King Henry IV of England

Instructor: Mollie Madden
Henry IV deposed his cousin and made himself king of England. Henry's reign was marked by rebellion, a renewal of the war with France, and religious turmoil.

Henry Bolingbroke (1367-1413)
Henry IV
Henry IV

Henry Bolingbroke was a grandson of Edward III. Henry's father, John of Gaunt, was Edward III's third surviving son and duke of Lancaster. Henry married Mary de Bohun in 1381, and together they had six children. Serious health problems plagued him during the last years of his life, including a severe skin disease, which may have been leprosy.

While Henry's father enjoyed a relatively stable relationship with Richard II, who was Henry's first cousin, Henry's was more tumultuous. For example, he became involved in the rebellion of the Lords Appellant in 1387. As the king's cousin, though, he was spared execution and was instead made Duke of Hereford.

Over the next years Henry saw much of Europe. He campaigned with the Teutonic knights and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Then in 1398 a remark of Henry's was interpreted as treason. The matter was initially supposed to be resolved through a duel of honor. However, Richard II banished Henry from England--with the approval and support of John of Gaunt.

Then John of Gaunt died, and Richard II cancelled the documents that allowed for Henry's automatic inheritance of the duchy of Lancaster and instead required Henry to ask the king for his inheritance. This didn't sit well with Henry, and he reluctantly approached Thomas Arundel, the former archbishop of Canterbury and a participant in the Lords Appellant rebellion.

Henry IV in an illuminated initial letter from the Duchy of Lancaster records held at the National Archives in England.
Henry IV

Coronation of Henry IV in a manuscript of Froissart held at the British Library
Henry IV coronation

Together Henry and Arundel invaded England, timing their campaign to coincide with Richard II's absence in Ireland. It didn't take long for Henry to have enough power to declare himself king, put Richard II in prison (he died mysteriously--no signs of overt violence were found on his skeleton), and force Richard II to abdicate.


Henry's reign had several rebellions, some intended to put Richard back on the throne--some didn't believe he was actually dead. These rebellions in Richard's name were common at the beginning of the reign and then again in the last year.

The two major rebellions of the reign were in Wales and Northumberland.

In Wales the rising was led by Owain Glyndwr (Glendower) who declared himself Prince of Wales in 1400.

Seal of Owain Glyndwr
Owain Glyndwr

What began as a dispute with an English neighbor became a full-scale rising, which was eventually put down by Henry of Monmouth, Henry IV's eldest son and the future Henry V.

In Northumberland the Percy family tried three times to overthrow Henry IV between 1402 and 1408. The elder Henry Percy was the first earl of Northumberland and one of the noblemen responsible for defending northern England from the Scots. He helped Henry IV overthrow Richard II, and then he turned on Henry IV. The first attempt failed when Henry IV's army defeated that of Henry 'Hotspur' Percy at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403; Hotspur was allied with Glyndwr.

Henry Hotspur Percy in a 19th century painting

Hotspur died in battle, the earl of Northumberland fled to Scotland, and the other leaders were hanged, drawn, and quartered. The second attempt was led by Richard le Scrope, archbishop of York, in 1405. Scrope and others were executed, and the earl of Northumberland again fled to Scotland. The earl led the final attempt in 1408 and was killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor.

War with France

One key part of Henry's reign was the renewal of the war with France. One reason Henry IV was able to garner aristocratic support in England was the promise of a return to fighting in France, which provided the aristocracy with a way to gain wealth and glory. They also wished to defend--and increase if possible--England's lands in France. Richard II, particularly after marrying a French princess, had sharply curtailed England's military activities on the continent. Henry IV, however, led England back into the war. His efforts were not entirely successful, and it was his son Henry of Monmouth who would find military glory in France as Henry V.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account