Post-classical history


The Great Magician

Against the great magician, damn’d Glendower.

Henry IV Part One, Act III, Scene 1

Owen Glendower – or Owain Glyn Dŵr, as he is called in Wales – was descended from the ancient princes of Wales on both his mother’s and father’s sides. His inheritance from his father included the lordship of Glyndyfrdwy, or Glyn Dŵr, in North Wales, after which he was named. Despite his lineage, he was not a natural rebel, or even a natural Welsh partisan. He was in his early forties, and had spent much time in England. He had trained as a lawyer at the inns of court in London, and his wife was English, a daughter of the lawyer Sir David Hanmer. He had served as an esquire of the earl of Arundel – Henry’s kinsman and fellow Appellant – and he and his brother Tudor had fought for the English at Berwick against the Scots in 1384. His grandmother was an Englishwoman and his sister married an Englishman. Nevertheless, despite all these English connections, on 16 September 1400 Owen was proclaimed prince of an independent Wales and swore enmity to Henry and his eldest son.

It was an extraordinary act for a man who had previously been loyal to the English Crown. The reason is often said to have been an argument between him and Lord Grey of Ruthin over a piece of land, but this hardly explains why his revolt assumed the aspect of a nationalist uprising from the outset. The extant correspondence between Lord Grey and Glendower suggests a longer, more complicated story.1 Glendower had been led to believe in early 1400 that he would receive a charter from King Henry making him the master forester and warden of Chirkland, a marcher lordship in North Wales. In this he was deceived. Moreover, a friend warned him that Grey had sworn ‘to burn and slay in whatever part of the country which he [Glendower] was secured in’. Glendower replied in a belligerent letter on 11 June 1400. He boasted that he had stolen some of Grey’s horses and declared, ‘as many men that you slay and as many houses that you burn for my sake, as many will I burn and slay for your sake, and doubt not that I will have bread and ale of the best that is in your lordship’. Grey replied shortly afterwards, denying that he had said these things about burning and slaying, and insisting that Glendower had heard false reports of this matter. Grey added that he would make all the details known to the king and his council, and that, because of the treason and theft confessed in his letter, he would obtain for him ‘a rope, a ladder and a ring, high on a gallows for to hang; and thus shall be your ending’.

Such tensions meant that Henry was aware of the danger of a rebellion in North Wales long before the September proclamation. But he urged Grey and the other local landowners to follow a policy of conciliation.2 No doubt he felt that, until actual hostilities broke out, there was nothing to be gained from direct intervention, and there was a risk that a strong hand might exacerbate the crisis. As it was, enough Welshmen took up arms for Glendower to destroy several towns in the region. From Glyndyfrdwy he and about 270 men – including his brother Tudor, his two English brothers-in-law and his son – set off for Ruthin, which they plundered and burned on 18 September 1400. Over subsequent days they destroyed the other regional towns one by one: Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden, Holt, Oswestry and Welshpool.3 Had Sir Hugh Burnell not met Glendower in battle on 24 September, the Welsh revolt would have spread across North Wales. But that day Burnell, leading the men of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire, defeated Glendower on the bank of the River Severn, not far from Welshpool. Glendower fled from the battlefield. Eight days after being proclaimed prince of Wales, he was a fugitive.

Henry was travelling westwards from Lichfield on the 24th and would have heard news of Burnell’s victory as he approached Shrewsbury. It meant that he could afford to pause there to deliberate his next move carefully. He had already decided to put off the forthcoming parliament until November; now he prorogued it until the New Year. A Welshman who had espoused Glendower’s cause was brought to him and executed as a traitor, the four corners of his body being sent to Bristol, London, Chester and Hereford. After this the king set out with his knights, archers and cannon, riding north to Chester and then westwards through North Wales along the coast road. Everywhere the Welsh forces followed the example of the Scots and withdrew into the mountains. On 7 October Henry was at Bangor. Two days later he entered Carnarvon Castle.4 A week later he was back in England, riding to London. He granted Glendower’s confiscated estates to John Beaufort, earl of Somerset. Glendower himself and seven companions hid all winter in the woods of North Wales.

