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Henry V and Henry VI (1413 - 1471)
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Henry V and Henry VI (1413 - 1471)“The most serene prince… he was very well-favoured… he outstripped all his equals in age at running and jumping…”
Life of Henry V,
Thomas de Elmham

Henry V (1413-22)
Henry was born at Monmouth in 1387. His father was Henry Bolingbroke; his mother, Mary de Bohun, daughter of the Earl of Hereford. During the period that Bolingbroke was in exile (October 1398-July 1399), the young Henry stayed with his father’s cousin Richard II, and was knighted by him in Ireland.

Henry was intelligent and musical, reading and writing English (perhaps the first post-Norman king to do so with ease). From 1402 he commanded his father’s army against the Welsh. Stories of his dissolute youth, later dramatized by Shakespeare, probably had some basis in fact since the stories began within 20 years of Henry’s death.

Henry V became king on 21 March 1413, almost at once turning his attention to France, not just to reassert old claims but also to eye lands never before held by an English king. To boundless ambition, the young king added martial vigour, piety, a commanding character, and a streak of ruthlessness – qualities that elevated his nine-year reign to epic status. He led two great expeditions to France (1415 and 1417-18). At Agincourt in October 1415, English archers mowed down the French knights in swathes. Henry seemed invincible.

The Treaty of Troyes in 1420 recognized Henry as heir to the French throne. He married Catherine of Valois, daughter of the French king Charles VI, and dreamed of a new crusade to Palestine. But triumph was short-lived. In 1422 the king contracted dysentery, dying in August at Bois de Vincennes. His body was taken home for burial in Westminster Abbey. Henry was not to have France, and his premature death plunged England once more into dynastic wars.

“Was ever king that joy’d an earthly throne
And could command no more content than I?”

Henry, in William Shakespeare’s King Henry VI Part II

Henry VI (1422-61) and (1470-71)
A new age of uncertainties was dawning as Henry V’s baby son, Henry VI, stayed under the “care and control” of his relatives until 1437. After an English coronation in 1429, in 1431, young Henry was crowned king of France. But across the Channel events were turning against England.

Religious and studious, reclusive Henry had no taste for war. Some thought him simple-minded, for he suffered bouts of nervous collapse that were called “madness”. He founded Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, but lost all his father’s conquests in France, where the French rallied under the inspirational Joan of Arc. At home, Jack Cade’s rebellion (1450) showed serious weakness in the realm.

Richard, Duke of York, was made Lord Protector in 1454, but his hopes of seizing the Crown were dashed by the King’s recovery to health – and the birth of Henry’s son Edward in 1453. York’s chance lay in civil war, which began in 1455.

Henry, a helpless pawn in these “Wars of the Roses”, was captured (1460), rescued (1461), deposed, recaptured (1465), imprisoned, reinstated (1470) and then murdered (1471). Despised and mocked in life, Henry was popularly venerated as a saint after his death.

The cool commander
Henry V could be cold and ruthless, yet he inspired devotion among his followers, “the band of brothers” as Shakespeare later called them.

Henry V and Henry VI (1413 - 1471)

Victory at Agincourt
This was Henry’s most remarkable victory. His army of some 5000 men defeated a French force perhaps four times larger, with minimal casualties (said to be around 100 compared to the French losses of over 5000).

Henry V and Henry VI (1413 - 1471)

Scholarly king
A bronze statuette of Henry VI, from the lectern of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Henry’s educational foundations, including Eton College, were inspired by his admiration for the work of William of Wykeham a century earlier.

Henry V and Henry VI (1413 - 1471)

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