Henry IV

views updated May 17 2018

Henry IV (1366–1413), king of England (1399–1413). The eldest son and heir of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, he was born at Bolingbroke (Lincs.) in the same year as his cousin Richard II, whom he deposed in 1399. Returning from exile with the declared intent only to recover his inheritance seized by Richard, within three months he usurped the throne. It is not certain that he intended to do so when he landed; it is likely that he made the decision only after he had secured control of the person of the king. Although descended from Edward III, his claim to the throne was weak. He might have judged that only by taking the crown did he have a chance of securing his long-term future; if so, he was successful.

The first seven years of Henry's reign were years of continuous crisis. He faced his first rebellion in January 1400 from a group of Richard II's excluded courtiers. Its principal victim was Richard himself, who died in custody at Pontefract shortly afterwards. Other baronial rebellions followed, especially those of the Percys who had been his principal supporters in 1399. In 1403 Hotspur, heir to the earl of Northumberland, was defeated and killed at Shrewsbury. In 1405 the earl himself fled to Scotland after a failed rising; he was finally killed in an abortive invasion in 1408. More serious to king and kingdom was the rebellion of the Welsh under Owain Glyndŵr in 1400, which, despite annual English campaigns, led to the complete liberation of Wales by 1405. In addition war with Scotland, a running war at sea, and constant threats to the remaining English possessions in France left Henry beleaguered. The cost of defending the throne and the realm (exacerbated by his own profligacy and indifference to financial management) led to frequent parliaments, frequent requests for taxation, and a hostile reaction from the Commons, especially in 1401, 1404, and 1406.

That Henry survived these torrid years was due to several factors; his own determination, decisiveness, and energy; the strength, commitment, and ability of his own supporters (whose loyalty he wisely sustained by lavish rewards); and his own pragmatism (he would have agreed with Harold Wilson that a week was a long time in politics). But he was also helped by the divisions in the ranks of his enemies, especially the development of civil war in France. As a result, by the end of 1406 the worst of his difficulties were over: the French were no longer a threat, the reconquest of Wales was under way (completed in 1409), and a reformed government began to bring order to royal finances.

But the strain ruined his health. In the spring of 1406 Henry had what was probably the first of a series of strokes, which by 1410 left him incapacitated and unable to play much more than a token part in public affairs. While the later years of the reign saw the return of domestic peace and greater security, they also saw the emergence of factions at court, one led by the prince of Wales, the future Henry V, the other led by the prince's younger brother (and father's favourite) Thomas of Lancaster (Clarence). Yet at no time was Henry's throne threatened, and when he died in 1413 there was no challenge to the succession of his charismatic son.

In the 19th cent. Henry was credited with an experiment in government by limited monarchy. His usurpation was justified on the grounds of Richard II's tyranny; he had been one of the appellants who had sought to impose conciliar government on Richard; and after 1399 he had himself willingly accepted rule through a council answerable to Parliament. In reality he sought to maintain the prerogatives of the crown, but was vulnerable and accepted the need to make concessions to a political nation unwilling to bear the open-ended cost of his usurpation. Moreover he was conciliatory by nature, a man who had been the head of a baronial council and knew the value of working with rather than against his leading subjects. To this extent he represented a different type of kingship from the ‘absolutism’ of Richard II, something akin to the participatory style of Edward III. It is indeed arguable that he had opposed Richard II out of principle as well as self-interest.

Henry was an able, accomplished, and much-admired man. As a youth he was renowned for his chivalry, the leading jouster of his generation, and a crusader. His piety was deep and sincere; he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1393. He was well fitted for kingship. But he was a usurper. A tradition grew up that he was later racked by guilt, for the execution of Archbishop Scrope of York in 1405 as well as his usurpation. It was early speculated that this guilt hastened the collapse of his health. Moreover, although he established his dynasty on the throne, he created a precedent which was subsequently used against his grandson Henry VI. No longer after 1399 was the crown of England sacrosanct.

Anthony James Pollard


Kirby, J. L. , Henry IV of England (1970);
McFarlane, K. B. , Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights (Oxford, 1972);
Wylie, J. H. , History of England under Henry the Fourth (4 vols., 1884–98).

Henry IV

views updated Jun 11 2018

Henry IV

Henry IV (1367-1413), the king of England from 1399 to 1413, was the first monarch of the Lancastrian dynasty. His reign was marked by the development of parliamentary government in England.

