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.
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.