The reputation of Henry IVth has changed through history – where he’s remembered at all! So we look at that – we are left with those that think Henry was inadequate, and those that he did the best job possible in the circumstances. And then we deal with the first challenge of Henry’s reign – the Epiphany Rising.
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Images of Henry IVth
The famous image of Henry is this one. It hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and to all intents and purposes it looks as though we are now into the period of authentic likeness, which started with Richard II; prior to Richard all the images we have of kings are ‘identikit’, stylised images of how a king should look. BUT it turns out that this image is also fake. It was created as part of a series in late Tudor times – 1590-1610 ish. Now by this time, the concept of true likeness was still important; so they made great efforts to find some true likeness they could copy. However in the case of Henry IVth we might suspect that they didn’t manage it; but what they seem to have done is make sure at least that his dress is as authentic as possible – in this case it looks very similar, apparently, to contemporary images of Charles VIth of France.
So we should probably be relying more on this image, which his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. It is pretty much contemporary – 1420-30, by a Derbyshire firm, created in Alabaster.
Having said that, I’m not sure he looks as good – a bit like a small town bank manager, could be in Dad’s Army or such like. His figure on the tomb has the interlinked S’s of the house of Lancaster – ancestry was important to them.
As it happens, the tomb was opened in 1832. Apparently Henry’s features were very well preserved including a deep, and full beard, of a deep Russet colour.
And welcome to the history of England, episode 134 – and episode 4.1 because this is the first episode in a new Series, Series 4,the house of Lancaster and the Wars of the Roses. This series will take us from 1399 and the accession of Henry IV to the death of Richard III on Bosworth Field in 1485, and his subsequent internment by Leicester Parking Services.
Well ahead of you there is a smorgasbord of delights, especially if you like war, battlyness, political intrigues and all of that. I mean we have what four usurpations if you include Henry IV. We start off with one of England’s most effective warriors and kings – Henry V – and proceed to possibly it’s least effective warriors and kings in Henry VI. There are more battles than you could wish for –Agincourt, and not to mention Formigny and Castillon. I said not to mention Formigny and Castillon who wrote this script? The Wars of the Roses start at episode 4.31 – 163, and you can revel in all that battliness, Tewkesbury, Towton, Bosworth
There is factional politics that would make Thoms Cromwell and Anne Boleyn stand in slack jawed admiration; and characters that would grace any stage; the statesmanlike Duke of Bedford who guides England through a dangerous regency; the Kingmaker of the wars of the Rose, Warwick, the She Wolf of France and gritty, relentless fighter Margaret of Anjou, the tragic queen of the York Elizabeth Woodville ultimate matriarchs – Cecily of York and Marget Beaufort. And it is with Margaret that we end, as she guides her son and England to the safer haven of the Tudor dynasty.
In the background there is a fascinating social history too. The Black death wrought deep changes in English society and the rural world started to change, the medieval town began to flourish despite a stable and even stagnant population. For those that had survived the horror, the world had followed was relatively affluent. I have a bit of crack at late medieval society in episodes 178-182 4.46 – 4.5, while in 4 episodes 147-149 and 153 I have a go at womens’ lives in the middle ages. Pone of them, which shall remain nameless, has me waking up screaming even now. There is incidentally also the smell of early reformation in English Lollardy. I say smell because Henry V burns it in episode 4.9.
Ok that’s it….
So we’ve had a good hack at the history of Europe over the last few weeks, so hopefully we have an holistic view of the political world that Henry would have to deal with over the 13 years of his reign.
Today we are going to get back to the knitting, to the history of England, not all this messing about with those strange folk on the remote continent they call Europe. We like, don’t we, to start off a new reign with a bit of a look at the historiography of the main protagonist, which for some time yet will continue to be the monarch. Just the way it is I’m afraid for all you republicans out there. So we’ll spend half of today’s episode on that, and the remaining ¾ on how Henry gets his feet under the royal table.
And of course we must start with our touchstones of historical veracity and scholarship, 1066 and all That, and the Ladybird Kings and Queens of England. I have to say that Sellar and Yeatman do rather leave me for dead on HIV. First all, it’s one of the shortest entries in the book, which in itself is interesting. Anyone who can interpret this line, let me know:
He also captured the Scottish Prince James and, while keeping him as a sausage, had him carefully educated for 19 years.
