Henry V

bullet Henry IV died 20 March 1413. His son, Henry V (aged 26) succeeded peacefully to the throne. Henry V was a muscular man, stately in his bearing; he loved hunting.
bullet Unlike Richard II, Henry V was very much at home with the military aristocracy that dominated England. He had made many friends amongst them while campaigning in Wales, and his first thought on accession to the throne was military action against France.
bullet Neither England nor France had strictly observed the twenty-six year truce of 1396 - in particular, the French attacked English territories in Gascony while Henry IV struggled to suppress the Percy rebellion.

Charles VI

Charles VI of France (1380-1422) acceded to the throne when he was only twelve years old. His irresponsible uncles - the Dukes of Anjou, Berry and Burgundy - squandered the country's wealth and imposed high taxes that provoked the peasantry to intermittent revolt.

Charles himself took control in 1388, but in 1392 suffered from one of the first of many recurrent bouts of madness. (He was under the impression that he was made of glass, and would break at the slightest shock.) Charles was insane more often than sane in the years that followed, and his uncles and his wife - Isabel of Bavaria - struggled to dominate policy.


bulletThe struggles amongst the French nobility erupted into civil war in 1410, and there was rioting between rival factions in Paris.

Henry V decided to take advantage of French divisions. In 1414, he negotiated with the Duke of Burgundy (who was keen to take advantage of the weakness of the French crown,) agreed a truce with Brittany, and spent the summer making military preparations.
The French were well aware of English plans. An almost contemporary account tells how they sent Henry V tennis balls to play with, as a sign of their contempt.

"We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard."

(Shakespeare, Henry V, 1.2)


Henry V and Agincourt

bullet Henry reasserted the English claim to the the French Crown (ignoring the fact that the Earl of March was more entitled than himself,) and in August 1415 set sail for France with his army aboard about 1500 vessels.

Henry besieged the fortress town of Harfleur which commanded the mouth of the Seine. He positioned his ships to prevent the town being reinforced or provisioned by sea.
Henry's army was well equipped and supplied, and the French were unable to send a force to relieve Harfleur. Disease broke out killing many of the town's inhabitants (and some of its besiegers, including Thomas Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel - a friend of Henry from the Welsh wars.)
Harfleur surrendered 22 September 1415.

bullet Against the advice of many of his commanders to return home before winter, Henry V decided to march with his army to Calais. The French amassed a large army, and after Henry's men had marched 250 miles in seventeen days, intercepted the English at Agincourt.
bullet Henry's army was hungry, tired, and many of its soldiers were suffering from dysentery. Had the French simply denuded the country of supplies and picked off stragglers, the march would have achieved nothing and lost many men. Instead the French decided to attack.
bullet Henry commanded about 6,000 troops - 5,000 infantry and archers, and 1,000 cavalry. The number of French troops is uncertain, but probably at least three times as many.

The Battle of Agincourt
25 October 1415

Henry took up a strong defensive position over a narrow front, with woodland on each flank and archers positioned behind wooden stakes driven into the ground to impede French cavalry attack. Henry - ostentatiously crowned and surrounded by banners - placed himself in a prominent position at the center of the line, possibly hoping to tempt the French knights into the center of his flanking archers.
Even now the French could simply have held their ground and forced Henry's troops either to withdraw under difficult conditions or starve where they stood. Overconfident and without respect for the socially-inferior archers who made up the bulk of the English force, the French arrayed themselves in three "battles" with the highest ranking nobles at the fore.
The French cavalry charged first, but the weather was wet and the horses could only advance sluggishly across the mud:  they made easy targets for the English archers. French dismounted cavalry followed in a second wave, but they were encumbered by their heavy armor and unable to bring their superior numbers to bear effectively because of the narrowness of the front.
The slow-moving French attackers were picked off by the English archers who, when they ran out of arrows, attacked them with stakes, knives and axes.

bullet Numbers are uncertain, but the French probably lost about 7,000 men to the English 500. Jean, 1st Duke of Alenšon was killed, and Charles, Duke of Orleans was captured (he was not ransomed until 1440).

Henry V and Normandy

bullet During 1417 and 1418, Henry systematically conquered Normandy, reducing one town after another. In January 1419, its principal city, Rouen surrendered.
bullet With Normandy subdued and the French army afraid to meet him in the field, English power in France reached its greatest extent.