Henry IV was the only son of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III, and Blanche, the daughter of Henry Grismond, Duke of Lancaster. Known as Henry Bolingbroke after his birthplace in Lincolnshire, he was made a knight of the Garter in 1377. In 1380, at the age of 13, he married Mary de Bohun, the youngest daughter and coheiress of Humphrey, the last Earl of Hereford. They had four sons and two daughters before her death at the age of 24, in 1394. As the Earl of Darby, Henry entered the House of Lords in 1385. In 1387 he supported his uncle Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, in his opposition to Richard II. (Gloucester was also Richard's uncle, and Henry was the King's first cousin.)

While taking part in the "Merciless" Parliament of 1388, Henry regained the favor of the King and in 1390 departed on the Crusade to Lithuania and then to Jerusalem. Visiting the kings of Bohemia and Hungary and the Archduke of Austria and then Venice in 1392-1393, he went only as far as Rhodes and then returned to England as a popular hero. He soon entered the government; he served on the Council while Richard was absent in Ireland in 1395 and for his efforts was made Duke of Hereford in 1397.

Henry soon quarreled with the Duke of Norfolk, each accusing the other of arranging the murder of the Duke of Gloucester and calling for a trial by battle. Both men were banished from the realm, Norfolk for life and Henry for 10 years with a proviso that he would be allowed to inherit from his father. But on the death of John of Gaunt in 1399, the Lancastrian estates were confiscated by the King, and Henry decided to return, ostensibly to claim his promised inheritance.

Taking advantage of the King's absence in Ireland, Henry landed on July 4, 1399, at Ravenspur, near Bridlington, where he was soon joined by the northern nobles who were unhappy with the policies of the monarchy. By the end of the month Henry and his followers had raised an army and marched to Bristol. When Richard returned in August, the royal army started to desert; Henry claimed the throne for himself, and on August 19 he captured Richard near Conway. He then went with his prisoner to London and there, on September 29, Richard abdicated. On October 13 Parliament formally deposed Richard and transferred the crown to Henry. This parliamentary action had constitutional importance, since it revived the claim that Parliament had the power to create monarchs. Prior to his coronation, Henry condemned Richard to imprisonment, where the deposed monarch soon died, possibly due to starvation.

Once on the throne, Henry spent his reign solidifying his position and removing the threat posed by the nobles who supported Richard. Starting in 1400, Henry made expeditions in Scotland against the Duke of Albany and the 4th Earl of Douglas and in Wales against Owen Glendower. He was an active supporter of the Orthodox Church against the Lollards, and in 1401 De heretico comburendo, one of the most important medieval statutes, was passed. In 1402 he married Joan of Navarre, the widow of John V, Duke of Brittany, who survived him without issue. In the north the Percy family rose against the King, but Henry checked them in July 1403 at Shrewsbury and the following year at Dartmouth. A revolt by the 1st Earl of Northumberland, Archbishop Scrope, and the Earl Marshal was checked in 1405, and 2 years later the Beauforts' claims to the throne were ended.

By the Battle of Brabham Moor in 1408, the domestic threats to the throne were ended, and Henry could turn his attention to the civil wars in France as well as reforming his household administration. He was able to check an attempt to force him to resign in favor of his more popular son (later Henry V), but his health declined, perhaps because of epilepsy. On March 20, 1413, he was seized with a fatal attack while praying at Westminster Abbey and died in the Jerusalem Chamber. He was buried at Canterbury.

Further Reading

An excellent modern biography of Henry IV is J. L. Kirby, Henry IV of England (1971). The standard biography remains James Hamilton Wylie, History of England under Henry the Fourth (4 vols., 1884-1898). For the background of the period see May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (1959), and Ernest Fraser Jacob, The Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1961). See also V. H. H. Green, The Later Plantagenets: A Survey of English History between 1307 and 1485 (1955; rev. ed. 1966). □

Henry IV

views updated May 17 2018

Henry IV (1367–1413) King of England (1399–1413). Son of John of Gaunt, Henry was one of the five ‘lords apellant’ who ruled England in 1388–89. He betrayed his fellow lords, but was exiled by Richard II in 1398. Henry mounted a successful invasion and usurped the throne. He faced revolts, notably by Owain Glyn Dw̧r and the Percy of Northumberland. His son succeeded him as Henry V.

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