King Henry V of England or Henry of Monmouth if you’ve been reading Shakespeare became king in 1413. He resumed the Hundred Years War that his great grandfather Edward III had pursued and in 1415 won the Battle of Agincourt. So far so good. As part of the Treaty of Troyes between England and France that followed – recognising Henry as Charles VI’s heir he married Katherine of Valois – the French king’s daughter. All the dominoes had been lined up for a union between England and France. He had done, in short order, what medieval kings were required to do – he’d been victorious in war and landed a bona fide princess to boot and his first child was a boy – what more could you want?
Popular history does not tend to linger on the realities of a successful military campaign. For instance Henry ordered all males over the age of twelve to be executed after the fall of Caen and in Agincourt English archers were ordered to cut the throats of their French captives. However, this sort of behaviour is not the sort of thing that one expects from heroic kings – look at Richard I and his massacre as an example of popular history quietly removing the more unsavoury aspects of life.
Henry V will always be a heroic warrior king because he didn’t survive very long after his victory over the French and thanks to the works of Shakespeare. He died on the 31st August 1422 of dysentery whilst in France. He’d just returned there after three years spent in England. He left behind him a nine-month-old son who now became King Henry VI. Katherine of Valois was effectively sidelined and ultimately quietly married Owen Tudor.
It says something that the Lancastrian line which had contended with plots ever since Henry of Bolingbroke usurped the throne from his cousin Richard II was able to maintain power with an infant on the throne. In part this was because there had been a plot against Henry before he went to war in 1415. Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March and man with a better claim to the throne than Henry revealed that a plot was afoot to depose Henry before he went to France.
Although this plot was formulated elsewhere it is known as the Southampton Plot because this was where events played out. Richard, Earl of Cambridge was the main conspirator. Its for this reason that the Southampton Plot is also known as the Cambridge Plot. He was married to Anne Mortimer (their son was Richard of York who managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460). Although Richard was the Earl of Cambridge he didn’t have the money or the land to go with the title – this wasn’t helpful when he was expected to contribute towards Henry’s forthcoming war. He became involved with Henry Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton in a plot to put his brother-in-law Edward Mortimer on the throne (I should note that Anne Mortimer was dead by this point) having killed Henry V and his brothers as they were about to depart for France. Mortimer decided that he had no desire to revolt against Henry V so revealed the plot claiming that he had no idea what was going on. This saved him from execution but did ensure that Henry was able to mop up the opposition at home before going off to trounce the French – Richard, Scrope and Grey were tried and executed at the beginning of August in Southampton. Henry V set sail on the 11th August 1415 for those readers who would like another August date to add to the collection.
Dysentery was known as the “bloody flux.” As well as uncontrollable diarrhoea Henry would have experienced stomach cramps, a fever, vomiting and exhaustion. It was more often fatal than not given that soldiers marched long distances, lived off the land and weren’t prone to being overly fastidious in their hygiene. Damp ground and heat also helped to spread the disease.
And that brings us to the end of August. Sadly the WEA have cancelled the short course in Derby at the beginning of September so if you were thinking of coming – I’m very sorry but the WEA decided that there weren’t the numbers.