Henry V

Henry V left England with a challenging legacy. With his military victories in France beginning with Harfleur and Agincourt (1415) he was able to gain control of Normandy and negotiate the Treaty of Troyes (1420). This bequeathed the throne of France to him and his male heirs on the death of Charles VI of France. Three major consequences followed:

(i) the disinheritance of Charles’ own son, the Dauphin, created an alternative French King when he was crowned in 1429.

(ii) Henry V’s only son, Henry VI of England, was crowned King of France in 1431 but over the next twenty years English influence in France gradually declined, fuelling rebellion in England;

(iii) Henry V’s young widow, Catherine Valois, daughter of Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria, began a new family with Owen Tudor; their grandson became Henry VII of England after the Battle of Bosworth.

When Henry IV died in 1413, the succession of Henry V was initially uncontested, which is one test of the success of the usurpation of the throne by his father in 1399. However, a plot to kill Henry V and replace him with Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, descended from the second son of Edward III, Lionel duke of Clarence, was revealed just before Henry departed for Harfleur and the perpetrators were executed for treason against the King. One of these was Richard Plantagenet, earl of Cambridge, descendant of Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, 1st  Duke of York. Cambridge had married a descendant of the duke of Clarence, Edmund Mortimer’s sister, Anne. The usual legacy of treason was that the traitor was ‘attainted’ which meant that their descendants  lost their right to inherit titles and lands. This did not happen with Cambridge and the earl’s son in due course became the 3rd duke of York and one of the main protagonists at the start of the Wars of the Roses. His son, the 4th duke of York, became King Edward IV. So Henry V’s decision not to apply the full punishment for treason enabled a rival claimant to his son to emerge over the following forty years.

Shakespeare’s play Henry V portrays a great English hero. One historian, Christine Carpenter, evaluates Henry V’s reign as ‘the high point of kingship in medieval England’. Another historian, Ian Mortimer, describes Henry as breath-takingly arrogant, ‘a deeply-flawed individual . . . lacking the simpler qualities of compassion, warmth..’.  The record of his actions after his victories at Harfleur and Agincourt and during the siege of Rouen show horrific cruelty and disregard for human life.



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