Post-classical history


In That Jerusalem

It hath been prophesied to me many years

I should not die but in Jerusalem;

Which vainly I suppos’d the Holy Land:–

But bear me to that chamber; there I’ll lie;

In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.

Henry IV Part Two, Act 4, Scene 4

Most men in Henry’s position in 1411 would have relaxed a little, confident that power had now been transferred safely to the next generation. Not Henry. Despite his physical incapacity, he continued to pay close attention to events within his realm. He was following Archbishop Arundel’s attempts to root out heresy at the University of Oxford. He was alert to the prince’s negotiations with the duke of Burgundy concerning English involvement in the French civil war. And he could hardly ignore the state of the treasury. That summer, his supporters found the payment of their annuities suspended again, by order of the council. Henry’s own friends and servants were left without their reward for their years of royal service. They, of course, complained to him. And Henry found himself powerless to help them.

We do not have to look far to see why the council made this decision. When the commons in the 1410 parliament had granted one and a half tenths and fifteenths, they had stipulated that this tax was to be spread over three years, thus amounting annually to just half of a tenth and fifteenth (normally about £18,500). Such a modest grant could not meet the costs of an expedition to France, which was looking increasingly likely. So the prince’s council decided to save money by suspending the payment of royal annuities.

Henry had always been against letting down his supporters in this way. It is true that in 1404 he himself had suspended payments, under pressure from parliament, but Arundel’s skilful chancellorship had reversed this, so that annuitants in 1409 received arrears of the sums due to them.1 For the prince and his council now to fail to do something which Arundel had succeeded in doing was a grave mistake. The prince and his council might have claimed that they had insufficient funds but their excuse would have fallen on deaf ears. Never had Henry considered his resources adequate for government.

In February 1411 he left Kenilworth Castle and proceeded slowly towards London. On Sunday 15 March he was with Archbishop Arundel at Lambeth, and there, four days later, a great council was held in his presence. The prince’s small council was outnumbered: both archbishops, ten bishops and two abbots were present, along with the duke of York, four earls and ten other lords.2 The business was almost entirely financial. The surviving set of accounts are incomplete but they indicate the council demonstrated how the wool subsidy of £30,000 and other income, including a tenth from the clergy, would be insufficient to meet the expenses of the royal household (£22,811) and the defence of the realm (£42,115).3 No mention was made of the direct taxation which should have been collected the previous November, with which it would have been possible to balance the books. A budget which takes into consideration the king’s expenditure survives from shortly after this, and it is noticeable that it allows £23,333 for the king’s household and chamber, far more than the £13,000 laid down by parliament. It would appear that Henry was beginning to reassert himself.

Henry went to Windsor for April and was there for the Garter feast of 1411. For the rest of the spring he remained in the south-east, being rowed along the Thames between Windsor Castle, Lambeth Palace, Westminster and his house at Rotherhithe. In June and July he spent time at Stratford Abbey, and he was there when Archbishop Arundel’s attempts to eradicate heresy at Oxford ran into difficulties. This also forced him to involve himself in the business of government.

Several years earlier Arundel had formulated a series of thirteen constitutions against Lollardy. Among other things, these laid down that disputes about the worship of the cross were forbidden, as were arguments about the nature of the Mass, marriage, confession and any other article of faith. No scriptures were to be translated into English except in an authorised version. And none of Wycliffe’s writings were to be circulated in schools, halls, hostels or anywhere else unless sanctioned by twelve theologians appointed by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Two years later these constitutions were promulgated in a convocation at St Paul’s. The twelve theologians subsequently read all of Wycliffe’s works and published a list of the parts which they found heretical; for example the references to the pope as ‘the Head Vicar of the Devil’ or ‘a sinful idiot’.4 One of these theologians was an Oxford master of arts called Richard Fleming. He poured scorn on the whole process and appealed to Congregation (the governing body of the university) against Arundel’s constitutions. He was supported by four other members of the university. Arundel railed furiously against them all, and decided to make a visitation of the institution, to root out the abuses. But when he arrived on 7 July 1411, he was refused admittance. He placed the university under an interdict, forbidding them from celebrating Mass. Two Oriel fellows broke open the church in the night and celebrated Mass anyway. Arundel spent two days at Oxford trying to bring the rebellious university to heel. But all the miscreants were protected by the chancellor of the university, Richard Courtenay, who maintained that the university was exempt from the archbishop’s jurisdiction.

