Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, deposed his cousin Richard II from the English throne. Several generations later his grandson Henry VI and Richard of York would fight over the throne in the War of the Roses. His son, Henry V began the Hundred Years War again, defeating France in several Key battles, and marring Catherine, the Princess of France.
Henry IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1366–1413), king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine, was the only son of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (1340–1399), fourth son of Edward III, and his first wife, Blanche (1346?–1368) the younger daughter but sole heir of Henry, first duke of Lancaster. He was born in Gaunt's castle at Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire, almost certainly in 1366 and perhaps on 7 April.
Young Henry, 1366–1386
Blanche died of plague on 12 September 1368, but by then Henry and his sisters Philippa and Elizabeth had been in the care of their great-aunt Blanche, Lady Wake, for at least a year. They remained with her until 1372 and then joined the household of Gaunt's second wife, Constanza of Castile, and later that of Katherine Swynford, Gaunt's mistress who became his third duchess in 1396. In December 1374, when Henry was eight, Thomas Burton, a mature esquire of Gaunt, was appointed his ‘governor’ and in 1376 Sir William Montendre, a Gascon, became his military ‘master’. It was probably Hugh Herle, his long-serving chaplain, who taught Henry to read and write in English and French and gave him at least a working knowledge of Latin.
In the months immediately before Edward III's death on 21 June 1377 Gaunt brought together Henry and the heir to the throne, his slightly younger cousin Richard, and on St George's day (23 April) both were knighted and admitted to the Order of the Garter. Henry carried the sword Curtana for his father during part of Richard's coronation ceremony on 16 July. Henry now began to use the courtesy title of earl of Derby, which his maternal grandfather had borne. His first surviving receiver's account, for September 1381–2, shows him riding, hunting, and travelling with Gaunt, jousting and beginning to be an onlooker at state events. He only just escaped death during the peasants' revolt in June 1381. A prime target of the rebels, Gaunt took refuge in Scotland but Henry, perhaps a fugitive from his father's castle at Hertford, was besieged with King Richard and others in the Tower of London. On 14 June, Richard tried to draw off the rebels by going to meet them at Mile End, but some entered the Tower, and Archbishop Sudbury and several others were dragged out and murdered. All that is known of Henry is that his life was saved ‘in a wonderful and kind manner’ by one John Ferrour of Southwark (TNA: PRO, E 37/28). The experience was clearly a terrible one, for this was recorded in a pardon given to Ferrour by Henry for taking part in the January rebellion of 1400, nearly twenty years later.
In July 1380 Gaunt paid King Richard 5000 marks for the marriage of Mary Bohun (c.1369–1394), the younger daughter and coheir of Humphrey de Bohun, eleventh earl of Hereford, who had died in 1373. Henry and Mary were married at her home, Rochford Hall in Essex, probably on 5 February 1381. Mary's elder sister, Eleanor, was already married to Henry's uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, who according to Froissart tried to persuade Mary to become a Poor Clare in order to secure the whole Bohun inheritance in his own wife's right. The story may be invention, but there is no doubt that Thomas and Henry disputed the division of the Bohun estates. Henry and Mary probably consummated their marriage in late 1384 when she was fourteen. Their first child, Henry, the future king Henry V, was most likely born in September 1386, and they had five more children, Thomas, John, Humphrey, Blanche, and Philippa. Mary died giving birth to Philippa in 1394, perhaps on 4 July, the date her anniversary was celebrated in 1406, and she was buried in Our Lady's chapel in St Mary of the Newarke, Leicester, a Lancastrian collegiate foundation.
Henry was always close to his mighty father and sole heir to his great duchy of Lancaster. In 1382 he took part in the jousting that formed part of the celebrations of Richard II's marriage to Anne of Bohemia, and he subsequently became one of the most assiduous and accomplished English jousters of his generation. But he took strikingly little part in public affairs when Gaunt was in England. He accompanied Gaunt to treat with French envoys at Calais in November 1383; he may have served in Gaunt's raid into Scotland in 1384, and he was certainly a member of his father's contingent in Richard's campaign there in 1385. He was summoned to parliament for the first time in October 1385, but his prime ambition was to win honour in the lists and in battle.
Henry and King Richard, 1386–1398
Henry was at Plymouth in July 1386 to see his father sail in an attempt to give effect to his claim to the throne of Castile. Gaunt did not return until November 1389 and it was during his absence that Henry incurred King Richard's lasting hatred. Henry was present in the parliament of October 1386 when Richard was forced to dismiss some of his officials and accept a commission with authority for a year to investigate and reform government. The commission was due to expire on 19 November 1387, and as Richard prepared to resume power and take revenge, the duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick assembled men to resist a force raised in Richard's name in Cheshire by Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland, and accused (‘appealed’) a number of Richard's friends of treason. In the first days of December two young lords, Henry and Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham and earl marshal, joined the three older lords in their appeal. Why Henry did so is unclear. He may have been angered by the way de Vere, as justice of Chester, had exploited his authority in the north-west at the duchy of Lancaster's expense. He may also have resented the coolness, sometimes even hostility, with which the king and his entourage had often treated Gaunt earlier in the decade.
Henry's decision to join Gloucester was a fateful one, ensuring that Richard's distrust of Gaunt was henceforth also directed at himself. As de Vere came through the Cotswolds he was confronted by Gloucester near Moreton in Marsh. His army broke up and he led a remnant by Burford to cross the Thames at Radcot Bridge and join the king at Windsor. Henry was defending the bridge and had broken the heads of its arches. On 20 December there was a brief engagement in which the constable of Chester was killed and de Vere's men scattered. Henry was the hero of the campaign, though his household accounts describe it as only a foray, an equitatio. The victors marched to London, Henry and Warwick in the van, and confronted Richard in the Tower. The king may have been deposed for a few days on the initiative of Gloucester, who hoped to succeed him, but Henry is said to have resisted this drastic step in the interests of his absent father and showed Richard some goodwill.
When parliament met on 3 February 1388 the five appellants, dressed in cloth of gold, entered arm in arm to pursue charges against Richard's friends. There were several executions and all five shared a grant of £20,000 for their actions, but Henry and Nottingham tried to save the life of Sir Simon Burley, Richard's tutor and confidant, and it was effectively Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick who governed until Richard resumed royal authority in May 1389. Richard, however, intended to take revenge on all five appellants.
Gaunt's return to England in November 1389 brought stability to Richard's government and allowed Henry to eschew politics. In March–April 1390, with other English knights, Henry took part in a great international feat of arms at St Inglevert near Calais and was held to have gained great credit. He planned to go on to crusade in Tunisia, leading a force of some 120 men, but this proved impossible because the French (possibly at Richard II's request) refused him a safe conduct. Instead he resolved to join the Teutonic knights in a reyse, a crusading campaign into pagan Lithuania. Two ships were hired and he sailed from Boston in July 1390 with thirty-two knights and esquires and a large household. They reached Danzig by 10 August 1390 and joined the knights and others advancing up the River Niemen. They were at Vilnius by 4 September; a fort was captured but a five-week siege of the principal castle was fruitless and the crusaders returned to Königsberg, the headquarters of the knights, by 22 October. It was too late in the year to return by sea and Henry chose to enjoy the knights' lavish hospitality through the winter. He and his party sailed from Danzig on 31 March and reached Hull by 30 April 1391. The expedition had cost almost £4000, most of it provided by Gaunt. All Henry received from his German hosts was thanks, but he had clearly enjoyed the experience, and as late as 1407 spoke warmly of the Teutonic knights.
On 24 July 1392 Henry sailed for Prussia again and reached Danzig by 10 August. But at Königsberg he found that there would be no reyse that year and quickly decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On 22 September, with a travelling household of about fifty, Henry set out from Danzig across eastern Europe. He took care to proclaim his rank as he went, sending heralds ahead to announce his coming and to put up escutcheons of his arms above his various lodgings. They rode by Frankfurt an der Oder to Prague where Henry was entertained by King Wenzel of Bohemia, brother of King Richard's queen, Anne; to Vienna to be fêted by Duke Albrecht of Austria and meet King Sigismund of Hungary, the future emperor; then by Leoban, Villach, and Treviso to Venice on 1 or 2 December. Forewarned, the Venetian senate had granted Henry a galley hull for the voyage, and on 23 December 1392 he set sail with a reduced household.
They celebrated Christmas at Zara and sailed by Corfu, Rhodes, and Cyprus and reached Jaffa in late January 1393. Henry spent more than a week in Palestine visiting the holy places and making offerings. He then returned to Cyprus, made a longer halt in Rhodes, and reached Venice by 21 March where 2000 marks transferred by Gaunt were awaiting him. On 28 April he set out again with the goods and animals he had acquired, going by Padua and Verona to Milan, where its ruler Giangaleazzo Visconti entertained him for several days, then by the Col du Mont Cenis and western Burgundy to Paris, and then Calais, finally reaching Dover by 30 June and London by 5 July. His second viagium had cost at least £4849.