Que? Keeping him as a sausage? Do tell….
The Ladybird entry is a classic of its kind, both in its brutal dismissal of Henry and some fascinating contemporary comment on the time it was written – which was 1968 by the way. Here’s the summary of Henry:
His reign was a troubled one. One after another, rebellions broke out against him, and each was followed by savage executions. All the good that can be said of him is that he encouraged artists and men of letters.
With Henry dismissed, Ladybird go on to Trade Guilds:
These were really the far off beginnings of the Trades Unions of today, except they existed chiefly to see that their members produced honest goods.
Ooh, hang on; do I suspect some kind of political bias going on here?
What is today called demarcation was common: for instance a man who made bows was not allowed to make arrows
I can hear the cry of Trades Union legislation and Britain in the ‘70’s and ‘80s as I read it. Maybe Margaret Thatcher distributed copies of the Ladybird Book of the Kings and Queens of England at her first Cabinet, and instructed her Willie to turn to the page on Henry IVth, what do you think? Though I have to say, as we’ll see, Ladybird would not be the first history book to take on the attitudes and concerns on its day when interpreting the past.
Now, while clearly my influence on global historical thinking is just possibly less than I would like, for me Henry IV is a forgotten king, sandwiched in between a fascinatingly potty loser, and of course the glories of Henry V. It’s a case of ‘Henry the who?’ And of course since I have always considered Shakespeare to be as dull as ditchwater, a man, by the by while I’m on the subject, responsible for writing the least funny comedies the world has ever seen, I have managed to avoid being educated about him through his plays. So when I came to studying the lad, he was something of an enigma.
Well, blow me down and knock me over with a feather if I didn’t find that I am not alone. Not in the ‘Shakespeare wouldn’t know a good gag if it came and bought him a pint on the pub’ thing, but in finding Henry IVth an enigma. And while I hate to warble on about Shakespeare, I know enough from my classmates at Loughborough to know that Henry IVth didn’t even make it to being the hero of the plays that bear his name, which has got to be the ultimate insult.
Part of the thing is the dissonance between the glorious public character of Henry Bolingbroke, contrasted with the actual events, trials and tribulations of the reign of Henry IVth, if you see what I mean. The Golden Child forced by events to deal with the grubbiest and knottiest realities of life.
Winston Churchill probably reflects the received history and general perception of Henry, in so far as he is generally perceived at all. Here are a couple of quotes, firstly from the start of his chapter:
All historians concur he was manly, capable and naturally merciful….but the sullen, turbulent march of events frustrated his tolerant inclinations and eventually soured his generous nature.
And then from the end; a guerdon, by the way, is a reward. I had to look that up. I suspect Winnie was trying to avoid using the word reward too many times in the following sentence:
Thus the life and reign of Henry IVth exhibit to us another instance of the vanities of ambition and the hard guerdon which rewards it’s success…he had hardly dared at first to aim at the crown…he had found it less pleasing when possessed. Not only physically but morally he sank under its weight….Upon his death a new personality…ascended… to the throne not only of England but very soon of almost all Western Christendom.
Winnie was of course very much at home to Mr Hyperbole, indeed Mr hyperbole was a permanent fixture in the guest room, but let me draw your attention to two things; firstly, that Henry possessed all the necessary aspects of a great king, but was ground down by events; and secondly the massive temptation to see his reign only in the context of the glory of man who followed, Henry Vth.
Confusion starts early, with two of the main chroniclers of his reign. In Adam of Usk’s view Henry was a man who reigned powerfully, but in the end came to misery and squalor; Whereas Thomas Walsingham basically just says the whole thing is glorious. It’s Usk’s view that prevailed; Henry tried hard, was worthy of respect, but in the end was ground down. In the 1540s, Edward Hall and his Chronicles basically take the same line.