Henry had taken an interest in Richard Fleming ever since his objections had been made known to him in December 1409. Henry initially intervened on Fleming’s behalf, making sure that a committee was appointed to reconsider his doctrines, which had been declared erroneous.5 But by October 1410, the refusal of ‘certain members of the university’ to obey the archbishop’s constitutions had assumed a higher priority, and he ordered the arrest of all such persons. The university wrote to the king stating that, if their liberties were infringed, according to their oaths they would have to disband the university. Henry curtly told them that the exemption which the pope had granted them from ecclesiastical jurisdiction in England had never been ratified by Richard II or himself. On 9 September 1411, at Lambeth, Henry delivered judgement unequivocally in favour of Archbishop Arundel and his jurisdiction over the university.6

By this time Henry was also heavily involved in discussions concerning an expedition to France. Negotiations at the end of 1410 had progressed, so that in 1411 the prince and his council expected an agreement with the duke of Burgundy. But there is evidence that this was never to Henry’s liking.7 A London chronicle sheds further light on this.8 It states that the duke of Burgundy approached the king of England with a view to obtaining English help in his fight against the dukes of Orléans and Berry and their supporters, collectively known as the Armagnacs.9 The duke offered to hand over four Flemish towns to the English, plus the hand of his daughter as a bride for the prince of Wales. Henry was cautious of the proposal, and remained so throughout the first half of 1411. On 14 August, he ordered the sheriffs of thirty-five counties to proclaim that he would shortly be sailing to Calais to defend the town, and summoned troops to be in London ready to sail on 23 September.10 On 28 August he assigned one thousand marks for the expenses of his journey, calling the council to meet him on 9 September to discuss the expedition. Pennons were painted for the voyage, standards embroidered and the king’s bed was made ready for transportation.

Then something snapped. Suddenly Henry changed his mind, and instead of sailing to the defence of Calais, he started to make plans for another parliament, even though the existing grant of taxation had two years left to run. The reason is often said to have been his ill health, but for once this was not behind his change of plans.11 The real cause was his disapproval of the prince’s government, and his decision to bring his son to heel. Henry was still planning to sail on 3 September, when ships were ordered to be made ready for him, but he changed his mind sometime before 21 September, when the parliament was summoned.12 It is possible that it was the prince’s support of the chancellor of Oxford which was the catalyst.13 Alternatively, it could have been the bitter argument which broke out at this time between Henry Beaufort and Thomas of Lancaster. Thomas wanted to marry the widow of John Beaufort, his uncle, and the king supported him in this; but Henry Beaufort was bitterly opposed to the match.14 A third possibility is the growing disagreement between himself and the prince about which side to support in the French civil war. However, this too is unlikely to have been the key reason for such drastic action, for on 1 September the king licensed the prince to send ambassadors to the duke of Burgundy and empowered his own ambassadors to negotiate the marriage of the prince and the duke’s daughter if all went well. Clearly there was still room for negotiation and compromise in foreign relations. The most likely reason why Henry summoned parliament, and thus the most likely reason for calling off the French expedition, was an attempt by the council to depose him. There are two sources for this; one places the event in 1413 and explicitly states that the prince, Henry Beaufort and many other lords asked him to resign the throne and let the prince be crowned.15 The other places the event in the parliament of 1411, and states that the prince personally approached his father and told him he should abdicate ‘because he could no longer apply himself to the honour and profit of the realm’.16 It is possible that there was more than one attempt to get Henry to abdicate in the period after he made his will; indeed, it would have been strange if it had not been raised several times in council. Either way, the circumstances of the forthcoming parliament leave very little room for doubt that, by 21 September, either the prince or Henry Beaufort had made the suggestion to the king that he should abdicate. It was a bad move. As already mentioned, nothing was more important to Henry than his regal identity. After seeing off so many attempts to wrest the throne from him, he was not going to let anyone do so now, not even a member of his own family.


