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Henry IV (April 1367 – 20 March 1413) 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 first English ruler since the Norman Conquest, over three hundred years prior, whose mother tongue was English rather than French. He was known as Henry Bolingbroke before ascending to the throne.

Family Connections

Henry was the son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his first wife Blanche. Gaunt was the third son of King Edward III. Blanche was the daughter of the wealthy royal politician and nobleman Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster.

Henry of Grosmont was the only son of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1281–1345); who in turn was the younger brother and heir of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1278–1322). They were sons of Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster (1245–1296); the second son of King Henry III (ruled 1216–1272) and younger brother of King Edward I of England (ruled 1272–1307). Henry of Grosmont was thus a first cousin once removed of King Edward II and a second cousin of King Edward III (ruled 1327–1377). His mother was Maud de Chaworth (1282–1322). On his paternal grandmother’s side, Henry of Grosmont was also the great-great-grandson of Louis VIII of France.

Henry Bolingbroke’s elder sisters were Philippa, Queen of Portugal, as the wife of King João I of Portugal, and Elizabeth of Lancaster, Duchess of Exeter.

Elizabeth of Lancaster was the third wife of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, the third son of Thomas Holland by his wife Joan of Kent, “The Fair Maid of Kent”. Joan was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, a son of King Edward I (1272–1307), and Thomas would be made Earl of Kent, in what is considered a new creation, as husband of Joan, in whom the former Earldom was vested as eventual heiress of Edmund of Woodstock. Joan later married Edward, the Black Prince, the eldest son and heir apparent of her first cousin King Edward III, by whom she had a son, King Richard II, who was thus a half-brother of John Holland.

Henry Bolingbroke’s younger half-sister, the daughter of his father’s second wife, Constance of Castile, was Katherine, Queen of Castile, the wife of King Enrique IV of Castile. The later King’s of Spain descend from this union and therefore, technically speaking, they had a better hereditary claim to the English throne than the Tudor monarchs.

Henry Bolingbroke also had four natural half-siblings born of Katherine Swynford, originally his sisters’ governess, then his father’s longstanding mistress and later third wife. These illegitimate children were given the surname Beaufort from their birthplace at the Château de Beaufort in Champagne, France.

Henry’s relationship with his stepmother, Katherine Swynford, was a positive one, but his relationship with the Beauforts varied. In youth he seems to have been close to all of them, but rivalries with Henry and Thomas Beaufort proved problematic after 1406. Although the Beauforts were later legitimized they were legitimized without succession rights. Despite that sticky technicality it was from this line descended Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who became King Henry VII of England in 1485.

Ralph Neville, 4th Baron Neville, married Henry’s half-sister Joan Beaufort. Neville remained one of his strongest supporters, and so did his eldest half-brother John Beaufort, even though Henry revoked Richard II’s grant to John of a marquessate. Thomas Swynford, a son from Katherine’s first marriage, was another loyal companion. Thomas was Constable of Pontefract Castle, where Richard II is said to have died. Henry’s half-sister Joan was the mother of Cecily Neville. Cecily married Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and had several offspring, including Edward IV and Richard III, making Joan the grandmother of two Yorkist kings of England.

Accession to the Throne

Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt enjoyed a position of considerable influence during much of the reign of his own nephew, King Richard II. Henry Bolingbroke was involved in the revolt of the Lords Appellant against Richard in 1388.

In 1398, a remark by Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, regarding Richard II’s rule was interpreted as treason by Henry Bolingbroke and he 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, King 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 and without explanation, Richard II cancelled the legal documents that would have allowed Henry to inherit John of Gaunt’s land and titles utomatically. Instead, Henry would be required to ask for the lands and titles directly from Richard. After some hesitation, Henry met 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 Henry IV of England, Lord of Ireland on September 30, 1399. Henry had King Richard II imprisoned (who died in prison under mysterious circumstances) and bypassed Richard’s 7-year-old heir-presumptive, Edmund de Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

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

Henry procured an Act of Parliament to ordain that the Duchy of Lancaster would remain in the personal possession of the reigning monarch. The barony of Halton was vested in that dukedom. This is why the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also the Duke of Lancaster.