On the face of it, Henry’s campaign in Wales had much in common with his unsuccessful campaign in Scotland. In both countries he failed to bring the enemy to battle, and in neither place was the nationalist leader brought to the diplomatic table. In both cases there were victories – Hugh Burnell’s against Glendower and Richard Umfraville’s against the Scots – but these were won by the king’s officers, not by the king himself. Yet the Welsh and Scottish campaigns of 1400 were very different. Henry went to Scotland with a huge army and the clear aim of making the Scots pay for breaking the truce the previous year. He failed completely. In Wales, on the other hand, he reacted quickly and decisively to news of a revolt. Although no English king had led an army through North Wales for more than a century, he speedily gathered sufficient force to make a show of strength there within a month of Glendower’s proclamation. That in itself was enough to quieten the rebels, and to stifle declarations of Welsh independence. Following Burnell’s victory, Henry himself had no need to bring Glendower to battle. If the self-proclaimed Welsh prince had had several thousand men at his command, it would have been a different matter; but, with a handful of outlaws in his entourage, there was no enemy force to be destroyed. In October 1400 it was reasonable to suppose that the Welsh rising had been nipped in the bud. Time would prove it had not, of course, but it certainly would have been unwise for Henry to spend weeks or months hunting down the fugitive. Likewise it would have been undignified for him to seek to address Glendower’s grievances – as some historians have suggested he should have done – after the Welshman had confessed himself to be a thief and had proved himself guilty of treason.5 Just as modern governments cannot be seen to negotiate with terrorists, neither could medieval kings be seen to deal with traitors, especially not those whose methods included armed insurrection.

Henry could thus be satisfied that he had done well in North Wales. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that he was complacent. There had been two full-scale revolts against his kingship in the first year of his reign – one of which had nearly resulted in his assassination – and he had been diplomatically forced to withdraw from Scotland. He had also been forced to order Richard’s starvation and to execute a number of traitors. What a contrast from the enthusiasm and the declarations of justice and mercy at his coronation! What a blow to his hopes of being a magnanimous and victorious warrior-king. The distrust and disappointment were driven home to him with further force the following month when he was the subject of a second assassination attempt. A plot was uncovered to smear the saddle of his horse with a poisonous ointment which would have caused him to swell up and die before he had ridden ten miles.6 The implication for Henry’s supporters was that their king was under threat. For the rest of the country, it meant that Henry’s very survival was open to question.


Still the deadlock with France continued. King Charles demanded that his daughter Isabella be returned. Henry detained her at Havering, a victim of the slow diplomatic process and a hostage against French aggression. He had agreed in March to the principle of her return, but many questions remained, including whether she could keep the jewels and gifts which she had received as queen since arriving in England. There was also the question of her dowry. Apart from the 300,000 francs which Charles had paid at the time of her wedding, his officers had handed over two further instalments of 100,000 francs which were repayable in the event of Richard’s death. Henry could not afford to repay such sums – he was dangerously short of money – and so his negotiators argued that, as there were still sums outstanding from the ransom of King John II of France, who had been captured by the Black Prince in 1356, the 200,000 francs should be written off against that debt.

To counter this hardening diplomatic position, on 6 September Charles despatched two of his negotiators to England in person to tell Isabella that under no circumstances should she agree to marry without her father’s permission, and to try to arrange her return as soon as possible. Henry’s campaign in North Wales prevented the Frenchmen from approaching him directly, and in the intervening period one of the diplomats died. The other, Jean de Hangest, went to Windsor in October. He was honourably lodged in the keep, and invited to enter Henry’s presence after dinner. But the French king had still not recognised Henry as king of England. Hangest was not so foolish as to pretend that he could insult the English king by failing to acknowledge him, so he made a bow and presented himself as a private citizen of France. Henry asked to see his letters of authority. On hearing that he had none, he was told to withdraw. After discussing the problem with members of his council, Henry readmitted him and said that if he came as a representative of a man who refused to recognise him as king, he could not listen to him; but if he had anything to say as Jean de Hangest, lord of Hugueville, he could speak. Hangest must have felt as if the floor of Windsor Castle was about to swallow him up, but he stood his ground and stated that he represented the king of France, and if Henry would not listen to him in that capacity, he would have to return home. At that Henry became angry, and spoke in a fierce and proud manner, and told the Frenchman to withdraw again.7

Henry had good reason to be angry. Charles could not have it both ways; he could not refuse to recognise Henry as king and at the same time expect him to listen to his requests. But Henry was not an unreasonable man, and what happened next offers us a small but telling insight into his character. He readmitted Hangest and told the experienced diplomat that it was extraordinary that the king of France could have expected him to do his bidding in this manner. Hangest was left in no doubt that he did not deserve to have an audience. Nevertheless, when the time came for him to speak, he resolutely announced Charles’s demand that Isabella be returned by 1 November. Henry was astounded, and asked whether this message was supposed to be good for their two nations. Hangest affirmed that it was, and explained that it was because of a promise Henry had himself made – to return Isabella – and added that ‘there is no greater good for a prince or anyone than to be faithful to his promises’.8

Henry might have reacted badly to having this philosophy flung in his face. Instead he invited the Frenchman to dine with him the following evening. The two men ate together again the evening after that, and were able to have a long conversation. On the second evening, when Henry had discussed the matter with his council, it was announced by Thomas Percy that the king had decided to keep his promise to return Isabella. He would also keep the 200,000 francs. Hangest then found himself shaking hands with the king, something he could hardly have expected on first being admitted into his presence. In the event, Isabella was not returned to France until the following year, but the episode is a rare detailed example of Henry in action, and reveals a streak of pragmatism in him, and even forbearance, despite his injured pride.