Now a man with an international reputation, Henry undoubtedly expected to travel and fight abroad again, but in the event he was out of England only once more before his exile in 1398, and then only for a few days in October 1396, with Gaunt and others escorting King Richard's French bride, Isabella, from Ardres to Calais. He came to court, witnessing fourteen of the forty-two royal charters granted between 1393 and 1398 and attending parliaments and great councils. He lived well but his life was first saddened and then once more threatened. In 1394 his wife, Mary, died in childbirth and Henry was in mourning for a year. By now Richard had another circle of favoured lords and Gaunt's influence was waning. He and Henry became anxious about the inheritance of the great Lancaster estate and their concern was greatly increased in July 1397 when the senior appellants of 1387, Gloucester, Warwick, and Arundel, were arrested and appealed of treason. Proclamations announced that this was done with the approval of both Gaunt and Henry. Gaunt presided over the trials in parliament and Henry is said to have spoken out against Arundel. Both condemned the three accused. Arundel was executed, Gloucester was probably murdered at Calais, and Warwick was imprisoned. On 29 September, Henry was created duke of Hereford, but he remained apprehensive and sought to please Richard by coming to court more often and giving him a great feast and entertainment during the September parliament.
In mid-December 1397, as Henry was riding to London from Windsor, he was overtaken by Thomas Mowbray, now duke of Norfolk. Their conversation is known only from the written account given by Henry to Richard in January 1398, stating that Norfolk had said that ‘We are on the point of being undone’, in revenge for ‘what was done at Radcot Bridge’ in 1387, and that there had been a plan to seize or kill Gaunt and Henry at Windsor in September 1397 and disinherit Henry, Norfolk, and others (Given-Wilson, Chronicles, 86–7). Although by his own account Henry said little, he was clearly frightened. He made a rapid pilgrimage north to the shrines of Beverley and Bridlington before reporting the conversation to his father, who then told Richard. On 31 January 1398 Henry begged for pardon and Richard granted it in full. In fact he and Norfolk had already obtained pardons for their role in the events of 1387–8, on the ground that they had moderated the actions of the other appellants. But in February 1398 Henry and his father found it necessary to secure a promise from Richard that he would not exploit the judgment given on Thomas of Lancaster in 1322 in order to claim any of the Lancastrian lands. There is also evidence from this time of a plot against Gaunt and his family among the king's entourage. Meanwhile Norfolk was deprived of the offices of marshal of England and captain of Calais. He behaved wildly and was imprisoned. The council considered the accusation several times, and on 29 April decided that it must be determined by battle. In early August, Henry was told that the combat would be at Coventry on 16 September.
Henry trained and made expensive preparations, employing armourers from Milan. But as the two dukes advanced to fight Richard took the quarrel into his own hands and sent both combatants into exile—Henry for ten years, Norfolk for life, to leave England by 20 October. Richard appeared to show Henry goodwill, gave him 1000 marks towards his costs and, most important, letters permitting him to obtain livery of any succession or inheritance that came to him during his exile. Gaunt died on 3 February 1399 and on 18 March, two days after his funeral in St Paul's, the letters were revoked on the ground that they had been granted by ‘inadvertance’ (RotP, 3.372).
Return and usurpation, 1399
Henry left London about 13 October 1398 and went to Paris, where he was welcomed by King Charles and the royal dukes and given the Hôtel de Clisson as his residence. Even after the forfeiture of his inheritance he continued to receive money from the duchy of Lancaster's receiver-general, forwarded to him by Italian merchants. He attended university debates and showed that he was looking to the future by contemplating matrimony, first to Lucia Visconti, Giangaleazzo's daughter, and then to Marie, comtesse d'Eu, a niece of the French king—the prospect of the latter match so alarmed Richard II that he sent the earl of Salisbury to Paris to scotch it. Henry also contemplated going on crusade, but his father suggested that he should visit the courts of Castile and Portugal, where his sisters Katherine and Philippa reigned. In the event Gaunt's death, and Henry's own disinheritance, prevented his travelling south.
At the time of Henry's exile the effective government of France was in the hands of the duke of Burgundy, who favoured peace with England. There can be little doubt that the duke was expected to keep an eye on Henry, and to prevent him acting in any way contrary to the interests of Richard II, now married to a French princess. In May 1399, however, an outbreak of plague kept Burgundy out of the French capital, and enabled his rival, the king's brother Louis, duc d'Orléans, to take over the government. Anglo-French relations had recently become tense, and Orléans was himself the leader of the French war party. On 17 June he made a formal alliance with Henry, in which each man undertook to be ‘the friend of the other's friends and well-wishers, and the enemy of the other's enemies’ (Given-Wilson, Chronicles, 114). Orléans seems to have been entirely cynical. In effectively giving Henry carte blanche to return to England it is unlikely that he expected him to enjoy much success against an apparently secure ruler. He may only have hoped to stir up trouble for Richard, and so perhaps weaken the latter's grip on Aquitaine, where Orléans himself had ambitions. The replacement of the pacific Richard by the militarily experienced Henry was probably the last thing Orléans wanted.
For Henry, however, the treaty was vital in giving him the chance of a revanche, one that might never recur. On 1 June 1399 Richard landed in Ireland, and in the last week of that month Henry secretly left Paris and sailed from Boulogne with Thomas Arundel, the exiled archbishop of Canterbury, and a small number of his own retainers and servants. He was relying on the support he would find in England and on the absence of the king, who was accompanied to Ireland by nearly all his most loyal lords and retainers. Whether Henry set off with the intention of deposing his cousin or only of recovering his inheritance can never be known for certain, but the likelihood is that by now Henry knew Richard well enough, and particularly his suspicious and vindictive qualities, to understand that, once back in England, he could never be secure unless he replaced Richard entirely or assumed an effectively viceregal authority over him. The stress he placed at this time on his position as steward of England, which forms part of his style in the treaty with Orléans, may indicate that he kept the latter possibility in mind. But to be only duke of Lancaster, and perhaps heir presumptive to a king decidedly brittle on the subject of the succession, was hardly likely to be protection enough against future vengeance.
It appeared at first as if Henry might land in Sussex, but he sailed up the east coast and landed at Ravenspur on the northern tip of the Humber estuary in early July—the 4th is given in several sources. He then went by his own castles at Pickering, Knaresborough, and Pontefract, through areas with many Lancaster lands and retainers, to Doncaster where Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, his son Henry (Hotspur), Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, Lord Willoughby, and other northern lords joined him with their men. Chroniclers exaggerate the numbers but Henry clearly had a substantial force, led by men who had been forewarned. He is reliably reported to have declared in public that he had come only to recover his inheritance, but Northumberland and other leading supporters must have realized that he was likely to claim the throne. They too knew the revenge Richard took on those who opposed him.
Late in June, Edmund, duke of York, uncle of both Richard and Henry, and keeper of the kingdom while Richard was in Ireland, received reports of men gathering across the channel and assembled over 3000 men at Ware in Hertfordshire, but it was only on 11–12 July that he learned that Henry had landed in Yorkshire. York slowly withdrew west, his forces dwindling, to join Richard on his return from Ireland. Henry was able to advance unopposed by way of a series of mostly Lancastrian strongholds—Derby, Leicester, Coventry, Warwick (where he had the royal arms over the castle gate knocked down), Evesham, and Gloucester—and on the 27th he met York at Berkeley Castle. The duke was sent to join the queen at Wallingford and Henry went on to Bristol on the 28th. The castle and Richard's remaining forces surrendered and three of his leading councillors, the earl of Wiltshire, Sir John Bussy, and Henry Green, were captured, summarily tried, and executed. Henry made no attempt to dissociate himself from the deaths of Richard's friends, underlining the likelihood that he had resolved to take the crown. His grant of the wardenship of the west march to the earl of Northumberland on 2 August, made under the duchy of Lancaster seal, points to the same conclusion. He had met no significant resistance since his return to England.
Delayed by indecision and lack of ships Richard returned to Milford Haven on 24–25 July with several thousand men, intending to join York. About six days later he learned that resistance to Henry was collapsing and rode at once with only a small group of friends to Conwy Castle in north Wales, arriving there on 12 August. No doubt he hoped to rally support in the duchy of Chester, his personal stronghold, but Henry had read his intentions and was too quick for him, leading his growing army back north by Hereford and Shrewsbury to Chester, which he reached on the 9th. He also took possession of Richard's treasure stored at Holt. With no options but flight or surrender, Richard sent the duke of Exeter and the earl of Surrey to Henry but they were arrested at once. Northumberland was then sent to Conwy. Exactly what was agreed remains unknown, but it seems certain that the earl promised Richard that his life would be secure, and he may have repeated Henry's assertion that he had only come to claim his Lancastrian inheritance. His undertakings were sufficient to persuade Richard to leave the castle, and Northumberland escorted him virtually under guard to Flint Castle. On the 16th Henry came to Flint, fully armed and carrying the steward's rod, waited while Richard dined and then probably spoke politely about assisting him to govern. In no position to do anything but agree, Richard was taken to Chester and thence to Westminster; on 2 September he was lodged as a prisoner in the Tower. Henry rode to St Paul's to pray at Gaunt's tomb.