When parliament gathered at Westminster on the appointed day, 2 November, they were told by the chancellor that he had received a writ witnessed by the king himself putting off the parliament to the following day ‘for certain reasons’. The writ was dated at Westminster, so it was not distance which kept the king away. It may have been ill health or it may have been trouble with the prince. Ten days earlier the king had arrested six of the prince’s household knights and sent them to the Tower, including his steward, Sir Roger Leche. When the king and parliament did assemble on 3 November, the chancellor declared that the reasons for summoning the assembly were ‘the good governance of the realm, the due execution of the law, the defence of the kingdom and overseas territories, and the safeguard of the sea’. He elaborated on each of these, emphasising the need for ‘loyal counsel without wilful bias’ and for men to show ‘due obedience and honour to their liege lord’. Few present would have understood the full meaning of these objectives, but when the Speaker – Thomas Chaucer again – made his protest that nothing he said on behalf of the commons should be held against him, Henry made his position clear. As in the previous parliament the Speaker could speak only as far as his predecessors had done; Henry wanted ‘no novelties’. In other words, he wanted no talk of deposition.

The early sessions were taken up with an abuse of the law – the wrongful doings of a royal justice, Sir Robert Tirwhit – and the official enrolment of the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury over the University of Oxford. The decisive political move did not come until 30 November. At the suggestion of the Speaker, Henry addressed the members of the council, who all came forward and knelt before the throne. He thanked them for performing their duties in a true and loyal fashion over the past eighteen months. The prince sourly responded that they could have done more if they had been given more money. Henry no doubt sympathised with such a view. But he said nothing about reappointing him or any other members of the council. Indeed, he did not name a council in this parliament at all. The whole council got up and returned to their allotted seats. With a growing awareness, they began to suspect the reality of what Henry had just done. He had sacked them all. With a polite word of thanks, he had resumed complete control of the government.

On the last day of the parliament, 19 December, Henry reinforced his position. He directed the chancellor to remind parliament about the article limiting his power enacted in the previous parliament. Thomas Chaucer asked Henry to explain his intentions concerning this. ‘To which our lord the king replied by saying that he wished to have and preserve his liberties and prerogatives in all respects, as wholly as any of his noble progenitors had done.’17 Chaucer voiced the approbation of the commons, and Henry politely thanked them. The article limiting his power was annulled.

Perhaps the most telling sign of Henry’s return to power was a petition submitted immediately afterwards. Addressed ‘to our most dread and most sovereign lord king’ it stated that ‘a great rumour has arisen among your people that you harbour in your heart ill-will towards various of your lieges who have come and are present by your summons at this your present parliament’. It begged him ‘to declare it as your noble intention in this present parliament that you think, maintain and consider all the estates … to be your faithful and loyal lieges and subjects, and regard them as people who have been, are, and will always be your faithful lieges and humble subjects’.18 Henry, of course, agreed, and ordered a general pardon to be granted as soon as parliament ended for all crimes, even treason, committed before that date.19 The commons assented to a modest land tax, a statute was agreed regarding the devaluation of the currency and parliament was dissolved. The following day Thomas Beaufort and Henry Scrope were sacked as chancellor and treasurer, and the king’s resumption of power was complete.

Henry’s seizure of authority in 1411 was extraordinary by any reckoning. For a man who had been so regularly attacked in parliament, how on earth did he so easily resume power? Considering the popularity and success of the prince, how come he so easily gave it up? And as for the ambitious bishop, Henry Beaufort, why did he acquiesce so completely?

The answer has to lie within a combination of the character and the condition of the king himself. It must have been apparent to all those concerned that Henry would never give up the throne. In the 1411 parliament, if not before, he made his determination to remain king absolutely clear. The parliament roll suggests no hard bargaining over this matter, and it is likely that in fact there were few objections; the magnates had already been silenced. What kept them quiet was the physical condition of the king. Henry may even have given the impression of having only a few more weeks to live. Also there remained the unassailable fact that Henry was an anointed king. That had not saved Richard but Henry was a different calibre of man. To depose him would be far harder than it had been to depose Richard. Henry was no longer seen as a failing king; the rebels were all defeated. Glendower was a vanquished fugitive, the Scottish king was an English prisoner, the French were fighting a civil war in the power vacuum created by their own king’s sickness, and England was more secure than it had been at any time since the reign of King Edward III. Besides, Henry still had his stable of strong Lancastrian supporters in the commons: men like the faithful Sir Robert Waterton, Thomas Erpingham and John Norbury. Thus, ironically, in Henry’s very physical weakness lay a new, indomitable strength. It was easier by far for the prince and the Beauforts to bide their time than challenge this man whose determination to remain king proceeded not just from his mind but his heart and soul.