Henry’s problems were growing. Men who had served on his abortive Scottish mission were aware both of its failure and the slowness to pay them their wages for serving. Those with interests in Wales were concerned that they were prey to Welsh outlaws and insurgents. In England, clergymen were mindful that heresy was on the increase, despite Henry’s promises to defend the Church. The most important problem facing him – his financial chaos – was far from being solved. As the second parliament of the reign approached, people began to look at the Lancastrian servants whom Henry had brought into government and to question whether they were the right men to occupy high office.

Henry was thus on the political back foot when he received a visit from a man who had travelled several thousand miles to see him. This was the emperor of Byzantium, Manuel II, whom he met on Blackheath, just south of London, on 21 December 1400. Manuel’s hope was that Henry would live up to his chivalric reputation and lead an army to Constantinople to defend the eastern half of Christendom against the sultan, Bayezid. Reports of Henry’s chivalric deeds in his youth had no doubt reached the emperor from King Sigismund of Hungary and King Wenceslas of Bohemia. Boucicaut had gone to Constantinople the previous year (1399) and had accompanied Manuel to Paris to beg the help of the French.9 Manuel broached the idea of travelling to England in the summer of 1400, but his visit was deferred on account of Henry’s campaigns in Scotland and Wales.

The visit of an emperor was an exceptionally rare occasion; there were only two ‘emperors’ in medieval Europe (the Holy Roman Emperor being the other one). Never before had the emperor of Byzantium visited England. Crowds gathered to see the strange potentate and his companions, all dressed in long white tabards, almost puritan by comparison with the colourful, extravagant clothes of the English court.10 The long-haired and bearded Eastern priests contrasted sharply with the tonsured English clerics. Prayers were said daily by the Byzantines, and the English witnesses paid due attention to their strange rites. In an effort to please the English, the Byzantines declared that three British princes, Trehern, Llywelyn and Meric – uncles of the Emperor Constantine, founder of Constantinople – were among the common ancestors of the Byzantine nobility, and thus there was a distant bond of kinship between the people of the East and those of Britain. Notwithstanding the unlikelihood of this, Henry entered the city of London in a procession along with the emperor, and led him to Eltham to spend the Christmas season.

For Henry, the emperor’s visit presented an opportunity to promote himself as a splendid king, worthy of his guest. At Eltham, in the outer court of the palace, tournaments, hunts and plays were held to entertain the imperial company. Pennons and standards bearing the royal arms were painted for the occasion, and the emperor was maintained in the highest standards of luxury. Twelve aldermen of London performed as mummers. Henry’s eight-year-old daughter, Blanche, presided over the thirteen jousts (which took place on 1 January, with blunt lances). All the ladies represented by their challengers took honourable and romantic names – Venus, Virtue, Nature, Penelope, Delilah and Cleopatra – and the knights who took part similarly drew their names from chivalric literature, such as Ardent Desirous, Lancelot, Ferombras and Lost Wisdom.11 Henry himself was variously described as ‘the king of Albion’, ‘the lord of the land of wonders’ or ‘the king of Great Britain’. English witnesses declared Henry to be a deserving successor to Charlemagne and Arthur, and the ‘worthy successor of King Saint Louis’ (from whom he was descended). The emperor himself wrote that Henry was the smartest man in his dress, and witty too.12 He added that Henry outdid all other men in personal strength (presumably in the jousting), and made many friends through his good sense. He was ‘the one man of all the company who blushed at not doing enough for his guests – good at the start, good at the finish, and getting better every day’. For visiting emperors, Henry could be the very embodiment of chivalric courtesy.

Whatever the appearances of his court, and however many compliments were paid to him, Henry was in dire financial difficulties. He could barely afford to pay for the emperor’s visit, let alone finance an expensive overseas war. Besides, with men prepared to assassinate him in England, an insecure Scottish border and a rebellion in Wales, he could not afford to leave his realm. It would be too easy for a Ricardian sympathiser or a supporter of the Mortimers to oust him, just as he himself had removed Richard. He made arrangements for the emperor to stay at Eltham until February, and gave him £2,000 towards fighting the Turks.13 But that was all he could do – that and make his apologies.


Henry’s second parliament met at Westminster on 20 January 1401. He knew it was going to be a bruising occasion. Certain representatives had approached him privately in advance with requests for his attention, which had irritated him. But there was a deeper unease. Throughout all the estates of the realm – nobility, clergy and commons – there was growing concern that he had promised everything and delivered nothing but large debts.