At first Henry continued to issue letters in Richard's name under the latter's great seal. It was thus that on 19 August a parliament was summoned for 30 September. But from 10 September, Henry was dating duchy of Lancaster letters by years Anno Domini rather than Richard's regnal years, a clear sign that the latter had run their course. The problem of replacing Richard with Henry as king was a practical rather than a constitutional issue. Henry did not want to advertise the fact that he had taken the throne by an act of force majeure, accompanied by a good deal of perjury and prevarication; rather he was anxious to stress that he represented continuity with earlier monarchs and with the traditions of good government that they represented. Removing Richard from the throne was relatively straightforward—before parliament could meet, to be faced with the awkward task of deposing the king who had summoned it, he was terrorized into resigning his crown. None of those who assembled on 30 September can have been deceived by the formal record that on the previous day Richard had ‘with a cheerful expression’ stepped down in his cousin's favour (Given-Wilson, Chronicles, 170), but nobody at this stage was prepared to stand up for the deposed ruler.
The problem of finding adequate grounds to replace Richard by Henry was resolved through the adoption of a multifaceted formula, stressing simultaneously Henry's Plantagenet descent, the divine grace and powerful friends underpinning his claim, and the misgovernment from which his accession would rescue England. On the day that Richard's resignation was announced, and after a mass of the Holy Spirit in Westminster Abbey, Henry crossed to Westminster Hall and took the seat Gaunt had occupied. The archbishop of York explained to parliament the reasons for Richard's resignation, and Lords and Commons accepted it. Henry then rose and said:
In the name of Fadir, Son, and Holy Gost, I Henry of Lancastre chalenge this rewme of Yngland, and the corone with all the membres and the appurtenances, als I that am disendit be right lyne of the Blode comyng fro the gude lorde Kyng Henry therde, and thorgh that ryght that God of his grace hath sent me, with helpe of my Kyn and of my Frendes to recover it: the whiche Rewme was in poynt to be undone for defaut of Governance and undoyng of the gode Lawes. (RotP, 3.422–3)
It was a disingenuous statement but good enough in the circumstances. One by one, the lords spiritual and temporal gave their assent and Henry was led to the throne. His reign had begun.
Securing the throne, 1399–1400
On 6 October 1399 the members who had sat on 30 September met again as Henry's first parliament. Archbishop Arundel spoke of the reasons for Henry's accession and his intention to rule well. Parliament was then adjourned for the coronation. Henry was crowned on the 13th in the traditional manner, though he was also the first English king to be anointed with a sacred oil reputedly given by the Virgin Mary to Thomas Becket, and perhaps the first to be enthroned on the ‘stone of Scone’ taken by Edward I from Scotland. The traditional coronation banquet and the challenge by the king's champion then followed in Westminster Hall. When the champion defied all and sundry to gainsay Henry's title, the new king is reported to have declared that if necessary he would defend his crown himself.
Parliament met again on the following day. The decisions of the parliament of 1397–8 were revoked and those of 1386 restored. On the 15th Henry took a first step towards securing the throne for his descendants when he had his eldest son, now aged twelve or thirteen, invested in parliament as prince of Wales. On the following day trials of Richard's friends began. Henry was generally forgiving. Sir William Bagot, a retainer of both Gaunt and Henry, had become Richard's councillor and harassed them both in 1398. He now testified against his recent friends and was imprisoned for a year—then given a £100 annuity by Henry. He resumed his career and sat in parliament again in 1402. The five surviving lords appellant of 1397 lost the titles, lands, and grants given to them then by Richard, but they were not punished further and by December some were at court and council again. But the earl of Salisbury, who feared Henry's vengeance for having prevented his French marriage, was with the king's support accused of connivance in the duke of Gloucester's murder, while John Hall, a valet who admitted being present when Gloucester was killed, was barbarously executed. The Commons asked that Richard be punished for his crimes, the Lords that he be held secretly and securely. He was taken under strict guard to Leeds Castle in Kent and then to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire.
Henry may have felt strong enough to be merciful in many cases, but his position had severe weaknesses, stemming from the paradoxical nature of his kingship. As if his succession had been entirely regular, he repeatedly stressed throughout his reign that he expected to rule as his predecessors had done, with no diminution in the prerogatives he had inherited from them. But in order to gain the throne he had to promise concessions. Some were no more than pledges to uphold the conventional trappings of good governance, for example his promise to maintain the inheritance laws. But one was to have a most serious effect on his ability to rule. Just as he had apparently sworn at Doncaster only to pursue his rights as duke of Lancaster, so he seems also to have given promises of reductions in taxation, promises that quickly came to be understood—as perhaps they were meant to be understood—that no taxes would be levied at all. When the Canterbury convocation met in autumn 1399, it was told by the earl of Northumberland, acting as Henry's spokesman, that it was not the new king's intention to exact money from his realm, except when the urgent needs of war had to be met. Such undertakings inevitably raised expectations that Henry could not possibly meet, even though by adding the Lancastrian patrimony (worth an estimated £12,500 per annum) and his share of the Bohun lands to the crown estate he commanded far greater resources than any of his immediate predecessors—as his subjects doubtless appreciated.
Henry lacked detailed administrative experience, and before 1398 he had relied for money largely on subventions from his father. From the beginning of his reign he continued to treat his Lancastrian and Bohun lands as personal property, to be kept administratively separate from those of the crown, and used their revenues primarily to fund substantial and very expensive retaining fees. In the early months of his reign he also gave large numbers of grants of land and annuities, both to buy the loyalty of Richard's retainers and to reward that of his own. The result was a massive increase in the cost of the royal household, a cost which was hardly ever brought under control during his reign. The problem was compounded by the reluctance of the Commons to grant taxes. They did not renew a tenth and fifteenth granted to Richard and due to be collected on 30 September, and though they confirmed the customs duties, Henry benefited less than he must have hoped because of a considerable fall in wool exports. A shortage of specie may also have contributed to his financial difficulties—it was eventually remedied in 1412 with a reduction in the weight of the gold and silver currencies. Henry's retaining policy was not without its successes. By bringing men from the northern shires into the royal affinity he was to some extent able to rectify a regional imbalance, while his ability to rely on loyal and experienced Lancastrian followers, such men as Sir Hugh Waterton, Sir Thomas Erpingham, and Sir Thomas Rempston, both helped to make up for his own relative ignorance of government and provided him with a hard core of support which did much to preserve his throne. But he paid a very high price, literally as well as figuratively, for that support, one that effectively blighted his reign.
Henry spent Christmas 1399 at Windsor, but on 4 January 1400 he learned that there was a plot by lords loyal to Richard to kill him and his sons and restore the deposed king. Henry rode at once to the safety of London; the plotters fled and were killed by local people, who showed no nostalgia for the deposed monarch. Henry presided over trials of lesser rebels on 12 January at Oxford. Two of Richard's chamber knights and twenty others were executed but thirty-seven were pardoned.
On 9 February, Henry met thirty-three bishops and lay lords in a great council at Westminster to review the major issues now facing him. There was retrospective concern that so many nobles had been lynched, and Henry decreed that in future men should not be killed without trial; the Scots were raiding across the border; and negotiations had begun with the French king, again called nostre adversaire, for the return of Richard's queen, Isabella. But already Henry was short of money. Significantly the lords advised against summoning a parliament and offered only small sums of their own money or their services in kind. He also approached the Londoners for a loan, only to be referred to his own promise to refrain from such demands.
By mid-February 1400 King Richard was dead. There is no evidence that he was murdered and his skeleton showed no sign of violence. He could have been starved to death or even starved himself. His body was brought to London with its face exposed, a precaution which did not prevent later claims that he was still alive. Henry attended Richard's funeral service in St Paul's but not his modest burial in the Dominican friary at Kings Langley. It was Henry V who in December 1413 reburied Richard in Westminster Abbey.
Scotland and Wales
At the very beginning of his reign Henry hoped to maintain peaceful relations with the Scots, but raids into northern England, and Robert III's refusal to acknowledge his title, led on 10 November 1399 to Henry's announcing in parliament that he would make war on Scotland. His hand was strengthened early in 1400 by the disaffection of George Dunbar, earl of March, who had quarrelled with the Douglases, and at Newcastle on 6–7 August, Henry wrote formally to King Robert and his lords demanding their homage. On the 14th he crossed into Scotland, in a campaign that gave a striking demonstration of the military value of the royal household—in an unusually large army of over 15,000 men, the household contingent contributed 800 men-at-arms and 2000 archers. He met almost no resistance and did not waste the countryside. He was in Leith beside Edinburgh on the 17th, and there was an exchange of letters with King Robert's lieutenant, the duke of Rothesay, and a meeting of envoys. But Henry and his army were back in England by the 29th. A Scottish chronicler summed up the campaign fairly: ‘nothing worthy of remembrance was done’ (Bower, 8.36–7). Henry never returned to Scotland. Border raids, meetings of envoys, and short-term truces continued, however, as did intermittent war, which in 1402 went decisively against the Scots. On 14 September a strong Scottish force returning from raiding across the east march was defeated at Homildon Hill by the earl of Northumberland, and four earls and the flower of the Scots' fighting men were killed or captured.