In 1563, John Foxe wrote what is generally known as his book of Martyrs, and he struck a sour note by taking a much more negative spin on Henry. He had an agenda though, it must be said; he focussed on Henry’s vigorous repression of the Lollards. Henry’s reign, he said, was quote ‘full of trouble, of blood and of misery’; he condemned Henry as, quote, ‘the first of all English kings that began the unmerciful burning of Christ’s saints for standing against the pope’.
In general, of course, in 1596 Shakespeare then continues the previous line – a man worthy of respect, but whose actions in usurping the throne brought misery on his country and on himself. And the usurpation continued to dog Henry throughout history, not just in his own time. So, in 1599, Sir John Hayward wrote a book about the usurpation of Henry IV, leading to an incident that, I have to admit, may have been wrongly reported and interpreted here in the History of England podcast. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I think at least one of you has already identified my mis-interpretation. Anyway, Hayward’s book was badly received by the then aging Queen Elizabeth, who saw it as a veiled attack on her, since it was dedicated to the treasonous Earl of Essex; ‘know ye not I am Richard II’ she is supposed to have raged, and the poor chap was interrogated by the Star Chamber and flung in prison for a year.
In the 18th century, a different theme begins to emerge – Henry’s reign seen through the veil of Whiggish constitutionalism. In 1762, David Hume focussed on the role of parliament in the usurpation, and the impact on its role and authority throughout Henry’s reign; Henry Hallam a little later made the same point. Our mate William Stubbs, the grandiose, ever so slightly pompous but massively authoritative Victorian, known to his mates down the boozer as Stubbsy, took it of course one step further by claiming that Henry actually consciously initiated, quote, ‘a great constitutional experiment, a premature testing of the parliamentary system’. Despite Stubbsy love of anyone who brought parliament forward, and his view that in light of that Henry was a great king, his judgement is actually rather slighting of Henry’s talents:
‘he seems to us a man whose life was embittered by the knowledge that he had taken on a task for which he was unequal, whose conscience, ill-informed as it may have been, had soured him, and who felt that the judgments of men, at least, would deal hardly with him when he was dead’
James Ramsay at a similar time follows the Stubbsy line, declaring Henry to be:
‘painstaking and industrious; merciful and temperate, and domestic; a traveller but not a soldier or a sportsman’,
the latter part of which judgement infuriates contemporary historian Ian Mortimer with some justice – give Bolingbroke’s reputation as a jouster, and his success in the battles he fought.
The seminal study of Henry IVth appears to be a massive set of 4 tomes published between 1884 and 1898 by James Hamilton Wylie. The result appears to be no clear picture of Henry IVth and his character, but the bringing together of a mass of material that later historians have then been able to feed off.
One of these, Griffith Davies, introduces a new theme, which is that it’s easy to forget that the triumphs of Henry V’s reign were very much based on the work of his father; that he inherited a tool and platform that he was then able to use. It also asks the question of how the two would have coped if the positions had been reversed – i.e. if Henry IVth had been the son – what would he have done with the opportunity? Griffith Davies‘ basic conclusion about HIV is very positive, but more on the basis of a man who faced up to his duties to God, family and people.
One of the best known and influential historians of the period was K. B. McFarlane, in the middle of the last century. McFarlane emphasised the importance of understanding the relationship between Bolingbroke and Richard. He pretty much debunked Stubbs’s portrait of Henry, focussing on the bunking Stubbs had indulged in about Henry consciously driving constitutional change. Not so, said Mcfarlane. Henry was, quote ‘not a man of constitutional principle at all but an opportunist and a politique’, which seems fair. McFarlane, incidentally, is also the chap that took the view that bastard feudalism, slated by the Victorians as evil and a degradation of honest pure feudalism, was bunk, and debunked that too. Seems to me that if we got rid of the all the original bunking altogether an awful lot of people would be out of a job.
In the 60’s E F Jacobs took the view that Henry got far too little credit for a darned difficult job, in hideous circumstances, and backs the Walsingham, glorious reign line. G L Harriss, a student of McFarlane, and author of a seriously good textbook, ‘Shaping of the Nation’, first published in 2005 – seriously, a textbook but gloriously written, wonderfully clear concise insights – Harriss basically gives a positive summary. He stresses the Bolingbroke’s personal qualities and fitness to rule; and that while his reign was full of hardship he survived because of the political groundwork he’d laid in building his relationship with parliament
Which brings us to Ian Mortimer and ‘The Fears of Henry IV’ in 2007. Mortimer as an author engages and irritates me in equal measure; engages through his commitment to uncovering the real person and making the story engaging; irritating through his constant hyperbole and on occasion conclusions that have to include a massive leap of faith.