Chief Justice Thirning delivered the opening address. Wishing to put a positive gloss on the reasons for calling the parliament, he declared that its prime purpose was the maintenance and support of the Church. He followed it with a declaration that the king was determined to see that the law should apply equally to the rich as well as the poor, as he had sworn at his coronation. Then came the sting. Thirning recounted the many reasons for the king’s impoverishment, namely his campaign to save the realm from Richard’s tyranny, the costs of putting down the Epiphany Rising, the campaigns in Scotland and Wales, the necessity of returning Princess Isabella, the defence of Calais, and the likelihood of war in Gascony. The commons would be required to pay for all these, and to reimburse the loans which Henry had had to take out. It marked the failure of his promise not to levy taxation except in wartime, after only fifteen months of his reign.

The elected Speaker, Sir Arnold Savage, was an experienced representative from Kent. In a bold move, Savage declared that the commons should not be burdened by taxes and tallages, such as Henry now proposed. Savage’s speech was the first of a number of such confrontations. Over the next six weeks the commons adopted the most flattering, polite language and yet demanded reforms far beyond those which Henry himself would have wanted to grant. Several times Savage was required, or felt it necessary, to apologise for the commons’ presumption. The commons even requested that in future the king should address their petitions before they agreed to render the taxation demanded. From Henry’s point of view, this was tantamount to holding him to ransom.

Henry was alarmed. He was facing a crisis, and it showed every sign of worsening. In explaining why he needed more money he could not help but draw attention to his failure in Scotland and his unpopularity in Wales. The four offices of his household (wardrobe, great wardrobe, privy wardrobe and chamber) had spent a total of nearly £60,000 over the first year of his reign, and much of this had been in Wales and Scotland.14 The commons saw an opportunity to take the initiative. With regard to Wales, they submitted no fewer than eleven petitions for action. These included such measures as barring Welshmen from buying land in England, from holding public office in the border towns and from prosecuting an Englishman in Wales. Although Henry tried to minimise the extent of the anti-Welsh legislation, and refused to rule out granting a general pardon for those involved in Glendower’s rising, he could not resist the swell of anti-Welsh sentiment around him, and was forced to agree to most of the commons’ demands.

Such were the circumstances when, on 26 February, Henry was presented with a petition on behalf of the prelates, proposed by Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury. A relapsed heretic, William Sawtre, had been tried in convocation and deemed guilty, whereupon the clergy demanded the ‘customary’ death sentence of burning at the stake. This was unusual; it certainly was not customary in England to burn people for lapsing into heretical ways. It was customary to burn women for petty treason – attempting to kill their husbands or lords – but burning heretics had previously only been known on the Continent and in Ireland.15 Nevertheless, on 26 February Henry issued the order for the mayor of London to burn Sawtre in a public place in the city. The horrific sentence was carried out on 2 March. Sawtre thus became the first man in England officially to suffer death by burning for heresy, being packed into a barrel and set upon a great fire.16

At the end of February the commons tackled Henry over the key issue of the parliament. His officers were nearly all friends from the Lancastrian household, with little or no experience of national government. Henry was trying to run the country as if it was a large extension of the duchy of Lancaster. Henry’s view was that he had appointed officers whom he could trust absolutely: men who had already shown they were prepared to follow him on crusades, into exile and even into a revolution. But that was just the point: they served Henry, not England. It made his kingship resemble Richard’s in that it was a personal form of government. Over the subsequent days he was forced to remove his faithful Lancastrian officers, including Thomas Rempston, Thomas Tutbury, Thomas Erpingham and John Scarle, and replace them with men who had gained their experience under Richard II. None of these men fell from favour; all remained close to Henry and were found other positions in the royal household. Nevertheless, the key positions of government were now vested in men who were of sufficient experience to manage affairs of state and of sufficient rank to resist Henry’s personal commands.17

The new chancellor was Edmund Stafford, bishop of Exeter, who had served as chancellor to Richard II. Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, became the new royal steward, just as he had been under Richard II. Thomas More and Thomas Brounflete, respectively treasurer and controller of the royal household, had also been civil servants in Richard II’s reign. Such appointments were a severe correction to Henry’s government. Yet the commons went even further, and presented a petition that the king should name his officers in parliament, and define their duties, and not replace them before the following parliament. In addition, they requested that he should do the same with the royal council.18 It was a sharp attack on Henry’s authority, being an attempt by the commons to hold Henry’s officers and the council to account. Although their petition was not granted, Henry’s new officers were indeed sworn in before the king in parliament. As for the council, the more powerful magnates began to take a greater role, at the cost of Henry’s Lancastrian officers.19 The encroachment on the royal prerogative was obvious, and there was nothing Henry could do.