On his way back from Scotland in 1400 Henry learned at Northampton that a Welsh esquire, Owain Glyn Dŵr, had proclaimed himself prince of Wales and raided English towns in north Wales and Shropshire. Henry immediately ordered able-bodied men from midland counties and the Welsh marches to join him at Shrewsbury. He was there by 26 September, and though the immediate danger was over, he led a rapid raid by Bangor, Caernarfon, Harlech, and back to Shrewsbury by 15 October. None the less by June 1401 there were incidents of rebellion throughout much of north and central Wales. The last major uprising in Wales against English lordship was economically and politically an event of major importance, though neither Henry himself nor his advisers seem at first to have appreciated its significance. Henry was a very considerable Welsh landowner—it has been calculated that he and his son exercised lordship over more than half the surface area of Wales, and he could normally expect his estates there to provide him with an annual income of at least £8500, often much more. As the revolt spread not only were those revenues lost, but its suppression became the cause of immense additional expenditure, not least because the rising could not be ended by pitched battles. It needed castle garrisons and attrition until 1407 to contain it. Henry himself mounted five further expeditions into Wales: in May and October 1401; in September 1402, when he led a large force from Shrewsbury as part of a plan of encirclement but was thwarted by bad weather (on 7 September his tent was blown down—fortunately he was wearing armour); in September 1403; and (briefly) in September 1405. But the brunt of the war in Wales was borne by others, at first by the Percys, later by Henry, prince of Wales, and his captains and castellans.
The Percys and in particular Henry Percy, created earl of Northumberland in 1377, had been Henry's principal supporters and advisers throughout the usurpation. They were well rewarded but, like many kingmakers, they were not easy to satisfy. The earl was appointed constable of England for life, warden of the west march and Carlisle, given hereditary possession of the Isle of Man, and he continued to be Henry's principal adviser. The earl's brother Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, became a councillor, admiral of England, a senior member of the commission negotiating with France, and in 1401 steward of Henry's household. And Northumberland's only son, Henry (Hotspur), became justice of Chester and north Wales, keeper of a number of their castles, warden of the east march, captain of Berwick and Roxburgh, and in 1401 governor of Prince Henry.
It was a dangerous concentration of authority in one family and by 1402 Henry must have become aware of this, for Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, the other great northern lord, was given custody of Roxburgh Castle in the east march and Hotspur was refused permission to ransom either Scottish prisoners taken at the battle of Homildon Hill or his own brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, captured by the Welsh in June 1402. Henry appears to have tried to divert Percy ambitions by granting the earl and his heirs on 2 March 1403 a great stretch of land north of the Scottish border, with a promise of financial support to conquer it. In May 1403 Hotspur led a force there and laid siege to Cocklaws, a small tower near Hawick, and he and his father then appealed to Henry for support and the money he owed them. On 26 June, Northumberland added in his own hand on a letter to Henry: ‘Your Mathathias who begs you to take his estate and labour to heart in this matter. H[enry]’ (Proceedings … of the Privy Council, 1386–1410, 204–5). Though Henry set out quickly from Kennington, on 12 July, when he was near Nottingham, he learned that Hotspur was calling out men in Cheshire and Wales, and claiming that Richard II was alive.
Henry was fortunate to have a retinue with him and be able to summon his retainers and levies, particularly from the duchy of Lancaster lordships in the north midlands. Urged by the earl of Dunbar to strike at the Percys before they could be reinforced by Glyn Dŵr, on 20 July Henry occupied the town and castle of Shrewsbury ahead of Hotspur, and after an attempt at negotiations had failed they fought a severe battle near the town on the 21st—the only true battle in which Henry fought. Casualties were heavy, and according to Adam Usk included two men protecting the king by wearing armour identical with his. At first Hotspur's Cheshire archers drove back the royal vanguard and Prince Henry was wounded in the face by an arrow. But in the ensuing mêlée Hotspur was killed, effectively deciding the battle. The earl of Worcester was captured and executed. Northumberland, who arrived too late to fight, surrendered. He was tried by the lords in parliament in February 1404, found guilty of trespass but not treason, and pardoned. Henry, typically, did not treat Northumberland harshly. He lost his constableship and other offices, but continued to attend the council and witness royal charters, though much less often than before.
Parliament and finance, 1401–1402
Henry had overcome his rebels, but he was unable to live within his means. However, a reassessment of his early years as king suggests that he retained the support of the landowning classes in parliament. Finance was certainly a perpetual problem, but it is arguably a mistake to see him as also intermittently locked in conflict with the Commons over his choice of councillors. Like previous rulers he took advice as he chose, by no means only from members of a formal council, and the size and composition of the latter fluctuated according to the needs of the moment. When Sir Arnold Savage, the speaker in Henry's second parliament in 1401, requested the king not only to appoint men of ‘honourable estatz’ as his great officers and councillors and ‘charge’ them to advise him, but also to have the names and responsibilities of his councillors publicized (Chrimes and Brown, 205–6), he and his fellow MPs may have been principally concerned to enhance the accountability of the king's government by identifying the men in charge of it, rather than to determine the king's choice of such men. Whatever their aims, there is no clear evidence that they achieved them. The chancellor and treasurer were indeed dismissed at the end of the parliament, to be replaced by more considerable men, but perhaps Henry would have acted thus anyway, hoping that experienced administrators would help him manage his finances more successfully.
Henry's greatest problem was not lack of counsel but shortage of money. On 16 August 1401 letters were sent to bishops, earls, barons, and a large number of knights and esquires in the counties to come to Westminster on 16 August to advise ‘on certain very pressing matters concerning the well-being of us and of you and the common good of our realm’—that is, on money (Proceedings … of the Privy Council, 1386–1410, 165). There were so many letters written by the treasurer to Henry that there was not even enough money in the treasury to pay the messengers delivering them. And in March 1402 Henry sent out letters asking for loans to pay for the marriage of his daughter Blanche. It was not easy to be Henry IV's treasurer—and there were six of them between 1399 and the end of 1404. A growing disillusion with Henry's kingship is vividly suggested by a letter to the king apparently from Philip Repyndon, bishop of Lincoln, in 1401, comparing the jubilation that greeted Henry's accession with present lamentation: ‘joy has turned to bitterness, while evils multiply themselves everywhere, and hope of relief fades from the grieving hearts of men’ (Chronicle of Adam of Usk, 139).
Foreign policy: the pursuit of recognition
Securing his throne entailed obtaining recognition abroad. Henry's prowess as a jouster and his widespread travels had brought him considerable fame by 1399; nevertheless his usurpation caused outrage at the French court, which refused to acknowledge his title to the English throne, and precipitated a crisis in Anglo-French relations. The prime mover in these developments was the belligerent duc d'Orléans, now confronting the results of his own spoiling tactics. He could exploit the problems that now arose over the return of Richard II's widow, Queen Isabella, who should have been sent back to France along with her substantial dowry; after acrimonious negotiations she finally went home, dowerless, in 1401. Still more promising as a casus belli was the running sore of the status of the duchy of Aquitaine, which must have seemed particularly apt for Orléans's purposes because Richard II had been popular there (he was born in Bordeaux), whereas Henry was regarded with suspicion by the Gascons, who had resented the grant of the duchy to his father, John of Gaunt, in 1390. In January 1401 Charles VI bestowed Aquitaine upon his heir, the dauphin Louis, and later in the year order was given for the interception of an English fleet sailing to the duchy. Meanwhile large-scale piracy broke out in the channel, unrestrained by the governments of either England or France.
In 1402 a Franco-Scottish alliance extended the maritime conflict. Orléans kept up the pressure, giving hostilities a personal dimension when in August 1402 and March 1403 he challenged Henry to combat; Henry responded in kind by declining to fight a man of lesser dignity than himself. In 1403 French armies threatened Calais and invaded Aquitaine, where the frontiers of English rule retreated steadily during the next four years. The heartland of Gascony remained loyal, in part thanks to Henry's conciliatory dealings with the local nobility, but in 1404 there were French naval attacks on the English south coast, and in 1405 some 2500 French troops arrived in Wales to reinforce Glyn Dŵr.
