Henry V and his brothers – Part 1

Henry as Prince of Wales from Thomas Hoccleve, Regement of  Princes, Arundel 38, f. 37 – Wikipedia

Henry of Monmouth (so named because he was born at Monmouth Castle in Wales) was not his father’s favorite. That honor went to the next son Thomas, probably a year younger than him. I suspect this had a lot to do with his father’s absence through much of his youth; Henry Bolingbroke spent many years galivanting around Europe and going on crusade. It’s kind of amazing he had any opportunity to beget so many children! Between 1386 and 1394 poor Mary de Bohun bore six children, dying while giving birth to her second daughter Philippa. The children were then raised by relatives.

When Bolingbroke was exiled in 1398, young Henry was surrendered as a hostage to King Richard II. Second son Thomas accompanied his father to Paris where—let’s face it—he had his sire all to himself. I suspect this accounted for Bolingbroke’s preference for him; could it be the first time he paid any real attention to his child?

Maybe I’m not being fair. It was said that young Henry was a bit aloof, and Thomas reportedly was gregarious, good looking, and martially inclined. Very little was said in these early days about John, the next son born in 1389 and Humphrey, 1390. Their little sisters, Blanche (1392) and Philippa (1394) were married to foreign princes and don’t figure much in Henry’s story.

When young Henry was taken in by King Richard, his fortunes actually took a turn for the better. The childless king took a fancy to him, and it was even said that Richard saw future greatness in the boy. In many ways he treated Henry like the son he never had, took him to Ireland with him, and famously knighted him in the field. However, when word came to Ireland about Bolingbroke’s invasion, Henry was confined to Trim castle along with the heir of Buckingham for safekeeping. Apparently he didn’t resent the necessity, for the next time he saw Richard—after the king had been apprehended and imprisoned—Henry attempted to alleviate Richard’s discomfort. He was distressed by the usurpation, though not enough to refuse his elevation to Prince of Wales.

King Henry IV expected his sons to follow in his footsteps—at least as far as military and leadership training was concerned. Bolingbroke was a champion jouster as a young man, and took over governing the duchy of Lancaster when John of Gaunt campaigned in Spain and Aquitaine from 1386-89.  Bolingbroke would have been 19 years old at the time. So after his new reign began, he had high expectations for his heir. The Welsh rose in rebellion during the first year after Bolingbroke took the crown, and Henry was put under the tutelage of Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy at Conwy Castle. Unfortunately, Hotspur abandoned the cause after a couple of years in favor of his own rebellion. Within the year, Henry was given the lieutenancy of Wales, a major command and a lot of responsibility for a sixteen year-old. He would play a role in the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) against his former mentor, taking an arrow in the face that nearly ended his life. That put him out of commission for about a year.

BL Royal_ms_14_e_iv_f201v

Meanwhile, his younger brother Thomas was sent to Ireland as lieutenant in 1402, an office he was to perform on and off—mostly off—for the next ten years. His salary was constantly in arrears and he hated the job, preferring something closer to home. His father preferred having him around, too, and didn’t object when he turned the responsibilities over to a second in command and came back to London. Although he was given the somewhat empty position of steward of England, he had no titles until the year before his father died, when he was made Duke of Clarence. This gave him the necessary prestige to command an invasion of France planned in conjunction with the Armagnacs against the Duke of Burgundy. Although this whole episode was a fiasco, since the French made peace and bought him off, Thomas got his first experience at least by heading a chevauché, the closest thing so far to actual combat.

John was next in line after Thomas, and Henry IV had plans for him as well. The young prince was sent to Northumberland under the tutelage of the Earl of Westmorland, whose rivalry with the Percies had reached a climax. Although Earl Henry had survived the fallout from the Battle of Shrewsbury, his prestige and authority had greatly diminished in the region. John was appointed Warden of the East Marches toward Scotland—Hotspur’s former command. Westmorland was created Warden of the West Marches. This galled Percy to no end, and three years after Hotspur’s death, Percy launched an aborted rebellion against Henry IV. John accompanied Westmorland as they pursued and dealt with the rebels. John was destined to stay in the North all the way through the end of his father’s life; the experience would hold him in good stead when he would take over as regent during his brother’s reign.

This left Humphrey, who was only nine years old when Henry IV took the throne. Either his father ran out of jobs for him, or perhaps the king wanted to keep a son nearby, for Humphrey was stuck in the unenviable position of having nothing to occupy his talents. He was dragged along as the king moved about the country. Both Humphrey and John were young enough to benefit from the presence of Henry’s queen Joan of Navarre, who he married in 1403. Joan was obliged to leave her sons behind when she came to England, so she was ready to take the motherless boys under her wing. Now that Humphrey was the only son left at home, so to speak, he spent quite a lot of time with her. He wasn’t to make any major contribution to history until his brother became king.

Henry, as Prince of Wales, took his responsibilities very seriously—in contradiction to Shakespeare, who portrayed him as a good-for-nothing layabout, hanging around with drunks and thieves and causing trouble. The Welsh rebellion lasted nine years and Henry was in the thick of the fighting. He had no leisure to play around, and I don’t think he even spent much time in London. In 1410, as a result of his father’s failing health, Henry headed the Council in charge of the government. Unfortunately, he disagreed with the king on some fundamental political issues and he was dismissed a year later (there’s some question that he and his uncle Cardinal Beaufort may have tried to persuade King Henry to retire. If so, this backfired terribly.) His dismissal could have freed him up to go drinking with his buddies, but it wasn’t to last. King Henry IV died in March of 1413, and Henry V mounted the throne a changed man—allegedly.

