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Henry V. Of England
Henry, the fifth English monarch of that name, was born at Monmouth, on the banks of the pleasant Wye, in the year 1388. He was the eldest son of Henry, Earl of Derby, and of Mary de Bohun, daughter of the Earl of Hereford. During his infancy reverses and successes passed rapidly over his father's head, and at the age of thirteen years he found himself the eldest son of the King of England, and was created by his father Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester. The early education of Henry the Fifth is unknown; but it may be inferred, that during the life of his mother, principles of high honor and virtue had been instilled into his bosom, which became dormant, though not extinct, as rising toward manhood, evil companions took advantage of idleness and indulgence to call into action the passions of the young prince, in order to lead him to their own purposes.
Henry V. rejects Falstaff.
Although from all accounts it would appear that many parts of the prince's conduct gave great pain and offence to his father, yet we find that Henry IV. never scrupled to entrust to his care some of the greatest and most important military operations of his reign. Whether the prince had already displayed the qualities of a soldier, in a degree sufficient to attract the notice of his father, or whether the king sought only to habituate him early to that inevitable career of arms which was in those days one of the misfortunes of royalty, we are not informed; but so early as his sixteenth or seventeenth year he fought at the battle of Shrewsbury, in which Henry Hotspur was slain. What was the part assigned to the prince on this occasion I do not find stated precisely; but all accounts agree that he proved of infinite assistance and service to his father, and fought long in the thickest of the battle, after having been severely wounded by an arrow in the face.
The death of Percy spread dismay among his soldiers and allies, and after a fight of nearly four hours the party of Northumberland fled, leaving the king master of the field of battle, and a number of noble prisoners. Many of these were executed either at Shrewsbury or London; and the Earl of Northumberland, the chief support of the rebellion, made his peace for the time to meditate his rebellions.
Owen Glendower, however, one of the confederates, was still in arms in Wales; and while Henry IV. returned in triumph to London, he despatched his eldest son, at the head of considerable forces, to reduce the Principality to obedience. The unhappy Glendower, unable to oppose the army led against him, was forced to fly, and, abandoned by his friends and followers, is said to have died of starvation among the caves and wildernesses in which he sought refuge. In the meanwhile the Prince of Wales conducted his expedition with skill and wisdom; the whole country submitted to his power; and having re-established order and tranquillity, he returned to London with honor and praise.
Little further occurs in the history of Henry as Prince of Wales which is interesting in itself, if stripped of the embellishments added to it by the fancy of our great poet. A project of marriage between the heir of the British crown and a daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, was entertained for some time, but died away, and the opposite, or Orleans party in France, was afterward supported by the English Crown. At length Henry the Fourth, on the eve of an expedition to the Holy Land, undertaken, it is said, in expiation of his usurpation of the throne, was struck with apoplexy; and a tale, in regard to his death, is current among the historians of the period, on which Shakespeare has founded one of the most beautiful scenes in his historical dramas. The poet, however, is far more indebted for the splendor of his materials to his own imagination, than any historical record. The facts, as related by the best authorities, are simply as follows.
After the first attack of apoplexy the king was carried to a chamber in the house of the Abbot of Westminster, and put to bed, and at his own desire the crown was laid upon his pillow. He languished in a state of great weakness for some time, and at length, after a second attack, appeared to those who were watching him to have yielded the spirit. The chamberlain immediately spread a linen cloth over the face of the king, and hastened to communicate his supposed death to the heir-apparent, who, entering the room to take a last look at his father's body, removed the crown from his pillow, and carried it into another apartment. After a short time the monarch revived, and sending for his son demanded, angrily, why he had removed the crown. The prince replied that all men had thought him dead, and therefore he had taken the symbol of royalty as his by right.
"What right I have to it myself, God knows," replied the king, "and how I have enjoyed it."
"Of that," replied the prince, "it is not for me to judge; but if you die king, my father, I will have the garland, and will defend it with my sword against all enemies as you have done."
Not long after this conversation Henry IV. expired, and his son, the Prince of Wales, was immediately proclaimed king by the title of Henry V. But his change was not alone in name or station; his vices and his follies he cast from him, as an unworthy garment, and assumed with royalty a royal mind. The debauched companions of his youth were banished from his presence and his counsels, and forbidden to approach within ten miles of his dwelling. But at the same time we are assured that they were not left in indigence or necessity. Wisdom and virtue became the only recommendations which raised any one to his service, and those who had proved themselves most worthy, under the government of the former monarch, found themselves most readily welcomed by the new king.