The ramifications of the Anglo-French conflict were extensive, both at home and abroad. The hostilities added considerably to Henry's financial difficulties—the defence of Aquitaine is estimated to have cost some £1300 per annum between 1400 and 1403—as did the impact of piracy on trade, not least by exacerbating difficulties in relations with the German Hansa. In 1405 a diet at Lübeck placed heavy restrictions on English commerce in the Baltic. Henry responded with efforts to raise his personal standing and find continental allies. It may have been purely for reasons of prestige that in 1402 he received envoys from the Byzantine emperor, but the marriages of his daughters were diplomatic initiatives. In 1401 he negotiated the marriage of Princess Blanche to Ludwig, eldest son of Rupert, count palatine of the Rhine and king of the Romans. He had to raise a dowry of £13,333 6s. 8d., but the union gave him an ally in the French rear. No less expensive was the marriage of Princess Philippa to Erik VII, king of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, which took place in 1406 and was at least partly intended to secure Scandinavian support in dealings with the Hansa. Henry provided his daughter with a sumptuous trousseau of clothes, plate, and a magnificent bed. Other European rulers were linked to the English crown through appointment to the Order of the Garter—the king of Portugal in 1400, the king of Castile c.1402.
Henry's own second marriage was certainly dictated by diplomatic and strategic considerations. On 3 April 1402 he was married by proxy to Joan (1368–1437), widow of John de Montfort, duke of Brittany, and daughter of Charles II of Navarre. She arrived in England early in 1403, and the marriage ceremony took place on 7 February in Winchester Cathedral. The effective independence of Brittany gave Henry hopes of Breton support in his dealings with the French monarchy. Those hopes were unfulfilled, but the marriage seems to have been successful in personal terms, although they had no children. Joan is rarely mentioned in chronicles, but she continued to live in England after Henry's death and was buried beside him in Canterbury Cathedral in 1437.
Continued financial problems
Henry met his third parliament at Westminster on 30 September 1402. The victory of the Percys at Homildon Hill on 14 September and the display of some of the Scottish prisoners made it a relatively positive assembly. The customs duties were continued and a subsidy of a tenth and a fifteenth was granted, to be collected over a whole year. By the time parliament met again, in January 1404, the Percy rising had been crushed, but the king's victory did nothing to improve his finances. There were still conspiracies to guard against, the Welsh revolt continued to gather strength, and French pressure on Aquitaine and Calais was intensifying. Sir Arnold Savage, who was again the speaker, complained about the inadequate defence of the realm and the mismanagement of royal finance, the latter evident in the excessive cost of the king's household. In the previous six months there had been two French landings on the south coast, and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, one of Henry's three half-brothers, claimed to be owed almost two years' wages for his service as captain of Calais. Henry agreed to appoint councillors who would ensure ‘good and just governance’ and remedy for the many complaints, grievances, and mischiefs shown to him (RotP, 3.530). The three great officers remained unchanged, however, and all but two of the nineteen appointed to the council were already serving members. Henry could not easily dispense with tried and trusted servants.
A second parliament, called the Unlearned Parliament because the writs of summons forbade the return of lawyers to the Commons, met at Coventry on 6 October 1404. Household finance remained a problem, and the Commons now proposed radical remedies for the king's difficulties, a resumption of all grants which were part of the inheritance of the crown before 40 Edward III (1366–7), and (apparently) the temporary expropriation of the temporalities of the church. Henry responded that such measures were neither honest nor expedient, but grants would be investigated and their revenues during the current year diverted to the crown. Two tenths and fifteenths were granted, together with a novel land tax, but on condition that two named treasurers of wars received the issues and accounted for them in the next parliament, to ensure that the money was spent on defence rather than the royal household. It was a generous grant, altogether the highest direct taxation of the reign, and Henry was prepared to accept the restrictive conditions attached.
Archbishop Scrope's rising
1405 was a critical year for Henry. He was at Windsor for the Garter ceremony on 23 April and then set out to campaign in south Wales. About 23 May, however, he heard from the council at Westminster that Lord Bardolf, who had been expected to serve with him, was on his way north. Henry at once returned to Worcester, and by the time he reached Derby on the 28th he knew that the earl of Northumberland, the earl marshal Thomas Mowbray, and Bardolf were in revolt. He spent several days at Nottingham assembling an army and by 6 June he was at Bishopthorpe, the archbishop of York's manor south of the city, and was joined by the earl of Westmorland and Prince John, the wardens of the Scottish marches. The king's haste may have been in part due to the involvement in the rising of Archbishop Richard Scrope of York. Scrope's motives for allying himself with the rebels are unclear, for his recorded utterances suggest he was primarily associating himself with the complaints against the king's government voiced in parliament, and no doubt elsewhere. Yet again, finance and especially the cost of the royal household bulked large. Scrope preached in his cathedral against taxation and purveyance, and issued a manifesto to the same effect.
Scrope and the earl marshal raised a force of several thousand men, but not far from York they met Westmorland, who promised that their grievances would be remedied. Scrope discharged his men, whereupon he and Mowbray were arrested. Henry had probably decided to remove Scrope as archbishop by 1 June, when he granted away a pension which ‘he who is next created archbishop of York’ would be required to pay to a royal clerk (Storey, 18). He may also have decided to do so by executing Scrope, with whom he was so furious that he led the archbishop out before the citizens of York as they begged for pardon and berated him as a traitor who had brought misery on his flock. If Henry had qualms about killing a prelate, they were overcome by his household, who demanded Scrope's head in revenge for his attacks on themselves. Chief Justice Gascoigne declined to act, whereupon Scrope and his associates were condemned by an ad hoc commission on 8 June and beheaded outside York the same day, in spite of an appeal by Archbishop Arundel who had hurried north.
Hitherto Henry had usually been merciful, and in having Scrope put to death he may have showed the overwhelming strain of recent events. That strain, together with feelings of guilt, whether over the execution or from having deceived Arundel, whom he had reassured immediately before it took place, perhaps contributed to a temporary breakdown of health, which immobilized Henry at Ripon for a week. He recovered and continued north, first to Durham and then through the Percy heartland to Berwick, where the surrender of the castle early in July completed his victory. By mid-August he was back in Leicester on his way to Hereford, to resume the campaign in Wales, where a large French force had recently arrived to assist Glyn Dŵr. In late September he led a force to relieve Coety Castle in Glamorgan, though some of his baggage was looted by Welsh rebels afterwards. He then spent three weeks at Kenilworth before returning to London in mid-November.
The Long Parliament of 1406: breakdown in health
At the beginning of 1406 the defeat of the English rebels may have led Henry to believe that his prospects were brightening, but there was little improvement in Wales, and a continuing danger of French attacks, on both sides of the channel. Consequently finance remained a very serious problem, and dominated the sixth parliament of the reign. It met at Westminster on 1 March 1406, and sat until 22 December with a three-week break for Easter in April and a harvest break from mid-June to mid-October. Henry probably expected trouble, and there is some evidence that the ranks of the knights of the shires were packed by crown servants, while the speaker, Sir John Tiptoft, had been in Henry's household before 1399. There were vociferous complaints of financial maladministration and failure to provide adequate defence, but Tiptoft kept opposition within bounds, and as far as possible led it in constructive directions. His task was made harder, however, by a sudden breakdown in the king's health; in the short term this hampered the progress of deliberations in parliament, while ultimately its repercussions were felt in every development involving the exercise of royal authority for the rest of the reign.
Contemporary moralists described Henry's illness as leprosy, and attributed it to divine vengeance for the execution of Scrope, but the examination of Henry's physical remains in the nineteenth century revealed no sign of skin disease. The king had certainly suffered a brief illness after the archbishop was beheaded, but the evidence suggests that he made a full recovery, and that his sickness in 1405 was unconnected with his subsequent affliction. Indeed, until 1406 he seems usually to have enjoyed good health, enabling him to withstand great pressure while leading a very mobile life. He employed a French physician, who was granted letters of denization on 28 March 1405, but this is probably more an indication that he took proper care of himself, than that he needed particular attention. On 28 April 1406, in his first reference to his failure of health, Henry himself spoke of a leg injury and perhaps ague (une grande accesse); the former, at least, could point to circulatory problems. Whatever its nature, it was a condition that quickly worsened, making it impossible for him to attend parliament, and ultimately placing heavy restrictions on his ability to govern. Its severity may also be reflected in the consideration that in May began to be given to the succession to the throne, a process concluded in a formal settlement at the end of the year.
Parliament's first session had ended on 3 April, and after several deferments because of the king's sickness its second began on the 30th. But Henry's health did not mend, and finally it was agreed on 22 May, on the king's own initiative, that his breakdown in health was such as to make it necessary for him to be assisted in the task of government by a council nominated in parliament. Seventeen councillors were accordingly appointed to support him. They had all served before, however, and perhaps partly for that reason the Commons demanded guarantees of future financial responsibility before they would grant further taxation. Further debate followed, sometimes acrimonious—at one point Henry rallied sufficiently to declare angrily that it was not for kings to account to their subjects—and eventually parliament was prorogued from 19 June until 13 October. The autumn session is poorly recorded, and either because Henry resisted further reform, or because further bouts of ill health created uncertainty and hampered discussion, only in mid-November did agreement begin to be reached.
