Catherine of Valois, the youngest daughter of King Charles VI of France and King Henry V, the eldest son of Henry IV were married in the June of 1420. Eighteen months later, on the 6th of December 1421 St Nicholas's Day, Catherine gave birth to Henry of Windsor, a second joyous event of 1421 that had followed her coronation in Westminster Abbey the previous February.
Henry's arrival in the world was assisted by the presence of 'Our Lords foreskin' a relic known as the Silver Jewel that was brought over from France in time for his birth at Windsor Castle. The heir to the throne was born while his father was in France besieging the town of Meaux and it was there that Henry V heard of the arrival of his son. A story originating from the Tudor period suggests that Henry considered having his son born at Windsor was a bad omen, and indeed it seems that he was right to be concerned, for the hero of Agincourt was dead at the age of 36 the following August. Henry V's death from dysentery left his baby son to succeed to the English throne at just nine months old, the poor child would inherit the French throne on the death of his maternal grandfather Charles VI only two months later.
Henry V's last will and testament was thought lost but it turned up in 1978 at Eton College. In this document Henry had instructed that his younger brother Humphrey of Gloucester should be the baby's principal guardian and his uncle Thomas Beaufort was to have governance of the 'child's person.' Henry other brother, John, Duke of Bedford was instructed by Henry on his deathbed with the charge of the new kings French domain, however as history tells us there would be trouble ahead!
Henry, as we all know, turned out to be a shy, quiet and passive boy who disliked warfare and violence and who eventually succumbed to mental illness the poor soul would be completely unaware of all that was going on around him, he would be unable to stand, walk or move without help and in 1454 when he was presented with his newborn son all he managed was to raise and lower his eyes.
Henry VI was not suited for kingship and it has been suggested that he was not suited for marriage either. I think that he was just not a match for a strong and aggressive woman as his queen Margaret of Anjou most certainly was, we can only wonder what would have happened if he had been matched with a less fiery mate, one who was more in tune with him and prepared to listen to reason. But as we known that was not the case.
King Henry VI's first reign over England lasted from 1422 until 1461 and his second, after his restoration, from 1470 to 1471. Henry VI's time as monarch saw an England under a weak rule and this would bring about the period known as the Wars of the Roses and from mothers liaison, with the son of a Welsh publican, the mighty Tudor dynasty would spring.
My knowledge of Henry's life and times has grown slowly over the years, I know more now than I did when I first wrote this blog when my historical interest lead me away from this era via the family feuds of the Percy's and the Neville's to the dynastic battles we know as the Wars of the Roses.
The first thing that springs to mind when I think of Henry V is his appearance.
In the most famous image of him, which is held by the National Portrait Gallery, his hair is cut very short around the ears and at the back which was the style of the time. It is thought that he was painted this way deliberately to hide the right side of his face on which he is said to have a nasty arrow wound which he received in battle.
The portrait is a 16th century copy, in it Henry looks as if he is at prayer. He, of course, was regarded as the hero of the nation due to his victory over the French at Agincourt, the battle which saw the English longbow come to the forefront, but also the place where he ordered the deaths of several thousand French prisoners.
The date of Henry's birth is said to be either the 9th or the 16th of August in 1386/7, he was born the second son of Henry IV, he had, by the age of seventeen taken part in the Battle of Shrewsbury and topped that with five years fighting against Welsh and the legendary Owen Glendower, the last Welsh leader to be known as the Prince of Wales. Henry also put down a rebellion lead by Richard of Conisburgh grandfather to Richard III, Henry Scrope and Thomas Grey and their attempt to put Edmund Mortimer on the English throne. This later became known as the Southampton Plot. We also remember King Henry V for his involvement with France where between 1415 and 1420 he was successful in taking the port of Harfleur, the town of Rouen, and managed to force the French to sign the Treaty of Troyes.
Following his success in France, Henry was recognised as the heir to the French throne which was sealed by his marriage to Charles VI's daughter Catherine of Valois. The couple returned home to England, six months later Catherine was crowned queen and two months later, Henry returned to France. The young queen gave birth to her son Henry, later Henry VI, in the December of 1421, but the of hero of Agincourt lay dying from dysentery at the Chateau de Vincennes, in France, where he died on the 31st of August, leaving his lands and titles in the tiny hands of his nine month old son.
If King Henry V had not died that summers day in France, Catherine of Valois would not have been left a young widow to find solace in the arms of Owen Tudor and therefore no there would have been no Henry VII and no Tudor dynasty.
There are two interesting articles on Henry V's achievements one from 1986 by Nigel Saul entitled Henry and the Duel Monarchy and another by Dan Jones entitled From Agincourt to Bosworth, both can be read here.
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