By the second week in March Henry had been forced into a number of tight corners. He had been forced to agree to almost all the anti-Welsh legislation.20 His obedient household officers had been replaced with magnates strong enough to question his rule. His financial embarrassment had been exposed. He had agreed to make concessions regarding immediate payment for items purveyed to the royal household. His council had been altered at the commons’ request. Yet despite all this, he still had not received his grant of taxation. This did not come until 10 March. Afterwards he declared his refusal to accept the principle that the king should answer the commons’ petitions before they had made their grant, but in reality he had been forced to do so already. It was a turning point in the relationship between the king and the commons.

It was also on 10 March, the last day of the parliament, that Henry gave his assent to the most famous piece of legislation of perhaps his whole reign. It arose from a petition put forward by the prelates, supported by a commons’ petition against the Lollards. The prelates asked that no one in England ‘should presume to preach publicly or secretly without first having sought and obtained a diocesan licence’ and that no one ‘should teach, hold or instruct anything, secretly or openly, or produce or write a book, contrary to the Catholic faith’. Judgement was to follow within three months of the arrest. The petition ended by specifying that if the wrongdoers refused to abjure their heretical faith, then royal officers should be assigned by the king to carry out the sentences ‘lest these wicked doctrines and heretical and erroneous opinions, or their authors or supporters in the said kingdom, be maintained or in any way increased, which God forbid’.21

In theory, this amounted to something not far short of the state persecution of heretics. Henry, ‘with the consent of the magnates and other nobles of his kingdom present at this parliament’, granted the petition in full. And he added certain further clauses; for example: that heretics shall pay a fine to the king in proportion to the magnitude of their crime. With regard to heretical books, Henry declared that they should be delivered to diocesan officials within forty days of the proclamation of the statute. And then – to make matters absolutely clear – it was pronounced that such persons found guilty and refusing to abjure their heresy, or being pronounced relapsing after abjuring, should ‘be publicly burned in a high place …’ to ‘strike fear into the minds of others’.

De heretico comburendo (about the burning of a heretic), as the statute became known, did indeed strike fear into the minds of others, being the most stringent and terrifying religious legislation ever enacted in England and the legal basis for Mary I’s burnings in the sixteenth century. But why did Henry, who had placed such emphasis on mercy at the outset of his reign, not only support the petition but even enlarge upon it? Can this be reconciled with what we know of Henry’s character and personal priorities?

At fifteen, Henry had been conventionally religious. By thirty-three, he was spiritually more sophisticated. The process was one of constant development, from his crusade and pilgrimage to the emergence of his personal spirituality, reflected in his worship of the Trinity. In his anointment with the oil of St Thomas at his coronation we can see how religious symbols had increased in importance as he himself had assumed a greater political role. That he should have acquiesced to requests for a tightening up of religious control, in line with the demands of both the commons and the prelates (led by his close friend Thomas Arundel) is hardly surprising. For a king wishing to be seen as absolutely devout, the enshrinement of Sawtre’s punishment in statute law was a test easily passed.

But beyond this, it is possible to see other, more personal factors at work, such as Henry’s own seriousness, his individualism and his conservatism. The evidence of this parliament shows Henry trying to manage the realm in an authoritarian fashion, trusting his obedient household staff rather than the magnates, who might hold him to account. It indicates a strong desire to retain control, and this in turn reveals a personal commitment to government. This explains why it was that a would-be merciful king enacted de heretico comburendo. It was meant to be the ultimate threat – and indeed only once more in his reign was a man burned for relapsing into heresy – but it was also meant to show that Henry was as firmly committed to stamping out religious dissent as he was to eradicating its political equivalent, treason. Mercy was all very well in theory, but, as he had learnt from the Epiphany Rising, there were limits to how merciful a king really could be.


Henry was stung by the intensity of the criticism in the 1401 parliament but it was not without justification. Across the kingdom, officers of the king were attacked as they tried to gather taxes. The women of Bristol fought a battle with the tax collectors, shouting that the king had promised not to demand a subsidy so they would not pay. The townspeople of Dartmouth in Devon chased a royal tax collector to the quay and forced him to flee for his life in a rowing boat. In the small Somerset town of Norton St Philip, a tax collector and his servant were killed. Local support for the murderers – who had inflicted more than a hundred wounds on their victims – prevented them from being brought to justice. At Abergavenny three thieves were freed from the gallows, Robin Hood-style, by archers who killed Sir William Lucy, the officer responsible for carrying out the executions.22 Law and order was collapsing, and Henry was unsure how to respond.