The final programme of financial reform had two essential components: a list of thirty-one articles laying down detailed rules for the control of expenditure; and the appointment of a new, smaller, and more substantial council, headed by Prince Henry and consisting of the three great officers (chancellor, treasurer, and keeper of the privy seal), Archbishop Arundel—who became chancellor on 30 January 1408—the bishops of Winchester and London, Edward, duke of York, and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset. It was a small executive body governing in the king's name, and its membership changed little until late 1409. Its character is shown in the record of a meeting, probably its first, at Westminster in the afternoon of 8 December 1406. Prince Henry, Archbishop Arundel, Chancellor Thomas Langley, the duke of York, the earl of Somerset, and the treasurer, Lord Furnival, reviewed the ‘governance’ of the royal household with three of its officers, one of them Sir John Tiptoft, now treasurer of the household. One of their first decisions was that the king and his household should withdraw after Christmas to a place where costs were less.
The new government achieved a considerable measure of success, particularly in matters of finance. Operating principally through the exchequer, the council was able to ensure that revenue was directed towards defence rather than to the household, whose costs fell sharply. When parliament met again, at Gloucester in the autumn of 1407, one session sufficed to obtain a grant of taxation, along with an easing of the restrictions placed on royal expenditure a year earlier. The council could claim the credit for its own competence. It also benefited from a number of developments that reduced the pressure on England's defences. Already in March 1406 the capture en route for France of Prince James, the heir to the Scottish throne, closely followed by the death of his father, Robert III, had given the English government a valuable card in its dealings with its northern neighbour. And by the end of 1407 the tide of war had at last turned in Wales to England's advantage. Glyn Dŵr's rising was not yet suppressed, but it never again threatened to destabilize the whole realm. Even more important, the murder of the duc d'Orléans on 23 November 1407 brought an immediate reduction in the pressure on Gascony and Calais, gave a central place in the government of France to the duke of Burgundy, by tradition and interest an ally of England, and soon led to a French civil war which offered inviting prospects for English intervention. At the beginning of 1408 the earl of Northumberland and Lord Bardolf launched a desperate invasion from Scotland into Yorkshire. Their defeat and deaths at Bramham Moor on 19 February finally secured the north of England for the king, in whose name the region was thereafter governed by Prince John and the earl of Westmorland.
Henry was not deprived of all his royal authority, but his participation in government was limited both by intermittent ill health and by the increasing prominence of the prince. In time this led to tensions, not just between the king and his eldest son but also between their followers, for the prince came to Westminster with an entourage he had gathered while serving in Wales, headed by the young earls of Arundel and Warwick, and subsequently augmented by men who had hitherto been his father's retainers, above all the Beauforts. Such men looked to the heir to the throne, rather than to its present occupant, for leadership and advancement. Henry relied increasingly on Archbishop Arundel, whose friendship did much to sustain him. They exchanged warm personal letters. For example a letter from Henry at Birdsnest Lodge in Windsor Forest to Arundel in May 1409 ends: ‘I thank yow hertely of the great besinesse that ye do for me and for m(y) reaume … hopynge to God to spek to you hastely, and thank you with good herte, Yowre true frend and chyld in God, H. R.’ (Hingeston, 2.27). This close connection endured. Henry visited Canterbury several times and it was in Arundel's cathedral that he chose to be buried.
King Henry and the church
Henry's reliance on Arundel was at all times both personal and political. The archbishop had given vital support during the usurpation, and carried almost all the other bishops with him. In return Arundel required royal support for religious orthodoxy against heresy. He was able to force the withdrawal of Sir John Cheyne, a suspected Lollard, as speaker of the parliament of 1399, and in 1401 he was the driving force behind the statute of De haeretico comburendo, which for the first time made heresy a capital offence in England. The burning of William Sawtre, carried out on Henry's orders on 2 March (the statute had not then been formally enacted), underlined the king's willingness to endorse the church's policy. But as so often, Henry's freedom of manoeuvre was restricted by his insecurity. He needed the church's backing, but he could not afford to antagonize supporters with Lollard sympathies, least of all those among his Lancastrian retainers. Proposals for the disendowment of the church in order to improve the royal finances made by some knights of the shires in the Coventry parliament of 1404, and repeated at the parliament of 1410, may have stemmed from anti-clericalism rather than heresy as such, but there certainly seem to have been reputed Lollards in Henry's household: in 1404 some of them were rebuked by Arundel for failing to show due reverence to the consecrated host as it was borne through the Coventry streets.
The danger to the church from heresy was probably a useful bargaining counter for Henry when his financial needs obliged him to tap ecclesiastical resources, as they often did. During his reign he levied some forty subsidies from the two English provinces, and was also able to demand frequent and substantial loans—in 1403 he borrowed over £11,000 from the church. That Henry was personally devout no doubt helped him retain the loyalty of nearly all the church hierarchy. He was also careful and responsible in filling vacancies on the episcopal bench. His control of appointments was as complete as that of his predecessors, but unlike Richard II he elevated few members of his own household. The trend towards a university-educated episcopate continued. Some of Henry's bishops were theologians, and still more were canon or civil lawyers. Henry and his advisers chose able men, whether royal servants like Thomas Langley and Henry Bowet (who succeeded Scrope at York) or a personal friend like Philip Repyndon, who became bishop of Lincoln, or the ecclesiastical administrator and future archbishop of Canterbury Henry Chichele. None neglected his diocese, most became conscientious resident pastors.
The execution of Archbishop Scrope in 1405 could have been disastrous for Henry's relations with the church, but in fact it had remarkably little discernible impact. The primate's burgeoning cult was as far as possible repressed, and Innocent VII's excommunication of all involved in Scrope's death was effectively ignored. Henry was exculpated in 1407, on terms said to have included the foundation of three religious houses, but only the Bridgettine house of Syon gave effect to this vow, and that was founded by Henry V; two years later he felt confident enough to lift the ban on Scrope's cult. No doubt it was largely the weakness of the papacy during the schism which had begun in 1378 that enabled Henry to ignore its strictures. Like his predecessor he had been loyal to the Roman popes, but now his growing security at home permitted his involvement in efforts to bring the schism to an end. In 1408, following a court sermon in which the cardinal-archbishop of Bordeaux urged action against the scandal of a double papacy, an English embassy went to the church council summoned to Pisa, which in 1409 deposed the Roman and Avignon popes and elected Alexander V to succeed both.
Although Henry's role in domestic government was restricted by this time, the initiative behind English participation at Pisa appears to have been largely his. Two years later, when effective government was in the prince's hands, Henry again showed his residual authority when he backed Archbishop Arundel in his drive against heresy at Oxford. Opposition to the primate was led by Richard Courtenay, a close associate of the prince, who invoked a bull of Boniface IX exempting the university from such visitation, but Henry not only rejected this privilege himself but also persuaded John XXIII, Alexander V's successor, to revoke it. Arundel duly conducted a visitation, whose principal effect was to reassert his own authority over the university, but also went some way towards affirming Henry's continued kingship.
The dispute over Arundel's jurisdiction at Oxford constituted a relatively indirect pointer to the strains that could arise from the division of authority resulting from King Henry's sickness. But such strains were slow to appear. Government continued to be conducted in the king's name, even though important matters, particularly those concerning finance, were determined by the prince and the council. For example privy-seal warrants to the exchequer ordering payments were now almost always said to be approved by the council. Henry came to Westminster for great occasions, as when Arundel replaced Thomas Langley as chancellor on 30 January 1407. But he spent the next few months at Hertford, a favourite royal castle, while the prince held council meetings at Westminster. Henry attended the Garter service at Windsor on St George's day, as he had always done, and then made an extended visit to the midlands and the north from June to September, before attending the opening of parliament at Gloucester on 20 October 1407. Henry's retention of at least a nominal authority at this time is shown by the numerous letters under the great seal which were still warranted per ipsum regem—‘by the king himself’. These may sometimes or even often have been a formality, but when Henry was in the north in August and September he had a great seal and clerks with him to write and enrol his letters. But now very few grants were made that diminished the king's resources.
