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Henry IV (April 15, 1367 – March 20, 1413), also known as Henry Bolingbroke was King of England from 1399 to 1413. He asserted the claim of his grandfather King Edward III, a maternal grandson of Philippe IV of France, to the Kingdom of France.

Henry was the son of John of Gaunt (the fourth son of Edward III) and Blanche of Lancaster. I would like to briefly mention the lineage of Blanch of Lancaster for it will be a significant factor in Henry Bolingbroke’s claim to the English throne.

Blanche of Lancaster (March 25, 1342 – September 12, 1368) was a member of the English royal House of Plantagenet and the daughter of the kingdom’s wealthiest and most powerful peer, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and his wife, Isabel de Beaumont of the House of Brienne.

Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster was the son of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1281–1345) and his wife Maud Chaworth (1282-1322). Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster was the younger brother and heir of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1278–1322) both were sons of Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster (1245–1296), and his second wife Blanche of Artois, widow of King Henry I of Navarre, and daughter of Robert I of Artois and Matilda of Brabant.

Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster was the second son of Henry III of England (ruled 1216–1272) and Eleanor of Provence. This means that Edmund Crouchback was a younger brother of King Edward I (ruled 1272–1307). Edmund’s nickname , “Crouchback” (meaning “crossed-back”), refers to his participation in the Ninth Crusade.

Henry of Grossmont was thus a first cousin once removed of King Edward II and a second cousin of King Edward III (ruled 1327–1377). This makes Blanch of Lancaster a great-great granddaughter of King Henry III.

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Henry experienced a rather more inconsistent relationship with King Richard II than his father had. First cousins and childhood playmates, they were admitted together to the Order of the Garter in 1377, but Henry participated in the Lords Appellants’ rebellion against the king in 1387. After regaining power, Richard II did not punish Henry, although he did execute or exile many of the other rebellious barons. In fact, Richard elevated Henry from Earl of Derby to Duke of Hereford.

The relationship between Henry Bolingbroke and the king met with a second crisis. In 1398, a remark by Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk regarding Richard II’s rule was interpreted as treason by Henry and Henry reported it to the king. The two dukes agreed to undergo a duel of honour (called by Richard II) at Gosford Green near Caludon Castle, Mowbray’s home in Coventry. Yet before the duel could take place, Richard II decided to banish Henry from the kingdom (with the approval of Henry’s father, John of Gaunt) to avoid further bloodshed. Mowbray himself was exiled for life.

John of Gaunt died in February 1399. Without explanation, Richard cancelled the legal documents that would have allowed Henry to inherit Gaunt’s land automatically. Instead, Henry would be required to ask for the lands from Richard. After some hesitation, Henry met with the exiled Thomas Arundel, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who had lost his position because of his involvement with the Lords Appellant. Henry and Arundel returned to England while Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland. With Arundel as his advisor, Henry began a military campaign, confiscating land from those who opposed him and ordering his soldiers to destroy much of Cheshire. Henry initially announced that his intention was to reclaim his rights as Duke of Lancaster, though he quickly gained enough power and support to have himself declared King of England as Henry IV, imprison King Richard II who died in prison under mysterious circumstances) and bypass Richard’s 7-year-old heir-presumptive, Edmund de Mortimer.

When Richard II was forced to abdicate the throne on September 29, 1399, Henry was next in line to the throne according to Edward III’s entailment of 1376. That entailment clearly reflects the operation of agnatic primogeniture, also known as the Salic law. At this time, it was by no means a settled custom for the daughter of a king to supersede the brothers of that king in the line of succession to the throne.

Indeed, it was not an established belief that women could inherit the throne at all by right: the only previous instance of succession passing through a woman had been that which involved the Empress Matilda, and this had involved protracted civil war, with the other protagonist being the son of Matilda’s father’s sister (not his brother). Yet, the heir of the royal estate according to common law (by which the houses and tenancies of common people like peasants and tradesmen passed) was Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, who descended from the daughter of Edward III’s third son (second to survive to adulthood), Lionel of Antwerp. Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, was Edward’s fourth son and the third to survive to adulthood. The problem was solved by emphasising Henry’s descent in a direct male line, whereas March’s descent was through his grandmother.

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The official account of events claims that Richard II voluntarily agreed to resign his crown to Henry on September 29. The country had rallied behind Henry and supported his claim in parliament. However, the question of the succession never went away. The problem lay in the fact that Henry was only the most prominent male heir, but not the most senior in terms of agnatic descent from Edward III.

Although he was heir to the throne according to Edward III’s entail to the crown of 1376, Dr. Ian Mortimer has pointed out in his 2008 biography of Henry IV that this entail had probably been supplanted by an entail made by Richard II in 1399 (see Ian Mortimer, The Fears of Henry IV, appendix two, pp. 366–9). Henry thus had to overcome the superior claim of the Mortimers in order to maintain his inheritance.

This difficulty compounded when the Mortimer claim was merged with the Yorkist claim in the person of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. The Duke of York was the heir-generalof Edward III, and the heir presumptive (due to agnatic descent, the same principle by which Henry IV claimed the throne in 1399) of Henry’s grandson Henry VI (since Henry IV’s other sons did not have male heirs, and the legitimated Beauforts were excluded from the throne). The House of Lancaster was finally deposed by Edward IV, son of Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, during the Wars of the Roses.

Henry avoided the problem of Mortimer having a superior claim by ignoring his own descent from Edward III. He claimed the throne as the right heir to King Henry III by claiming that Edmund Crouchback was the elder and not the younger son of King Henry. He asserted that every monarch from Edward I was a usurper, and he, as his mother Blanche of Lancaster was a great-granddaughter of Edmund, was the rightful king. Henry also claimed to be king of France, but Henry III had no claim to that throne.

Henry’s coronation, on October 13, 1399 at Westminster Abbey, may have marked the first time since the Norman Conquest when the monarch made an address in English.