On 23 December 1411, Henry handed over the seal of the exchequer to his new treasurer, Sir John Pelham. After Christmas at Eltham, he persuaded Archbishop Arundel to accept the great seal of the realm as chancellor for a fifth and final time. His new council – appointed that same month – consisted of these two officers and his faithful keeper of the privy seal, John Prophet, and four others. Apart from two bishops who had served the prince, Thomas Langley of Durham and Nicholas Bubwith of Bath and Wells, all the old councillors were passed over. Instead he appointed Archbishop Bowet of York, who had proved unswervingly loyal, along with Lord Roos.20 It was an even smaller council than that with which the prince had governed. Henry had learned something from his son’s short administration.

Henry’s resumption of power, of course, implied taking responsibility for war policy, and that was by no means an easy matter. His inclination to support the Armagnacs in the French civil war, though described by one modern historian as ‘backing the wrong horse’, was entirely understandable at the time.21 His Gascon subjects were in alliance with the Armagnacs, and so to support Burgundy against them would have been to risk war between his English and his Gascon subjects. Similarly his relations with Aragon, Navarre and Brittany would have been strained by English intervention on the Burgundian side in the war.22 His choice may also have been governed by the way the Burgundians had treated him, for they still refused to acknowledge him as king of England. Their pride may have been no worse than his own but, in this instance, they were the ones who needed help.

Matters were complicated, however, as a consequence of the prince’s eagerness to entertain Burgundian ambassadors in 1411. Henry had been equally eager to make sure that it was the prince, and not he himself, who was associated with such approaches, but that had not prevented an Anglo-Burgundian alliance. An English expedition had set out in September 1411, commanded by the earl of Arundel, to supply the duke of Burgundy with an English military force of eight hundred men-at-arms and two thousand archers. In November, at St-Cloud, near Paris, the Anglo-Burgundian army won a significant victory over the Armagnacs. It was clear to all parties that the English archers were a major asset. In February 1412 both sides sent representatives to try and forge closer links with England.

For Henry, the maximum political gain lay in exploiting these divisions in France. The best way to achieve this was through supporting those who opposed the French king and the duke of Burgundy. Henry remained convinced therefore that he should be supporting the Armagnacs. However, the prince’s negotiations for the hand in marriage of Anne of Burgundy had progressed too far to be ignored.23 The Armagnacs knew this, and started a bidding war for English help. As rebels to their king, their cause was the more desperate, and so they offered more. They acknowledged Henry as king of England and promised him eventual sovereignty of all of Aquitaine, as well as suitable marriages with girls of the royal blood. Although the Burgundian negotiators had arrived first, in Henry’s eyes there was simply no contest.

Henry went down to Canterbury soon after the Armagnac envoys arrived. He heard how they had been intercepted on leaving France by agents of the duke of Burgundy, and had had their bags searched. Letters from the Armagnac lords recognising Henry as king of England had been confiscated. The duke of Burgundy himself hypocritically accused the Armagnac lords of treason for consorting with the king of England, and quietly recalled his own unsuccessful ambassadors from Westminster. The Armagnac negotiators were aware that their lords wanted an English alliance quickly, and on 6 April they concluded one. Fired up, Henry once again declared his intention of leading a force to Gascony in person, but the sad reality was that, just at this point, when it would have been politically feasible for him to lead an overseas expedition, his body was incapable of the task. According to Walsingham, he could not even walk without pain, let alone ride a horse.24 Henry maintained his resolve for a few days – on 18 April he gave orders to enlist mariners for his forthcoming expedition – but soon afterwards he came to accept that he would never lead an army again.

Throughout this period he was attended by members of the council. Interestingly the prince was also with him, together with other key members of the previous council. A charter granted by the king in person was witnessed at Canterbury on 30 March by the prince, Henry Beaufort, the duke of York, and the earls of Arundel and Warwick, as well as members of the new council.25 Henry seems to have been making an effort to remain on favourable terms with those he had sacked the previous December. He even went so far as to reward some of them for their service, including the earls mentioned above.26 All these men presumably accompanied Henry back to Windsor for the Garter celebrations on 23 April, for they were all still with him to witness royal charters at Westminster on 12 May and 1 June.27 Thus the prince and Henry Beaufort - the architects of the pro-Burgundian alliance – were with Henry when he agreed to help the Armagnacs.