Early in March 1408 Henry chose to go north to oversee the punishment of rebels. He was then in and around London from mid-May, but in mid-June 1408 he had a seizure at Archbishop Arundel's manor at Mortlake on the Thames. He is said to have been unconscious for some hours and even appeared to be dead. He remained at Mortlake for a month before going to his own castle at Hertford, but although he seemed to have made a good recovery he was ill again at the end of the year, and on 21 January 1409 he made a hasty will in English at Greenwich (Nichols, 203–5). His references to himself as ‘sinful wretch’ and to his ‘lyffe I have mispendyd’ have led to his will being characterized as ‘unusually abject’ and associated with feelings of guilt over his usurpation (McFarlane, 103). But other devout men in this period made wills hardly less anguished, and the tone of Henry's may only reflect physical distress and a pious fear of death and judgement. As far as his kingship was concerned he reviewed his whole reign, requesting payment of his debts, forgiving his enemies and thanking those who had done him ‘trewe service’. Prominent among the latter must have been the Lancastrian retainers who had stood by him throughout—three of them were named as witnesses. It was in keeping with this apparently retrospective state of mind that in March 1409, and again in February 1410, Henry was concerned to found or extend a chapel on the battlefield at Shrewsbury. His health improved, however, and he became reasonably active, even planning to go on campaign again. But his hopes were invariably disappointed, and his itinerary suggests that he was slowing down. In 1409, essentially a year of convalescence, he probably remained in or near London save for short visits to Canterbury in July, and to Northampton and Leicester in November and early December.
Crisis in government
Shortly before Christmas 1409 there were changes in the two great offices. On 20 December the treasurer, Sir John Tiptoft, was dismissed but his successor, Lord Scrope of Masham, was not appointed until 6 January. On the 21st Archbishop Arundel resigned as chancellor and returned the great seal to the king. King Henry held it himself until 19 January 1410, releasing it to seal writs and letters, and the keeper of the rolls then held it until Sir Thomas Beaufort was appointed chancellor on 31 January 1410, shortly after parliament had assembled. Long voids were unusual, and it is significant that both Scrope and Beaufort were Prince Henry's men. These developments point to a crisis at the heart of the government. Its precise nature is elusive, but it clearly turned on the relations between the king and his eldest son, probably above all as they were affected by the position of Archbishop Arundel and the recurrent problem of finance. The latter was less severe than in 1406, but money was still scarce, and in 1410 there was another almost total stop on the payment of annuities to royal retainers. There was also growing concern about law and order, an issue hitherto overshadowed by the threat of rebellion and civil war, but now prompting petitions to parliament, especially from the north and the Welsh marches. Arundel had proved unable to deal effectively with such matters, and with the prince and his young followers ambitious to take control of government his position became untenable, even though the king would doubtless have liked to retain his services.
The establishment of a new regime created a potentially fraught situation, with the king still ostensibly possessed of all his powers, while the prince became the effective head of the government. Restraint and tact would be needed on both sides if the experiment was to work, and in the end the impatience of the prince's followers, led by the Beauforts, did much to bring it to an end. But at first all went well, assisted by the king's personal trust in his eldest son at this time—in 1409 Henry had named the prince as executor of his will. During the January parliament a council headed by the prince with four bishops, Lord Burnell, and ‘other lords and officers’ was ‘assigned’, nominally by the king himself (RotP, 3.649). As far as finance was concerned they resumed what was essentially the policy of retrenchment adopted at the end of 1406, with a fair degree of effectiveness and with the king's co-operation.
King and prince were also in agreement, at least at first, over foreign policy, above all in their dealings with France, where the civil war resulting from the murder of Orléans led to an appeal from both sides for English assistance. The king and his son alike favoured Burgundy, to the extent that in summer 1411 the former planned to cross the channel to join Duke John with a force under his own command, and had armour and tents prepared, along with ‘an old streamer of worsted worked with the arms of the king, St Edward and St George for the king's ship for his voyage to Calais’ (TNA: PRO, E 101/405/25). Henry then changed his mind, not just about going himself but also about any English involvement in France, whereas the prince remained committed to intervention; in September 1411 a small force led by his friend and ally the earl of Arundel went to support the duke of Burgundy, and on 9 November shared his victory over the Armagnacs (Orléanists) at St Cloud.
To King Henry his son's show of independence was probably unwelcome in itself. It became intolerable in the light of suggestions apparently voiced by Henry Beaufort that the king should resign his throne in the prince's favour. The king's move to reassert himself became apparent in his support for Arundel against Richard Courtenay and Oxford University in autumn 1411, and was made obvious in the parliament that assembled on 3 November. Henry was unable to attend on the first day, but when the speaker, Sir Thomas Chaucer, made his customary protestation on the 5th Henry accepted it but then said forcefully that he wished for no sort of novelty—nulle manere de novellerie—in the parliament (RotP, 3.648). And on 20–21 December, after the dissolution, he further reasserted his authority. Sir Thomas Beaufort and Lord Scrope were dismissed, while Archbishop Arundel became chancellor once more and Sir John Pelham, Henry's retainer since the 1390s and the sword-bearer at his coronation, became treasurer.
The end of the reign
Henry's kingship was not challenged again. Presumably in order to maintain control over government he now lived in or near London, save for a last visit to Archbishop Arundel at Canterbury between late February and mid-April 1412. However, the last fifteen months of his reign were troubled by continuing disagreements over foreign policy, which spilled over into differences between the king and the prince, and between the prince and his brother Thomas. On 18 May 1412 the treaty of Bourges signalled a reversal of the previous year's Burgundian alliance, with King Henry pledging support for Burgundy's Armagnac enemies, in return for an expanded duchy of Aquitaine. At first he himself again intended to cross the channel at the head of an army, albeit with the prince leading a smaller force, but when this once more proved beyond his strength the main command was entrusted not to Prince Henry but to Prince Thomas, probably their father's favourite son, whose relations were uneasy with his elder brother, and decidedly strained with the latter's Beaufort supporters. Resenting his father's lack of trust, late in June the prince brought a large retinue to London by way of parading his strength and following, but to no avail. The army left under Thomas (now duke of Clarence), though a shift in the French balance of power led to its being bought off in November. By then Prince Henry's anxiety and frustration had led him in September to make a second demonstration in London, after which he is said to have confronted his father in Westminster Hall, where he swore his continued loyalty and even asked the king to kill him. Henry, greatly moved, forgave his son. The interview brought the latter no more authority, but seems to have cleared the air and improved relations between the two men. Even so, at the end of his reign, as at its beginning, Henry placed his trust principally in his Lancastrian retainers.
Writs dated 1 December summoned a parliament to meet at Westminster on 3 February 1413. It met but there is no roll of proceedings because Henry, who had been seriously ill shortly before Christmas, collapsed in Westminster Abbey and died on 20 March in the Jerusalem Chamber in the abbot's house nearby. His dying advice to Prince Henry was widely circulated, but seems to have been quickly contaminated by improbable expressions of remorse for his usurpation; the earliest version, preserved by Thomas Elmham, contains only recommendations to righteousness and piety, a comparison of Henry's former strength with his present weakness and misery, and a plea for the settlement of his debts. The dead king's body was taken by water to Gravesend and buried, as he wished, in Canterbury Cathedral, near the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, in Becket's chapel, on 18 June. Queen Joan had a fine alabaster life-size effigy of Henry placed on his tomb. His leaden coffin was opened in 1832, largely in order to disprove Clement Maidstone's story that it had been thrown into the Thames, and for an instant before the air took effect, ‘the face of the deceased King was seen in complete preservation’ (Spry, 444).
Henry IV presents an opaque image to posterity. It may owe something to a policy of deliberate self-concealment—not surprising, perhaps, in a man who was nearly killed in 1381 and subsequently had to negotiate the political shoals of Richard II's last years. His public image was that of a man who excelled in all the activities most valued in knightly circles, and he was certainly at home in the world of aristocratic chivalry in a way that Richard was not. This ideal image was in some respects truthful. There are no scandals recorded of his private life (unlike his father's), with no known mistresses or bastards. He was also indisputably pious. The first English king known to have possessed a vernacular Bible, he supported the canonization of John of Bridlington, gave a pension to the anchoress Margaret Pensax, and maintained close relations with several Westminster recluses. His household accounts as king record conventional payments to large numbers of paupers (no less than 12,000 on Easter day 1406), and the maintenance of twenty-four oratores domini regis at 2d. a day each to make intercession for him. After 1399 he seems to have maintained his court in appropriate style, and appeared in fine clothes when occasion demanded; for St George's day 1408 his tailor made him a gown, kirtle, and hood of blue cloth, all furred with minever, while the hood was also lined with scarlet.
With this show of conventional virtues went qualities that may have been less common. Henry had been carefully educated by his father, and was no less concerned for the intellectual training of his own sons. When in exile in Paris he attended the schools there, and is reported to have had a taste for casuistry—the application of general moral principles to particular problems. He enjoyed reading, and owned books in Latin and English which included works of history, poetry, and theology as well as bibles and psalters, and had a two-tier desk made for his books at Eltham Palace. Henry was also highly musical. In the 1390s he travelled abroad with a small body of musicians, and as king maintained a group of royal minstrels. Indeed, he almost certainly went beyond enjoying music to composing it: the ‘Roy Henry’ whose ‘Gloria’ and ‘Sanctus’ are preserved in the Old Hall manuscript is most probably to be identified with Henry IV. He patronized poets too. As earl of Derby he gave an annuity to Chaucer, and later owned at least one book by John Gower (who never ceased to admire him); as king he tried in vain to persuade Christine de Pisan to join his court.