Part of Henry’s problem was that he was removed from the actual events on the ground. There being no equivalent of a ‘news service’, he only heard about such failures when someone told him. Fearing his reaction at such implicit criticism, few men were so bold. One who was able to speak plainly to him was his confessor, Philip Repingdon. Repingdon was about twenty years older than Henry, and had known him nearly all his life. He was the abbot of Leicester and chancellor of the University of Oxford, and had been present in the parliament of 1401. When he spoke to Henry about the lawlessness of the realm, Henry listened. Indeed, the king was so shocked that he asked Repingdon to write down his comments in a letter.23

The text of the long letter which Repingdon eventually wrote on 4 May (three days after the murders at Norton St Philip) is still extant.24 ‘Most illustrious prince and lord’, he began, ‘may it please your most gracious highness to look with your customary consideration upon me, your majesty’s most humble servant, who prostrates himself at your feet quite desolate with grief … Never since my youth do I recall hearing such foreboding in wise men’s hearts, because of the disorder and unrest which they fear will shortly befall this kingdom. For law and justice are exiles from the kingdom; robbery, killing, adultery, fornication, persecution of the poor, injury, injustice and outrages of all kinds abound, and instead of the rule of law, the will of the tyrant now suffices.’ Repingdon did not pull any punches. ‘Now widows, the fatherless and orphans wring their hands and tears flow down their cheeks, whereas recently, at the time of your entry into the kingdom of England, all the people were clapping their hands and praising God with one voice, and going forth, as did the sons of Israel to meet Christ on Palm Sunday, crying out to heaven for you, their anointed king, as if you were a second Christ, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”, our king of England.’ Repingdon concluded that perhaps twenty thousand people in England deserved execution because of the collapse of law and order.

The combination of the 1401 parliament, Repingdon’s report and the murder of royal officials shocked Henry into action. No one could accuse him of being lazy before this date but henceforth he began to apply extraordinary energy to the business of running the realm. His claims to be a new warrior-king in the image of his grandfather, he now realised, were inappropriate and inadequate to guarantee justice and safety from attack. Consequently he tried to involve himself personally at almost every level of government. According to Adam Usk, he went to Norton St Philip to remedy the problems there. On the financial front, he dutifully removed Norbury as treasurer and appointed the experienced official Laurence Allerthorpe in his place. Nor did he shirk international diplomacy: he issued new commissions for a new round of discussions with the French and personally received ambassadors from the duke of Milan, the king of Sweden and Denmark, and Count Rupert, the new Holy Roman Emperor.25 Similarly he personally received information about the treaty with the Scots. Diplomatic papers concerning the duke of Guelderland were brought to him for his consideration. And all the while he was personally receiving almost all the petitions presented to the government, dealing with as many as forty per week and delegating barely a handful to the council.26 Somehow, despite this wholehearted involvement in domestic and foreign business, he still managed to find time to enjoy himself. A payment was made about this time for compensation to a knight who had fought with the long sword against the king and been wounded in the neck.27 And Henry found the time to indulge himself in physical love too. Edmund Lebourde, his only illegitimate child, was born in this year.28


Henry’s personal involvement in so many aspects of government inevitably meant that he was overstretching himself. While he concentrated on the internal workings of the government he was prevented from being in Ireland, or patrolling the seas, or campaigning in Wales. The solution was to delegate responsibility, but that raised the question of who was sufficiently trustworthy. The northern lords were employed in maintaining the Scottish border or commanding the forces at Chester. The other obvious candidates were his sons. Their loyalty to the Lancastrian regime was guaranteed but the eldest was not yet fifteen. Nevertheless, Henry firmly believed that they had a duty to do, despite their youth. He also believed that early experience in a position of responsibility would be to their advantage. Prince Henry was already at Chester with Hotspur, providing effective leadership to the troops in North Wales. His success was a model for his younger brothers’ education.

Ireland was to be the destination for Henry’s second son, Thomas. The situation there was not dissimilar to that in England and Wales. The key issue was a chronic lack of government money, resulting in a decline of law and order. By the beginning of 1401, Sir John Stanley, the King’s Lieutenant in Ireland, had no reserves left on which to call, and the attack on Ulster that year by the Scots exposed the weakness of English rule further. So on 18 May, Henry decided to demonstrate his commitment to the Irish problem by appointing Thomas to be lieutenant of Ireland.29Measures were accordingly made to secure his passage. Sir Thomas Rempston was given command of the fleet, and the new constable of Dublin, Janico Dartasso, was made his deputy, to rout out any piracy in the Irish Sea.