This shift of English policy, from the Burgundians to their enemies, confused many contemporaries in England as well as France. It also threatened to humiliate the prince and Henry Beaufort. It meant that they had opened negotiations with the king’s enemies: men who were about to invade Gascony.28 In this light, it would have been inappropriate to entrust command of the English army to the prince, and it is likely that Henry only considered giving his eldest son a role while he (the king) was intending to command the expedition in person.29 When this proved impossible, the king decided to give overall command to his second son, Thomas. The appointment doubled the tension in the royal family, for not only had the prince been passed over, he was not on good terms with Thomas. Nor was Henry Beaufort. They were infuriated even further when Henry reinforced Thomas’s position by conferring on him the title which Edward III had given to his second son: duke of Clarence. Perhaps to calm their anxieties, Henry also named Thomas Beaufort as a co-leader of the expedition, and promised to create him earl of Dorset. But if by this he hoped to sweeten their mood, he failed. Neither the prince nor Henry Beaufort was at Rotherhithe to see the king gird Thomas Beaufort with the belt of an earl.30

The prince and Henry Beaufort angrily left court shortly after 1 June. By then Henry had summoned all the council to him, including the archbishop of York and the earl of Westmorland.31 But it was too late to hold things together. At Coventry on 17 June the prince issued a public letter, which was – and still is – astonishing for its fulminations against those who advised the king, and, by implication, against the king himself. In his letter the prince drew attention to the king’s plans to go to Gascony and claimed that Henry had named the prince as one of the leaders. The prince explained that he had subsequently declined to go because he had been offered so few men. Instead, he went on to say, he had withdrawn from court and travelled to Coventry to raise stronger forces but then:

Some sons of iniquity, nurselings of dissent, schism fomenters, sowers of anger and agents of discord … desiring with a serpentine cunning to upset the ordered succession to [the] throne … wickedly suggested to my most revered father and lord … that I was affected with a bloody desire for the crown of England, that I was planning an unbelievably horrible crime and would rise up against my own father at the head of a popular outbreak of violence, and that in this way I would seize his sceptre and other royal insignia on the grounds that my father and liege lord was living a life to which he had no proper title and which relied on tyrannical persuasion.32

What is astounding about this letter is that the prince felt bound to repeat such accusations. He would not have taken arms publicly against his own father; it would have been greatly to his dishonour and the destruction of his future authority. So the fact that he felt it necessary publicly to refute such allegations proves that men of consequence were publicly saying such things, and it follows that the prince must have behaved in such a way that these things were believable. Similarly, in the second half of the letter the prince defends himself against the accusation of trying to disrupt the expedition to Gascony. Again, the necessity to defend himself reveals that others were accusing him of exactly this, so he can have done nothing or very little to promote the king’s expedition, and his refusal to serve must be interpreted in this light. Indeed, the fact that Henry forced all his sons to swear an oath to observe the terms of the agreement with the Armagnacs on 20 May strongly suggests that one of them – the prince – was threatening to lay aside the treaty and disregard his father’s policy altogether.

For these reasons, the months of May and June 1412 mark the nadir in the relationship between Henry and his eldest son. The near-collapse had been due to a number of factors: rivalry between the prince and Thomas, rivalry between Henry Beaufort and Archbishop Arundel, differing views on France, and perhaps the prince’s own youthful lasciviousness.33 It was also partly due to their similar dispositions. Neither man was likely to admit he was wrong; neither was likely to back down. Both men were spiritual – both faithful believers in the Trinity – and both were royal soldiers through and through. Both were conservative, intelligent, well-educated, determined and eloquent. They were both committed to the principle of serving the realm. But Henry was still the king, and he felt it was his son’s duty to be as loyal to him as he had been to his father. This is an important point in understanding the relationship between father and son. The prince was not just younger – and thus healthier and more ambitious – than his father; his upbringing was different from his father’s in that he had grown up with the expectation of exercising power. Henry’s upbringing had been one of duty throughout, of service and loyalty to the Crown. Thus, although his obedience to his own father may have given Henry an idea of how a son should behave, he could hardly expect the prince to do likewise. The prince’s very ambition was evidence of Henry’s success in transforming his family from a ducal one into the royal one.

