Henry V of England

Henry V of England
Lancaster King of England
In Power Mar. 21, 1413 – Aug. 31, 1422
Born 1386
Monmouth, Wales
Died Aug. 31, 1422 (at age 35–36)
Château de Vincennes, France
Royal House Lancaster

The military campaigns of King Henry V of England (1386-1422) consisted of the last decades of battle in what was recognized in history as the 100 Year’s War between England and France.

Although Henry V swept through France and achieved a series of stunning military victories, his policy was actually the beginning of the end of English ambitions to unite England and France under one crown. The final result of the 100 Years War would leave France victorious, although it would take several decades for the dust to settle in the wake of Henry V.

Origins of the War

The 100 Years War comprised of a series of conflicts that was fought between 1337 and 1453. The war cycled through several heated and calm periods. In general, historians divide the conflict into three distinct periods: The Edwardian Era (1337-1360), The Caroline War (1369-1389) and The Lancastrian War (1415-1453). There were years of peace between each period despite constant political strife and occasional “shooting conflicts.”

The origin of the war dates back to 1066, when William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (northern France), sailed a massive fleet north to England where he destroyed the army of the last English Saxon monarch: King Harold. William became King of England while also maintaining his control over Normandy.

However, while Norman France was sovereign to the Crown of England, the feudal lords of Normandy were still obligated to pay homage to the King of France. Thus, the seeds of a long conflict between the Kings of France and the Kings of England were sewn, and many decades of agonizing wars and conflicts followed.

Henry V

Henry V belonged to the House of Lancaster, thus his military exploits in France are called the Lancastrian War. The Lancastrian War would prove to be the last period of the 100 Year’s War.

After several years of peace, Henry V invaded France in August of 1415. He laid siege to the fortress of Harfleur and after a bloody battle, captured it. As soon as Harfleur was secured, the impetuous and aggressive Henry decided to march his war-weary forces across the French countryside to Calais, a move all members of his council strongly advised against.

The French saw an opportunity to destroy the English invasion early, thus they sent a large force to intercept Henry’s army near the city of Agincourt. The English faced a vastly larger French army. Regardless, in a stunning turn of events, Henry V’s troops defeated the French and secured a major English victory.

The effect of The Battle of Agincourt was devastating for the French. The English were as few as 6,000 men in the battle against as many as 30,000 French. But when the dust settled, just over 100 English soldiers had been killed against 7,000 to 10,000 French killed! Part of the reason Henry prevailed was his brilliant use of archers, who were able to dispatch thousands of French soldiers while avoiding hand-to-hand combat.

It turned the tide of the war in favor of the English. The effects of Agincourt were as much psychological as strategic. It enabled Henry to entrench his forces, solidify his gains and continue his assault other French fortresses.

His Brothers

Henry V was fortunate to have two extremely able brothers serving as his lieutenants in the war on France. His youngest brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, proved to be a brilliant tactician at the art of waging siege war. While Henry fought campaigns elsewhere, Duke Humphrey moved his forces from key city to key city, laying siege and conquering them one at a time.

Henry’s other brother, John, Duke of Bedford, also played a major role. He engineered a decisive naval victory, defeating the French fleet, securing Henry and England control over the important the supply lanes of the sea. It was also important for John to deal with the Scotts who were fighting on the side of the French. John was sent to Scotland where he submitted the Scotts.

John, the Duke of Bedford, would also continue to play a major role in the ground war across France. He was a skilled and ingenious military general. After the English pacified most of France, John was made Regent of France when Henry returned to England.

Losing an Opportunity at Victory

While Henry V and his brothers were able to inflict defeat after defeat upon the French, all of their conquests and concessions they had garnered from the French would soon slip away. Henry V was nominally crowned King of France, although it cannot be said he ever had total control over the nation he had pacified militarily.

Unfortunately for the interests of England, Henry died young at the age of 35 in 1422. He left behind a son, the future Henry VI, but the latter was a baby at the time of his father’s death. This meant that Henry V’s brothers would rule as Regents until Henry VI came of age and able to assume his duties as King.

The result was that Henry’s brothers, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and John Duke of Bedford, clashed over who would wield more power in England and France before the young King came of age. For the most part, John remained in France, continued the war, and served as French Regent while England struggled to retain its grip on the French. Duke Humphrey was Regent and Protector of England while John was away in France – but whenever John returned to England, Humphrey would be pushed off to a lesser role.

When Henry VI finally came of age, he proved to be a weak and ineffectual ruler. He suffered from mental illness and was easily controlled by other plotting and power-hungry elements among the English ruling elite.

French Resurgence: Joan of Arc

While the family of Henry V became mired in internal politics and petty power struggles, the French military was able to reorganize and resurge under the unlikely guidance of a 19-year-old woman, the famous Joan of Arc. This young lady, who believed she was speaking with angels and had a direct link to God, inflicted the English a series of painful and humiliating defeats.

This was the beginning of the end of the 100 Years War. The English were able to capture and execute Joan of Arc, but King Charles VII of France succeeded in finishing what the French saint had started, dealing the English a final defeat in the province of Gascony.

By 1453, the English had given up their claims to the French Crown. The conquests and military victories of Henry V became meaningless.

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