But that aside, Mortimer has of course written a great book which I heartily recommend to you. He doesn’t back away from the less savoury events in Henry’s life. Early in the book he lays out his philosophy – that the job of the biographer is to dig into and understand the character of his subject; and that historians should be less shy of doing the same, since to do so builds greater understanding of events – it’s not all blind, grand themes unaffected by individuals. I think Mortimer does this brilliantly, it’s his gig; he brings Henry to life as a real individual. He does rather fall into the biographer’s trap, of being overly positive. So, you know when you get asked that classic interview question, what are you greatest weaknesses; and of the course the answer is to present a strength as a weakness. So, for example, my greatest weakness is that I just don’t know when to stop working, I can’t stop until a problem is solved – that sort of thing? Mortimer does that. Henry was so generous that he gave away too much money to his friends, rather than Henry was unable to control royal finances. He wanted so much to be a good king that he tried to please everyone. But overall, it’s a really good book, and the best to start with if you are interested.
So there we are. To set against this, the biographer of Henry Vth, casually slags Henry IVth in 1992 with the off-hand dismissal that he was ‘a man never strong enough morally, politically or physically to give a firm lead to his countrymen.’ Ouch, burn. For my judgement – well you’ll have to see. But from what we know to this stage of Henry’s life, I would say that the positive view of Henry to a degree has to be true; we have already seen his absolute loyalty to his father. He is a model of chivalry, a good fighter, curious, adventurous and confident enough to leap into the unknown. As his travels have shown, he is charming and affable; and very unusually for a medieval king, there is evidence of his wit. The Byzantine Emperor remarked on it; and actually a line on his deathbed shows it stayed with him to the end. When he was asked if he regretted the usurpation, he sardonically remarked that his sons would not allow him to give it back now. Not a bad effort when you are about to croak. But he’s also clearly got a brain on him, he’s a reader and a thinker; he is pious beyond the needs of the day, though I’ve not brought that out in the narrative.
But I would also claim that we can go way too far. His treatment of Richard as far as I can see is clearly dishonest, I have little doubt he aimed to make himself king, and was far from up front with Richard – but I also think that was without doubt the best thing for him to do! And there’s part of me also that thinks Richard would look up from his grave at the rest of Henry’s reign and feel at least some sense of justice that this sprig of the gentry, who for 30 years had all the privileges of wealth and power with precious few of the dis-benefits, had to struggle with the same realities of kingship that Richard had been forced to deal with since he was a nipper. Henry was to find out that power wasn’t as easy as it looked, and I suspect that’s always the case.
He was to get his first demonstration far earlier than he would have liked. Henry had been far more generous and merciful to Richard’s nearest and dearest than many expected, and indeed maybe more than was advisable. Because there was a group of nobles and powerful men who, hate it or loathe it, may still have their heads but they didn’t have any political influence with the new boss, while they had been right up there in the driving seat with Richard.
So, let me take you to the Abbot’s lodging at Westminster Abbey on 17th December 1399, where 8 men have gathered. Five of them are the Counter Appellants, the men who had been the spearhead of Richard’s revenge in 1397, when Gloucester and the Arundels, Thomas and Richard, and Warwick had been brought low.
We have Edward, earl of Rutland, son of the Duke of York; John Holland, the Earl of Huntingdon, half-brother of Richard II and a thug all his life; he was also the badly behaved Uncle of another of the conspirators, Thomas Holland, earl of Kent. Then there’s the earl of Salisbury, the most prominent of Lollards, who had worked so hard for Richard II at the French court to nix Boloingbroke’s plans; Lord Despencer, the Earl of Gloucester had wide holdings on the Welsh march, proving that his family could cause trouble in any generation. There was also a man called Richard Maudelyn, an esquire – who just happened to look a lot like Richard II, and a fervent RII fan, a knight called Thomas Blount who would soon prove that some people can think of a good one-liners whatever pressure they are under. There was also the Bishop of Carlisle , who had spoken out against Bolingbroke in his first parliament, and Roger Waldon, the man made ABC by Richard to replace Thomas Arundel, the ABC who had been displaced by the return of Arundel. The deeply religious and saintly man, Roger Waldon, planned to see Thomas Arundel assassinated, in a deeply religious, saintly kind of way, so that he, Roger could have his job back and bring his brand of saintliness back to his flock.