Shakespeare’s Harry Hotspur

Dispute between Hotspur, Glendower, Mortimer and Worcester by Henry Fuseli – Wikiart

Harry Hotspur (aka Sir Henry Percy) was a major character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 who died at the hands of his nemesis, Prince Hal, at the battle of Shrewsbury. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that although Shakespeare was one of our greatest bards, he was not a historian and we can’t take his plays at face value. Yes, Hotspur was killed at Shrewsbury. But no, Hal was at the other end of the battlefield leading a flanking movement, still fighting with an arrow embedded in his face. I think that’s an even more dramatic story, but Shakespeare had other ideas (enter Falstaff).

But that’s not all. Hotspur was not Hal’s rival for Henry IV’s affection. In fact, Sir Henry Percy was the king’s age, not the son’s; he was actually born three years before Henry IV. He was knighted alongside Henry Bolingbroke by King Edward III in 1377. They traveled together to the great Tournament at Inglevert in 1390 (Hal would have been four years old at the time).

In reality, far from being the son Henry IV wished he had in contrast to his own wayward offspring,  Hotspur had been one of Hal’s early mentors. In the first few years after the usurpation, Hotspur had been made Constable of Chester, Flint, Conwy, and Caernarfon castles—all in addition to his other duties as Warden of the East Marches and Justice of North Wales. To say he had his hands full was an understatement! Hal was put under his tutelage at Chester, and I don’t think it would be totally out of line to suggest the prince might have experienced a bit of hero worship at this stage. He was only about sixteen, and Hotspur was the most famous knight of the age. He was indefatigable.

Even at Hal’s tender age, he was already being primed to take on his first responsibility in Wales. Unfortunately, it was unexpectedly thrust upon him at the end of 1402 when Hotspur grew annoyed at his lack of governmental support (and lack of payment) and resigned his command. Leaving young Hal in charge, he rode off, back to Northumberland. Just like that. How could the prince not feel abandoned?

The Welsh didn’t need much more incentive to rise up again, and they were soon attacking town after town, burning and pillaging. Prince Hal called up troops from nearby shires that owed the king service and went after them, holding his own. He was joined by his father a few months later and together they advanced into the heart of Wales. Unfortunately, their foray turned into a disaster and the English were forced to withdraw because of the terrible weather; the king was nearly killed when a storm blew his tent down on top of him. Henry was only saved because he wore his armor to bed. Their ignominious defeat was only made worse on discovering that the Percies had just won a tremendous battle at Homildon Hill, and came home loaded with hostages, among them the Scottish Earl of Douglas.

As depicted in Shakespeare, King Henry demanded that Hotspur turn over his prisoners and Harry angrily refused, precipitating the conflict that drove him to rebel. That much corresponds to history. In the play, there’s a scene where he conspired with Owain Glyndwr, Mortimer, and his uncle the earl of Worcester. This probably did not happen, though it’s possible some communication took place between them. The Welsh did not participate in the battle of Shrewsbury, though it’s possible they were creating a diversion by a very successful attack on Carmarthen in South Wales. Or the timing could have been a coincidence. Historians just don’t know, but since Glyndwr was occupied at Carmarthen, he couldn’t have been expected at Shrewsbury.

Death of Henry “Harry Hotspur” Percy, from a 1910 illustration by Richard Caton Woodville Jr. – Wikipedia

One can only imagine the shock and betrayal Hal must have felt to discover that his former friend and tutor had declared himself his enemy. I doubt he even knew trouble was brewing—it certainly caught his father by surprise. King Henry moved at his usual unpredictable speed and showed up with an army literally in the nick of time. Hotspur withdrew from besieging the town and prepared for battle.

Shrewsbury was a close-fought contest, and Hotspur was in the middle of the action. Shakespeare has him meeting Prince Hal seemingly alone, and they fight a duel where Hal slays his antagonist. And Falstaff takes credit for the killing after Hal walks away—apparently to get help. But of course, that’s all made up. The battle was total chaos and only the shouts of “Henry Percy dead!” turned the tide. His men panicked and fled, and later the trail of bodies stretched up to two miles away, with most of them fatally wounded in the back. No one knows precisely what happened to Hotspur, but after a search his body was found where the fighting was fiercest. Although the king supposedly shed a few tears over his corpse, he didn’t have any problem ordering that Hotspur’s naked body be propped up between two millstones so everyone knew he was truly dead.

While Hotspur fought valiantly, Prince Hal was leading a charge on the enemy flank; he wreaked havoc on the leaderless rearguard. It wasn’t until the fighting was over that Hal collapsed into the arms of his companions. In all probability he was unconscious for days—if not longer. Under almost any other circumstances his wound would have been fatal, for the arrowhead was embedded six inches into his skull next to his eye. It was only under the brilliant ministrations of John Bradmore, the most innovative surgeon in the kingdom, that Hal survived. It was probably a long time after the battle before he learned of Hotspur’s death.

You can learn more about the Battle of Shrewsbury and events leading up to it in my novel, THE USURPER KING.