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Henry V of England

Part 3: Henry V of England

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Henry becomes Henry V of England
The man born Henry of Monmouth was proclaimed king on March 21st 1413, and crowned as Henry V on April 9th. Legends claim that the wild prince turned into a pious and determined man overnight and, while historians don't see much truth in those tales, Henry probably did appear to change in character as he fully adopted the mantle of King, finally being able to direct his great energy into his chosen policies (predominantly the reclamation of England's lands in France), while acting with the dignity and authority he believed was his duty. In return, Henry's accession was broadly welcomed by a population both encouraged by Henry's stint in government and growing desperate for the strong monarch England had lacked since Edward III's mental decline. Henry did not disappoint.

Early Reforms: Finances
For the first two years of his reign Henry worked hard to reform and solidify his nation in preparation for war. The dire royal finances were given a thorough overall, not by the creation of any new financial machinery or alternative sources of income, but by streamlining and maximising the existing system. The gains weren't enough to fund a campaign overseas, but Parliament was grateful for the effort and Henry built on this to cultivate a strong working relationship with the Commons, resulting in generous grants of taxation from the people to fund a campaign in France.

Early Reforms: Law
Parliament was also impressed with Henry's drive to tackle the general lawlessness into which vast areas of England had sunk. The peripatetic courts worked much harder than in Henry IV's reign, tackling crime, reducing the number of armed bands and trying to solve the long-term disagreements which fermented local conflict. The methods, however, reveal Henry's continued eye on France, for many 'criminals' were simply pardoned for their crimes in return for military service abroad. Indeed, the emphasis was less on punishing crime than channelling that energy towards France.

Henry V Unites the Nation
Perhaps the most important 'campaign' Henry undertook in this phase was to unite the nobles and common people of England behind him. Henry showed, and practiced, a willingness to forgive and pardon families who had opposed Henry IV (many because they had remained loyal to Richard II), none more so than the Earl of March, the lord Richard II had designated as his heir. Henry freed March from the imprisonment he had endured for much of Henry IV's reign and returned the Earl's landed estates. In return, Henry expected absolute obedience and he moved quickly, and decisively, to stamp out any dissent. In 1415 the Earl of March informed on plans to put him on the throne which, in reality, were the grumblings of three disaffected lords who had already abandoned their ideas. But Henry acted, and made sure he was seen to act, swiftly to execute the plotters and remove their opposition.

Henry V and Lollardy
Henry also acted against the spreading belief in Lollardy, which many nobles felt was a threat to England's very society and which had previously had sympathisers at court. A commission was created to find all Lollards, an uprising – which never actually came close to threatening Henry – was swiftly put down and a general pardon was issued in March 1414 to all those who surrendered and repented. Through these acts, Henry made sure the nation saw him as acting decisively to crush both dissent and religious 'deviance', underlining his position as Engand's Christian protector, while also binding the nation further around him.

Treatment of Richard II
Furthermore, Henry had Richard II's body moved and reinterred with full regal honours in Westminster Cathedral. Possibly done out of fondness for the dead king, the reburial was a political masterstroke. Henry IV, whose claim on the throne was legally and morally dubious, hadn't dared perform any act which gave legitimacy to the man he usurped, but Henry V dispelled that shadow instantly, demonstrating a confidence in himself and his right to rule, as well as a respect for Richard which pleased any of the latter's remaining supporters. In addition, the codification of a rumour that Richard II once remarked how Henry would be king, most certainly done with Henry's approval, turned him into the heir of both Henry IV and Richard II.

Henry V as Statebuilder
Henry actively encouraged the idea of England as a nation separate from others, most importantly when it came to language. When Henry – a tri-lingual king – ordered all government documents to be written in vernacular English (the language of the normal English peasant) it was the first time it had ever happened. The ruling classes of England had used Latin and French for centuries, but Henry encouraged a cross-class use of English – markedly different from the continent. While the motive for most of Henry's reforms was configuring the nation to fight France, he also fulfilled almost all the criteria by which kings were to be judged: good justice, sound finance, true religion, political harmony, accepting counsel and nobility. Only one remained: success in war.

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