Duke of Lancaster, Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV of England, Joanna of Navarre, John of Gaunt, King Edward III of England, King Richard II of England, Lord of Ireland, Mary de Bohun, Usurper
Henry IV (c. April 1367 – March 20, 1413), also known as Henry Bolingbroke, was King of England from 1399 to 1413. His grandfather King Edward III had claimed the French throne as a grandson of Philippe IV of France, and Henry continued this claim. He was the first English ruler since the Norman Conquest, over three hundred years prior, whose mother tongue was English rather than French.
Henry was born at Bolingbroke Castle, in Lincolnshire, to John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. His epithet “Bolingbroke” was derived from his birthplace. 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 King Louis VIII of the Franks.
John of Gaunt enjoyed a position of considerable influence during much of the reign of his own nephew, King Richard II. Henry’s elder sisters were Philippa, Queen of Portugal, (wife of King João I of Portugal) and Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter. His younger half-sister, the daughter of his father’s second wife, Constance of Castile, was Katherine, Queen of Castile wife of King Enrique III of Castile.
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 Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France.
Henry’s relationship with his stepmother, Katherine Swynford, was a positive one, but his relationship with the Beauforts varied. In his youth, he seems to have been close to all of them, but rivalries with Henry and Thomas Beaufort proved problematic after 1406. 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.
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.
Henry was involved in the revolt of the Lords Appellant against Richard in 1388, resulting in his exile by King Richard II.
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, imprison King Richard (who died in prison under mysterious circumstances) and bypass Richard II’s 7-year-old heir-presumptive, Edmund de Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.
Henry’s coronation, on October 13, 1399 at Westminster Abbey, may have marked the first time since the Norman Conquest that the monarch made an address in English.
As king, Henry faced a number of rebellions, most seriously those of Owain Glyndŵr, the self-proclaimed ruler of Wales, and the English knight Henry Percy (Hotspur), who was killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. The king suffered from poor health in the latter part of his reign, and his eldest son, Henry of Monmouth, assumed the reins of government in 1410. Henry IV died in 1413, and his son succeeded him as King Henry V.
Marriages and issue
First marriage: Mary de Bohun
The date and venue of Henry’s first marriage to Mary de Bohun (died 1394) are uncertain but her marriage licence, purchased by Henry’s father John of Gaunt in June 1380, is preserved at the National Archives. The accepted date of the ceremony is February 5, 1381, at Mary’s family home of Rochford Hall, Essex.
The near-contemporary chronicler Jean Froissart reports a rumour that Mary’s sister Eleanor de Bohun kidnapped Mary from Pleshey Castle and held her at Arundel Castle, where she was kept as a novice nun; Eleanor’s intention was to control Mary’s half of the Bohun inheritance (or to allow her husband, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, to control it). There Mary was persuaded to marry Henry.
Henry had four sons from his first marriage, which was undoubtedly a clinching factor in his acceptability for the throne. By contrast, Richard II had no children and Richard’s heir-presumptive Edmund Mortimer was only seven years old. The only two of Henry’s six children who produced legitimate children to survive to adulthood were Henry V and Blanche, whose son, Rupert, was the heir to the Electorate of the Palatinate until his death at 20.
All three of his other sons produced illegitimate children. Henry IV’s male Lancaster line ended in 1471 during the War of the Roses, between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists, with the deaths of his grandson Henry VI and Henry VI’s son Edward, Prince of Wales.
Second marriage: Joanna of Navarre
Mary de Bohun died in 1394, and on February 7, 1403 at Winchester Cathedral Henry married Joanna of Navarre, the daughter of Charles II of Navarre, the daughter of Jean II of France (called The Good), and Bonne of Luxembourg.
She was the widow of Jean IV, Duke of Brittany (known in traditional English sources as Jean V), with whom she had had four daughters and four sons; however, her marriage to the King of England was childless.
Final illness and death
The later years of Henry’s reign were marked by serious health problems. He had a disfiguring skin disease and, more seriously, suffered acute attacks of a grave illness in June 1405; April 1406; June 1408; during the winter of 1408–09; December 1412; and finally a fatal bout in March 1413. In 1410, Henry had provided his royal surgeon Thomas Morstede with an annuity of £40 p.a. which was confirmed by Henry V immediately after his succession.
This was so that Morstede would ‘not be retained by anyone else’. Medical historians have long debated the nature of this affliction or afflictions. The skin disease might have been leprosy (which did not necessarily mean precisely the same thing in the 15th century as it does to modern medicine), perhaps psoriasis, or a different disease.
The acute attacks have been given a wide range of explanations, from epilepsy to a form of cardiovascular disease. Some medieval writers felt that he was struck with leprosy as a punishment for his treatment of Richard le Scrope, Archbishop of York, who was executed in June 1405 on Henry’s orders after a failed coup.
According to Holinshed, it was predicted that Henry would die in Jerusalem, and Shakespeare’s play repeats this prophecy. Henry took this to mean that he would die on crusade. In reality, he died in the Jerusalem Chamber in the abbot’s house of Westminster Abbey, on March 20, 1413 during a convocation of Parliament. His executor, Thomas Langley, was at his side.