These men were plotting rebellion, and here was the plan. At Epiphany, 6th January, H4 was holding a great tournament at Windsor. That tournament would go ahead, but it would be Maudelyn presiding over it, not Henry, and Henry by that time would be dead, killed on the night of the 4th by the rebels. The rebels would assemble their forces at Kingston to the south west of London. Maudelyn would act as R2 until all the remaining, and presumably pitifully small number of Henry IVth supporters were dead, and until the rebels could liberate the real Richard from Pontefract castle where he lay. Easy, peasy, pudding and pie.
On the 4th of January, though, Edward the earl of Rutland bottled it. After having supper with his Dad the Duke of York, the news seemed to get out and Edward went and spilt the beans to Henry. The story is that he left a document of indenture lying about where his father found it. The indenture defined his role in the rebellion swearing to take part and do a good job. As if. I mean, as if rebels would create such a document. As if they’d leave them lying around if they did. But, whatever, it was Edward in all likelihood that spilt the beans to Henry – after all, he was never punished for his role.
Now for all of you Riccardians out there, or Bolingbroke haters, you will have to admit that Henry does a decent job indeed in responding to this crisis. Before you could say ‘I’m innocent’ he took his sons and rode for London, rose the Mayor, and writs and criers appeared throughout London, asking for men to join the king to defeat the rebels. Meanwhile, the Rebels had 6,000 men in the field at Kingston.
On 5th, Henry rode out of London at the head of the army, as the Londoners flocked to join him. Richard was not popular in the capital, not popular at all. Ahead of him went his loyal captain, John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset. Beaufort was the son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, legitimised by RII, and formerly a Counter Appellant, but now determined to support the new king.
Meanwhile, Edward the Earl of Rutland was earning his freedom. He rode into the rebel camp, for all the world as though he was still their loyal friend, and told them the king was approaching this this massive army, lord you should see it, it’s a whopper, never seen anything like it, stretches from here to Rekjavik.
Bravely, the rebels legged it, to get more men. In Chester, for example, the heartland of Richard’s support, there were men aplenty gathering, to make up for their failure to stop Henry while he had been in their neck of the woods. The plan was that John Holland would hold the bridge at Maidenhead, west of London, while this happened. But as Henry arrived on the evening of 5th, Holland’s courage deserted him and he ran away.
The earls of Kent and Salisbury were with Richard’s little 11 year old queen Isabella, and they told her they’d rescue her hubby with 100,000 men at their back. They went westwards down the Thames to Wallingford, Abingdon and then to Cirencester, trying to raise the townsfolk, and there in Cirencester the earls and their supporters took up residence for the night, expecting to assemble their army of brave townsfolk. Along with Kent and Salisbury was a man called John Ferrour. We last saw John Ferrour at the Tower of London, as a guard, turning a blind eye to the 14 year old Henry Bolingbroke, and letting the lad escape.
Unfortunately for Kent, Salisbury and Ferrour, the crowd that assembled in the dark at midnight outside their house were all for Henry, not Richard. Desperately, they fought to get out and escape. But at 3 in the morning they begged for mercy, and to be allowed to see the king. The townsfolk were not having it. A fire had started in the town, they were worried. So while the common men, the likes of John Ferrour were shipped off to Oxford for the judgement of the king at Oxford, Kent was beheaded. Thomas of Walshingham the chronicler let’s his grim satisfaction seep out when he wrote:
The earl of Salisbury, who had been a supporter of Lollards all his life, and a scorner of images, a despiser of the canons, and a scoffer of sacraments, ended his life without the sacrament of confession, it is said.
