Henry V of England: Timeline & Accomplishments

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Henry V is one of the most popular figures in English history, but why? In this lesson, we'll explore the life and legacy of Henry V, and see how he impacted England for generations to come.

Henry V

Being a monarch is tough. No matter what you do, it upsets someone and so throughout history, rulers have tried to find ways to increase their popularity. One standard option is to emulate the actions of a former, popular monarch. If you're an English king, then this may well mean trying to act like Henry V. Ruling England from 1413-1422, Henry's reign was short but immensely important, even meriting representation in a Shakespeare play. Henry V's life has been one of controversy, pride, and emulation, setting a standard by which many monarchs are measured to this day.

Henry V
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Early Life

Henry was born to the noble house of Lancaster around 1387…we think. There's some debate on this topic since Henry's birth was not formally recorded. Why not? He wasn't meant to be king. The line of succession was in his cousin's family, but in 1399 Henry's grandfather died and fighting broke out over the crown. In the end, the Lancasters claimed victory and Henry's father was crowned as King Henry IV.

Young Henry became heir to the throne, and soon took command of English troops. In 1403 he was hit in the face by an arrow, but being the heir apparent was given the best possible medical treatment (by 15th-century standards) and survived. Henry's face was permanently scarred from the event; something he took pride in and used to help cultivate his reputation as a fierce warrior.

Henry as King

Towards the end of Henry IV's life, young Henry started taking a larger role in government. Allegedly, this caused some political tension between him and his father, and may be partly responsible for the view of Henry as a rebellious youth (as famously depicted by William Shakespeare). The king died in 1413 and Henry was crowned Henry V.

Henry V quickly demonstrated that he intended to rule a unified England, not one of practically autonomous fiefdoms and lords. He reached out to many nobles and attempted to improve their relationships with the Crown, while violently suppressing malcontents. He also standardized the use of English in the English court, as opposed to the formal Latin or French used in many European courts. In fact, Henry V was the first English monarch to insist that government records were written in English. Overall, he played a crucial role in consolidating an English national identity.

Henry V and the Hundred Years' War

Henry V ascended the throne during an era when Europe was engaged in perpetual warfare. The conflict most relevant to England was a long-standing struggle against France that had started back in 1337. Remembered in history as the Hundred Years' War, the conflict revolved around contested English and French claims to Normandy. The English claimed it as the homeland of the founder of the modern English state, William the Conqueror.

Henry V took the throne at a time when the Hundred Years' War was stagnating. Perhaps to protect his reputation as a warrior king, and perhaps as a way to build support amongst the people, Henry V reasserted the claim that the English king was the rightful monarch of France and took 10,000 men and invaded France in 1415. He won impressive victories along the French coastline, but was intercepted by a 20,000-strong French army at Agincourt. Despite the odds being stacked against him, Henry would turn this into his crowning achievement. He used the natural landscape of the woodlands to reduce the efficiency of the French cavalry, lined up his longbow archers, and decimated the French knights charging across the muddy and uneven terrain. The Battle of Agincourt was one of the greatest military victories in English history, and secured the role of the longbow archer as a prominent English folk hero.

The Battle of Agincourt was a definitive moment in English history
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By the middle of 1419, Henry's troops made it to Paris and forced the French king to accept a treaty that would recognize Henry V as the rightful heir to the French throne. It was everything the English had been fighting to achieve for a century. To secure his lineage, Henry married Catherine of Valois, daughter of the French king, and the two had a son (the future Henry VI).

The marriage of Henry V to Catherine of Valois
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