The split did not last long. On or shortly after 29 June, the prince returned to Westminster, attended by a huge crowd of supporters.34 According to the earl of Ormond (who claimed to be an eyewitness), the meeting took place at Westminster.35 The prince arrived dressed splendidly in blue satin with the Lancastrian ‘esses’ livery design emblazoned in gold on one arm. He told his followers to remain in the lower part of the hall while he alone proceeded to the dais to address the king. Henry then

caused himself to be borne in his chair (because he was diseased and could not walk) into his secret chamber, where in the presence of three or four persons in whom he had most confidence, he commanded the prince to speak his mind. The prince knelt before his father and said to him: ‘Most redoubted lord and father, I have come as your liegeman and as your true son, in all things to obey your grace as my sovereign lord and father. And whereas I understand that you suspect me of acting against your grace, and that you fear I would usurp your crown against the pleasure of your highness … how much I ought rather to suffer death to relieve your grace … of that fear that you have of me, who am your true son and liegeman. And to that end I have this day by confession, and by receiving my Maker, prepared myself. And therefore most redoubted lord and father, I desire you in your honour of God, for the easing of your heart, here before your knees to slay me with this dagger’. And at that word, with all reverence, he passed the king his dagger, saying, ‘My lord and father, my life is not so dear to me that I would live one day that I should be to your displeasure … I forgive you my death’.36

Henry’s reaction at this solemn show of loyalty from his son was an emotional one. He wept openly. He took the dagger and flung it across the room, and tearfully embraced his son, and kissed him, and said to him,

My right dear and heartily beloved son, it is true that I partly suspected you, and as I now perceive, undeservedly on your part. But seeing your humility and faithfulness, I shall neither slay you nor henceforth any more have you in distrust for any report that shall be made to me. And therefore I raise you upon my honour.37

From this moment on, Henry was as good as his word. And the prince was as good as his. There were no further attempts to force the king to abdicate.


In France, despite Henry’s treaty with the Armagnacs, the civil war was shifting into an Anglo-French conflict, with an English attack on Berck and a French one on Guines.38 The Armagnac city of Bourges was already being besieged by the duke of Burgundy. On 8 July 1412 Henry agreed the financial arrangements for his son’s campaign. On the 11th he formally appointed his son Thomas, duke of Clarence, as lieutenant of Aquitaine and instructed four knights to survey the thousand men-at-arms and three thousand archers mustering at Southampton to accompany Clarence to France.39 Soon afterwards the ailing king bade farewell to his dear son for what he must have known would be the last time.

Although he had no way of knowing it, Henry had sent Clarence into a trap. In August, news reached him that the Armagnacs had betrayed him. The dukes of Burgundy and Berry had met and resolved their differences, in a show of peace, on 8 August, probably while Clarence was still at sea. A fortnight later the duke of Orléans was publicly reconciled with his father’s murderer, with the English being identified as the common enemy. Thus, when Clarence arrived in France, he found his army not just unwanted but resented as an invading force. On 16 September, Clarence wrote to the Armagnac leaders refusing to accept their peace agreement, and declaring war on them in return for their betrayal. Three days later he sacked the town of Meung and crossed the Loire into the lands of the duke of Berry, demanding compensation for the sudden reversal of Armagnac policy. Thomas was clearly able to handle himself; Henry’s policy of placing his son in command in a war zone at the age of fourteen was yielding benefits.

As Thomas led this unplanned, destructive march through France, Henry was carried to and fro between the bishop of London’s house at Fulham and Archbishop Arundel’s mansion at Croydon, growing increasingly ill. In September he took a boat down the Thames from Fulham via London and the Tower to Canterbury, where he met Archbishop Arundel. He stayed there for a few days before being brought back to Westminster. On 23 September, the prince came to see him with a large following, as he had at the end of June. Again the prince complained about rumours spread about him, this time that he had been accused of sequestrating money entrusted to him for the defence of Calais. He drew two rolls of accounts from his robe and showed how the money had been spent on wages.40 As Henry read through them, the prince demanded that those who had slandered him – almost certainly meaning Archbishop Arundel – should be tried.41 The tired king assented, but insisted that such a trial should take place in parliament. He knew, perhaps, that he would not live to see it take place.

