Commander Dossier: Henry V
England ‘s “fighting king” was a master of medieval warfare.
Henry of Monmouth was born September 16, 1387, to Mary de Bohun and Henry Bolingbroke. He was just a boy in 1399 when his father usurped the English throne while King Richard II was distracted putting down an Irish rebellion. Although Bolingbroke’s reign as Henry IV survived numerous plots by Richard’s supporters, his son’s right to inherit the crown remained clouded.
At the age of 16, Prince Henry became commander in chief of his father’s army in Wales, eventually defeating the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr. Near Shrewsbury (July 21, 1403), he was wounded in the face by a longbow arrow in a narrow victory over an army of English rebels.
Young Henry possessed an intuitive grasp of warfare and his innate ability was honed by his early battles in Wales, experiences that taught him about artillery, logistics, siege tactics and leadership skills. He built imaginative war machines, such as a drawbridge on wheels and an ingenious but never used floating siege tower.
Securing the Crown
Upon his father’s death in 1413, the prince declared himself King Henry V. Because many within the kingdom still supported Richard’s heir, Henry enlarged his army and initiated a successful law-and-order campaign to secure his royal standing.
Since Henry IV had damaged relations with the powerful Catholic Church, Henry V aggressively cultivated the church’s support for his own reign by a public show of piety meant to impress Catholic officials. He even banned drinking and the presence of prostitutes among his army, calling himself “the scourge of God sent to punish God’s people for their sins.”
The sin Henry punished most harshly was opposition to his claim on French lands. Reaching beyond England, he declared himself also to be France ‘s rightful king, based on a dubious bloodline connection. While ambitious, he certainly understood that war with France – a weak confederation of provinces loosely led by the unstable King Charles VI and racked by civil war – would help to unify his subjects behind his leadership. Victory in battle also would prove that he had God’s blessing as the true king of England. For two years, Henry pressed his French claims through diplomatic channels, buying time while he carefully prepared siege equipment and supplies. In August 1415, some 1,500 ships carried his 10,000-man force to invade Normandy.
His men first besieged the city of Harfleur, which fell quickly. They then began a reign of terror across Normandy, burning, pillaging, and ignoring Henry’s orders to spare women and religious sites. However, the sincerity of those orders is questionable since violence and starvation helped shatter resistance.
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