On this day – In 1399

Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, deposed Richard II to become Henry IV of England, merging the Duchy of Lancaster with the crown. – Deskarati – 

Henry IV (possibly 3 April 1366 – 20 March 1413) was King of England and Lord of Ireland (1399–1413). He was the ninth King of England of the House of Plantagenet and also asserted his grandfather’s claim to the title King of France. He was born at Bolingbroke Castlein Lincolnshire, hence his other name, Henry (of) Bolingbroke. His father, John of Gaunt, was the third son of Edward III, and enjoyed a position of considerable influence during much of the reign of his cousin Richard II whom Henry eventually deposed. Henry’s mother was Blanche, heiress to the considerable Lancaster estates. Henry IV is, therefore, the first King of England from the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets, one of the two family branches (the other one being the York branch, initiated by his uncle Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York) protagonists of the War of the Roses.

Siblings

One of his elder sisters, Philippa, married John I of Portugal, and his younger sister Elizabeth was the mother of John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter. His younger half-sister Catherine, the daughter of his father’s second wife, Constance of Castile, was queen consort of Castile. He also had four half-siblings by Katherine Swynford, his sisters’ governess, his father’s longstanding mistress and eventual third wife. These four children were given the surname Beaufort after a castle their father held in Champagne, France.

Henry’s relationship with his stepmother, Katherine Swynford, was a positive one (she was governess to him and his sisters in youth). His relationship with the Beauforts varied considerably. In youth he seems to have been close to them all, but rivalries with Henry and Thomas Beaufort after 1406 proved problematic. His brother-in-law, Ralph Neville, remained one of his strongest supporters. So did his eldest half-brother, John Beaufort, even though Henry revoked Richard II’s grant to John of a marquessate. Thomas Swynford, a son from Katherine’s first marriage to Sir Hugh Swynford was another loyal companion and Constable of Pontefract Castle, where King Richard II is said to have died.

Eventually, a direct descendant of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford through the Beaufort line would take the throne as Henry VII.

Relationship with Richard II

Henry of Bolingbroke, flanked by the lords spiritual and temporal, claims the throne in 1399. From a contemporary manuscript, British Library, Harley 1319,f.57

Henry experienced a rather more inconsistent relationship with King Richard II than his father had. First cousins and childhood playmates, they were admitted together to the Order of the Garter in 1377, but Henry participated in the Lords Appellant’s rebellion against the King in 1387. After regaining power, Richard did not punish Henry (though executing or exiling many of the other rebellious barons). In fact, Richard elevated Henry from Earl of Derby to Duke of Hereford.

Henry spent a full year of 1390 supporting the unsuccessful siege of Vilnius (capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) by Teutonic Knights with his 300 fellow knights. During this campaign Henry Bolingbroke also bought captured Lithuanian princes and then apparently took them back to England. Henry’s second expedition to Lithuania in 1392 illustrates the financial benefits to the Order of these guest crusaders. His small army consisted of over 100 men, including longbow archers and six minstrels, at a total cost to the Lancastrian purse of £4,360. Much of this sum benefited the local economy through the purchase of silverware and the hiring of boats and equipment. Despite the efforts of Henry and his English crusaders, two years of attacks on Vilnius proved fruitless. In 1392/93 Henry undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he made offerings at the Holy Sepulchre and at theMount of Olives. Later he vowed to lead a crusade to free Jerusalem from the “infidel”, but he died before this could be accomplished.

The relationship between Henry Bolingbroke and the King encountered a second crisis. In 1398, a remark by Bolingbroke regarding Richard II’s rule was interpreted as treason by Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk. The two dukes agreed to undergo a duel of honour (called by Richard II) at Gosford Green near Coventry. Yet before the duel could take place, Richard II instead decided to banish Henry from the kingdom (with the approval of Henry’s father, John of Gaunt) to avoid further bloodshed. Mowbray himself was exiled for life.

John of Gaunt died in 1399. Without explanation, Richard cancelled the legal documents that would have allowed Henry to inherit Gaunt’s land automatically. Instead, Henry would be required to ask for the lands from Richard. After some hesitation, Henry met with the exiled Thomas Arundel, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who had lost his position because of his involvement with the Lords Appellant. Henry and Arundel returned to England while Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland. With Arundel as his advisor, Henry began a military campaign, confiscating land from those who opposed him and ordering his soldiers to destroy much of Cheshire. Henry quickly gained enough power and support to have himself declared King Henry IV, to imprison King Richard (who died in prison under mysterious circumstances) and to bypass Richard’s seven-year-old heir-presumptive, Edmund de Mortimer. Henry’s coronation, on 13 October 1399, marked the first time following the Norman Conquest when the monarch made an address in English.

Henry consulted with Parliament frequently, but was sometimes at odds with the members, especially over ecclesiastical matters. On Arundel’s advice, Henry passed the De heretico comburendo in 1401 and was thus the first English king to allow the burning of heretics, mainly to suppress the Lollard movement. In 1410, parliament suggested confiscating church land. Henry refused to attack the Church that had helped him to power, the House of Commons had to beg for the bill to be struck off the record.

Reign

The Coronation of Henry IV of England. From 15th century manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles.

The previous ruler

Henry’s first problem was what to do with the deposed Richard. After an early assassination plot (The Epiphany Rising) was foiled in January 1400, he ordered his death (very probably by starvation). The evidence for this lies in the circulation of letters in France demonstrating prior knowledge of the death. Richard died on 14 February 1400, after which his body was put on public display in the old St Paul’s Cathedral to prove to his supporters that he was dead. He was 33 years old.

Rebellions

Henry spent much of his reign defending himself against plots, rebellions and assassination attempts.

English Royalty
House of Lancaster
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg
Armorial of Plantagenet
Henry IV
   Henry V
   John, Duke of Bedford
   Thomas, Duke of Clarence
   Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
   Blanche, Princess Louis of Germany
   Philippa, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden

Rebellions continued throughout the first ten years of Henry’s reign, including the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, who declared himself Prince of Wales in 1400, and the rebellion of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. The king’s success in putting down these rebellions was due partly to the military ability of his eldest son, Henry of Monmouth, who later became king (though the son managed to seize much effective power from his father in 1410).

In the last year of Henry’s reign, the rebellions picked up speed. “The old fable of a living Richard was revived”, notes one account, “and emissaries from Scotland traversed the villages of England, in the last year of Henry’s reign, declaring that Richard was residing at the Scottish Court, awaiting only a signal from his friends to repair to London and recover his throne.”

A suitable-looking impostor was found and King Richard’s old groom circulated word in the city that his master was alive in Scotland. “Southwark was incited to insurrection” by Sir Elias Lyvet (Levett) and his associate Thomas Clark, who promised Scottish aid to carry out the insurrection. Ultimately, the rebellion came to naught. The knight Lyvet was released; his follower thrown into the Tower.

Via Henry IV of England

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