers that he should succeed immediately to his father's throne led to his dismissal from the council (1411). He became king, however, upon his father's death in 1413.

Reign

Upon his accession to the throne, Henry dismissed the incumbent ministers and made Henry Beaufort lord chancellor. A rebellion by the Lollards, led by Sir John Oldcastle, resulted in a strong parliamentary statute (1414) against the sect, but trouble continued intermittently until the execution of Oldcastle in 1417. Determined to regain the lands in France held by his ancestors, Henry arranged a secret pact with Burgundy and prepared to attack France, thus reopening the Hundred Years War. Launching his first invasion in 1415, he laid successful siege to Harfleur and marched toward Calais, having announced his claim to the throne of France. He met and defeated a superior French force in one of the most famous battles of English history at Agincourt (1415).

The enthusiastic acclaim that Henry received for this victory for the time overshadowed English political and economic unrest. Henry formed (1416) an alliance with Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund and extended his agreement with the Burgundians. In 1417 he led another expedition to France. In 1419, Rouen capitulated, and Normandy was in English hands. In 1420, Henry concluded the Treaty of Troyes, by which he agreed to marry Catherine of Valois and to rule France in the name of her father, Charles VI, who accepted Henry as his successor.

The English king continued his conquests to consolidate his holdings and late in 1420 entered Paris. The following year he returned with his wife to England, there made further military preparations despite considerable popular opposition to the continuation of war, and embarked on his third invasion of France. After a year of minor victories, he fell ill and died in Sept., 1422.

Character and Legacy

Henry abandoned his early recklessness (celebrated and probably exaggerated by Shakespeare) and ruled with justice and industry. He lifted England from the near anarchy of his father's reign to civil order and a high spirit of nationalism. His main interest, however, was in gaining control of lands in France—lands that he sincerely believed to be his right. He exhibited military genius, characterized by brilliant daring, patient strategy and diplomacy, and attentiveness to detail. His strong personality, his military successes, and his care for his less fortunate subjects made him a great popular hero. The wars, however, placed the crown further in debt and left the nation with economic and military problems that could not be met in the reign of his son, Henry VI.

Bibliography

See biography by H. F. Hutchison (1967); E. F. Jacob, Henry V and the Invasion of France (1947, repr. 1963); K. H. Vickers, England in the Later Middle Ages (7th ed. 1950); V. H. Green, The Later Plantagenets (1955); M. W. Labarge, Henry V: The Cautious Conquerer (1976); G. L. Harriss, ed., Henry V: The Practice of Kingship (1985).

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