Intellectual and artistic interests are no guarantee of moral rectitude. Henry's conduct in 1399 alone shows that he was capable of considerable deviousness, even outright dishonesty, as well as demonstrating his capacity for decisive action. But he was also a good judge of men, and though the size of his household was criticized, its composition was not—he was never said to have undesirable favourites. He does not seem to have been cruel, though in 1399 the earl of Salisbury feared his vindictiveness, and he was capable of outbursts of devastating anger—twice in 1402 the exasperated king is said to have sent treasonous Franciscans to the gallows with the words ‘By this my head you shall lose your own’ (Eulogium historiarum, 3.390–92). Archbishop Scrope may also have been the victim of royal fury. Such outbursts were rare, however, and Henry usually seems to have kept his temper under control. He showed during the parliament of 1406 that he could accept criticism of his regime and make concessions without resentment against those who forced them on him. A sense of humour may have provided release from self-imposed constraints: Walsingham reports that when the Scottish Prince James was captured on his way to France, to be educated there, Henry joked that the Scots could have sent the boy to him for tuition, since he knew French himself. Physically he was of moderate height and sturdy in build, becoming corpulent in later life, perhaps due to lack of exercise after his health failed. The representation on his tomb may be an accurate likeness, not least in its prominent beard—when the tomb was opened in 1832 it was seen to be ‘thick and matted, and of a deep russet colour’ (Spry, 444). His military prowess and far-ranging travels suggest considerable bodily strength; ironically, it was this innate quality that failed him after 1406, while his largely acquired attributes of patience and perseverance were what best enabled him to face and overcome the problems of his reign.
The reign and character of Henry IV prompted conflicting opinions from the moment of his death. The opposing standpoints of his contemporaries are encapsulated in the differing verdicts of Adam Usk, for whom Henry ruled powerfully but none the less died in misery and squalor, and Thomas Walsingham, who saw him as having reigned, quite simply, gloriously. It was Usk's vision that prevailed, reinforced by the elaborated accounts of Henry's death and last advice to his son. All emphasize the strain and effort of the reign, and the sorrow this brought upon the king. Even so, Henry IV remained a king worthy of respect, and this was still the case for Edward Hall in the 1540s. An overtly hostile note, however, is struck by John Foxe, who follows earlier chroniclers in seeing Henry's reign as ‘full of trouble, of blood and misery’, but differs from them in linking this with Henry's role as a persecutor of Lollards—he was ‘the first of all English kings that began the unmerciful burning of Christ's saints for standing against the pope’ (Acts and Monuments, 3.229). This new element may explain why Holinshed, in his Chronicles, having quoted Hall's ultimately favourable verdict almost verbatim, none the less concludes by attacking Henry as a usurper whose subjects deserved the miseries of his reign.
William Shakespeare's anecdotal debt to Holinshed was great, but his portrait of Henry IV is closer to Hall's. Henry is hardly the hero of the two plays that carry his name—he is overshadowed by Falstaff and Prince Hal throughout—but by consistently striking a note of responsibility, dignity, and courage he contributes an essential element to the analysis of kingship which is fundamental to Shakespeare's great sequence of history plays. Aspects of Henry's rule that might have detracted from this image are omitted or played down—the execution of Archbishop Scrope, for instance, is attributed entirely to John of Lancaster—but at the same time his human qualities are brought out in recurrent expressions of paternal anxiety and above all of remorse, two strands unforgettably worked together at the end of the second play. It is not his enemies but the dying Henry himself who remembers:
By what by-paths and indirect crookt ways
I met this crown, and I myself know well
How troublesome it sate upon my head.
(2 Henry IV, IV. v, ll. 184–6)
The two plays do not constitute a tragedy, but Shakespeare's Henry IV is close to being a tragic figure.
Shakespeare's plays have encapsulated for posterity an image of Henry IV both moral and political, the usurper whose actions brought misery on both his country and himself. Onto this later writers grafted some very different elements, arising from their perceptions of Henry's exercise of his authority. Starting perhaps with David Hume (1762), they placed increasing stress on the role of parliament in the events of Henry's reign, and gave particular emphasis to what they saw as foreshadowings of the constitutional principles of their own times. Henry Hallam went so far as to claim, ‘of this revolution of 1399’, that ‘there was as remarkable an attention shown to the formalities of the constitution, allowance made for the men and the times, as in that of 1688’ (Hallam, 55–6).
This tendency culminated in the writings of William Stubbs, where, however, Henry IV is not seen only as a mere catalyst of constitutional development. Despite a characteristically Victorian taste for moralizing colour, Stubbs painted a subtle and credible picture of a man whose character changed over time (usually for the worse) under the pressure of events and a guilty conscience:
he seems to us a man whose life was embittered by the knowledge that he had taken on a task for which he was unequal, whose conscience, ill-informed as it may have been, had soured him, and who felt that the judgments of men, at least, would deal hardly with him when he was dead. (Stubbs, 3.9)
Stubbs's portrait was in turn praised by K. B. McFarlane (1953, printed 1970), who then proceeded to bury it, primarily by pouring scorn on that ‘constitutionalism’ which Stubbs saw as the principal feature of Henry's reign, presenting the king instead as ‘not a man of constitutional principle at all but an opportunist and a politique’ (McFarlane, 24). In terms of factual resource McFarlane enjoyed the advantage over Stubbs in having access to J. H. Wylie's four-volume monograph The History of England under Henry IV (1884–98), even though no clear picture of Henry IV emerges from its welter of facts. Twentieth-century historians have exploited Wylie's labours, but McFarlane's reprinted lectures aside, only the useful study by J. L. Kirby (1970) has attempted a detailed analysis of Henry's life.
In the parliament that followed the accession of Henry V the speaker reminded the new king how in his father's time ‘good governance was several times asked for by the Commons and their request granted. But how that was done and performed afterwards, our lord the king knows well’ (RotP, 4.4). Henry had also died so much in debt that his executors at first declined to undertake the administration of his will, and his debts do not appear ever to have been fully paid. It would be easy to deduce from this evidence for disillusion and bankruptcy that those two qualities characterized the whole of Henry IV's reign, and to conclude that survival represented the sum of his achievement. By comparison with both his father and his eldest son Henry IV undoubtedly presents an uncharismatic image to posterity, and it is tempting to perceive him as an unremarkable, even weak, man, unable to foresee problems, still less to forestall them, and so always at the mercy of events. In such a perspective the success of his usurpation was exceptional, his struggles to deal with its consequences only what might have been expected of a ruler with his personal limitations.
It is certainly impossible to dissociate the difficulties of Henry IV's reign from the circumstances of its beginning, not least because they aroused unrealistic expectations among those who did most to make him king, and also made the support of his Lancastrian retainers indispensable to the maintenance of his regime, with drastic repercussions for the latter's cost. What seems remarkable is not, in fact, that Henry faced difficulties but the extent to which he overcame them. The greatest mistake of his reign was arguably his failure to offer the concessions needed to settle the Welsh revolt before it grew out of control, a missed opportunity that did more than anything else to multiply his difficulties with warfare and finance. But neither there nor anywhere else did he abandon the struggle to maintain his position, even after ill health overwhelmed him physically, while he clung to his royal prerogative with a tenacity that could reasonably have earned him the gratitude of his heir.
Henry's reign also had positive achievements to its credit. The challenge of heresy to religious orthodoxy was firmly resisted; although Ireland was neglected Wales was eventually secured; both Calais and Gascony, having come under serious threat, remained under English rule. In his involvement in efforts to resolve the papal schism and his intervention in French domestic politics Henry IV led the way for the more spectacular successes of his son. Thanks principally to Shakespeare, Henry's reign is commonly seen under the twin shadow cast by his usurpation of the throne and by the perception that in it lay the seeds of the Wars of the Roses. The attention given by more recent historians to the shortcomings of Henry VI should go a long way towards clearing Henry IV of responsibility for England's misfortunes under his grandson.
Once placed firmly in the context of his own reign Henry IV can be seen as a considerable figure, a humane and cultivated ruler, politically skilled but by no means invariably unprincipled. It is possible to argue that McFarlane dismissed too readily the ‘constitutionalism’ found in Henry's rule by Stubbs, that the latter's anachronistic phraseology masked an understanding that Henry's rule was characterized by a consensual style of politics which aspired to the same sort of rapport with magnates and gentry, in parliament and elsewhere, that had marked the highly successful kingship of Edward III. Unlike Richard II, Henry IV retained to the end of his reign the loyalty of the bulk of the political nation. That loyalty may sometimes have been grudgingly given, and Henry's reign may not have been as glorious as Walsingham claimed, but it ultimately saw much more success than failure, while the triumphs of Henry V, usually regarded as even more brilliant through comparisons with the effortful gloom of his father's reign, owed more than is often appreciated to the legacy of Henry IV.
A. L. Brown and Henry Summerson