No sooner was the truce at an end which then existed between France and England, than Henry himself proceeded to Southampton to take the command of his army in person. The English armament put to sea, and notwithstanding great preparations which had been made for defending the French coast, Henry landed his troops in safety at the mouth of the Seine, and immediately laid siege to Harfleur, at that time the principal sea-port of Normandy.
The Dauphin himself advanced to Vernon on the Seine, and the famous Marshal Boucicault, one of the most celebrated knights of his time, gathered together a large force, and advanced toward the English army.
Nevertheless Henry did not suffer his courage to fail, and the siege was continued with unabated vigor. At length the means of defence began to fail within the town. Two wagons of powder, which the French attempted to introduce, fell into the hands of the English; the walls were ruined by the effects of the artillery, and at length the governor agreed to surrender, if he remained unrelieved at the end of three days. The three days expired without succor, and Harfleur was surrendered to the King of England.
[Here follows a long and glowing account of Henry's retreat in the face of the overwhelming French forces, and of his greatest victory, the famous battle of Agincourt.]
Shortly after his return to England, Henry was visited by Sigismund, Emperor of Germany, accompanied by French ambassadors commissioned to treat for peace under his mediation. But while Henry continued to exact severe terms, the French gave him constant excuses for proceeding in the war, by their efforts to recover Harfleur, which, however, were constantly defeated by the activity of the English monarch and his officers.
To conquer the former patrimony of the British kings seemed the monarch's first object, and in a very short time he made himself master of almost all the principal cities of the duchy. Caen, indeed, resisted with devoted courage, and, after a severe siege, was taken by assault; but the governors of the other fortified places in Normandy, divided between the Armagnac and the Burgundian parties, had no confidence in their soldiers or each other, and one after another submitted to the power of the conqueror. Nor, indeed, did Henry spare any means to obtain his purpose in such a bloodless manner. All his proclamations announced that those who submitted should be safe in person and property; and his address to all the French people holds out to them that prospect of peace and protection which had long been unknown amongst the dissensions of their nobles. The first person of great influence, however, who joined the forces of the English king, was the Duke of Brittany; and, though Henry exacted no very great exertions from his new ally, the example of such a defection from the crown of France was greatly in behalf of the invader. Rouen, the capital of Normandy, however, still resolutely closed her gates against the English.
The attack and capture of the Pont de l'Arche announced to the people of Rouen, and to the King of France, that the war was about to approach the gates of the Norman capital, and every exertion was made, both by the Burgundian faction, who now held the king in their hands, and the burghers of the city itself, to repel the English in the attempt. A number of famous knights and commanders were thrown into the city, which was, besides, garrisoned by upward of four thousand men-at-arms, and fifteen thousand armed citizens, all eager in the cause.
Immense efforts were now made by the English to force an entrance, but the defences of the place were so strong, and the defenders so resolute, that no hope appeared of effecting a practicable breach in the walls. Many a sally took place, and many an assault, and many a feat of arms was performed between the two armies. But in the meanwhile the provisions of the people of the town began to decrease, and a smaller and smaller portion of food became the allowance of each day. At length the inhabitants, by murmurs and threats, compelled the garrison to treat; and, after a long and painful negotiation, Rouen capitulated, upon terms which could hardly be called unfavorable, in the situation to which its defenders were reduced.
The news of the fall of Rouen had the greatest effect on the rest of Normandy, and twenty-seven towns, or castles, immediately made submission to the King of England, without even being summoned to surrender. Nor was this immediate benefit the only advantage which followed from the capture of Rouen. Dismay and doubt spread through all France, and thoughts of peace and concession were entertained by those who had hitherto breathed nothing but war and defiance to the King of England.
Pontoise was almost immediately taken by surprise, Gisors and Chateau Gaillard fell after a short siege, and the terrific news of the advance of the English reached Paris, and induced the King, the Queen, and the Duke of Burgundy to abandon the capital and retire to Troyes.
Henry's ambassadors, according to the desire of the French court, were instantly sent to Troyes-where the weak king remained under the guidance of his evil wife and her counsellors-and they soon sketched out a treaty by which, on marrying the Princess Catharine, the English monarch should be declared heir to the crown of France, to the exclusion of the Dauphin and his lineage. This hasty treaty was as hastily ratified, and Henry, with fifteen thousand men departed from Rouen, and marching with all speed to Troyes, put the seal to an arrangement which conveyed to him the throne for which he had fought, by marrying the daughter of the French monarch. To the first articles proposed was now added, at the request of Henry, that the Regency of the kingdom, to the government of which Charles was totally incompetent, should be entrusted to him, and no sooner was the solemnity of his marriage completed, than he instantly took the field against the Dauphin, leading the unhappy King of France and his whole court against the natural heir to his throne. The town of Sens first fell before the arms of England and Burgundy, and immediately after siege was laid to Montereau, where the assassination of John the Bold had been committed.