Philip, Duke of Burgundy (who succeeded when the Dauphin's followers murdered his father during peace negotiations in 1419) and Queen Isabel agreed with Henry V in the Treaty of Troyes (May 1420) to the marriage of Henry V to Catherine Valois (daughter of Charles and Isabel) and to his succession to the throne of France on the death of Charles VI.

Hardly surprisingly, Charles the Dauphin did not agree to being disinherited. He established a rival government at Bourges. During the fighting that followed, Henry V died of dysentery (31 August 1422.) Henry's brother, John Duke of Bedford proclaimed the infant Henry VI King of France. North of the Loire, the English ruled; to the south the Dauphin's government was recognized.

Charles VII

bullet Henry's premature death makes it difficult to judge the wisdom of his foreign policy. By the time of his death he did hold a great deal of land in northern and south-western France, and was cooperating well with Burgundy in reducing the Dauphin's sovereign territory further. Henry was a truly able soldier, with logistic and strategic as well as tactical talents.
On the other hand, the French were uniting in the face of the English threat. England never had the resources needed to control France without its population's cooperation - and there is little evidence that the French in the conquered areas ever became reconciled to English rule.
bulletCertainly, Henry V was esteemed by his contemporaries who wrote admiring biographies about his daring conquests.
The "salut d'or" struck by Henry V to announce the impending birth of his child - heir to both France and England.
One side shows the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary above the coats of arms of France and England. The other shows the French fleur de lis and the English leopard.

 Henry V in England

bulletWhile fighting in France, Henry secured the English home front  by a policy of moderation - indeed generosity - to the nobility. He restored the lands and titles of families such as the Percies who had rebelled under Henry IV.
bulletThe prospect of gains in France from lands, ransoms and loot was also very appealing to the military aristocracy.

An example of Henry V's handwriting

bullet Henry V also had largely cordial relations with his parliaments, which were summoned eleven times during his short reign. Initially, they willingly granted him taxes. These included the customs duties of "tonnage and poundage" - a levy on wool, wine, hides, and other commodities - given to cover maritime defense. After Agincourt, they granted Henry these customs duties for life.
bullet From 1420, Parliament grew more reluctant to vote the king money as the Treaty of Troyes suggested that the King's new French provinces should finance the costs of war and pacification.
bullet Henry also financed his activities by regularly asking wealthy and important subjects for tax-free loans. At first these were readily forthcoming  - like today's party political contributions, they ensured access to power and policy-making. Later in Henry's reign, the supply began to dry up and signs of resentment began to appear. However, Henry died before discontent reached serious proportions.

Domestic unrest

The Cambridge plot
bulletThere was some opposition to Henry V in England. In 1415, Richard Earl of Cambridge, Henry Lord Scrope of Masham, and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton hatched a plot to kill Henry.
bulletThe motives of the conspirators are not entirely clear. They may have intended to place Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, on the throne - though Mortimer himself revealed the plot to Henry.
bulletIt does seem clear that Richard, Earl of Cambridge was the chief conspirator. This was probably for reasons of personal ambition.  Richard himself was the heir apparent of the House of York (should his brother, Edward die without children,) and Richard's son by his wife Anne Mortimer was Edmund Mortimer's heir (this son was Richard Duke of York.)
bulletAll three were promptly executed, and their lands seized.

Oldcastle's rebellion

A 16th Century engraving of Oldcastle's execution:  He was hanged in chains and a fire lit beneath him.


bullet Sir John Oldcastle was a soldier who had fought with Henry V in Wales. He was  also a public figure in Herefordshire - he was a Member of the 1404 parliament, sheriff for the county, and acquired by marriage the title of Lord Cobham.
bullet In 1413 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for heretical religious beliefs, but escaped in October and began plotting with others to seize or kill Henry V and his brothers.
bullet He sent out a call for supporters to start a general revolt beginning by assembling in Saint Giles's Fields, London. A few hundred, possibly a thousand rebels responded. The revolt was easily suppressed and about forty of the rebels were executed in January 1414.
bullet Oldcastle fled and hid until 1417, when he was captured and executed. Oldcastle firmly held Lollard beliefs, but many of those involved in the revolt seem to have been merely reckless opportunists.