Everything had essentially turned to poo. John Holland had stayed in London, saw the way the wind was blowing and tried to get a boat to escape the continent. Unfortunately he hadn’t really seen how the real wind was blowing, ‘cos it blew him back to the Essex coast where he was captured and turned over to the Countess of Hereford. The countess Joan of Hereford was a FitzAlan. Her brother was Richard FitzAlan, Richard of Arundel, who had been tried by Richard in that treason trial with the Counter Apellants and all in 1397 and horribly executed. Her daughter had been Mary Bohun, wife of Henry IVth.
So, she took Holland back to her place, at Pleshy Castle. There, she got a mob together, and ordered his head to be separated from the rest of his body. When that was done, the head was hoisted on a spike outside Pleshy Castle as a warning to the wild, and with grim satisfaction Joan returned to her breakfast. So much for the violent death of the violent John Holland, earl of Huntingdon.
In London Maudelyn was found and hanged; in Bristol, Despencer also met his death at the hands of the townsfolk.
In Oxford, Henry received the survivors of the Epiphany Rising, as the revolt became known. One of those who faced the king was John Ferrour. Henry recognised the man who had saved his life all those years ago, and he returned the favour, granting him a pardon. Henry came out of the affair pretty well – decisive and determined, still prepared to be merciful but also to be firm as well.
6 men were condemned to a traitor’s death. Here at the History of England we all know what that means. Dragged through town on a hurdle, hanged, cut down before dead and cut open, entrails burning in front of horrified eyes, drawn and quartered. Whatever. Amongst the baying howling crowd of townsfolk, ever eager for the sight of blood and pain thomas Blount’s entails were being burned in front of Blount’s eyes, and the king’s man Thomas Erpingham rather nastily mocked him, and asked him if he wanted a drink. Blount declined saying
No, for I do not know where I would put it.
Nice one. Guts all over the floor, geddit?
Henry had come to the throne looking to put things right, and determined that the standards of openness, chivalry, right and justice would prevail as they had in days gone by, in the days of yore, when men were men and women were women and small furry creatures etc etc etc. The epiphany Rising showed that life was going to be more difficult. On the one hand, the earls had badly miscalculated – very few wanted Richard II back, the memory was too fresh. But on the other hand, Henry would have realised it wasn’t going to be easy’; politics was a dirty business, he was a usurper with a wafer thin legitimacy. And to survive he was going to have to get his hands dirty.
Which is what he does. We really don’t know for sure what happens to Richard. The official story by February 14th 1400 was that Richard had voluntarily decided to go without food and water, and had therefore died at Pontefract Castle. One chronicler linked it to the failure of the Epiphany Rising. Another, though, that he was put to death by being deprived of food and water – a rather different interpretation. And indeed others hedge their bets and say it was both. However, the probable conclusion from all of this is that Henry ordered Richard killed. It’s also very likely that he did this not at the height of the rising when outcomes might have been open to doubt, but afterwards, in the cold light of day, and in the light of cold hard reasoning. Henry had learnt the lesson. The business of being king was not to be a walk in the park.
Henry ordered Richard’s body to be brought down to London with its face uncovered. This has naff all to do with respect for the dead and everything to show the world that the old king was as dead as a doornail. It was displayed for 2 days at St Pauls. For 2 hours on Cheapside, London’s main market. Look everyone, it really is the king, he’s completely dead, deceased, he has ceased to be, gone to meet his maker, shuffled off this mortal coil, in short he was a dead parrot and an ex parrot.
He was then conducted down to Westminster Abbey, a few masses were sung, and then sent off to the buried in relative obscurity at Kings Langley. Now really he should have been buried at Westminster Abbey – there was in fact a tomb waiting there for him. But Henry knew it’d become a focal point for rebellion or some nutty cult. So, he shipped him off.
So, 1400, feet under the table first test as king passed. What will the future hold? Next time, we’ll see how the troubles and tribulations of the trade of kinging rise around Henry’s gilded ears, and how he deals with it all.
Incidentally, as a whim, I left the dog in there this week, just to introduce you to the bane of my podcasting life, and allow you to share in my pain. Sorry for the obscenity.