Henry also now took upon him the whole executive power of the government. The governors of towns, the officers of state, the magistrates and the dignitaries, were placed and displaced at his pleasure. The currency of the country was altered at his suggestion, and his counsels swayed everything in France. However, England was still at his heart, and leaving a country that his sword and his policy had conquered, as soon as he could do so with any security, he carried his beautiful bride to be crowned in London.
The moment, however, that his foot was out of France, his interests in that country declined; and the rashness of his officers brought confusion and ruin into his affairs. Town after town was taken by the Dauphin; and at length the Duke of Clarence, the English monarch's brother, with all the chivalry that accompanied him, were defeated at Bauge, in Anjou, and the duke himself, as well as three thousand of his men, remained dead upon the field. This news, accompanied by the further tidings that the Dauphin was advancing to besiege Chartres, called upon the king imperatively to return to France; and leaving the queen to follow at a future time, Henry set out for Calais accompanied by four thousand men-at-arms and twenty-four thousand archers.
His coming gave new courage to the Burgundian faction, and struck fear into the followers of the Dauphin. Scarcely pausing at all in the capital, the English monarch advanced direct toward Chartres, before which the Dauphin had already been encamped three weeks; but long ere the English reached the town the gates were free, and the adverse army with all speed retreated toward Touraine. Thither the English monarch followed, breathing revenge for the death of his brother. Dreux and Beaugency-sur-Loire were conquered by the way; but after pursuing the Dauphin ineffectually for some time, the scarcity of provisions obliged him to return toward Normandy. On his march back, he is said to have fallen in with a party of the Armagnac faction, who retreated before him into a castle called Rougemont, which was instantly assailed and taken by the English. All who were within, the French historians assert, to the number of sixty persons, were, by the king's order, drowned in the Loire, a fact which accords too well with the manners of the time and some parts of the monarch's own character. The town of Meaux was the next object of attack, and a long and courageous defence was made by the Dauphinois within.
The fall of Meaux, like that of Rouen, brought with it the surrender of an immense number of other places, but this was the last great military undertaking which Henry conducted in person. From Meaux he went direct to Vincennes to meet his queen, who was at this time on her journey from Calais, and thence proceeded with the King and Queen of France to Paris, where various transactions took place relative to the internal policy of the country. The court soon removed thence to Senlis, where Henry continued to make his principal abode, till news from the banks of the Loire roused him from inactivity.
The Dauphin, now finding the English monarch removed from his immediate neighborhood, again advanced with all the forces he could gather, and laid siege to Cone-sur-Loire, then garrisoned by the troops of Burgundy. The town, hard pressed, was obliged to treat, and agreed to surrender, without the Duke of Burgundy should give battle to the Dauphin in its defence, before the sixteenth day of August ensuing. The tidings were communicated to the duke by the garrison, and at the same time a herald from the Dauphin defied him to the field the day named. The duke instantly accepted the challenge, and sent to all his allies, as customary on such occasions, begging their aid and support in the day of battle. Among the rest he demanded the assistance of forces from the King of England, to be led by such of his famous leaders as he could well spare. Henry, however, though already unwell, declared that he would send no one to the aid of his good cousin of Burgundy, but go himself, and, accordingly, commanding his brother the Duke of Bedford, to lead his troops from Paris and that neighborhood, he himself set out from Senlis on horseback. At Melun, however, his sickness had so far increased, that, no longer able to sit on his horse, he attempted to proceed on a litter, but at length was obliged to turn toward Vincennes, where each day brought him nearer to the tomb.
The Duke of Bedford, led the English forces to Cone, from which the Dauphin had already retreated, and the English prince returned just in time to witness the death of his brother.
Henry already felt his danger, and calling his relations around him, made those dispositions which he thought necessary for securing his dominions to his child. He then insisted upon his physicians informing him how long he had to live, and being told that his life could not last much more than two hours, he prepared to meet death with the same courage which he had evinced during life. After going through all the ceremonial duties of the Catholic religion, he commanded some particular psalms to be sung in his chamber, and died very nearly the time his physicians had predicted.
Henry V. was a great conqueror, and a wise, prudent, and politic prince. His two greatest faults seem to have been ambition and cruelty; the first was an inheritance, and the second, perhaps, was less an effect of a harsh nature than of hasty passion. We seldom find that he committed any deliberate act of barbarity, and those things which most stain his name were generally done under feelings of great irritation. His conduct to the Earl of March, the heir of Richard II., and the respect he paid to the memory of that unhappy king himself, are proofs of a generous nature; and of all his conquests, the greatest he ever achieved was the first-that over himself.
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