Henry V | Agincourt, Shakespeare & More

Henry of Monmouth, best known as Henry V, ruled England from 1413 until he died in August of 1422.

While he only reigned for a short period, Henry V is best remembered for his outstanding success guiding the military through the Hundred Years’ Ware against France. In fact, Henry V single-handedly made England one of Europe’s strongest military powers.

You may know of Henry from him being immortalised in Shakespeare’s “Henriad” plays, but he’s also a celebrated warrior king for his great contributions. So, let’s dive deeper into the past of Henry V and the role he played in making England what it is today.


Henry’s Unanticipated Rise To The Throne

Henry V | Agincourt, Shakespeare & More 1
Monmouth Castle

Born in the tower above Monmouth Castle’s gatehouse in Wales (hence the name, Henry of Monmouth), Henry was the son of Mary de Bohun and Henry of Bolingbroke, who later became Henry IV.

Henry’s father’s cousin, King Richard II, was the reigning English monarch while Henry’s dad’s father was John of Gaunt, an influential son of King Edward III.

This royal family means he was in good company, but it also led to little fanfare given to his birth.

Due to Henry’s family and the traditional way power is passed down, he was no where close in the line of succession, meaning it was unlikely he would become King.

For that reason, his birth date was never officially documented, so it’s still disputed whether he was born in 1386 or 1387.


Upbringing

Henry V | Agincourt, Shakespeare & More 2
Richard II

Henry’s upbringing wasn’t all that easy, either, but became better when his father was exiled in 1398. In 1398, when Henry was about 12, Richard II took him in and raised him.

Henry went with Richard to Ireland, visiting Tim Castle in County Meath during his time in the royal service, which served as the meeting place for the Parliament of Ireland during ancient times.

This all proves quite relevant, as a strange turn of events made Henry rush back from Ireland to England. In 1399, John of Gaunt died and, during that same year, the Lancastrian usurpation overthrew King Richard II and brought Henry’s dad to the throne. As such, Henry returned as the apparent heir for the Kingdom of England.

When Henry’s father was coronated, Henry was created Prince of Wales and later Duke of Lancaster, with his other titles being Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, and Duke of Aquitaine.

Between 1400 and 1404, Henry acted as the High Sheriff of Cornwall. Less than three years later, he was in command as the Prince of England.

His Prominent Military Performance

Henry V | Agincourt, Shakespeare & More 3

As the commander of England’s military forces, Henry led his army into Wales in a bid to win against Owain Glyndŵr.

He joined forces with his father, fighting Henry “Hotspur” Percy at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

In this battle, the then-16-year-old prince suffered a near deadly wound when an arrow struck his face, becoming lodged deep in his skin. Any other soldier likely would have succumbed to the injury, but Prince Henry enjoyed the best care possible on the battlefield.

Despite his near fatal incident, Henry V fought on in the Welsh revolt. However, as the king’s health began declining, Henry began playing a bigger role in the kingdom’s politics.

Starting in 1410, with help from his uncles, the sons of John of Gaunt, he practically controlled all of the kingdom’s government. However, he greatly differed from the king in both domestic and foreign policy, so his father discharged him from the council in 1411.


The Path To King

Henry V | Agincourt, Shakespeare & More 4
Henry IV

Henry IV’s looming death, which came in 1413, meant Henry was bound to become King of England, and he had earned quite a reputation for himself thanks to his brave and successful military performances in years prior.

He was crowned in April 1413 at Westminster Abbey, but the ceremony saw a horrific snowstorm, and commoners debated over whether it was a good omen or a bad one.

At the coronation, Henry V was described as very tall, perhaps 6’ 3”, with dark hair cropped in a ring above his ears. His face was clean shaven, but his complexion was ruddy, and he had a lean face with a pointed, prominent nose. One account stated that, depending on his mood, his eyes “flashed from the mildness of a dove’s to the brilliance of a lion’s”. Roger Bannister Robin Hood


Agincourt

Henry V | Agincourt, Shakespeare & More 5

Henry reigned only for a short period, but during his time managed to pull off one of the most celebrated wins in English history: victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt. The battle was part of a wider conflict known as the Hundred Years War and was immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry V. It came about when Henry’s Army laid seige and took the French port of Harfleur but with massive casualties.

Shakespeare credits Henry with delivering the final decisive speech to his men (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; / Or close the wall up with our English dead….”)

His much depleted force was was blocked from escape to Calais by a much larger French force near the village of Agincourt. Despite being outnumbered Henry’s force, partly due to the relatively new long bow technology deployed by the English.


Death

Henry V

He passed in 1422 at the Château de Vincennes, weakened by dysentery, which he contracted when sieging Meaux.

At 35 years old, his premature death was also partially contributed to a heatstroke, which he was thought to have suffered on his last active day, where he had been riding in full armour all day in blistering heat.

Suddenly, his nine year reign came to an end, to quite the dismay of the court. If Henry had survived another two months, he would have been crowned King of France in the wake of Charles VI impending death.

That wasn’t to be, and so ended one of the most famous, albeit short, reigns in the long history of England.