Henry spent most of October at Merton Priory. The council met in his absence at Westminster on 20 October and drew up a list of matters for his consideration, including the repair of the walls of Berwick Castle, the defence of Calais and Wales, and the government of Ireland.42 The list was presented to the king the next day, who dictated his answers. It was the last documented business he conducted with his council. Even now, in his final days, he retained his love of music, one of his last known orders being to arrange for a new suit of clothes for his minstrel, William Bingley, on 23 November 1412.43

On 1 December parliament was summoned for the last time in the name of King Henry IV. It was Henry’s wish to hold one final, farewell meeting. The date was set for the anniversary of Henry’s father’s death, 3 February 1413. The strategic purpose of the parliament was undoubtedly financial but the money may not have been intended solely for war. Some of it may have been intended to fund a voyage to the Holy Land. According to one chronicle, on 20 November 1412 the council had agreed to construct galleys to transport the king to Jerusalem, where he hoped to die.44 There is no extant independent record of this decision but in January 1413 the long-serving William Loveney organised the cutting of timbers to make three such galleys.45 Henry himself had expressed the wish several years earlier of visiting the Holy Land again, and it seems that his vision of his own death was a farewell parliament followed by him and his closest friends sailing off into the east in three ships. It did not turn out that way. He was simply too ill to choose the manner of his departure.

Henry spent his last Christmas with his much-loved wife at Eltham Palace. He remained there for a full month, until 25 January, when Archbishop Arundel took him up the river by barge to Mortlake. He returned to Eltham once more, at the end of January, and tried to attend parliament on 3 February, staying at Lambeth shortly afterwards. The members had dutifully assembled on the specified day but Henry himself was too sick to attend. He was drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to stand or to speak, a dying man. The members lingered in and around Westminster. They knew they were experiencing one of the rarest and strangest moments in the life of a kingdom. For only the fourth time since 1216, the realm was pausing, waiting for its sovereign lord to die of natural causes, and for the government to pass to his heir. In all the chambers of the palace, across Westminster and London, the officers of the household waited quietly for the end. The bureaucracy was at a standstill. The last letters in the name of Henry IV had already been written. The clock of government had come to a stop and was waiting for a new hand to set it going again.

By 21 February 1413 Henry had been ferried back from Lambeth to Westminster, but he was destined never to leave nor to set foot on one of the galleys he had commissioned to return him to the Holy Land. While he was in the abbey making an offering at the shrine of St Edward the Confessor – on whose feast day he had been exiled in 1398 and crowned in 1399 – he lost consciousness. He was carried through the church to the abbot’s lodging. When he recovered his senses, he found himself lying by a fire in a chamber which he did not recognise. He turned to his chamberlain and asked in a whisper where he was.

‘The Jerusalem Chamber’, said his chamberlain.46

‘Praise be to the Father of Heaven’, said Henry, ‘for now I know I shall die in this chamber, according to the prophecy told of me, that I should die in the Holy Land.’47 The release from his physical torment which he craved was finally at hand.

Henry spent his last hours in that chamber, in great pain, laying by the fire. If then he had reflected on what he had achieved in his life, it would have appeared to him as one of the most extraordinary stories ever told. That he should have visited such faraway places as Vilnius and Jerusalem, then seen his long years of loyal service to his cousin turn to bitter rivalry, and emerge as nothing less than king of England, must have still seemed the most remarkable twisting and turning of fortune, like no other king’s fate known to him. And yet, the real battles of his life had then only just begun. How many rebellions had he faced? The Epiphany Rising in 1400, the revolt of Glendower, the poisoned saddle, the friars’ conspiracy, the Percy revolt, the conspiracy of the countess of Oxford, the kidnapping of the Mortimer boys, the rebellion of Archbishop Scrope, Northumberland’s and Bardolph’s last stand, perhaps a barbed contraption left in his bed, and even an attempt by the prince and the Beauforts to force him from the throne. Add to those the hostility of the French and Scots, and five campaigns against the Welsh, surely he had faced more opposition than any king of England? And that did not even begin to touch on his battles in parliament. It is somehow appropriate that, even as he lay dying, a man called Richard Whytlock had taken sanctuary in the abbey and there had raised the old rallying cry ‘King Richard is alive!’. If Henry was told this, it would not have mattered greatly to him. All the force had gone from those words. Henry had defeated all his enemies. His life’s work was done.

