Henry IV (of England)

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© Bob Denton 2014

Henry IV of England, 1399 – 1413

Henry Bolingbroke formally took the throne as Henry IV, king of England, Lord of Ireland and Lord of Aquitaine. He soon sought to resurrect his grandfather’s claim to the throne of France.

He was the first of the Lancastrian kings and probably the first, since the Norman Conquest, who took his coronation vows in English. Looking to the future he also appointed his son as Prince of Wales at the same ceremony, to secure his succession.

Lollards – this was a term of abuse against those with little education who followed the teachings of John Wycliffe. But Wycliffe inspired not just a religious movement but a political one too.

The word Lollard is described either as coming from Middle English where ‘loller’ meant a lazy vagrant or idler, or perhaps from Middle Dutch where ‘lollen’ meant to mutter.

Though Wycliffe had been significant their beliefs had no central controller. They felt that Catholicism was corrupt and that a new direct involvement in the Scriptures could be found by having the Bible translated into English; the better understanding developed a whole raft of new ideas.

They became political when they posted their ‘Twelve Conclusions’ on the door of the Westminster Hall. These attacked religious leaders who accumulated temporal wealth and became involved with secular issues. They railed against the expensive statuary and decorations in a church, believing this money should be spent in aiding the poor and sick; they were also strongly against pilgrimages.

This was declared as a heresy in the mid-14th century. However John of Gaunt and others sheltered them, some knights proudly declared themselves as Lollard Knights too. But things, or rather the authorities, turned against them when one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt preached Lollardy. At this time their prime protector John of Gaunt was overseas fighting in the Castilian Succession war. There would be many martyrs during the 15th century. Their thinking would be subsumed in to Protestantism later that century, some believed that Lollardy was the inspiration for it.

Henry ruled for under fourteen years and faced a raft of internal rebellions.

His reign had started auspiciously enough when the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos, visited and stayed in England for a month; the only such visit to England. He provided the emperor with money and held a jousting tournament in his honour.

But much of his reign was fighting rebellion. We already saw above the ‘Epiphany Rising’ in 1400 and his response to this was to dispose of King Richard.

Also that same year the Owain Glyndŵr Rising began, he sought to regain the title as Prince of Wales for himself, a Welshman. This unrest would continue until after Henry’s death.

Sir Henry Percy and his family also plotted to overthrow Henry from 1402 to 1408.

As a very successful knight in various conflicts, most recently in Scotland for Richard II, he had earned the nickname ‘Harry Hotspur’ and a raft of honours and prizes of land and offices. He fought against Owain Glyndŵr and his father, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, recorded victories in Scotland.

Hotspur’s family revolt stemmed from the king’s failure to pay them for their military services, while promoting his son, Prince Henry (of Monmouth), above them. They believed the king was prevaricating in Wales and should have negotiated a settlement. They were particularly unhappy when he failed to ransom Hotspur’s brother-in-law.

They took up arms against the king and fought him three time. They were defeated at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. Hotspur was killed, several of his noble followers were hung, drawn and quartered. Hotspur’s father, Henry Percy, fled to Scotland. The Prince of Wales, still a teenager acquitted himself well in this battle.

Henry Percy was back in 1405 to support a rebellion led by the Archbishop of York, again It was defeated and he was soon back in Scotland.

In 1408 he returned with a Northumbrian and Scottish army, this too was defeated and this time Henry Percy was killed in the battle.

The Prince of Wales won most of these battles for his father who since 1405 had been suffering from some unidentified but debilitating illness. Epilepsy to leprosy have been proposed by historians. At the time many of his subjects thought that it was leprosy that he had earned for executing the Archbishop of York. There were a number of disagreements between father and son.

In 1406 the future James I of Scotland was captured as he was taking a boat to escape to France. He was captured by English pirates who handed him over to the king; he was held in prison for the rest of Henry’s reign.

By 1410 Prince of Wales had wrested most of the control away from his father, he was assisted in this by his uncles. They routinely differed in matters of internal and foreign policy, when this reached the point that the prince and his uncles considered the abdication of the king, he acted. The king removed the prince from the Council in 1411.

In 1413 Henry IV died at the abbot’s house of Westminster Abbey, his son succeeded as Henry V. His coronation coincided with a heavy snowstorm, which had a mixed reception among his subjects as to what sort of omen it might be.

Falstaff – Of course Hotspur was to become a firm favourite in Shakespeare’s plays, but another large feature in several of the Bard’s plays was Falstaff.

John Falstaff was based upon a real person, Sir John Oldcastle, who was larger than life. From Herefordshire he was a knight, a justice of the peace and the county’s High Sherriff. He was married three times, his third bringing him manors in Kent, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Wiltshire.

His friendship with the new Henry V safeguarded him somewhat, but finally the king allowed him to be tried for his firmly-held Lollard beliefs in 1413. He was convicted as a heretic. Henry V’s friendship stopped him being executes and he was instead imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He escaped from there and led a rebellion that included an attempted kidnapping of the king. He failed was captured and executed in 1417. But his rebellion had made the Lollards even more of a target for the authorities.

Forward to Henry V (of England) – Back to Richard II (of England)
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014