Henry knew he would be giving Thomas a hard education. In July 1401 the archbishops of Dublin and Armagh told him exactly what to expect. The king’s authority had no power in Ireland, they said, due to the number of people with commissions exempting them from local jurisdiction. The mercenaries were acting like an occupying army, taking what land and property they wanted. Gangs roamed the countryside, stealing money and food. In addition the royal castles were crumbling.30 Nevertheless, Henry entrusted his son to his faithful old retainers, Sir Thomas Erpingham and Sir Hugh Waterton, and planned his departure in November, after Thomas had turned fourteen. If Ireland was in such a bad way, then there was all the more reason to despatch a royal lieutenant there sooner rather than later.

To give an impression of Thomas’s first year in Ireland, it is worth referring to a letter written by the archbishop of Dublin in August 1402. The tone is similar to Repingdon’s letter: humble but at the same time critical. ‘Most excellent, most dread and sovereign lord, with the greatest humility, and with all the obeisance that we know how’, the archbishop began,

we recently wrote to your high nobleness concerning the great inconvenience and danger which our most honoured lord, your son, and all his people and soldiers at that time were under, through nonpayment from England … We testify anew that our said lord, your son, is so destitute of money that he has not a penny in the world, nor can borrow a single penny because all his jewels and his plate [silver] that he can spare are spent and sunk in wages. And also his soldiers are departed from him, and members of his household are on the point of deserting.31

The archbishop went on to say how he felt that, properly, he or one of his companions should have laid all these things before the king in person. However, so great was the danger they were facing that they did not dare leave the security of Naas, where the prince was practically besieged. The prince himself wrote at the end of the year, stating that many of his soldiers had deserted on account of his failure to pay their wages. Despite this, it was not until 1 September 1403 that Henry authorised his son’s return to England. Indeed, he had initially appointed Thomas – to whom he was as close as any of his sons – to stay in Ireland for a full six years, until he was twenty. Few monarchs have expected so much of their sons or placed them in so much danger at such a young age. Had Richard put a fourteen-year-old boy in such a position, he would have been castigated as callous or irresponsible. But in Henry’s case it is evident that he was neither. It was simply a matter of duty.


No one took the business of royal duty as seriously as the king himself. From his abundant energy in running the government to his willingness to encounter risks in the course of defending the realm, he was absolutely committed. Unlike a king who had passively inherited the throne, Henry had to prove himself worthy of his title. This is particularly clear in his policy towards Wales, which now returned to the top of the political agenda. Although Prince Henry and Hotspur were already engaged in manoeuvres restricting the spread of Welsh nationalism, Henry was determined to be seen in Wales by his people, and to demonstrate his preparedness to defend the region. Again, it was something he had to do in person.

It could be said that the renewal of Welsh nationalism was as much a product of the anti-Welsh legislation of the 1401 parliament as Glendower’s renewed efforts. Henry had been wise to try and limit it. It was one thing to lead a campaign attacking an insurgency and quite another to authorise a repressive series of laws against the entire Welsh people, including those who had remained loyal.32 Rumours spread through Wales that the Welsh people and their way of life were under attack, even to the extent of abolishing the Welsh language. It seemed to the Welsh that they would henceforth be regarded as second-class citizens, prohibited even from intermarrying with the English.

On Good Friday 1401 (1 April), William ap Tudor and about forty Welsh rebels murdered a couple of guards and marched into the near-impregnable Conway Castle while the rest of the garrison was at mass. It was a dramatic gesture but without a general Welsh rising to support them their position was hopeless. They realised this and began negotiations with Hotspur, lieutenant of North Wales, on 13 April. A week later Hotspur agreed in principle that they might be pardoned. After handing over nine of their companions to be executed as traitors – whom they reputedly seized and bound while they were asleep – the Tudors were permitted to relinquish the castle without penalty.33 Hotspur duly took the nine and hanged, eviscerated and quartered them. No one gained much honour from the incident but it was further evidence of discontent in Wales, and discontent which was growing more severe, not less.

Glendower was raising another army. In May he won a minor battle against an English force at Mount Hyddgen near Cardigan, and in the wake of this had written to several Welsh landowners urging them to join his revolt.34 Hearing this, Henry immediately left Wallingford Castle and marched to Worcester. On the way he received a letter from his council directing him not to go to Wales in person, on account of the danger. But Henry had heard reports of very large numbers of men joining Glendower, and deemed it necessary to go in person precisely because of the danger – not to himself but because of the likelihood of the revolt spreading. However, arriving in Worcester he received news of an English victory, won by Lord Charlton. Many Welshmen had been captured and many more had fled.35 It gave him sufficient breathing space to return to London and consult with his council in person.