Henry’s deathbed has left us with several stories. The most famous of all is that as he lay, apparently dead, his son Henry picked up the crown from the cushion where it lay beside his bed and took it away, only to be summoned back by his indignant father. This is unlikely to have been based on an eyewitness account. No English chronicles mention it. It only appears in the French chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet and Jean de Waurin (the latter copying the former).48 Their account says that after the crown had been returned, Henry confessed that he had no right to the kingdom, so the prince had even less. In Monstrelet’s words, the prince replied, ‘my lord, as you have held it by right of your sword, it is my intent to hold and defend it in the same way during my life’. Henry replied, ‘Well, act as you see best. I leave all things to God and pray that He will have mercy on me’, after which he died. These last words conflict with those given in the English accounts. The story seems to have been circulated in France to discredit the new king personally (through his presumptious behaviour) and dynastically (though the dying king’s confession).

A more reliable account of Henry’s deathbed confession was repeated some years later by John Capgrave, the mid-fifteenth-century prior of Lynn, who wrote works for Henry’s son Humphrey (among others).49 He wrote two different accounts of Henry’s deathbed confession. One was included in his book The Illustrious Henrys, written for Henry’s grandson, King Henry VI. The other was written later, for Edward IV. In the first, the dying king sent for the prince and said to him,

Consider, my son, and behold thy father, who once was strenuous in arms but now is adorned only with bones and nerves. His bodily strength is gone but by the grace of God, spiritual strength has come to him. For even this sickness, which I certainly believe will prove fatal, renders my soul braver and more devoted than before … My son, pay faithfully your father’s debts, that you may enjoy the blessing of the Most High, and may the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, give thee his blessing, laden with all good things, that so may you live blessed, for ever and ever, amen.50

These were supposed by Capgrave to be Henry’s last words. When he rewrote the death of Henry IV in his Chronicle of England, he was far less polite. Just as Edward IV maintained his right to the throne on the grounds that the Lancastrians were usurpers, Capgrave cut the above scene and, instead of the prince, had the lords at court persuade Henry’s confessor, John Tille, to go to the king on his deathbed and try to extract a confession from him for three things: for the death of Richard II, the execution of Archbishop Scrope and the usurpation of the realm. Capgrave claims that Henry’s response was to say that he had letters of absolution on account of the first two sins, and had performed his penance for them, and, with regard to the usurpation, he would not make any remedy, for his sons ‘would not permit the throne to go out of our lineage’.51

Capgrave’s willingness to change his narrative according to his patron’s preferences is a worrying trait, and would leave us uncertain as to the king’s final days if it were not for another account which supports the earlier of these narratives. This was written by Thomas Elmham, whom Henry V described in a letter the following year as ‘our chaplain’. Elmham was thus close to the royal family and – as modern examination of his work on the early history of St Augustine’s Canterbury has proved – a discerning man. He also wrote a life of Henry V. Both he and Capgrave were clergymen, and thus both had a reason to stress Henry’s religious exhortations at the end of his life, but otherwise there is no reason to doubt that, on his deathbed, Henry exhorted his son to follow a life of righteousness and piety, compared his sickness with his former strength, and asked the prince to pay all his debts.52

Henry’s last request probably formed a nuncupative will (one given verbally and recorded by witnesses). The terms are not known in detail but he left directions for his goods and chattels to be sold and for the sums raised to be put to pious uses.53 He named Henry V and Archbishop Arundel as supervisors, but they both declined to act, leaving as executors the archbishop of York, Bishop Langley of Durham, Sir John Pelham, Sir Robert Waterton and Sir John Leventhorpe. It is likely that all these men were with him when he died. His wife and at least two of his sons, Henry and Humphrey, were also present. Thus Henry – the revolutionary king – died peacefully, surrounded by friends. He breathed his last on 20 March 1413, three and a half weeks short of his forty-sixth birthday.


Henry’s body was embalmed and wrapped in cerecloth and laid in state in Westminster Abbey. His final instructions had probably included the direction that he was to be buried on Trinity Sunday (18 June) in the Trinity Chapel at Canterbury, which not only was in line with his personal faith but gave his son Thomas sufficient time to return from France to attend. Thus it was not until two months after his death that his corpse was placed in a lead coffin and an elm chest and rowed down the river to Gravesend in a torch-lit barge. It was then taken by carriage to Faversham, and finally to Canterbury, where it was placed on an iron-framed hearse draped in black cloth and covered in candles and torches. Thomas – who had marched all the way across France to Gascony – returned to England in time, and was present with his three brothers at the funeral. The rivalry between him and the prince, now King Henry V, dissolved into an acknowledgement of brotherly respect and loyal service.

The house of Lancaster was united once more. A golden age had begun.

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