Henry was back in London by 27 June. On that day he saw Princess Isabella, whom he was finally sending back to her father. He also intervened in the case of Hugh Blowet, a Scots herald, who had been seized and tried for uttering deprecating remarks in France about Henry. The Court of Chivalry had sentenced him to be forced to ride on his horse through London, facing its tail, and to have his tongue cut out. Henry pardoned him – before he lost his tongue – and sent him to the king of Scotland with letters detailing his offence and his pardon. But small acts of mercy could not divert attention from the financial and strategic problems now facing him. A few days later he received a letter from Hotspur complaining about the lack of financial support he had received for maintaining peace in North Wales.

Hotspur had previously written requesting sums of money on 10 April, 3 May, 17 May, 25 May and 4 June. On one of these occasions (17 May) he had threatened to resign if he was not reimbursed for his expenses. Henry may have thought that the ample rewards which Hotspur had received, plus his salary as lieutenant of North Wales, were sufficient to cover his costs. Besides, as Henry pointed out in a letter to his son, Hotspur was at least partly responsible for Conway Castle falling in the first place.36 Now Hotspur stated that he had been to London to seek reimbursement from the treasurer, and had not been satisfied. Moreover, he boldly accused Henry in his letter of underestimating the costs of keeping the Marches in check, and prayed that if the town again fell due to lack of money, those who refused to pay him should be blamed, not him. It was not the kind of support which Henry needed from one of his most important and active officers.


The issues facing Henry in the late summer of 1401 were beginning to overwhelm him. Despite his own huge efforts to maintain control of the government, he was increasingly unable to cope. On 20 July, while at Selborne Priory in Hampshire, he assented to the council’s request that he hold a great council to discuss ‘certain weighty matters’. Still determined to control business himself as far as possible, Henry dictated a list of those who should be summoned and handed it to his clerk, Henry Bowet, to take to Westminster. The total – almost three hundred men – amounted to practically a full parliament.37

The great council assembled at Westminster on 16 August and heard the catalogue of threats to the kingdom. In Scotland, overtures of peace had been rejected. In France, King Charles had created his son duke of Aquitaine and was threatening to invade Gascony. The count of Périgord himself arrived to tell Henry that over recent months not only Périgord itself had fallen to the French but a total of thirty castles.38 If there was to be war with France, then Calais too needed defending. The coasts required stronger defences. The Welsh rebellion was patently not over. In England purveyors were continuing not to pay for goods simply because they had no money. Putting together all the problems into one sum, it was calculated that the government’s required expenditure amounted to £130,000 for the year.39 Some prioritising was needed urgently.

The range and the seriousness of the threats meant that none of them could be ignored. Rather it was a case of calmly arranging who was to lead which army, and what forces could be allocated to each field of action. Further negotiations with the Scots and French were authorised. The earl of Rutland was appointed lieutenant of Gascony.40 An embassy, including Hotspur, was appointed to negotiate with the Scots. Money was allocated to the defence of Calais, Ireland, Wales and Gascony, as well as the costs of returning Princess Isabella and paying annuities. Henry’s direct responsibility, with the council’s assent, was to be the defence of Wales. Accordingly, on 18 September he gave the order to muster at Worcester on 1 October.

Henry rode into Worcester on the appointed day amid the crowds of men-at-arms, archers and knights gathering for the campaign. On the 10th the army set out, marching quickly through South Wales down into Cardigan.41 As with all his campaigns, we know very few of the details. On 14 October he was at Llandovery, from which he wrote to the treasurer demanding a thousand marks to be sent to him. He witnessed the drawing, hanging and quartering of Llywelyn ap Griffith Vaughan there, a rebel lord, who had promised to take him to Glendower and who then had led him into a trap. Proceeding to the monastery of Strata Florida, he ordered his army to destroy everything in the region. The abbey itself was stripped of its plate and horses were lodged in the church.42

It was another very short campaign, barely two weeks. Like its predecessor, the principal objects were for Henry to be seen in person and for him to see with his own eyes the character of the terrain and the rebels he was facing. Back at Hereford he ordered the safekeeping of a number of Welsh castles, and then progressed via Worcester and Woodstock to London, in order to meet his council. But this time his failure to engage Glendower had left him exposed. As Henry marched towards London, Glendower saw an opportunity and sacked Welshpool for a second time. Immediately after this success, he attacked Carnarvon Castle in the north. Even though his men were driven off with heavy losses, he effectively demonstrated his defiance of Henry’s short campaign. He built on this in November, when he wrote to the king of Scotland and various Irish lords.43 He called upon them to join him in his struggle to throw off the oppression of the English, and to send him as many men-at-arms and foot soldiers as they could spare. In his letter to the king of Scotland he went so far as to promise to ‘serve and obey’ him, offering to transfer his allegiance to Robert III.

The vultures perched on the Welsh and Scottish borders could see the king of England ailing, and were preparing to swoop down for the kill.

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